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King’s Gambit Full Guide

King’s Gambit Full Guide

Which is the most volcanic chess opening? There are many, but the King’s Gambit must be one of the most hardcore ones.

When half of the games include a sacrifice before move 12, you know you are witnessing something special.

That’s what you get with the King’s Gambit (1.e4 e5 2.f4).

King’s Gambit 1.e4 e5 2.f4

The King’s Gambit is the violent, blood-thirsty sibling of the Queen’s Gambit (1.d4 d5 2.c4).

Just like it happens with the Queen’s Gambit, the King’s Gambit can be divided into two:

  • King’s Gambit Accepted (2...exf4)
    King’s Gambit Accepted
  • King’s Gambit Declined (mostly 2...d5 and 2...Bc5)
    King’s Gambit Declined 2...d5
    King’s Gambit Declined 2...Bc5

Out of these two, at Master level the King’s Gambit Accepted is played about 75% of the time compared to the King’s Gambit Declined.

This does not mean that the KG Declined is bad.

All the moves we are going to present you with are sound and completely fine to play in your next online game or in-person tournament.

What Is the King’s Gambit?

Why should I play the King’s Gambit, you may ask?

This is a chess opening certainly suitable for a small group of players.

Are you one of those players?

The King’s Gambit is classic, aggressive, and its main goal is to undermine Black’s central pawn right from the beginning.

By sacrificing the f pawn in move 2, White tempts Black to capture gaining material but losing control of the center of the board.

White, on the other hand, immediately gains rapid development and open lines for the queen and bishop.

In the King’s Gambit Accepted, White’s main goal is to develop the Knight to f3, the Bishop usually to c4, then to castle, and finally to attack f7.

On the other hand, the King’s Gambit Declined usually leads to a slower game that can still present many dangers to both sides.

Pros and Cons of the King’s Gambit

These are some aspects to evaluate before deciding to play the King’s Gambit:

Pros

  • Aggressive Play: You will get open positions and attacking opportunities all over the place, especially against unprepared opponents.
  • Initiative: As White, you will gain rapid development and potential for early attacks.
  • Psychological Edge: The King’s Gambit is ideal to surprise opponents and take them out of their comfort zone.
  • Rich History: You will be playing a chess opening that has a storied past in chess literature, and offers tons of strategic and tactical ideas.
  • Excitement Factor: Provides an exciting game, appealing to players who favor active, tactical battles.

Cons

  • Riskiness: Depending on what kind of player you are, this one can also be a pro. Nevertheless, sacrificing the f4 pawn can lead to a very vulnerable kingside.
  • Well-Prepared Opposition: Black can counter effectively with precise play. The position, however, will be still chaotic. And if that’s what you are looking for, then you’ll have the edge.
  • Structural Weaknesses: White's pawn structure can become compromised, leading to long-term disadvantages.
  • Evolution of Chess Theory: Modern analysis and engines have found strong responses for Black.
  • Less Effective at High Levels: Tends to be less viable against top-tier players who are well-versed in defensive strategies.

King’s Gambit Accepted

As we stated before, this is by far the most played line in the King’s Gambit.

In the King’s Gambit Accepted, Black simply takes the f pawn on move 2 and with this the tactical battle starts.

There are many alternatives, although the main ones are 3.Nf3 and 3.Bc4.

King's Knight's Gambit: 3.Nf3

This is by far the most played move in the King’s Gambit Accepted.

King's Knight's Gambit

With this move, White starts to develop their pieces, and prevents Black from playing Qh4+, which would be uncomfortable.

After this move, Black has lots of options, 3...g5 being the main one.

Let’s see them one by one:

Classical Variation: 3...g5

This is the most popular choice for Black.

Classical Variation

Black decides to defend the pawn on f4, expanding on the kingside, and threatening to play g4, attacking the Knight.

What can White play in response to 3...g5?

Here are the options:

Kieseritzky Gambit - 4.h4 g4 5.Ne5

The White Knight has been attacked so White moved it to the most natural square, e5, while eyeing f7.

Kieseritzky Gambit

The most common continuation after this is 5...Nf6 6.Bc4 d5 7.exd5 Bd6 8.d4.

Kieseritzky Gambit 5...Nf6 6.Bc4 d5 7.exd5 Bd6 8.d4
Allgaier Gambit - 4.h4 g4 5.Ng5

In this gambit, instead of playing the Knight to e5, White moves it to the g5 square.

Allgaier Gambit

The only idea of this gambit is to sacrifice the knight a couple of moves later.

So 5...h6 6.Nxf7 Kxf7 7.d4 d5 8.Bxf4 Nf6 9.Nc3:

Allgaier Gambit 5...h6 6.Nxf7 Kxf7 7.d4 d5 8.Bxf4 Nf6 9.Nc3

This is currently not played at top level, but it can cause a great deal of damage in your opponent’s position if they can’t come up with the correct response.

Muzio Gambit - 4.Bc4

Here, instead of playing 4.h4, White decides to develop another piece, in this case the Bishop to c4.

Muzio Gambit

And then White sacrifices its Knight after 4...g4 5.0-0 gxf3 6.Qxf3:

Muzio Gambit 4...g4 5.0-0 gxf3 6.Qxf3

A lot is going on on the board at this point.

White is one piece down but when the pawn on f4 is gone, all the pieces are lurking the f7 square, and the attack can be overwhelming if Black plays the wrong moves.

Quaade Gambit - 4.Nc3
Quaade Gambit

With 4.Nc3 the game can continue with 4...Bg7 5.d4 d6 6.g3 Nc6 7.Bb5 a6:

Quaade Gambit 4...Bg7 5.d4 d6 6.g3 Nc6 7.Bb5 a6
Rosentreter Gambit - 4.d4

In the Rosentreter Gambit, White decides to occupy the center immediately with 4.d4.

Rosentreter Gambit

This can lead to an incredibly messy position after 4...g4 5.Ne5 Qh4+ 6.g3 fxg3 7.Qxg4 g2+ 8.Qxh4 gxh1=Q:

Rosentreter Gambit 4...g4 5.Ne5 Qh4+ 6.g3 fxg3

Now let’s review other third move options for Black.

Secondary Lines in the King’s Gambit Accepted

Bonch-Osmolovsky Defense - 3...Ne7

This is a much quieter option for Black.

Bonch-Osmolovsky Defense

The main idea of the Bonch-Osmolovsky Defense is to defend the pawn on f4 either from g6 or d5.

1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 Ne7 4.d4 d5 5.Nc3 dxe4 6.Nxe4 Nd5:

Bonch-Osmolovsky Defense 4.d4 d5 5.Nc3 dxe4 6.Nxe4 Nd5
Fischer Defense: 3...d6

For Bobby Fischer, 3...d6 was a “high-class waiting move”.

The line continues with 4.d4 g5 5.h4 g4 6.Ng1:

Fischer Defense

Fischer particularly liked the idea of the Knight retreating to g1 instead of e5 or g5, like in other sharper lines of the King’s Gambit.

MacLeod Defense: 3...Nc6

Another waiting move, the idea here is still playing g5-g4.

For example: 4.d4 g5 5.d5 g4 6.dxc6 gxf3 7.Qxf3

MacLeod Defense
Modern/Abbazia Defense: 3...d5

This line usually transposes to the Falkbeer Countergambit (covered later in this article).

Play goes like this: 3...d5 4.exd5 Nf6 5.Bc4 Nxd5 6.O-O Be7 7.d4 0-0:

Modern/Abbazia Defense
Schallopp Defense - 3...Nf6

In the Schallop Defense, the Knight on f6 is usually immediately challenged by 4.e5, and Black usually plays 4.Nh5, an odd move that has the sole purpose of defending the f4 pawn.

Possible continuations include 4.e5 Nh5 5.d4 d6 6.Qe2 d5 7.c4:

Schallopp Defense

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Cunningham Defense - 3...Be7

In the Cunningham Defense, Black’s seemingly quiet move 3...Be7 hides the threat of the h4 check.

The most sound response is 4.Bc4, and play can continue with 4...Bh4+ 5.Kf1 d5 6.Bxd5 Nf6 7.Bb3 Bg4 8.d3:

Cunningham Defense

Bishop's Gambit: 3.Bc4

We have arrived at the other main alternative to 3.Nf3.

The move 3.Bc4 allows Black to play 3...Qh4 with check, which would force White to play Rh1 and lose castling rights:

Bishop's Gambit

However, white compensates this by developing quickly, making sure its own King is always well protected despite having moved to f1.

After 3.Bc4, Black has several options.

Cozio-Morphy Defense - 3...Nf6

The Cozio-Morphy Defense, with 3...Nf6 followed by 4.Nc3 c6, focuses on solidifying Black's pawn structure and preparing for d5. This sequence leads to a strong center and active piece play.

Cozio-Morphy Defense

Bledow Variation - 3...d5

In the Bledow Variation, Black immediately challenges White's center with 3...d5.

Bledow Variation

This leads to an exchange of pawns and a more open game.

After a series of exchanges and development moves, both sides have equal chances.

Secondary Lines

Mason/Keres Gambit - 3.Nc3

Here White plays 3.Nc3 aiming to discourage ...d5.

Mason/Keres Gambit

This gambit allows 3...Qh4+, forcing the White king to move to e2.

Described by Korchnoi and Zak as risky and leading to complex situations, this gambit requires precise play, as inaccuracies can have serious consequences.

Villemson/Steinitz Gambit - 3.d4

The Villemson Gambit, also known as the Steinitz Gambit, is characterized by the move 3.d4, which aims to open up the center and target Black's d5 square:

Villemson/Steinitz Gambit

Lesser/Tartakower Gambit - 3.Be2

The Lesser Bishop's Gambit, or the Tartakower Gambit, is characterized by 3.Be2.

Lesser/Tartakower Gambit

This more conservative approach focuses on achieving a quick castle and aims at a solid setup and preparation for kingside castling, offering a less risky path for White (unless an immediate Qh4+ is played, in which case the game gets more tactical).

King’s Gambit Declined

Falkbeer Countergambit - 2...d5

The Falkbeer Countergambit starts with 2...d5 and is a bold counter-attack by Black. It sacrifices a pawn with 3.exd5 e4 for rapid development and opening lines.

Falkbeer Countergambit

Historically considered a strong response to the King's Gambit, it lost popularity after the development of 4.d3 by White, which can give White a slight edge.

This countergambit is known for leading to imbalanced and dynamic positions.

Classical Defense - 2...Bc5

This move opts to decline the gambit, placing the bishop on an active and aggressive square.

Classical Defense 2...Bc5

This defense leads to a more positional and strategic battle compared to the sharp lines of the King's Gambit Accepted.

2...d6

This move declines the gambit and was first employed in the earliest recorded game of this opening.

2...d6

It leads to a more closed and strategic game.

After 3.Nf3, the best continuation is often 3...exf4, transposing into sharper lines.

2...Nf6

The move 2...Nf6 leads to a highly tactical line.

2...Nf6

After 3.fxe5 Nxe4 4.Nf3 Ng5, the game quickly transitions into sharp play and complex tactics.

2...Qf6

This move represents an aggressive and perhaps dubious approach by Black.

2...Qf6

It involves an early queen sortie with the intention of attacking White's kingside and grabbing the f4 pawn.

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Overview

Games on Database: 16463
Last Played: Jan 2024
Overall score:
46.9% 19.2% 33.8%

Played frequently by:

White  
Heikki MJ Westerinen 102 games
Adolf Anderssen 90 games
Mikhail Chigorin 79 games
Black  
Adolf Anderssen 87 games
NN 80 games
Georg Marco 34 games

Possible continuations:

2... exf4  8747
43.9 % 19.5 % 36.5 %
2... d5  2875
43.1 % 22 % 34.9 %
2... Bc5  2029
43.8 % 20.9 % 35.3 %
2... d6  1246
66.1 % 21.2 %
2... Nc6  926
61 % 25.7 %
2... Qh4+  224
50.4 % 20.5 % 29 %
2... Nf6  196
51 % 24.5 % 24.5 %
2... f6  107
84.1 %
2... Qf6  55
49.1 % 23.6 % 27.3 %
2... c6  17
29.4 % 58.8 %
2... f5  16
43.8 % 50 %
2... Bd6  10
90 %
2... Qe7  5
80 % 20 %
2... g6  2
100 %
2... b6  2
100 %
2... c5  2
50 % 50 %