The Icelandic Gambit (also called as Icelandic Palme Gambit) is an ambitious opening where Black gives up a pawn to gain fast development and initiative. The first move starts with 1.e4 (King’s pawn opening), and Black responds with 1…d5 (Scandinavian Defense). Then, White captures the offered pawn (2.exd5), and instead of recapturing it back, Black improves the g8-Knight to f6 (2…Nf6). After that, White tries to consolidate their extra pawn by going 3.c4, and Black offers another pawn by playing 3…e6.
The Icelandic Palme Gambit took its name from the Icelandic master Rudolf Palme, who utilized it during the 20th century. Despite other gambits, it gives real chances to fight for the lost pawn and even play at the elite level today.
- Winning percentages on both sides
- Key ideas
- Icelandic Gambit Theory
- Icelandic Gambit Accepted: 4.dxe6 Bxe6
- Icelandic Gambit Declined: 4.d4 exd5
- 5. Nc3
- 5. Nf3
- Icelandic Gambit Declined: 4. Nc3
- Pros and Cons
- Icelandic Gambit Trap
- Is the Icelandic Gambit a good opening?
- Is the Icelandic Gambit aggressive?
Winning percentages on both sides
Master Games Statistics
|Victory for White
|Victory for Black
Statistics from 2.5 Million Amateur Games
|Victory for White
|Victory for Black
By gambiting a pawn, Black aims to create a fierce attack against the White King. Black usually castles Queenside and launches a pawn storm against White’s Kingside. On the contrary, White wants to exchange Queens to prove their material advantage and win the game. Due to White’s vulnerability and Black’s activity, the early opening stage often decides the game’s fate.
Icelandic Gambit Theory
The Icelandic Gambit Accepted often leads to highly tactical variations where Black usually castles on the long side to hunt the enemy King. White typically seeks to consolidate and exchange the pieces to win the endgame with the extra pawn.
The Icelandic Gambit Declined typically leads to positional games where both sides play for the opponent’s weaknesses. White usually ends up with an isolated pawn, and while they try to utilize it, the enemy wants to create a blockade and exploit its weakness.
Icelandic Gambit Accepted: 4.dxe6 Bxe6
This variation starts with White accepting the extra pawn (4.dxe6) and Black recaptures with the c8-Bishop (4…Bxe6). White is up a pawn, but Black has an excellent compensation for the pawn due to the increased activity of the pieces.
If White can develop their pieces in the next few moves without difficulty, they would have the upper hand in the endgame with an extra pawn. To avoid this, Black utilizes their active pieces, creating problems for the rival. After the 4…Bxe6 is played, White has two main moves.
In the following section, we will analyze these moves: 5.Nf3 and 5.d4.
This line begins with 5.Nf3. White aims to prepare castling on the short side by developing the g1-Knight and securing the d4-square for the d-pawn push. Black typically seeks to enter a double-edged position where an extra pawn doesn’t matter due to the complexity of the position.
To achieve that, Black usually castles on the opposite side of White’s King, the Queenside. By doing that, they typically launch an assault with a pawn storm on the Kingside and hunt the enemy King. White aims to solidify their position and, if possible, trade the heavy pieces and go for the endgame with the material advantage.
One sample variation could be 5…Nc6 (preparing to castle on the long side and improving the Knight), 6.d4 (controlling the center and maintaining the central control), 6…Qe7 (putting the Queen with the same file as the e1-King and clearing the backrank to castle), 7.Be3 (protecting the King by putting a piece between the Queen and the King), 7…O-O-O (putting the King into safety and bringing the a8-Rook into action), 8.Be2 (preparing to castle), 8…Ng4 (this typical move attempts to weaken White’s dark squares and gain a Bishop pair by assaulting the Bishop), 9.Nc3 (white doesn’t have much choice but to let Nxe3 happen, and they casually develop their pieces), 9…Nxe3, 10.fxe3, and 10…g5.
In the resulting position, since Black’s Rook is in the same file as White’s Queen, the fork tactics don’t quite work. The nature of the game is chaotic, and the strategy for both sides is plain. White wants to exchange pieces and retain their material advantage, whereas Black wants to checkmate the rival King.
As the second most popular move, this variation starts with 5.d4 to expand in the center. However, this move allows an extra choice for the enemy, which 5.Nf3 doesn’t give: the 5…Bb4 check.
Usually, that Bishop (f8-Bishop) is a liability rather than a strength for the Black’s position if the White player plays correctly. To increase the momentum of their attack, Black usually aims to exchange that Bishop for White’s dark-squared Bishop and preserve their positional initiative despite being a pawn down.
The games played in this variation are highly tactical, and whoever possesses better calculation skills often prevails. One sample line could be 5…Bb4+, 6.Bd2 (blocking the check), 6…Bxd2 7.Qxd2, 7…Qe7 (the typical move again puts the Queen on the same file as the opponent’s King), 8.Qe3 (Bxc4 is a severe threat, and White has to find this move to stop it), 8…Nc6 (Black wants to develop the Knight and castle on the short side to attack against the White King), 9.Be2 O-O-O, 10.d5 (forking the enemy pieces), 10…Ng4 (the g4-Knight assaults and dislodges the White Queen), 11.Qg3 (White brings the Queen to a safe square), and 11…Nb4 (to fork White’s King and the Rook from the c2-square).
The resulting position is very chaotic; whoever makes the first mistake will lose the game. Since the Black side has a safer King, the chances of the White side losing on the spot are significantly higher due to their lack of development and unsafe King.
Icelandic Gambit Declined: 4.d4 exd5
White does not accept the extra pawn in this move order, avoids the position’s complexity, and plays 4.d4 to expand in the center. Black often captures the d5-pawn (4…exd5) and gains a slightly better position. Since the c-pawn tends to exchange with Black’s d-pawn, the d4-pawn is usually isolated, giving Black positional chances to play around that weakened pawn.
In the following section, we will analyze the two most common responses against 4…exd5: 5.Nc3 and 5.Nf3.
This line starts with 5.Nc3 and Black usually respond with either 5…c6 (solidifying the pawn structure) or 5…Bb4 to pin the c3-Knight. The nature of this opening is often positional, where both sides try to take advantage of their opponent’s weaknesses.
One sample variation after 5…Bb4 could be 6.Bd3 (improving the f1-Bishop), 6…O-O, 7.Ne2 (preparing to castle), 7…dxc4 (creating an isolated d-pawn for the enemy), 8.Bxc4, 8…c6 (securing the d5-square and ensuring the weakness of the d4-pawn), 9. O-O, 9…Nbd7 (developing the b8-Knight), 10.a3 (Kicking the b4-Bishop), 10…Bxc3 (black can choose to capture this pawn and play around the d-pawn), 11.Nxc3, and 11…Nb6.
In the resulting position, Black would create a blockade on the d5-square and stop White’s advancement with the d4-pawn. White usually aims to push that pawn and activate their pieces. Black often wants to enter an endgame to oppress the d4-pawn.
This line starts with White advancing the g1-Knight to f3 (5.Nf3). Since we covered piece placement with the Nc3-Ne2 bind in the previous section, the sample lines we will examine will be slightly different in terms of piece placement.
Black can again utilize their f8-Bishop and check the White King by going 5…Bb4+. Then, White can block with 6.Nc3 and maintain their dark-squared Bishop. The nature of these games is similar in terms of strategy. Black usually plays for the opponent’s isolated d-pawn, and White wants to push that pawn to gain control over the key squares, such as c6.
One sample line after 6.Nc3 could be 6…O-O 7.Be2, 7…dxc4 (creating an isolated pawn for White), 8.Bxc4, 8…Re8 (improving the Rook with a tempo), 9.Be3 (blocking the attack and improving the Bishop), 9…Be6 (exchanging the light-squared Bishop since White’s Bishop was offering many opportunities for an assault on the ‘a2-g8’ diagonal), 10.Bxe6 Rxe6 11. O-O, and 11…Nbd7.
In the resulting position, White would seek to utilize the d-pawn by pushing it forward. The ‘a2-f7’ diagonal is crucial, and Qb3-Ng5 ideas are often in the air for White. Black usually plays c6 and goes for the plans mentioned in the previous section.
Icelandic Gambit Declined: 4. Nc3
This variation starts with 4.Nc3 and often transitions to what we analyzed after 4…exd5 because White typically plays the d4-pawn push (5.d4) to avoid Black’s d4-move. If White captures the d5-pawn, they will end up with an isolated pawn on the d2-square.
An alternative move, such as 5.d3, is passive, and since these games possess a positional nature, it will allow Black to gain extra tempo and a positional advantage.
Pros and Cons
|It usually offers very rich games in terms of tactical opportunities.
|If White declines the gambit, Black immediately equalizes and may even gain a slight edge.
|White usually have an objectively better position.
|Exchanging the pieces and going for an endgame is often difficult.
|White is better in the endgames due to the extra pawn.
|If White accepts the gambit, they might need to be precise or lose the game on the spot.
|This move order also allows both parties to play positional chess.
|White may end up with an isolated pawn if they decline the gambit.
Icelandic Gambit Trap
This trap begins with the Icelandic Gambit Accepted Variation, and White plays 5.d3. Then, Black develops the f8-Bishop to c5 (5…Bc5). If White plays a dubious move like 6.h3, Black can play 6…Ne4, and then f2-square will be under fire. 7.dxe4 will lose the game on the spot due to 7…Bxf2 8.Kxf2 (8.Ke2 8…Bxc5 would also lose), and 8…Qxd1.
The Icelandic Palme Gambit is a chess opening that allows chaotic and tactical positions. Black gives up a pawn to strike the enemy King. White aims to consolidate and win in the endgame. Beating the Icelandic Gambit is quite difficult because it’s a legitimate line. It can also transition to positional games if White declines the gambit, but Black usually equalizes quickly and gains a slight edge in those scenes.
Is the Icelandic Gambit a good opening?
The Icelandic Gambit is considered a speculative yet dynamic choice for black in response to the Scandinavian Defense. It is not commonly seen in top-level play due to certain vulnerabilities, but can be effective in club and amateur games for players who are well-prepared and enjoy sharp, tactical battles.
Is the Icelandic Gambit aggressive?
Yes, the Icelandic Gambit is known for its aggressive and attacking nature. It involves sacrificing a pawn early for quick development and attacking chances against the opponent’s king. This gambit suits players who favor active and combative play.