What are gambits in chess?

And how to successfully play them

If you are one of those players that have recently started playing chess after its sudden craze due to the release of the popular Netflix series called The Queen’s Gambit, then you may have heard of the term gambit a lot. There are many, many different openings in chess. For example, the Ruy Lopez opening, the Italian opening, the English opening, Berlin Defense, Sicilian Defense, and a lot of others. These openings are strong starting moves that have been practiced by many grandmasters. Similarly, some openings are categorized with the word “gambit” e.g., queen’s gambit. So, what exactly is a chess gambit? Basically, in a chess gambit, a player, often times the white side, sacrifices one or more of their pawns (sometimes a valuable piece as well) in order to gain an advantage in the game. Now, you may think how that is even possible. Well, there are different kinds of advantages such as gaining time, better piece activity, or other positional advantages. We shall talk about all of these later.

Now that we have learned that a gambit is offering your opponent a pawn or another valuable piece hoping to gain compensation in some other form, let us take a look at the different terminologies used for it. When a player offers a gambit to their opponent, they have the choice to either accept it or decline it. The gambit is said to be accepted if the opponent decides to take the piece, and it is said to be declined when they reject the offer and develop a piece of their own to create more tension on the board. Gambits are usually played by white as they have the opening move, although a handful of gambits exist for black as well. In a broad sense, a gambit can be called an opening move meant to gain an advantage.

Sound and Unsound Gambits

A gambit may also be called a sound gambit when it provides the player with sufficient compensation in the game for the material lost. These compensations can be of different forms: having more developed pieces on the board, having more active pieces for aggressive play, creating a weakness in the opponent’s pawn structure, ensuring one’s king’s safety, or even confuse opponents. A gambit works rather well in shorter time controls like the bullet or blitz format.

The Scotch Gambit is a sound gambit

Similarly, an unsound gambit is where the player does not receive adequate compensation for their material loss. An example of an unsound gambit is the Halloween gambit. The King’s Gambit which used to be very popular is also an unsound gambit.

Popular Chess Gambits and How To Play Them

There are many different gambits for both White and Black pieces. Almost all of them involve pawn sacrifices in compensation for a better piece activity or development. I will be discussing some of these gambits and talk about how you can successfully play them.

  1. The Queen’s Gambit

The Queen’s Gambit is a really strong and sound chess gambit for the White side. Every strong player and even grandmasters love to play this opening. In this opening, White offers to temporarily sacrifice their pawn in hopes of achieving a strong center position on the board. Black has two choices here. Either they can take the pawn to transpose the game into a Queen’s Gambit Accepted or decline the gambit to play the Queen’s Gambit Declined.

The Queen’s Gambit

Black has to be very careful how they respond to this gambit. If they accept the gambit and are not being careful, then White will recapture the pawn with their light-square bishop and simply gain a massive center space and control with its two pawns, while also putting indirect pressure on the f7 pawn which is very dangerous for Black. Black will definitely have a hard time regaining control and developing its key pieces. It is transcribed after the moves 1. d4 d5 2. c4 dxc4 3. e4 e5 4. Bxc4:

The Queen’s Gambit Accepted

  1. The King’ Gambit

The King’s Gambit is fairly popular chess gambit for amateur players. This opening used to be very popular before the advent of computers. The main reason that it is not played at a very high level anymore is its weakness. Grandmasters can easily remember all the lines for an opening, and so after computers and chess engines were created, they were able to see how to deal with it.

Moving on, The King’s Gambit is also an unsound gambit. After 1. e4 e5, White pushes the f pawn to the 4th rank to sacrifice it and develop their knight:

The King’s Gambit

Even though this opening is unsound, it can be very dangerous for Black if they have not prepared against this and get caught off-guard. I personally find the King’s Gambit really exciting The World Champion Boris Spassky loved this opening and even played it against grandmasters like Robert Fischer.

  1. The Stafford Gambit

The Stafford Gambit is a very dangerous chess gambit for both sides and leads to very tricky positions. It starts with the Russian Game where Black gives up its center pawn and exchanges knights. The moves are as follows 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Nxe5 Nc6 4. Nxc6:

The Stafford Gambit

For amateurs, it can easily look like white has a good advantage already. That is true, but most of the lines played after this leads to many traps. White has to dedicate a good amount of time to not get checkmated or incur a large material loss. This chess gambit is highly recommended in the blitz or bullet. Some of the usual moves that follow after this are 4… dxc6 5. d3 Bc5 6. Bg5 that achieves the following position:


It may look like a very normal position. However, White has actually made a blunder that is difficult to see. I have intentionally left it at this for you to solve. If you can find the best move for black here then congratulations!

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