Italian Game, Blackburne Shilling Gambit

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Blackburne Shilling Gambit
a b c d e f g h
a8 black rook
c8 black bishop
d8 black queen
e8 black king
f8 black bishop
g8 black knight
h8 black rook
a7 black pawn
b7 black pawn
c7 black pawn
d7 black pawn
f7 black pawn
g7 black pawn
h7 black pawn
e5 black pawn
c4 white bishop
d4 black knight
e4 white pawn
f3 white knight
a2 white pawn
b2 white pawn
c2 white pawn
d2 white pawn
f2 white pawn
g2 white pawn
h2 white pawn
a1 white rook
b1 white knight
c1 white bishop
d1 white queen
e1 white king
h1 white rook
7 7
6 6
5 5
4 4
3 3
2 2
1 1
a b c d e f g h
Moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nd4
Origin Wilhelm Steinitz, The Modern Chess Instructor, Part II, 1895
Named after Legend on Blackburne (see text)
Parent Italian Game
Synonym(s) Kostić Gambit

The Blackburne Shilling Gambit is the name facetiously given to a dubious chess opening, derived from an offshoot of the Italian Game, that begins:

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. Bc4 Nd4?!

It is also sometimes referred to as the Kostić Gambit after the Serbian grandmaster Borislav Kostić, who played it in the early 20th century.[1]


Wilhelm Steinitz made the first known mention of this line, noting it in 1895 in the Addenda to his Modern Chess Instructor, Part II.[2] The earliest game with the opening on, Dunlop–Hicks, New Zealand Championship, dates from 1911.[3] Another early game, mentioned by Bill Wall, is Muhlock–Kostić, Cologne, 1912.[1][4]


Black's third move is, objectively speaking, a weak, time-wasting move. Steinitz recommended 4.0-0 or 4.Nxd4 in response.[2] International Master Jeremy Silman writes that White has an advantage after 4.0-0, 4.c3, or 4.Nc3. He recommends as best 4.Nxd4! exd4 5.c3 d5 6.exd5 Qe7+ 7.Kf1 +/=, when 5...Bc5? loses a pawn to 6.Bxf7+! Kxf7 7.Qh5+.[5]

The only virtue of 3...Nd4 is that it sets a trap that has ensnared many players. After the natural 4.Nxe5!?, Black wins material with 4...Qg5! Now the obvious 5.Nxf7?? loses to 5...Qxg2 6.Rf1 Qxe4+ 7.Be2 Nf3#, a smothered mate. This trap is what gives the line its name; the great English master Joseph Henry Blackburne reputedly used it to win shillings from amateurs.[1] However, Wall has questioned this, stating that there are no recorded games of Blackburne with the opening.[1]

The opening is not a true gambit, since White cannot take the pawn on e5 without losing material. However, after 4.Nxe5 Qg5, White can maintain a playable game with 5.Bxf7+! Steinitz wrote that this move, "followed by castling, is now White's best chance and in some measure a promising one, considering that he has two Pawns and the attack for the piece".[2]

Graham Burgess writes that 3...Nd4 is also known as the "Oh my God!" trap, as for full effect, Black is supposed to make this exclamation, pretending to have accidentally blundered the e-pawn. Burgess condemns this behavior as unethical, and notes that the trap, if avoided, leaves White with a large advantage.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Bill Wall (2005), The Blackburne Shilling Gambit
  2. ^ a b c Wilhelm Steinitz, The Modern Chess Instructor, Edition Olms Zürich, 1990 (reprint), p. 63 of Part II. ISBN 3-283-00111-1.
  3. ^ Dunlop–Hicks, New Zealand Championship 1911.
  4. ^ Muhlock–Kostić, Köln 1912
  5. ^ Jeremy Silman (2004), Two Wild Black Systems
  6. ^ Graham Burgess, The Mammoth Book of Chess, Carroll & Graf, 1997, pp. 122–23. ISBN 0-7867-0725-9.

External links[edit]