Counter the King’s Gambit With the Falkbeer Counter-Gambit

The King’s Gambit is a dangerous chess opening for White to use against 1…e5.

Kings Gambit Refuted blog image

One way of meeting the King’s Gambit is by offering a gambit of our own – the Falkbeer Counter-Gambit: 2…d5. This is a move chosen by one of the greatest attacking players of all time, Paul Morphy.

GM Damian Lemos knows how to use the Falkbeer Counter-Gambit for maximum effect against the King’s Gambit. Take a look at some of the many wonderful possibilities it offers Black in this video.

King’s Gambit Chess Opening: Falkbeer Counter-Gambit

Black Offers A Gambit of His Own

The Falkbeer Counter-Gambit offers Black an open position with the easy and rapid development of his pieces. Black, unlike White, doesn’t weaken the position of his castled king with his gambit.

The strength of 2…d5 is that Black meets a flank attack (2.f4) by striking back immediately in the center.

Kings Gambit Falkbeer Counter Gambit
Kings Gambit Falkbeer Counter Gambit

If the classical principles of chess still apply to hypermodern openings, they apply in equal measure to the classical chess openings that begin 1.e4 e5.

White really has little choice but to accept the gambit or transpose to the Vienna Game with 3.Nc3. A sensible way for Black to continue is with 3…Nf6 when White will soon regret weakening his kingside with the f4-pawn advance.

For example, 4.fxe5 Nxe4 5.Nxe4 dxe4 allows Black to develop with …Nc6, and …Bc5. The bishop prevents White from castling because the f-pawn has moved.

Kings Gambit Transposes To Vienna Game
Kings Gambit Transposes To Vienna Game

This is why White usually continues playing in the spirit of the King’s Gambit with 3.exd5 exf4 4.Nf3 Nf6

Kings Gambit Falkbeer Counter-Gambit 4...Nf6
Kings Gambit Falkbeer Counter-Gambit 4…Nf6

In this position, White has two main moves 5.Bc4 and 5.Bb5+

Falkbeer Counter-Gambit 5.Bc4

1.e4 e5 2.f4 d5 3.exd5 exf4 4.Nf3 Nf6 5.Bc4

Kings Gambit Falkbeer Counter-Gambit 5.Bc4
Kings Gambit Falkbeer Counter-Gambit 5.Bc4

Now it is Black who must decide between 5…Nxd5 or 5…c6. Even within the Falkbeer Counter-Gambit, you will find an approach to fit your playing style.

5…Nxd5 is the more solid approach and was played by GM Peter Svidler. However, if you enjoy playing chess gambits, then 5.c6 6.dxc6 Nxc6 is the way to play this position.

After 5…Nxd5 6.Bd5 Qxd5 7.Nc3 Qd8 8.d4 Be7 9.Bxf4 0-0 10.0-0 Bf5 Black has the bishop pair in an open position and the safer king.

Kings Gambit Falkbeer Counter-Gambit 10...Bf5
Kings Gambit Falkbeer Counter-Gambit 10…Bf5

Take a look at how GM Peter Svidler converted this position into a win against strong GM Alexei Fedorov, who was rated 2684 at the time.

Fedorov, Alexei – Svidler, Peter, 0-1, RUS-chT, 2000

Falkbeer Counter-Gambit 5.Bb5+

1.e4 e5 2.f4 d5 3.exd5 exf4 4.Nf3 Nf6 5.Bb5+

Kings Gambit Falkbeer Counter-Gambit 5.Bb5
Kings Gambit Falkbeer Counter-Gambit 5.Bb5

White can win a pawn in the next few moves, but Black’s compensation is more than adequate.

5…c6 6.dxc6 Nx6 7.Qe2+ Be6 8.Ng5 0-0 9.Nxe6 fxe6 10.Qxe6+ Kh8

Kings Gambit Falkbeer Counter-Gambit  10...Kh8
Kings Gambit Falkbeer Counter-Gambit 10…Kh8

Black can take control of the e-file with a gain of tempo by playing …Rae8.

Black has a nice lead in development and is one move away from connecting his rooks. In contrast, all the White queenside pieces are on their original squares. 

Zimin, Alexey – Ovod, Evgenija, 0-1, St Petersburg Botvinnik 100 op, 2011

King’s Gambit Chess Opening: The Classical Variation

The Classical Approach with 2…Bc5

There is no need to enter the wild complications of the King’s Gambit Accepted chess opening when a classical approach with 2…Bc5 will take the sting out of the gambit.

1.e4 e5 2.f4 Bc5

Kings Gambit 2...Bc5
Kings Gambit 2…Bc5

2…Bc5 also sets a deadly trap for any unprepared White player. 3.fxe5 is met with 3…Qh4+, when White loses a rook with 4.g3 Qxe4+ or is checkmated after 4.Ke2 Qxh4# since the bishop on c5 controls f2.

The bishop on c5 is such a powerful piece White will often spend two tempi to exchange it with Na4 and Nxc5 or Nxb6.

2…Bc5 is a strong defense based on sound chess principles, and you don’t need to know a lot of theory to play it successfully. The opening moves are sensible developing moves that are easily remembered.

White Plays 7.Na4

1.e4 e5 2.f4 Bc5 3.Nf3 d6 4.Nc3 Nf6 5.Bc4 Nc6 6.d3 Bg4 7.Na4

Kings Gambit 7.Na4
Kings Gambit 7.Na4

In this position, Black’s main options are between the equally strong 7…Bb6 or 7…0-0. The main difference being if you are comfortable with doubled c-pawns (after Nxc5) or doubled b-pawns (after Nxb6).

Van der Laan, Dinard – Van der Wiel, John, 0-1, Leiden LCT op-A 5th, 2011

White Plays 7.h3

1.e4 e5 2.f4 Bc5 3.Nf3 d6 4.Nc3 Nf6 5.Bc4 Nc6 6.d3 Bg4 7.h3

Kings Gambit 7.h3
Kings Gambit 7.h3

7…Bxf3 8.Qxf3 Nd4 9.Qg3 0-0

Kings Gambit 9...0 0
Kings Gambit 9…0 0

Black does well to resist the temptation to play 9…Nxc2 because the g7-pawn is under attack.

Sokolov, Alexander – Jurasek, M., 0-1, TCh-CZE 1 Liga Zapad, 2018

Final Thoughts on the King’s Gambit Chess Opening

Like many gambit openings, the King’s Gambit can be dangerous against an unprepared opponent. Fortunately, it doesn’t take much for Black to neutralize the King’s Gambit, and you can do it with natural developing moves.

Of course, even if Black can equalize, many players are happy to play the King’s Gambit because of the dangers it poses if Black goes wrong. This means White will at worst reach an equal position.

The good news for players who want to meet 1.e4 with 1…e5 is that you can meet the King’s Gambit with confidence that you can equalize and do so in a way that fits your playing style. There’s every reason to consider your opening a success when you achieve an equal position with Black.

The King’s Gambit is an opening worthy of respect, but with a little preparation, you can feel confident about holding your own against it with Black.

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