Kings Gambit Declined

The King's Gambit was one of the most popular openings for over 300 years and has been played by many of the strongest players in many of the greatest brilliancies, including the Immortal Game. Nevertheless, players have held widely divergent views on it. François-André Danican Philidor (1726–1795), the greatest player and theorist of his day, wrote that the King's Gambit should end in a draw with the best play by both sides

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Chess Traps | Kings Gambit Accepted

The King's Gambit is a chess opening that begins with the moves:

1. e4 e5

2. f4

White offers a pawn to divert the black e-pawn. If Black accepts the gambit, White has two main plans. The first is to play d4 and Bxf4, regaining the gambit pawn with central domination. The alternative plan is to play Nf3 and Bc4 followed by 0-0, when the semi-open f-file allows White to barrel down onto the weakest point in Black's position, the pawn on f7. Theory has shown that in order for Black to maintain the gambit pawn, they may well be forced to weaken their kingside, with moves such as ...g5 or odd piece placement (e.g. ...Nf6–h5). A downside to the King's Gambit is that White weakens their own king's position, exposing it to the latent threat of ...Qh4+ (or ...Be7–h4+). With a black pawn on f4, White cannot usually respond to the check with g3, but if the king is forced to move then it also loses the right to castle.

The King's Gambit is one of the oldest documented openings. It was examined by the 17th-century Italian chess player Giulio Cesare Polerio, and also appears in one of the earliest chess books, Luis Ramírez de Lucena's Repetición de Amores y Arte de Ajedrez (1497). The King's Gambit was one of the most popular openings until the late 19th century, when improvements in defensive technique led it to decline in popularity. It is infrequently seen at master level today, as Black has several methods to gain equality, but is still popular at amateur level.



The King's Gambit was one of the most popular openings for over 300 years, and has been played by many of the strongest players in many of the greatest brilliancies, including the Immortal Game. Nevertheless, players have held widely divergent views on it. François-André Danican Philidor (1726–1795), the greatest player and theorist of his day, wrote that the King's Gambit should end in a draw with best play by both sides, stating that "a gambit equally well attacked and defended is never a decisive [game], either on one side or the other." Writing over 150 years later, Siegbert Tarrasch, one of the world's strongest players in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, pronounced the opening "a decisive mistake" and wrote that "it is almost madness to play the King's Gambit." Similarly, future world champion Bobby Fischer wrote a famous article, "A Bust to the King's Gambit", in which he stated, "In my opinion the King's Gambit is busted. It loses by force" and offered his Fischer Defense (3...d6) as a refutation. FM Graham Burgess, in his book The Mammoth Book of Chess, noted the discrepancy between the King's Gambit and Wilhelm Steinitz's accumulation theory. Steinitz had argued that an attack is only justified when a player has an advantage, and an advantage is only obtainable after the opponent makes a mistake. Since 1...e5 does not look like a blunder, White should therefore not be launching an attack.

While the King's Gambit Accepted was a staple of Romantic era chess, the opening began to decline with the development of opening theory and improvements in defensive technique in the late 19th century. By the 1920s, 1.e4 openings declined in popularity with the rise of the hypermodern school, with many players switching to 1.d4 and 1.c4 openings and positional play.

After World War II, 1.e4 openings became more popular again, with David Bronstein being the first grandmaster in decades to use the King's Gambit in serious play. He inspired Boris Spassky to also take up the King's Gambit, although Spassky was not willing to risk using the opening in any of his World Championship matches. However, Spassky did beat many strong players with it, including Bobby Fischer, Zsuzsa Polgar, and a famous brilliancy against Bronstein himself.

In 2012, an April Fool prank by Chessbase in association with Vasik Rajlich—inventor of chess engine Rybka—claimed to have proven to a 99.99999999% certainty that the King's Gambit is at best a draw for White. Revealing the prank, Rajlich admitted that current computer technology is nowhere near solving such a task.

The King's Gambit is rare in modern grandmaster play. A handful of grandmasters have continued to use it, including Joseph Gallagher, Hikaru Nakamura, Nigel Short, and Alexei Fedorov.

King's Gambit Declined

Black can decline the offered pawn, or offer a countergambit.

Falkbeer Countergambit: 2...d5 

Main article: King's Gambit, Falkbeer Countergambit

The Falkbeer Countergambit is named after the 19th-century Austrian master Ernst Falkbeer. It runs 1.e4 e5 2.f4 d5 3.exd5 e4, in which Black sacrifices a pawn in return for quick and easy development. It was once considered good for Black and scored well, but White obtains some advantage with the response 4.d3! and the line fell out of favour after the 1930s.

A more modern interpretation of the Falkbeer is 2...d5 3.exd5 c6!?, as advocated by Aron Nimzowitsch. Black is not concerned about pawns and aims for early piece activity. White has a better pawn structure and prospects of a better endgame. The mainline continues 4.Nc3 exf4 5.Nf3 Bd6 6.d4 Ne7 7.dxc6 Nbxc6, giving positions analogous to the Modern Variation of the gambit accepted.

Classical Defense: 2...Bc5 

A common way to decline the gambit is with 2...Bc5, the "classical" KGD. The bishop prevents White from castling and is such a nuisance that White often expends two tempi to eliminate it by means of Nc3–a4, to exchange on c5 or b6, after which White may castle without worry. It also contains an opening trap for novices: if White continues with 3.fxe5?? Black continues 3...Qh4+, in which either the rook is lost (4.g3 Qxe4+, forking the rook and king) or White is checkmated (4.Ke2 Qxe4#). This line often comes about by transposition from lines of the Vienna Game or Bishop's Opening, when White plays f2–f4 before Nf3.

Other 2nd moves for Black

Other options in the KGD are possible, though unusual, such as the Adelaide Countergambit 2...Nc6 3.Nf3 f5, advocated by Tony Miles; 2...d6, when after 3.Nf3, best is 3...exf4 transposing to the Fischer Defense (though 2...d6 invites White to play 3.d4 instead); and 2...Nf6 3.fxe5 Nxe4 4.Nf3 Ng5! 5.d4 Nxf3+ 6.Qxf3 Qh4+ 7.Qf2 Qxf2+ 8.Kxf2 with a small endgame advantage, as played in the 1968 game between Bobby Fischer and Bob Wade in Vinkovci. The greedy 2...Qf6 (known as the Nordwalde Variation), intending 3...Qxf4, is considered dubious. Also dubious are the Keene Defense: 2...Qh4+ 3.g3 Qe7 and the Mafia Defense: 1.e4 e5 2.f4 c5.

2...f5?! is among the oldest countergambits in KGD, known from a game published in 1625 by Gioachino Greco. Vincenz Hruby also played it against Mikhail Chigorin in 1882. It is nonetheless considered dubious because 3.exf5 with the threat of Qh5+ gives White a good game. The variation is sometimes named the Pantelidakis Countergambit because Grandmaster Larry Evans answered a question from Peter Pantelidakis of Chicago about it in one of his columns in Chess Life and Review.

Related lines

In several lines of the Vienna Game White offers a sort of delayed King's Gambit. In the Vienna Gambit (1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.f4), Black should reply 3...d5, since 3....exf4?! 4.e5 forces the knight to retreat. 1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.f4 exf4 may lead to the Hamppe–Muzio Gambit after 4.Nf3 g5 5.Bc4 g4 6.0-0 gxf3 7.Qxf3, or to the Steinitz Gambit after 4.d4 Qh4+ 5.Ke2. Both of these lines may be reached via the King's Gambit proper, but the Vienna move order is more common.

White may also offer the gambit in the Bishop's Opening, e.g. 1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 Nc6 3.f4, though this is uncommon.