King’s Gambit is a king’s pawn opening that starts with 1.e4 e5 2.f4 . It is one of the oldest openings known in chess history. This opening belongs to the romantic era of chess where material was not a major concern. Beauty of chess was seen in sacrifices and tactical combinations.
With move 2.f4, white offers a pawn sacrifice in exchange for initiative and better control of center. Black’s most popular choice is to accept the challenge with 2…exf4. The idea is that if white manages to play d4 and capture Bxf4, then white will regain the pawn with a better control of the center.
King’s gambit accepted
After 2…exf4, the main line is 3.Nf3 g5
Black defends the f4 pawn and threatens to play g4, harassing the knight. White has two major ways of playing here.
4.Bc4 g4 and here white plays 5.0-0 sacrificing a full piece!
After 5…gxf3 6.Qxf3 white aims to create a quick attack on the undeveloped black’s forces. After 6…Qf6 7.e5 (another pawn sacrifice!) Qxe5 8.d3 Bh6 9.Nc3 white has developed almost all his pieces.
White is ready to create an attack with Bxf4 and Rae1. Black is a piece up but his king feels uncomfortable and his queenside pieces are totally undeveloped. White has a good compensation for the sacrificed piece.
After 4.Bc4 black can also choose 4…Bg7 instead of g4 to avoid the sharp lines.
The game could go 5.d4 Nc6 6.h4 h6 (if 6…g4 then 7.Ng5!) 7.c3 with an equal game.
White plays 4.Nc3
Instead of the Muzio gambit, white can play 4.Nc3, provoking black to play 4…g4.
After 4…g4 5.Ne5 Qh4+ 6.g3 fxg3 white can play 7.Qxg4!
After 7…Qxg4 8.Nxg4 white is a pawn down but has a really good development and attacking chances despite of exchanging the queens.
But if black plays 7…g2 8.Qxh4 gxh1=Q, white gets a powerful attack with 9.Qh5!
Black got the rook but his forces are totally undeveloped, and it is very hard to defend against the threats on f7. After 9…Nh6 10.d4 white has a clearly better game.
Black plays 3…d5
Instead of 3…g5, black can go with 3…d5 4.exd5 Nf6 5.Bc4 Nxd5 6.0-0 Be7 7.d4 0-0 8.Bxd5 Qxd5 9.Bxf4
White has regained the pawn with better development, but black has gained a bishop pair. White has slightly more control over the center. But black is by no means worse. Objectively, the position is equal.
The Bishop’s gambit with 3.Bc4
3.Nf3 is the most natural move preventing 3…Qh4+. But white can also play 3.Bc4. It is called the Bishop’s gambit. The idea is that after 3…Qh4+ 4.Kh1 white will get the move Nf3 with a tempo.
But the downside is that white loses the right to castle and the f file cannot be occupied by the white rook. Therefore, this move is not very popular.
King’s gambit declined
Black is not obliged to capture with 2…exf4. Black can play 2…Bc5. White can play 3.Nf3 d6 4.c3 Nf6 5.d4 exd4 6.cxd4 Bb6 7.Nc3 0-0
White seems to have full control of the center, but black can attack it easily with Re8-Bg4-Nc6…etc. The game is about equal.
Watch out for the trap on move 3. White can’t capture with 3.fxe4?? because of 3…Qh4+ 4.g3 Qxe4+ wins the rook on h1.
Finally black can play 2…d5, sacrificing a pawn himself, it is called Falkbeer countergambit. After 3.exd5, black plays 3…e4
The game can go 4.d3 Nf6 5.dxe4 Nxe4 6.Nf3 Bc5 7.Qe2 Bf5 with a very sharp game.
Black has a good development and enough compensation for a pawn. White’s king feels unsafe and pieces look disharmonious. The queen on e2 blocks f1 bishop and thus hinders white’s quick castling possibility.
Game played with King’s Gambit
Here is a game played between Nakamura, Hikaru vs Adams, Michael
Although very old, King’s gambit can still be played occasionally against an unprepared opponent. The lines are very sharp, and if you are well prepared, you can get a good outcome at the end of opening.
But it is important to practice all the lines and beware of traps. When you move your f pawn too early, there is always some Qh4+ to watch out for, or some Bc5 which stops you from castling!