Latvian Gambit is a king’s pawn opening that starts with 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 f5 .
Black goes against all opening principles by playing 2…f5.
- First black advances pawn which weakens his king considerably.
- Secondly, black avoids developing minor pieces as quickly as possible.
- Thirdly, black plays a gambit with black pieces which can easily go wrong even if white makes simple correct moves.
White can capture either of the pawns with 3.Nxe5 or 3.exf5. Secondary consideration can be given to 3.Bc4
This is 17th century opening which proved dubious once the development of modern chess picked up the pace. Neverthless, it is important to know its pros and cons so that one knows how to face it if it occurs in a real game.
So at the end of this post you will find it hard to see why black should go for this opening.
White plays 3.exf5
After 3.exf5 e4 4.Nxe5, white is threatening to play Qh5+.
The only way to defend it is to play 4…Nf6. After 5.Be2 (Renewing the threat of Bh5+), Black can play 5…d6 6.Bh5+ Ke7 (You can see it already getting ugly for black) 7.Nf7 Qe8 8.Nxh8 Qxh5 9.Qxh5 Nxh5 and white is currently exchange up. His knight is trapped at h8 square but it is hard to see how black can capture it. Generally, the position works well for white.
Only way black can get a better game is if he can capture the knight on h8 soon. That can be expected only if you are playing against a weaker opponent.
Instead of 5…d6, black can play 5…Bc5, making space on f8 for the black king.
But why would you want to play like this?
White plays 3.Nxe5
3.Nxe5 can be a second choice for white. White is threatening Qh5+. Black can either defend it by playing 3…Qf6 or ignore it with intention of counter attack by 3…Nc6. Note that after 3…Nf6 4.exf5 white has won two pawn for a moment. But after 4…d6 5.Nf3 Bxf5 white has a healthy extra pawn with no compensation for black.
Black plays 3…Qf6
After 3…Qf6 4.d4 d6 5.Nc4 fxe4 6.Nc3 Qg6 we reach a position below.
White has developed two minor pieces and is ready to develop his bishops to good squares and complete his development. While black only has his queen developed, that too on not a great square. White can play 7.f3 to take advantage of black’s lack of development and open up the game.
White can also simply play 7.Ne3 and the game may go 7…Nf6 8.Be2 c6 9.f3 exf3 10.Bxf3 d5 11.Qe2 and black has to make an ugly move 11…Kd8
Black plays 3…Nc6
After 3…Nc6 4.Qh5+ g6 5. Nxg6 Nf6 6.Qh4 Rg8 7.Nxf4 and here black has a hidden idea 7…Rg4!
Black is counting on a kingside attack, but even at a first look it seems that white can defend well. After 8.Qh3 Rxe4+ 9.Be2 Qe7 10.Qd3 Nd4 11.Nc3 Nxe2 12.Nxe2 Kxf8 13.Qf3 and white will play d3-Be3-0-0 and he is out of danger with an extra pawn and clearly better position.
In case white doesn’t want to go for this complication, he can simply choose 4.Nxc6 dxc6 5.d4 with a better game!
White plays 3.Bc4
This is the last option that white can consider provided that accepting the gambit with either 3.exf5 or 3.Nxe5 clearly gives him better position. After 3.Bc4 fxe5 4.Nxe5 Qg5 game goes into very sharp lines. 5.d4 Qxg2 6.Qh5+ g6 7.Bf7+ Kd8 8.Bxg6 Qxh1+ 9.Ke2 c6 10.Nc3 Nf6 11.Qg5 white usually scores better from this position. White’s huge advantage in development is a far more compensation for the loss of exchange.
On move 3. White can try passive 3.d3 or 3.d4 which leads to a sharp game. But these moves are not popular as they don’t exploit black’s f5 move and weak h5-e8 diagonal.
Game Played with Latvian Gambit
Here is a game played between Apicella, Manuel (2435) vs Sokolov, Ivan (2630)
By now you must be convinced that Latvian gambit is just for study and not for playing in tournament games. You can have fun with it in blitz games and see whether you can defend well with black or not. But it is certainly not recommended in serious games. With move 3…f5, black exposed his king too early to threats like Qh5+.