Beginners Guide to Chess Gambits

A gambit is an opening in which a player sacrifices a piece to gain an advantage such as faster development or a better position on the board. (The word comes originally from the Italian word gambetto’, which means to set a trap.) The piece sacrificed is usually a pawn, but can be any piece (except the king, of course).

It is rare for a beginner to be courageous enough to make the sacrifice, but games that use a gambit are often interesting to play out since they tend to lead to attacking, active games instead of the slow jostling for position that many games involve. If the gambit is not well thought out and played, the sacrificed piece may become a real disadvantage to the player making the gambit, so if you do decide to play a gambit, make sure you can compensate quickly for the loss.

If you are playing against a gambit (and as a beginner you will probably always be playing against them), make sure you do not let your own development lag behind your opponent’s while you grab material on offer or you may be annihilated. Remember also that you do not have to accept a gambit just because it is offered. In fact, if you are not familiar with the gambit, it is probably safer at first to decline the offered sacrifice, since it is being offered only to give your opponent an advantage. You may not be able to see the advantage they will gain, but rest assured they are not offering the sacrifice for no gain to themselves.

There are many gambits. About.com lists over 100 at : http://chess.about.com/library/weekly/aa04g10.htm, and there are many more, but some are so obscure you will rarely or ever come across them. The best way to study gambits is by playing through gambits yourself, either from books or from gambits published on the Internet. The website above lists the moves for the major gambits, and it would be a good exercise to play through many of them to familiarize yourself with them.

The following gambits arise from common opening moves, and hopefully will whet your appetite for studying gambits.

One example is perhaps the most famous gambit in a King’s Pawn opening: the King’s gambit:
1. e4 e5
2. f4 e5 x f4
The idea is that white aims to gain control of the centre and get a head start in development. The black pawn is usually quickly recaptured, but white aims to gain control of the f-file, and especially the important f7 square, threatening the king. An interesting response to 2. f4 instead of taking the offered pawn, is a counter-gambit, 2. f4 d5, which can lead to black delaying white’s development.

In Queen’s Pawn openings one well known gambit is the Queen’s gambit:
1. d4 d5
2. c4 d5 x c4
If the gambit is accepted (as shown above) the play is often interesting with many possibilities and pitfalls for both players.

As a beginner, the golden rule is if you don’t understand the gambit, it is probably safer to decline the offered piece than to accept it.