Evans Gambit is an aggressive variation of the Italian Game, where white sacrifices a pawn early for initiative and starts with the moves 1.e4 (King’s Pawn Opening) e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 (Guioco Piano) 4.b4.
The opening takes its name from William Davies Evans, a Welsh sea captain, and it quickly gained popularity among the prominent names of the Romantic Era of chess in the 19th century, such as Adolf Anderssen and Paul Morphy. While in the 20th century, the opening relatively fell out of fashion, former World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov revived it in the 1990s by using it in serious games.
- Winning percentages on both sides
- Main Ideas
- Evans Gambit Theory
- Evans Gambit Accepted: 4.b4 Bxb4 5.c3
- Evans Gambit Accepted: 4.b4 Bxb4 5.c3 Ba5
- Evans Gambit Accepted: 4.b4 Bxb4 5.c3 Be7 (Anderssen Variation)
- Evans Gambit Declined: 4.b4 Bxb4 5.c3 Bb6
- Pros and Cons
- Is Evans Gambit aggressive?
- Who created the Evans Gambit?
- Is the Evans Gambit played at top level?
Winning percentages on both sides
|Win for white
|Win for black
The opening is relatively popular among Italian Game players, and it particularly attracts aggressive players who like to be on the attacking side and seek early, quick blows. If black follows the gambit and tries to hold on to the material, white can get a very dangerous king attack rapidly. The second world champion, Emanuel Lasker, showed an idea for black to ‘tame’ white’s aggression, where black tries to exchange queens by giving up the pawn back in the line 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.b4 Bxb4 5.c3 Ba5 6.d4 d6 7.0-0 Bb6 8.dxe5 dxe5 9.Qxd8+ Nxd8 10.Nxe5. But of course, white does not have to play into this variation and can keep the queens on the board with the typical 7.Qb3, building a battery to attack on the f7 pawn. Black needs to pay special attention to the theory of Evans Gambit in order not to get into tactical trouble. Kasparov’s miniature win against Vishy Anand in 1995 in Riga with only 25 moves, proves the importance of being prepared against Evans Gambit as black.
The Evans Gambit reflects the spirit of the Romantic era of chess, where significant priority was given to concepts like initiative and tempo play. By sacrificing the pawn on b4, white aims to gain space advantage and control in the center with tempo moves like c3-d4, which also opens up the way for an accelerated development of white’s pieces.
Evans Gambit Theory
In the Guioco Piano, after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 main moves are either 4.c3 or 4.0-0 or even 4.d3. However, an alternative for White is to employ the Evans Gambit, where they play 4.b4, aiming to rapidly advance their pawns in the center while gaining a tempo. Most of the time, black accepts the gambit with 4…Bxb4, to which white almost always replies with 5.c3. Now, usually black keeps the bishop on the diagonal with 5…Ba5 for potential pins (e.g., after 6.d4, the c3 pawn would be pinned), but the more solid 5…Be7 is another sensible option for black. If Black wants to decline the gambit, the most logical way to do that is to play 5…Bb6, in order to keep the pressure on f2. However, declining the gambit leads to relatively passive positions for black, and accepting the pawn sacrifice is the proper way to encounter the Evans Gambit.
Evans Gambit Accepted: 4.b4 Bxb4 5.c3
The pawn on b4 could be captured by either a knight or a bishop. But capturing it with 4…Nxb4 leads to a very comfortable position for white quickly after 5.c3 Nc6 6.d4 exd4 7.0-0 d6 8.cxd4 with more than enough compensation for the sacrificed pawn.
Therefore, the proper way to accept the gambit is with 4…Bxb4, after which white continues with the idea of building the center with 5.c3. There are several squares from which the bishop can now retreat, but the most common are 5….Ba5 and 5…Be7.
Evans Gambit Accepted: 4.b4 Bxb4 5.c3 Ba5
5…Ba5 is the mainline, and the idea is to pin the c3 pawn after white plays 6.d4 to open up the center without losing any time. Now black has two main options: 6…exd4 and 6….d6. In the case of 6…d6, white will put pressure on f7 with 7.Qb3 and the best way to defend the pawn is to play 7…Qd7 instead of 7…Qe7 so that if d5 …Nce7 is possible. After 8.dxe5 dxe5 9.0-0 Bb6, with the idea of Na5 and capturing white’s powerful light-squared bishop, 10.Rd1 white has an easy position to play with, while black is a pawn up but has to be precise and suffer a little longer. That being said, the position is objectively equal.
6…exd4 is considered the main continuation for black, and white just continues with the development, 7.0-0, and black will try to do same with 7…Nge7 (7…Nf6 leads to complications after 8.Ba3, preventing castling, 8…d6 9.e5),
because going greedy with 7…dxc3 is very dangerous for black after 8.Qb3 Qf6 9.Bg5 Qg6 10.Nxc3 Bxc3 11.Qc3 despite the material deficit for white.
So after 7…Nge7 8.cxd4, black will strike at the center with 8…d5. 9.exd5 Nxd5 10.Ba3, preventing the black king from castling, 10…Be6, white has several options like 11.Qb3 or 11.Bb5 and will continue to put pressure on black’s king, which has not castled yet. Nevertheless, if black plays precisely, they have a good chance of untangling their position.
Evans Gambit Accepted: 4.b4 Bxb4 5.c3 Be7 (Anderssen Variation)
The main purpose of 5…Be7 is to keep the option of playing …Na5, while retreating the bishop to a reasonable defensive square like e7. Once again white intends to create an open center with 6.d4 and now black can play 6…Na5 to dislodge white’s light bishop from the dangerous a2-g8 diagonal. So, 7.Be2 and now black has to resolve the pressure on e5 with either 7…exd4 or 7…d6.
One possible way the game could continue after 7…d6 would be 8.Qa4 c6 9.dxe5 dxe5 10.Nxe5 Nf6 11.0-0 Qc7. There is material equality and white has a better piece activity. But black has a better pawn structure and no major issues other than the misplacement of the knight on a5.
In the case of 7…exd4, white recaptures with the queen, 8.Qxd4, in order to not allow black the d5-break. The g7 pawn is also under attack, so black plays 8…Nf6 and after 9.e5 Nc6 10.Qh4 Nd5 11.Qg3, white keeps the pressure on the g7 pawn. Black has to either play 11..Kf8 and lose castling rights or play 11…g6, which creates some weaknesses on the dark-squares. Even though the position is still objectively equal according to the engine, white has much better practical chances.
Evans Gambit Declined: 4.b4 Bxb4 5.c3 Bb6
Declining the gambit reduces black’s chances to refute the opening. It also means that white has managed to grab space on the queenside with b4 and got away with it. 5.a4, poses a threat of trapping the bishop in the next move with …a5, so black plays 5…a6 to create room for the bishop. 6.Nc3 Nf6 7.Nd5 This active move threatens to remove black’s bishop, which is their most powerful piece. Allowing 8.Nxb6 with, for example, 7…d6 would also ruin black’s pawn structure, so black should capture the knight with 7…Nxd5 (7…Nxe4 8.0-0 d6 9.d3 Nf6 10.Bg5 gives white good compensation) 8.exd5 Nd4 black seemingly gives up the pawn on e5, but white should resist the materialistic temptation as after 9.Nxe5 d6 10.Nf3 black manages to castle even before white and has even a slightly better position.
So instead of capturing the pawn on e5, giving black a chance to equalize the position, white sacrifices a pawn with 9.a5 Ba7 10.d6 cxd6 in order to open up the bishop’s diagonal while also hindering black’s queenside pieces from getting into the game any time soon. White will try to exploit black’s development problem and ruined pawn structure with an active play.
Pros and Cons
|White gets piece activity, quick development, enabling white a central breakthrough to initiate a powerful attack.
|Objectively, not very sound, especially if black is prepared enough to make accurate moves
|White has many natural moves available, and the position is relatively easier to play as white
|In certain variations, black has the opportunity to simplify the position, which can lead to white losing the initiative rapidly.
Evans Gambit offers white practical chances and good compensation for the sacrificed pawn. If black insists on holding on to the material, they might end up in a passive position and suffer. This makes a thorough opening preparation against the Evans Gambit necessary for black as it requires precise defense to consolidate the position. In other words, it is possible to catch many opponents off-guard by playing the exciting Evans Gambit.
Is Evans Gambit aggressive?
Yes, the Evans Gambit is an aggressive opening strategy in chess. It involves sacrificing a pawn early in the game to gain a lead in development and control of the center.
Who created the Evans Gambit?
The Evans Gambit was named after Captain William Davies Evans, a Welsh sea captain and strong amateur chess player, who is credited with its invention in the 1820s.
Is the Evans Gambit played at top level?
While not as common as some other openings, the Evans Gambit does occasionally make appearances in top-level play. Its aggressive nature can lead to dynamic and complex positions, appealing to players who favor sharp tactics.