Some time ago, I made a video lesson, “Gambit Rules“, for you. (If you missed that, check it now here: LINK). It turned out to be a popular lesson and many of you liked it.
Now, I’m glad to provide you with the text version of that lesson. Even if you’ve already seen the video lesson, I’d still recommend you to read the text version. It will help you go through the material slowly and digest it well.
For those whose mother-tongue is not English, this provides an extra opportunity to understand the whole lesson clearly. Let's go!
By GM Igor Smirnov
Remote Chess Academy
I recently received an email from a student of mine. In this message, he shared one of his games with me. Although it is an internet game, I found it to be quite instructive. It illustrates a few important practical rules that should be applied when playing gambits. That’s why I would like to discuss this game and analyze it with you today.
In this lesson, we will discuss not only how you should play gambits but also how you should counteract gambits. So without any further delay, let’s get started!
The game began with the following moves: 1.e4-c5 2.Nf3-Nc6 3.b4
Black to move
With his last move, White plays a gambit; he sacrifices material, in this case a pawn, in order to try and gain an advantageous position.
White’s goal is rapid development and the expedient launch of an attack. This is what makes gambits so popular, especially in blitz games. It is also why it is important for you to know how to handle them correctly.
In the position above, Black took with the knight (3…Nxb4). Note quickly here that if Black had taken with the pawn (3…cxb4), White would have deflected this pawn away from the centre. This would then allow White to push 4.d4 and obtain a pair of pawns in the centre and threaten d5.
Although Black avoided this by capturing with the knight, White can nevertheless still build himself a strong centre. To this aim, White played 4.c3, and after Black retreated his knight to c6 (4…Nc6), White pushed in the centre with 5.d4. Here Black took the pawn with 5…cxd4 and after 6.cxd4, White again has a pair of pawns in the centre.
At this point in the game, Black played 6…d6. Note here that while 6…d5 may look more ambitious for Black, there is a drawback. In this situation, White can capture with the pawn (7.exd5) and after Black recaptures with 7…Qxd5, White can attack Black’s queen with 8.Nf3 and gain a tempo for development.
White to move
In this position, White played 7.d5 and this is indeed the best move. White is attacking the opponent’s knight and forcing it to move somewhere. At the same time, White gets more space and opens the long diagonal (a1-h8) for his pieces. And so there are of lot of benefits here for White.
But now I have a quick question for you. Black has a problem that he needs to resolve. What square should he move his knight to? What do you think? Where should it go?
In the game, Black played 7…Ne5 and it makes sense. We’ve been taught to put our pieces in the centre, and from this point of view Ne5 is correct. But in this particular position, there is another important thing that we should take into consideration.
RULE 1: When you are behind in development, avoid exchanges of your developed pieces.
Let’s apply this rule to the current position.
While it may appear that Black is at least equal in development, let’s not forget that White played a gambit and sacrificed the pawn to enable quick and natural development. After 8.Nxe5-dxe5, White can quickly bring his pieces into the game. For example, Bb5, Qa4, Bb2, Nc3 and he’s done.
White to move
White can play all of these moves very quickly and without any problems. If we take a look at Black’s position, on the other hand, we can see that his situation is much more difficult:
- It’s not that simple to develop the dark-squared bishop on f8.
- The light-squared bishop on c8 has no good squares available.
- In general, you can see that Black’s development is complicated.
That’s why we may expect that White’s development will be much faster and that he will be ahead in development. From this point of view, Black’s decision to trade his knight by placing it on e5 was a mistake.
Once again, the rule is that when you are behind in development, you should avoid exchanging your active pieces.
If you make exchanges when you are behind in development, you may face a situation where the bad moves keep coming and you have no active warriors.
Of course, in such a situation it will be very difficult for you to counteract your opponent’s plans. That is why you should avoid such exchanges and aim to keep as many active pieces on the board as possible.
Okay, let’s move on. Referring back to the position in Diagram 3, what should White do now? What do you think?
Here White should play 9.Bb2 and this is exactly what he did. This is the best move for sure. This move follows an important rule that is one of the core ideas for playing all gambits.
RULE 2: DEVELOP + ATTACK
When playing a gambit, try to combine your development with attack. This is one of the main advantages that a gambit can give you.
Therefore, instead of just developing your forces, try to make these moves with a tempo by simultaneously developing and attacking.
When you do this, you’ll realize your own plan and prevent an opponent’s plan simultaneously. And, of course, you will be on top in such situations.
White followed this rule with the earlier 7.d5 and now again with 9.Bb2. By using this idea of combining development with attack, White is able to continue his development while Black cannot. Instead, Black must respond to the threat and protect his pawn somehow.
Actually, it’s nearly impossible to protect the e5-pawn in any normal way. If Black plays something like 9…Qd6 or 9…Qc7, White can play 10.Bb5+ and after 10…Bd7, 11.Bxd7+, Black must then either centralize his king (certainly dangerous or very bad) or capture with the queen (Qxd7), in which case White can capture the pawn.
This means that Black can’t really protect his e5-pawn and he needs to find something else.
At first sight, Nf6 looks good, as it counter attacks White’s pawn on e4. But it turns out to be no real threat, for White can just take the pawn with Bxe5. Note that …Nxe4 is impossible, as White can win a piece by playing Qa4+ with a double attack on Black’s king and the knight on e4.
That’s why Black decided to abandon the pawn and just play 9…e6. White then took the pawn with 10.Bxe5 and regained the material balance.
Black to move
In some variations, White is threatening to follow this with d6 and lock Black’s bishop on its original square. It may seem attractive for Black to play 10…Bb4+; but after 11.Nc3, Black is suddenly in trouble.
This is because Black’s g7-pawn is hanging and White will take this pawn and capture the rook caught in the corner as well.
Furthermore, White is threatening Qa4+ with a double attack on Black’s king and bishop. So Bb4+ may look active for Black but, in reality, it creates problems for Black and not for White.
But now here is another question for you. How would you proceed here as Black (Diagram 4)?
In the game, Black decided to neutralize White’s d5-pawn and played 10…exd5. It may seem very logical (Black is trying to stop an eventual d6 push, as well as open the c8-h3 diagonal for his bishop, enabling its future development).
But, at the same time, this is a major mistake because Black violated a very important rule.
RULE 3: When you are behind in development, keep the position closed.
From this point of view, Black’s previous move 9…e6, and especially his next move of 10…exd5, were steps in the wrong direction. Now that you can see the difference, let’s look again at the position from two moves earlier.
Black to move
As you can see, White is more active and could have some chances for developing an attack in the future. But right now it is quite difficult for White to start any real direct attack on Black’s position.
Here Black doesn’t have any real weaknesses and so there is no way for White to break through and start an invasion. But after 9…e6 10.Bxe5-exd5, Black has opened a lot of lines.
Now White can attack Black’s king along the e-file. White has an open d-file, open diagonals for his bishops and can bring his queen or bishop to the a4-e8 diagonal. In total, as you can see, White is able to start a direct attack on Black’s position.
That is why Black should not have opened the position. The rule states that when you are defending and are behind in development, try to keep the position closed.
I don’t wish to make you feel overloaded. Therefore, we’ll see the remaining game in the next part.