A gambit (from ancient Italian gambetto, meaning tripping) is a chess opening in which a player, most often White, sacrifices material, usually a pawn, with the hope of achieving a resulting advantageous position. Some well-known examples are the King's Gambit (1.e4 e5 2.f4), Queen's Gambit (1.d4 d5 2.c4), and Evans Gambit (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.b4). A gambit used by Black may also be called a gambit (e.g. the Latvian Gambit—1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 f5 or Englund Gambit—1.d4 e5), but is sometimes called a "countergambit" (e.g. the Albin Countergambit—1.d4 d5 2.c4 e5 and Greco Counter-Gambit, an old-fashioned name for the Latvian Gambit).
The word "gambit" was originally applied to chess openings in 1561 by Spanish priest Rúy López de Segura, from an Italian expression dare il gambetto (to put a leg forward in order to trip someone). Lopez studied this maneuver, and so the Italian word gained the Spanish form gambito that led to French gambit, which has influenced the English spelling of the word. The broader sense of "opening move meant to gain advantage" was first recorded in English in 1855.
Gambits are often said to be 'offered' to an opponent, and that offer is then said to be either 'accepted' or 'declined.' If a player who is offered a gambit captures the piece (and thus gains material) the gambit is said to be accepted. If the player who was offered the gambit ignores it and instead continues his or her development, then the gambit is said to be declined.
In modern chess, the typical response to a moderately sound gambit is to accept the material and give the material back at an advantageous time. For gambits that are less sound, the accepting player is more likely to try to hold onto his extra material. A rule of thumb often found in various primers on chess suggests that a player should get three moves (see tempo) of development for a sacrificed pawn, but it is unclear how useful this general maxim is since the "free moves" part of the compensation is almost never the entirety of what the gambiteer gains. Of course, a player is not obliged to accept a gambit. Often, a gambit can be declined without disadvantage.
A gambit is said to be 'sound' if it is capable of procuring some concession from the opponent. There are three general criteria in which a gambit is often said to be sound:
- Time gain: the player accepting the gambit must take time to procure the sacrificed material and possibly must use more time to reorganize his pieces after the material is taken.
- Generation of differential activity: Often a player accepting a gambit will decentralize his pieces or pawns and his poorly placed pieces will allow the gambiteer to place his own pieces and pawns on squares that might otherwise have been inaccessible. In addition, bishops and rooks can become more active simply because the loss of pawns often gives rise to open files and diagonals. Former world champion Mikhail Tal, one of the most extraordinary attacking players of the 20th century, once said that he had sacrificed a pawn just because "it was in his way."
- Generation of positional weaknesses: Finally, accepting a gambit may lead to a compromised pawn structure, holes or other positional deficiencies.
A good example of a sound gambit is the Danish Gambit: 1.e4 e5 2.d4 exd4 3.c3 dxc3 (3...d5 would be a way of declining the gambit) 4.Bc4 cxb2 5.Bxb2. White has sacrificed two pawns in exchange for a lead in development (his bishops are raking Black's kingside) and the possibility of a quick attack. A more dubious gambit is the so-called Halloween Gambit: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Nxe5?! Nxe5 5.d4. Here the investment (a knight for just one pawn) is too large for the moderate advantage of having a strong center.
- This is not a true gambit by Black, since after 4.Nxe5!? Qg5! Black wins material. White can (and from this position should) play a gambit himself with 5.Bxf7+! Ke7 6.0-0! Qxe5 7.Bxg8 Rxg8 8.c3 Nc6 9.d4, when White's two pawns and rolling pawn center, combined with Black's misplaced king, give White strong compensation for the sacrificed bishop.
- ^ Edward R. Brace, An Illustrated Dictionary of Chess, Hamlyn, 1979, p. 114. ISBN 0-600-32920-8.
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