Playing the King’s Gambit can lead to lots of fun games when the gambit is accepted. However, how do you deal with the timid chess players who opt for the King’s Gambit Declined?
Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
The best way is to show them there is more than one side to the classical King’s Gambit, and adopting a safety-first approach can easily backfire on Black. When playing a gambit opening, you must know all the positional elements that make the gambit work.
These elements become essential parts of your opening strategy when the gambit is declined. Although White often aims for a mating attack in the King’s Gambit Accepted, he adopts a more positional approach and plays for the better endgame when it’s declined.
The King’s Gambit has a rich and fascinating history. Here’s chess grandmaster Damian Lemos to talk about the origins of this classic chess opening.
King’s Gambit Declined: Falkbeer Counter-Gambit
1.e4 e5 2.f4 d5
This is one of Black’s best ways to decline the King’s Gambit and was the choice of Paul Morphy when he faced the King’s Gambit.
White must avoid 3.Nf3 because 3…dxe4 forces the knight to move a second time. 4.Ne5 allows Black to exchange pieces with 4…Nd7 making his defensive task much easier.
3.exd5 is the move for White to play and ask Black how he intends to regain his pawn? 3…Qxd5 is well met with 4.Nc3 gaining a tempo. The most aggressive approach by Black is 3…e4.
Falkbeer Counter-Gambit 3…e4
1.e4 e5 2.f4 d5 3.exd5 e4
Now White has two excellent moves at his disposal:
4.d3 is by far the most popular, which means you are likely to catch many Black players unprepared if you choose 4.Nc3. Switching between two moves makes it more challenging for your opponents to guess which move you will play against them.
David Bronstein made short work of his strong opponent using 4.d3.
Bronstein, David I – Vaisman, Volodia, 1-0, Vitrobud op, 1976
Vadim Zvjaginsev used 4.Nc3 to defeat his opponent, who was rated 2535 Elo.
Zvjaginsev, Vadim – Chadaev, Nikolay, 1-0, RUS-ch Higher League 61st, 2008
Falkbeer Counter-Gambit 3…exf4
1.e4 e5 2.f4 d5 3.exd5 exf4
This is Black’s most popular move, and after both sides develop their knight with 4.Nf3 Nf6, White has a choice between 5.Bc4 and 5.Bb5+. Because Black can meet the check with …c6, 5.Bc4 is the better choice and the one chosen by Magnus Carlsen.
Carlsen, Magnus – Wang, Yue, 1-0, Bazna Kings 4th, 2010
King’s Gambit Declined Classical Variation (2…Bc5)
1.e4 e5 2.f4 Bc5
In keeping with the name, play usually unfolds with classical development before reaching a standard tabiya. White’s main goal in the opening is to exchange the black bishop on c5 and castle.
3.Nf3 d6 4.Nc3 nf6 5.Bc4 Nc6 6.d3 Bg4 7.Na4 Bb6 8.Nxb6 axb6
White has two very nice positional advantages despite the lack of pieces – the better pawn structure and the bishop pair. This might not seem like an advantage, but it was enough for Todorovich to defeat Blagojevic in 37 moves.
Todorovic, Goran M – Blagojevic, Dragisa, 1-0, YUG-ch 56th, 2001
King’s Gambit Declined 2…Nc6
1.e4 e5 2.f4 Nc6
This leaves White with a wide variety of responses. The natural developing move 3.Nf3 serves many functions while offering Black a second chance at taking the gambit.
3.Nf3 also stops …Qh4+ while supporting the d4 advance if Black accepts the gambit with 3…exf4. Black often equalizes when he gets in …e5 and …d5, but here it is premature.
After 4.exd5 Qxd5 5.Nc3 wins a tempo by attacking the queen and asks Black how he will defend the e5-pawn? 5…Qe6 leads to a terrible position after 6.Bb5 exf4+ 7.Kf2 when Re1 will cause Black a lot of problems.
Remember, your king is not exposed if your opponent can’t get to it!
The White king is perfectly safe on f2, and with the pin on the c6 knight …Bc5+ is easily met with d4.
White has a comfortable position with easy development, open files in the center, and the d4 advance coming soon.
This makes 3…d6 a logical choice for Black, but Gata Kamsky obtained a nice position from the opening in his game against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov.
Kamsky, Gata (2697) – Mamedyarov, Shakhriyar (2722), 1-0, Kamsky-Mamedyarov m, 2006
The King’s Gambit offers White much more than a mating attack and the opportunity to play lots of sacrifices. It is important to remember and play by the classical principles of sound development and active piece play in this classical chess opening.
White must not get caught up in all the tactics and forget about sound positional chess principles. Weakening your opponent’s pawn structure to ensure you have a better endgame is a sound strategy for White to use in the King’s Gambit Declined.
There is no need to despair if your opponent chooses to decline the King’s Gambit because the opportunity for exciting, lively positions still exists.
There will always be players who decline gambits, but if they suffer enough losses, it’s only a matter of time before they change their approach and start accepting gambits.
Whether you pound your opponent or grind him down slowly on your path to victory is a matter of choice. The important thing is to teach him even declining the gambit is no guarantee of staying safe.
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