The Danish Gambit is a sacrificial line in the Center Game and starts with the moves 1.e4 (King’s Pawn Opening) e5 2.d4 exd4 3.c3. The gambit gained attention during the Romantic Era of chess in the 19th century, when quick development and fighting for initiative for an early attack on the king were prominent concepts in chess.
In the mid-19th century, the Danish player Martin Severin From published his first extensive studies regarding the opening, and hence the opening was named the Danish Gambit, sometimes also known as the Nordic Gambit. The rapid advance of theory in the 20th century and the unveiling of the defensive possibilities for black have reduced the popularity of the line.
- Winning percentages on both sides
- Main Ideas
- Danish Gambit Theory
- Danish Gambit Accepted: 3.c3 dxc3
- Danish Gambit Declined: 3…d5
- Danish Gambit Declined: 3…Qe7
- Danish Gambit Traps
- Trap №1
- Trap №2
- Pros and Cons
- Is the Danish Gambit a good opening?
- Is Danish Gambit good for white?
- How do you respond to a Danish Gambit?
- How do you play Danish Gambit accepted?
Winning percentages on both sides
|Win for white
|Win for black
The opening leads to tactical and dynamic positions, and it is chosen for the rapid attacking chances it creates for white. By opening up the center, white enjoys a high degree of piece activity. It is a high-risk, high-reward opening that requires accurate play and good tactical awareness. While it may not be as commonly played at the highest levels of chess due to the defensive resources available to Black, it can be an effective surprise weapon in certain situations, especially in faster time controls or against opponents who are unfamiliar with the move order.
The main idea behind the Danish Gambit is to seize control of the center, creating pathways for the development of pieces, and launch a quick and aggressive attack against black’s position. White sacrifices one or sometimes several pawns, and while black spends time for material gain, white uses this time for accelerated piece development and puts immediate pressure on black’s position. Typically, white’s most powerful piece in the opening is Bc4, which keeps an eye on f7 and is ready to be sacrificed on that square, if black fails to complete kingside development properly.
Danish Gambit Theory
The Danish Gambit is a sub-variation of the Center Game, which starts with 1.e4 e5 2.d4 and usually after 2..exd4 white recaptures the pawn with 3.Qxd4 and centralizes the queen. But in the Danish Gambit, instead of 3.Qxd4, white chooses a more adventurous path by sacrificing a pawn with 3.c3. The proper way for black to play is to accept the gambit with 3…cxd3, after which white can either choose 4.Bc4, putting direct pressure on f7 and allowing black to capture even more pawns with 4…cxb2, or 4.Nxc3, which was advocated by the fourth World Champion, Alexander Alekhine. Alternatively, black has two main ways to decline the Gambit: 3…d5 and 3…Qe7, but they are not as strong as accepting the Gambit.
Danish Gambit Accepted: 3.c3 dxc3
If black accepts white’s Gambit, white can choose between offering more pawns for speeded up development with 4.Bc4 or just recapture the pawn with 4.Nxc3, developing the knight and controlling the center.
Gambiting another pawn with 4.Bc4 is in the true spirit of the Danish Gambit. Black will accept the triple gambit and capture on b2, 4…cxb2. After 5.Bxb2 white now has two highly dangerous and explosive bishops facing black’s kingside, while black has not developed a single piece yet and is seriously behind in development. The position is very tricky, and even Emanual Lasker, the second World Champion, once lost very quickly in this opening against Bird with the moves: 5…Qg5?, attacking g2, 6.Nf3 Qxg2 7.Rg1 Bb4+ 8.Ke2 Qh3 9.Bxf7+ Kd8 (9…Kxf2 would lose the queen after 10.Ng5+ fork) 10.Bxg7 Ne7 11.Ng5 Qh4 12.Ne6#
One option black has to develop their pieces as quickly as possible is 5…Bb4+ and white can choose between the inferior but more tricky 6.Kf1 Nf6 8.e5 or 6.Nc3 Nf6 7.Qb3, double attacking the bishop, and f7, 7…Bxc3+ 8.Qxc3 O-O 9.Nf3 d6 (9…Nxe4 not possible due to 10.Qxg7# checkmate) 10.O-O and white has a very active and easy-to -play position with good attacking prospects in the middle game.
The main antidote against white’s triple gambit is to play 5…d5 and give up one of the pawns to open lines up for development and therefore free their position. It may look like white is winning a queen with a deflection sacrifice on f7 with 6.Bxd5 Nf6 7.Bxf7+, but the tactical justification of 5…d5 lies in the discovery attack after 7…Kxf7 8.Qxd8 Bb4+ 9.Qd2 Bxd2 10.Nxd2, leading to an endgame with equal chances for both sides.
Capturing on c3 with 4.Nxc3 makes it harder for black to seek counterplay with …d5 due to white’s control on d5 with three pieces. Without …d5, white then can put the bishop on a2-g8 diagonal and sacrifice the bishop on f7 in many variations. For example, the natural development moves for black like 4…Nc6 5.Bc4 Nf6 6.Nf3 Bc5 allows white to attack with 7.e5 Ng4 8.Bxf7+ Kxf7 9.Qd5+ Ke8 10.Qxc5 with a much better position for white.
Another very natural development move, 4…Nf6? would just be a blunder for black due to 5.e5 Qe7 6.Qe2 Ng8 7.Nf3 with a crushing position for white.
Black therefore needs to be careful about the way it gets pieces out and in which particular order. One possible way would be 4…Nc6 5.Bc4 and play 5…d6 instead of 5….Nf6 to prevent e5. 6.Nf3 Nf6 and develop with …Be7, …0-0. If white tries to attack f7 before black can castle, for example with 7.Ng5, then black can defend with 7…Ne5 8.Bb3 h6 9.f4 hxg5 10.fxe5 Bg4 and capture on e5 next.
Danish Gambit Declined: 3…d5
The best way for black to decline the gambit is to strike back at the center immediately with 3…d5. After 4.exd5 Qxd5 5.cxd4 Nc6 6.Nf3 Bg4, the resulting position with the Isolated Queen’s Pawn looks like a version of a Scandinavian Defense but black’s e-pawn and white’s c-pawn are traded. A natural game continuation would be 7.Be2 0-0-0 8.Nc3 Bb4, pinning the knight, 9.0-0 Bxc3 10.bxc3 and in this position with the opposite side castling, white stands better due to the bishop pair advantage and also the open b-file, which white may use to attack black’s king.
Danish Gambit Declined: 3…Qe7
Although not as effective as 3…d5, 3…Qe7 puts immediate pressure on e4. After 4.cxd4 Qxe4+ 5.Be3, white will aim to quickly develop their pieces using the tempo on the queen. 5…Bb4+ 6. Nc3 Nf6 7.Nf3 and white intends to play Bd3 next (if 7.Bd3 before Nf3, due pawn on g2 would be en prise and black would simply take …Qxg2). 7…Nd5, putting pressure on both of white’s pinned pieces. 8.Qd2, now white threatens Nxe4, 8…Nxe3 9.fxe3, white is still pawn down but has good compensation in terms of development and central control. Additionally, white will seize control of the f-file after castling kingside.
Danish Gambit Traps
1.e4 e5 2.d4 exd4 3.c3 dxc3 4.Bc4 cxb2 5.Bxb2 Bb4+ 6.Nc3 Nf6 7.Ne2 (7.e5 is met by 7…d5), white offers another pawn for the sake of rapid development. 7…Nxe4 8.0-0, white has all his pieces out and completed development. 8…Nxc3 9.Nxc3 Bxc3 10.Bxc3, despite white being 3 pawns down, white’s position here is crushing due to the immense pressure put by white’s bishop pair on black’s kingside. With the potential defender pieces for black being exchanged, it will be hard for black to find safety for black king. 10…0-0??, trying to find a safe shelter for the king loses immediately after 11.Qg4! g6 12.Qd4 and checkmate is inevitable because black cannot close up the dark-squared diagonal due to the pin on f7.
1.e4 e5 2.d4 exd4 3.c3 dxc3 4.Bc4 cxb2 5.Bxb2 d6, this is a commonly chosen move with the idea to prevent e5, nevertheless white can still try 6.e5, because capturing it with 6….dxe5 allows white a deflection sacrifice on f7: 7.Bxf7+! Ke7 8.Ba3+ and the black king is now forced to leave the queen undefended, 8…Kxf7 9.Qxd8
Pros and Cons
|Rapid development and central control
|Objectively unsound, especially due to defensive lines with …d5
|White’s bishop pair exert pressure on black’s kingside and lot of chances for tricks
|The presence of a queenside pawn majority provides black with a long-term advantage
The Danish Gambit puts black under serious tactical and positional pressure from the very early stages of the game. A lot of natural development moves for black can lead to quick losses due to the many possible tricks white has up his sleeves. Even though the opening is nowadays almost never played at the highest level, it remains an exciting option to occasionally try and gain sense for open positions with dynamic play.
Is the Danish Gambit a good opening?
The Danish Gambit is considered aggressive and daring, suitable for players who favor sharp tactics over positional play. However, its effectiveness varies with the opponent’s skill level and familiarity with the opening.
Is Danish Gambit good for white?
For White, the Danish Gambit can be an excellent choice against unprepared opponents, as it rapidly develops pieces and creates strong attacking chances. Its success often depends on the element of surprise and the opponent’s ability to handle aggressive play.
How do you respond to a Danish Gambit?
To respond to the Danish Gambit, Black should focus on solidifying their position while cautiously accepting or declining the sacrificial pawns. Developing pieces quickly and maintaining a strong defense are key strategies.
How do you play Danish Gambit accepted?
When playing the Danish Gambit Accepted, White aims to maximize the initiative gained from the pawn sacrifices. Rapid development of pieces, particularly the bishops and queen, and targeting the f7 square are common strategies.