Tennison Gambit

The lesser-known Tennison Gambit is initiated with the seemingly calm and collected starting move of the Reti Opening, 1.Nf3, but the Flank Opening takes a surprising turn after 1…d5 with the move 2.e4. This opening bears resemblance to the Englund Gambit played by black, but with reversed colors. The key difference is that white utilizes the extra tempo gained by developing the knight to f3.

Tennison Gambit

The gambit took its name from the Danish chess amateur, Otto Mandrup Tennison, who played the first game recorded in this opening in 1891. The Tennison Gambit never made it to the top of the chess scene; nevertheless, it may be tricky for the opponents, who are facing the gambit for the first time.

Winning percentages on both sides

Results Rate
Win for white 18%
Draw 23%
Win for black 59%

Main Ideas

By deviating from more traditional openings, the Tennison Gambit aims to catch black off guard with an early pawn sacrifice, which may lead to quick wins for white. The main idea behind the sacrifice is to create early structural imbalances and take advantage of the opened lines with an active piece play. White strives to mobilize their pieces rapidly and seize the initiative with pressure on black’s kingside, which usually involves white’s knight placed on g5, light-squared bishop putting pressure on the tender f7 pawn as well as the queen, which can join the attack with double attacks, e.g. hitting b7 and f7 simultaneously.

There is a historical likelihood that the Tennison Gambit may have inspired the Budapest Gambit, which starts in a similar fashion with the sacrifice of the e-pawn: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e5. In some instances, certain ideas or strategies from one can be applied to the other.

Tennison Gambit Theory

There are two main ways to lure the opponent into the territory of the Tennison Gambit. The first one is to start with 1.Nf3 and since 1…e5 is not possible, after the most common reply, 1…d5, white can gambit with 2.e4. The second possibility for white would be that if the player knows that the opponent is going to reply 1.e4 with a Scandinavian Defense, 1…d5, white can now transpose into the variations of the opening with 2.Nf3. It must be said that starting with 1.Nf3 instead of 1.e4 increases the likelihood of entering the Tennison Gambit. In either case, black’s only reasonable response is to accept the sacrifice with 2…dxe4, after which white attacks the pawn with 3.Ng5, while also eyeing the f7. Moving the knight also opens the door for the queen to step into the game quicker than usual. Black may either attempt to hang onto the material in various ways, like 3…Nf6, 3…Bf5, or even 3…Qd5, or just give the material back for rapid development. An example of black’s attempt to gain initiative would be 3…e5 4.Nxe4 f5. Each of these lines in the Tennison Gambit presents players with paths full of tricks and traps, where black needs to navigate carefully to avoid falling into tactical pitfalls.

Line №1: 3.Ng5 Nf6 4.Bc4

Tennison Gambit Line 1

The strongest response against 3…Nf6 is to team up the knight on g5 and the light-squares bishop with 4.Bc4. The only way to defend the f7 pawn is 4…e6, which blocks out the queen’s bishop. After 5.Nc3, white is very close to regaining the pawn, but the lead in development is also noteworthy. White can get into a very comfortable position quickly if both sides continue with natural moves like 5…Be7 (5…Qd4 is always met by 6.Qe2) 6.Ncxe4 Nxe4 7.Nxe4 0-0 8.d4 with a space advantage and great middlegame prospects for white.

Line №2: 3.Ng5 e5 4.Nxe4 f5

Tennison Gambit Line 2

Being on the defensive side may not be psychologically easy for all players. Black can play energetically by returning the pawn for the sake of initiative: 3.Ng5 e5, opening the variations with a tempo on the knight, 4.Nxe4. The ambitious 4…f5 is perfectly fine to play here, even though it may seem like it is weakening black’s camp a little. After 5.Ng3 Nc6 6.Bb5 Ne7 7.0-0 a6 8.Bc4 b5 9.Bb3 Nd4 black is on the driver’s seat.

However, black should watch out not to overextend with 5…f4 as black would get into serious trouble after 6.Qh5+. 6…g6 does not work because of 7.Qxe5+ Qe7 8.Qxe7+ Nxe7 9.Ne2 and the pawn on f4 will fall soon. Moving the king out of the check, e.g. 6…Kd7, is definitely not desirable for various reasons.

ICBM: 3.Ng5 Nf6 4.d3

Tennison Gambit - ICBM

ICBM stands for Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Gambit, and this line became a famous chess meme after a popular Youtube video. In the ICBM variation, white gambits another pawn with 4.d3 just to recapture it with the bishop after 4…exd3 5.Bxd3, not only developing but also setting up a sneaky tactical threat. If now black wants to chase the knight away with 5…h6, white can land the unexpected tactical blow with a knight sacrifice on f7: 6.Nxf7! The idea behind this knight sacrifice becomes clear after 6…Kxf7 7.Bg6+!, discovery attack, and white wins the queen after 7…Kxg6 8.Qxd8.

It is very important not to get too greedy at this point and fall into the same discovery attack pitfall after 8…e5 9.Qxc8 Bb4+ and black regains the queen back. In fact, black even gets a winning position after 10.c3 Rxc8 11.cxb4 Nc6.

If black puts resistance against the trap by playing 5…e6, white can simply continue with active piece play. A sample line would be: 6.Qf3 Nc6 7.Nc3 Be7 8.Bf4 0-0 9.0-0-0 with a promising compensation for white.

Line №4: 3.Ng5 Bf5 4.Nc3 Nf6

Tennison Gambit Line 4

An alternative way to protect the extra material is to play 3…Bf5. 4.Nc3, renewing the threat, 4…Nf6 defending again. 3.Ng5 Nf6 4.Nc3 Bf5 would be an alternative move order to reach the same position. Now instead of the most popular move 5.Qe2, playing 5.Bc4 could lead to much trickier lines for black to handle. The point behind this natural development move is that after 5…e6, white gambits again with 6.f3 to bring the queen into the attack with various threats as well as open the f-file. 6….exf3 7.Qxf3 and now the queen joins the battle with a tempo on b7.

If black wants to kick the knight away from their camp with 7…h6, white’s main intention is revealed by 8.Nxf7! Kxf7 9.Qxf5, exploiting the pin.

Trying to defend the b7 pawn with a move like 7…c6 is no better, as the knight sacrifice is still valid: 8.Nxf7 Kxf7 9.Qxf5 and the position still provides room for more tactical ideas: 9…Qd6 10.Ne4 Qd7 11.d3 h6 12.0-0 Be7 13.Bxh6! Rxh6 (13…gxh6 14.Nxf6) 14.Bxe6+ Qxe6 15.Ng5+, forking the queen, would be just one of the possible traps.

Common Traps in Tennison Gambit

Trap №1

1.Nf3 d5 2.e4 dxe4 3.Ng5 Qd5, defending the pawn with the queen is not the best idea because bringing the queen out early turns into a target 4.d3, defending the knight on g5 with the bishop but also accelerating the development, 4…exd3 5.Bxd3 Qxg2?, the pawn on g2 is a poisonous one because after 6.Be4, the only square the queen can go is 6…Qg4, but after the exchange of the queens, 7.Qxg4 Bxg4, white not only wins the pawn on b7 with 8.Bxb7, but also the rook, which is trapped in the corner.

Trap №2 (Greek Gift)

1.Nf3 d5 2.e4 e6, black may decline the gambit and attempt to transpose into French Defense in a highly unusual way, 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.d4 c5 6.dxc5 Bxc5 7.Bd3 0-0??, the natural castling kingside would allow white to execute the so-called Greek Gift sacrifice on h7, 8.Bxh7+ Kxh7 9.Ng5+ Kg8 10.Qh5 and the only way to prevent the checkmate for black is to give up a significant amount of material, e.g. 10…Qxg5.

Pros and Cons of Tennison Gambit

Accelerated Development with the pressure on f7 exerted by the trio of knight, light-squared bishop and queen can be tricky. Objectively unsound as black can refute the gambit with an accurate technique


The early pawn sacrifice and the unorthodox nature of the Tennison Gambit add an element of surprise and uncertainty to the game, increasing the likelihood of tactical surprises and unexpected turns of events. In many variations of the opening, where black resists giving up the material back, white often achieves favorable compensation in the form of initiative and piece activity. In such instances, white can further enhance their position by employing additional gambits, such as playing d3 or f3 to open up lines for their heavy pieces and maintain the initiative.

Written by
Deniz Tasdelen, National Master
National Master with over 20 years of experience. He has participated in many prestigious tournaments, including the European and World Youth Chess Championships.
Ask Question


Is the Tennison Gambit playable?

Yes, the Tennison Gambit is playable, especially in club-level games. It’s known for its surprise value and can lead to aggressive, unbalanced positions that favor players who are well-prepared and enjoy tactical battles.

Is Tennison Gambit considered strong?

The Tennison Gambit is not considered particularly strong in professional chess, as it involves early pawn sacrifice for uncertain compensation. However, it can be effective in creating complex positions where a well-prepared player can outmaneuver an unsuspecting opponent.

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