Blackburne-Shilling Gambit is considered a very dubious choice among master-level players because it can be refuted easily at a high level. Strong players around the 1900s tried it, but it was refuted because the third move was simply a waste of tempo.
- Winning percentages on both sides
- Main Ideas
- Blackburne-Shilling Gambit’s Theory
- Blackburne-Shilling Gambit Accepted: 4. Nxe5 Qg5
- 6.Rf1 line
- 6. Nxh8 line
- 6. d3 line
- Blackburne-Shilling Gambit Declined: 4. Nxd4 exd4
- Blackburne-Shilling Gambit Declined: 4. Nc3
- Pros and Cons
- Blackburne-Shilling Gambit Trap
- Is the Blackburne-Shilling Gambit good?
- Why is it called the Blackburne-Shilling Gambit?
Winning percentages on both sides
Statistics from 8.8 Million Amateur Games
|Victory for White
|Victory for Black
Master Games Statistics
|Victory for White
|Victory for Black
This gambit is based on a very obvious tactic: if White falls for trap, Black wins. Taking the poisonous e5-pawn almost always leads to a worse position for White. However, this gambit comes with a positional flaw. If White captures the d4-Knight instead, the d4-pawn will be a constant target for the rest of the game. If White captures the e5-pawn, Black will play Qg5 and gain a significant edge.
Blackburne-Shilling Gambit’s Theory
The 4.Nxe5 variation is a dubious continuation of this gambit, where Black has many options to jeopardize White’s King or enjoy their extra material. White usually blunders the game in this variation due to Black’s abundance of threats.
The 4.Nxd4 line is the best response to this gambit and allows a positional edge for White. Black usually tries to improve their pieces, and White targets the weak d4-square first by fixing the pawn structure and then exploiting the opponent’s weaknesses.
The 4.Nc3 line often aims to develop a piece instead of entering an unknown territory and can lead to both tactical and positional games.
Blackburne-Shilling Gambit Accepted: 4. Nxe5 Qg5
This line begins with 4.Nxe5, and Black almost always responds with 4…Qg5. The Queen on g5 attacks the e5-Knight and g2-pawn simultaneously and threatens to destroy White’s Kingside.
This variation is not recommended due to Black’s easy play and White’s lack of safety. After 4…Qg5 is played, White has to either take the f7-pawn with the Bishop (5.Bxf7) and enter a complicated line or castle (5. O-O) and give up the Knight for the central pawn domination.
One sample line with 5.Bxf7 could be 5…Kd8 (King has to go to a safe square), 6. O-O (the best move here is to castle on the short side and get into safety before Black takes the g2-pawn), 6…Qxe5, 7.c3 (gaining a tempo and aiming to establish a robust central domination), 7…Ne6 (Nc6 would be worse due to vulnerabilities on the e-file), 8.d3 (opening up the scope of the c1-Bishop and aiming to go f4-e5 advancements), 8…Qf6 (assaulting the f7-Bishop), and 9.Bh5 (keeping the Bishops on the board since Black’s King is somewhat exposed).
In the resulting position, White would seek to advance the pawns in the center and suffocate the rival, whereas Black would aim to exchange pieces, consolidate, and win in the endgame with the extra material.
One sample line with 5. O-O could be 5…Qxe5, 6.c3 (this move is crucial in most lines), 6…Nc6 7.d4, 7…Qe7 (Qxe4 would lose due to Re1, pinning the Queen to the King), and 8.f4. In the last position, White will try to dislodge the enemy pieces, and Black will try to put their King into safety by developing one of the sides and castling the King before it’s too late.
After seeing the best moves by White (5.Bxf7 and 5.O-O), we must examine the most played move, 5.Nxf7. This move is a huge blunder and has been played 35% of the time once 4…Qg5 is played. If Black plays the next moves accurately, they will gain a decisive advantage and win the game.
After 5.Nxf7 is played, Black’s only option is to capture the g2-pawn (5…Qxg2) and attack h1-Rook and e4-pawn simultaneously.
In the following section, we will examine the most common moves played by White players against 5…Qxg2.
6.Rf1 is the most common move played after 5…Qxg2, and it immediately loses the game for White.
After Black takes the e4-pawn (6…Qxe4), White will get checkmated if they block the check with the c4-Bishop (7.Be2 and 7…Nf3# would end the game).
That’s why White has to give up their Queen with 7.Qe2, and Black will gladly capture it with the d4-Knight (7…Nxe2). The rest will be quite basic, as Black is up a full Queen against a minor piece.
6. Nxh8 line
As the second most popular move after 5…Qxg2, 6.Nxh8 loses the game in a similar fashion.
Since the d4-Knight covers the e2-square, Black captures the h1-Rook (6…Qxh1), and White’s only legal move is to block with the c4-Bishop and play 7.Bf1. Then, Black checks again, and we reach a similar scene where White has to block with the d1-Queen, or they will lose the game. If White plays 8.Be2 instead, Black can play 8…Nxc2 and force White to sacrifice their Queen (9.Kf1 would result in a checkmate after 9…Qh1 is played).
Since the h8-Knight is also trapped (it cannot escape via g6 or f7), the game will be dead-lost for White.
6. d3 line
6.d3 is the third common move and perhaps the most challenging for the rival because Black may not find the correct moves if they are not careful.
After 6.d3 is played, Black captures the h1-Rook (6…Qxh1) and White plays 7.Kd2 (the only valid move on the position). Black can win the game by exchanging the Queens on d1 (7…Qxd1 and 8.Kxd1). The main goal for Black is to disconnect c4-Bishop’s protection over the f7-Knight. If Black can capture the f4-Bishop while White takes the h8-Rook, Black wins because the h8-Knight will not see sunlight again.
To achieve this goal, Black has to play 8…d5, aiming for Kxf7. Once White takes the d5-pawn, Black can hunt the Bishop with c- and b-pawns, take it with the d4-Knight, and win the game due to the prisoned h8-Knight. 9.Bxd5 c6 10.Bc4 b5 11.Bb3, and 11…Nxb3 would be a sample line that allows Black to prevail.
Blackburne-Shilling Gambit Declined: 4. Nxd4 exd4
This line begins after White captures Black’s d4-Knight (4.Nxd4) and Black recaptures with the e-pawn (4…exd4).
This variation is positionally advantageous for White because the advanced d3-pawn is a constant weakness that can be targeted. To target it, White must fix the pawn structure by pushing the d-pawn forward (5.d3).
In this position, Black usually tries to get rid of the doubled pawns on the d-file and protect the d4-pawn with the Queen. This road often allows White to gain tactical edges due to Black’s lack of improvement on the short side. 5…c6, for instance, would aim for the d5-pawn push for Black. White can castle (6. O-O) and bring a potential attacker, the Rook, to the game.
After 6….d5 is played, White has to take that pawn, or Black can trade the d-pawn for the e-pawn. After 7.exd5 and 7…cxd5 are played, White can exploit White’s weak King on the e8-square. To do that, utilizing the ‘a4-e8’ diagonal and the open e-file is crucial. 8.Bb5 check can occur to protect the Bishop and force 8…Bd7. Then, 9.Re1 is a great move to improve the Rook with a tempo by checking the King.
After 9.Re1 played, Black is almost borderline-lost. They need to find 9…Ne7 to be alive, and 9…Be7 is losing due to tactics. As the most played move, 9…Be7 can be replied to with 10.Qg4, assaulting the g6-pawn and utilizing the pin on the d7-Bishop. 10…Bxb5 would lose due to 11.Qxg7, and 12.Qxh8 followed.
If Black tries to defend the g7-pawn with 10…g6, White can take the d4-pawn (11.Qxd4), and Black’s position would crumble.
If Black goes for another route than c6-d5 and plays 6…Nf6 instead, White can maneuver the b1-Knight to f3 to capture the d4-pawn. One sample line could be 7.Nd2 d6 8.Nf3, 8…Bg4 (pinning the f3-Knight), 9.h3 Bxf3 10.Qxf3, 10…c5 (protecting the d4-pawn), and 11.e5. By sacrificing a pawn, White would expose Black’s weaknesses on the light squares, and Black would lose the game due to the lack of development and an unsafe King.
Blackburne-Shilling Gambit Declined: 4. Nc3
This variation begins with 4.Nc3. This move seeks to develop normally without allowing too much counterplay.
Black has many replies, such as exchanging the d4-Knight (4…Nxf3) or reinforcing it with the 4…Bc5. The games played in these lines can be surprisingly tactical, even though White improves the b1-Knight naturally.
One sample line could be 4…Bc5 5.Nxd4 Bxd4, 6. Qg4 (assaulting the g7-pawn), 6…g6, 7.Qf3 (attacking the f7-pawn), 7…Qf6, 8.Nd5 (aiming for a fork on the c7-square), 8…Qxf3 9.gxf3, and 9…Kd8 (protecting the c7-square).
The given example would lead to an endgame with a better position for White due to active pieces and central control.
Pros and Cons
|Black can win the game on the spot in some variations at the club level.
|White is objectively better, and proving it relatively easy compared to other gambits.
|White has too many ways to blunder.
|White can play for the positional game and leave no room for counterplay.
|Black can be up on material if White is not precise.
|It is not preferred at the master level due to its dubiousness.
|Black may surprise their opponent in some cases.
|The way to counter Blackburne-Shilling Gambit does not require too much theory.
Blackburne-Shilling Gambit Trap
This trap starts with the Blackburne-Shilling Gambit accepted variation (4.Nxe5), and Black plays the typical 4…Qg5 to strike e5-Knight and g2-pawn. Here, if White plays 5.Ng4 to protect these two assets, Black can play the 5…d5 pawn push to hit the c4-pawn and g4-Knight simultaneously and win one of the pieces.
The Blackburne-Shilling Gambit is a lousy opening because it only aims for a specific trick. If White falls for it, Black can prevail, and White gets a significant edge if they don’t. It can still be played at the amateur level because statistics show a balanced result, even though it can be refuted easily.
Is the Blackburne-Shilling Gambit good?
The Blackburne-Shilling Gambit is considered more of a surprise weapon than a mainstay in professional chess. It’s risky and unorthodox, offering potential quick wins against unprepared opponents. However, against well-prepared players, it can lead to a disadvantageous position for the player using it.
Why is it called the Blackburne-Shilling Gambit?
This gambit is named after the British chess player Joseph Henry Blackburne, who reportedly used it to win numerous casual games, often against amateur players, typically wagering a shilling on the game’s outcome. It gained popularity and its name due to Blackburne’s successful use and the nominal betting stake involved.