My impression of the word "gambit" is the sacrifice of a pawn or several pawns at the opening stage of a chess game. However, based on the definition on Wikipedia, a gambit (from ancient Italian gambetto, meaning "to trip") is a chess opening in which a player, more often White, sacrifices material, usually a pawn, with the hope of achieving a resulting advantageous position.

The phrase "usually a pawn" seems to imply that a gambit could be a sacrifice of other pieces. Am wondering what are examples of gambits that sacrifice a knight, or a bishop, or a rook, or even the queen, or a combination of these pieces?

I am not talking about blunders at the opening stage that cause loss of material. I am asking about openings that stand the test of time where one side willfully sacrifices some material other than pawns to earn some advantage.

A related question: What is the "biggest" gambit that is still being played at the master's or above level? That is, a gambit that white sacrifices a combination of biggest value of pieces and yet obtained enough advantage development and/or space; at the same time, the game is somewhat acceptable for black as well.

  • 8
    Look up the Muzio gambit in the King's gambit. There white sacrifices numerous pieces to get an attack. – Scounged Dec 9 '18 at 8:10
  • 1
    I know this is the opening line of Wikipedia's article, but to be more precise: "gamba" is leg (old as well as new Italian), and to get somebody off their feet in say wrestling would be "gambettare" ( conjit.cactus2000.de/showverb.en.php?verb=gambettare&pas=1 although I'd think in modern Italian you'd say "sgambettare", with the "s-" as in italian.stackexchange.com/questions/6888/… ). So "gambetto" (in old & new Italian) could be translated as "the tripping up" --- a noun, not a verb like "tripping up" or "to trip" as you/wiki have. – user3445853 Dec 10 '18 at 14:23

This is kind of out there (virtually nobody plays it as white and even fewer allow it as black) but there is a rather crazy queen sacrifice line in the Grand Prix:

[FEN "rnbqkbnr/pppppppp/8/8/8/8/PPPPPPPP/RNBQKBNR w KQkq - 0 1 "]
1.e4 c5 2.f4 d5 3.Nf3 dxe4 4.Ng5 Nf6 5.Bc4 Bg4!? 6.Bxf7+ Kd7 7.Qxg4+ Nxg4 8.Be6+ Kc6 9.Bxg4

5...Bg4!? by black is quite rare and combative, inviting (daring) white to initiate the festivities where 5...e6 instead is calmer. So white takes it up and sacrifices the queen for just two minors and the hope of long-term play against black's lack of development. Yes, there isn't any quick tactical win, just long-term pressure while down a queen.

The position has occurred several times in master play (check the lichess database) but is extremely rare, and most examples not recent. It was even featured on chessgames.com many years back: http://www.chessgames.com/perl/chessgame?gid=1648780

  • Grand Prix players typically play 2. Nc3 for the very purpose of preventing 2...d5. – Quintec Dec 9 '18 at 23:48
  • I have heard it said that 3 minors defeats a queen so this isn't ridiculously implausible. – Joshua Dec 10 '18 at 17:26

A commonly known knight sacrifice by white is the Fried Liver Attack:

[FEN ""]
[ECO "C57"]
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6 4. Ng5 d5 5. exd5 Nxd5?! (5... Na5 {The main line.} 6. Bb5+ c6 7. dxc6 bxc6 {Black has compensation in form of initiative for the pawn.}) 6. Nxf7!? (6. d4 {The Lolli variation.}) Kxf7 7. Qf3+ Ke6 8. Nc3

White has a strong attack against the king in the middle of the board.


The Cochrane Gambit:

[FEN ""]
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nxf7

This is relatively sound gambit, Topalov has played it against Kramnik.

The Traxler Gambit:

[FEN ""]
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6 4. Ng5 Bc5 5. Nxf7 Bxf2 6. Kf1 Qe7 7. Nxh8

White does have an option of taking on f7 with the bishiop 5. Bxf7 which leads to only a pawn sacrifice and less complicated position, but black does allow for a greater material sacrifice.

Gambit in Ruy Lopez. I don't remember the name of this, but it is a piece sacrifice.

[FEN ""]
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 f5 4. d4 fxe4
5. Nxe5 Nxe5 6. dxe5 c6 7. Nc3 cxb5 8. Nxe4
  • 2
    +1, the Cochrane is the only one of these that has been played at high level in decades, namely in that single Topalov game. – RemcoGerlich Dec 10 '18 at 14:58
  • How is the last one ("gambit in Ruy Lopez") good for white? I don't see any advantage. – user21820 Dec 11 '18 at 5:17
  • 1
    @user21820, black is undeveloped and has problems finishing development, and their king is weak and stuck in the center. the usual move for black here is 8...d5 giving back pawn, 8...Be7 for example is a mistake, since after this move black can take on d6 with a tempo, or 8...Be7, 9. 0-0 Nh6 10. Bxh6 an white king is too open. Having said that, white's sacrifice is probably not fully sound, but white does have some compensation and black has to be very careful. – Akavall Dec 12 '18 at 3:41
  • Thanks for your reply! I see that lichess Stockfish 10+ thinks that Black only has a slight advantage despite the significant material imbalance. – user21820 Dec 12 '18 at 14:33

The 'Halloween Gambit' or 'Müller-Schulze Gambit' is a knight gambit in the (often characterized as dull) Four Knights Game:

[FEN ""]
[White "Blokje"]
[Black "Platypussy"]
[StartPly "7"]

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Nxe5 Nxe5 5. d4 Nc6 6.d5 Ne5 7.f4 Ng6 8.e5 Ng8 9.Bd3 Bb4 10.O-O Bxc3 11.bxc3 d6 12.e6 fxe6 13.dxe6 Nf6 14.g4 O-O 15.g5 Ne8 16.f5 Ne5 17.Re1 Nxd3?? 18.e7 (5... Ng6 {This is the old refutation, but it's still hard to defend.} 6. e5 Ng8 7. Bc4 d5 8. Bxd5 c6)

As the famous Dutch writer Tim Krabbé phrases it:

This [4. Nxe5] irritated me. I vaguely knew about this move - not as a real opening, but as some sort of a student's joke, something silly that might be played at the end of a long blitz-and-boozing session. Wasn't this the 'Irish Gambit', the one with the anecdote where they asked the inventor on his death bed how he had thought of it, and he had answered: 'I didn't see it was protected'?

Even though a 'refutation' had already been published in the mid 50s, it's surprisingly hard to defend for Black, especially in blitz games. The Tim Krabbé article I linked to, though somewhat old, is a nice introduction; it features several games where IMs and GMs are beaten by a lower-rated player with this gambit.

  • 4
    This is also commonly known as the Halloween Gambit. – eyeballfrog Dec 9 '18 at 17:35
  • @Joshua 11. bxc3 as in, the white b-pawn captures the black bishop on c3 – Jack Dec 12 '18 at 4:36

The Perenyi Gambit is an important theoretical variation that has been favored by GMs like J.Polgar or A.Shirov. White sacrifices at least one piece, and often two:

[FEN ""]
[ECO "C57"]
1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Be3 e6 7. g4!? e5 8. Nf5 g6 9. g5 (9.Bg2) gxf5 10. exf5 d5 11. Qf3 d4

See, for instance, Polgar-Anand, 1999.

Or this game by Svidler against Gelfand.

  • And Svidler, chessgames.com/perl/chessgame?gid=1231058 – Akavall Dec 10 '18 at 17:52
  • 1
    Thx @akavall, I added the game in the answer. – Evargalo Dec 10 '18 at 20:54
  • Very impressive sacrifices. To me they kinda look speculative, but in both games black was demolished lol. – Isac Dec 11 '18 at 16:14

Not sure if this is considered a gambit, but one of the lines of the Steinitz variation of the Caro Kann defense involves white sacrificing a knight:

[FEN "rnbqkbnr/pppppppp/8/8/8/8/PPPPPPPP/RNBQKBNR w KQkq - 0 1 "]
[Event "IBM Man-Machine, New York USA"]
[Site "New York, NY USA"]
[Date "1997.05.??"]
[Round "6"]
[Result "1-0"]
[White "Deep Blue"]
[Black "Garry Kasparov"]
[ECO "B17"]
[PlyCount "37"]
[StartPly "14"]

1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nd7 5.Ng5 Ngf6 6.Bd3 e6 7.N1f3 h6 8.Nxe6 Qe7 9.O-O fxe6 10.Bg6+ Kd8 11.Bf4 b5 12.a4 Bb7 13.Re1 Nd5 14.Bg3 Kc8 15.axb5 cxb5 16.Qd3 Bc6 17.Bf5 exf5 18.Rxe7 Bxe7 19.c4 1-0

There are only a few games involving this sacrifice, and this is due to the position requiring accurate play from white to keep the advantage.

  • 1
    I think this isn't seen often because the position is really hard for black to defend and so he shouldn't go into it in the first place. Pretty sure Kasparov entered it by accident, too. – Allure Dec 9 '18 at 11:12
  • True. I read this somewhere and wanted to quote the source, but couldn't remember it. Feel free to edit my post if you find a source. Thanks for your remarks! – Wais Kamal Dec 9 '18 at 16:34

The Frankenstein-Dracula variation of the Vienna game features a Rook sacrifice by Black (effectively an exchange sacrifice however, since the Knight will not escape).

[FEN ""]
1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.Bc4 Nxe4 4.Qh5 Nd6 5.Bb3 Nc6 6.Nb5 g6 7.Qf3 f5 8.Qd5 Qe7 9.Nxc7+ Kd8 10.Nxa8

Impressively, this variation seems to favour Black.

  • Then why it does not have the word "gambit" in its name? – Zuriel Dec 11 '18 at 21:01
  • @Zuriel beats me. – Allure Dec 11 '18 at 21:34

Légal Trap is one of my most favorite games. It's just so simple, and yet gives a powerful reminder of what sacrifices can allow you to do. White sacrifices the Queen, but in exchange Black concedes the game!

[FEN ""]
[ECO "C57"]
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 d6 4. Nc3 Bg4?! 5. h3 Bh5? 6. Nxe5! Bxd1?? 7. Bxf7+ Ke7 8. Nd5#
  • 9
    Does an opening trap really constitute a gambit? – Bladewood Dec 11 '18 at 2:32
  • 3
    This is not really a sacrifice. – JiK Dec 12 '18 at 1:38

There is the Bronstein Gambit in the Two-knights Defence

[FEN ""]

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5 d5 5.exd5 Na5 6.d3 h6 7.Nf3 e4 8.dxe4

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.