Stafford Gambit

The Stafford Gambit is marked by the moves 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Nxe5 Nc6 4. Nxc6 dxc6 and it is a variation of Petrov’s Defense, which starts with 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6. The line was named after a short correspondence game played in 1950 between Lowen and Stafford: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 Nc6 4.Nxc6 dxc6 5.e5 Ne4 6.d3 Bc5 and black has resigned here because the pawn on f2 and further material loss cannot be prevented. The Gambit has been recently popularized by well-known chess streamer and International Master Eric Rosen.

Winning Percentages on both sides

Results: Rate:
Win for white 45%
Draw 3%
Win for black 52%

The Stafford Gambit is hardly seen in high-level classical chess tournaments. In fact, according to databases, there is not a single classical game of this opening played by a 2700-rated player. The opening is mostly played either in online chess or with fast time controls. Online chess databases based on these formats show us that out of 7,361,665 games in the Stafford Gambit, Black, with a 52% winning rate, has a surprisingly higher winning rate than white. Only 3% of the total games end in a draw, which means it is a highly decisive opening.

Main Ideas

The Stafford Gambit is a highly tricky and venomous opening where often natural moves by white turn out to be blunders. The opening is considered to be objectively better for white, but many players choose this opening with black mostly for speed games, both online and over the board. In fast-time controls, there is little time to figure out the possible refutations of this gambit as white, and if the player is unprepared, there is a high chance that they might fall into one of the many traps that the Stafford Gambit has in its arsenal.

As with all other gambits, the Stafford Gambit is all about obtaining an early initiative, getting activity for the pieces, and gaining an accelerated development advantage as a compensation for the material sacrificed, in this particular case, the central e5 pawn. This trade-off between material and activity determines the game strategy of both sides. Since black is basically a pawn down, they want to keep as many pieces as possible on the board and go for a quick kingside attack. For the same reason, simplifications of the position favor white.

Typical plans in the Stafford Gambit for Black involve:

1) Developing the bishop to c5 to take control of d4 and put pressure on the a7-g1 diagonal;

2) Targeting key weak spots in white’s camp, such as f2 and h2 squares, using dark-square bishop, knight, or queen;

3) Moves like h5, followed by Ng4 are typical ways to bring more pieces into the kingside attack.

Plans for White:

1) White wants to get into safety before castling kingside;

2) c3-d4 is a standard plan to cut off black’s dark-square bishop;

3) Preventing Ng4 with Be2

4) Establishing a firm control on the center with the e5-d4-Be3 setup.

Stafford Gambit Theory

The starting position of the Stafford Gambit is reached after 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Nxe5 Nc6 4. Nxc6 dxc6 and white has several options to continue the game like, 5.d3 (main line) , 5.e5 , and 5.Nc3 as well. We will look at each variation in the next section.

On the other hand, White has possible options to avoid entering the Stafford Gambit at all by staying in Petrov’s Defense territory instead. White can refuse to take the e5 pawn and continue with the development with a natural 3.Nc3. Another option white has would be to take the pawn on e5 with 3.Nxe5 first and then refrain from capturing the knight on c6 after 3…Nc6; instead, white can retreat to f3, offering the e4 pawn back.

Stafford Gambit Accepted: 4.dxc6

To understand the Stafford Gambit, we need to assess the positional advantages black already has after 4.dxc6:

Stafford Gambit Accepted

To understand the Stafford Gambit, we need to assess the positional advantages black already has after 4.dxc6:

– Black has eliminated white’s only developed piece, namely white’s kingside knight;

– Capturing c6 with the d-pawn has opened the diagonal for the light-square bishop as well as the file for the black queen. Basically, black has almost three pieces already developed in a way.

White will now try to consolidate its position and adopt a safety-first approach. At the moment (after 4…dxc6) white’s center pawn is under attack, and the most common way to defend the pawn is by playing 5.d3, which is also the mainline.

Black usually goes 5..Bc5 and now white has to be careful of several tactical traps. 6.Bg5?? is a move that looks very natural, yet allows black to make a stunning queen sacrifice with 6…Nxe4!! because of 7.Bxd8 (7.dxe4 Bxf2! 8.Ke2 Bg4 9.Kxf2 Qxd1 losing the queen) Bxf2 8.Ke2 and 8…Bg4# checkmate.

Another natural development move such as 6. Nc3?? would be met by 6…Ng4 and suddenly the f2 pawn is undefendable (or 7.f3 Nf2). White has to give up the pawn with 7.Be3 Nxe3 8.fxe2 Bxe3 and black has a huge advantage now due to the many weaknesses white has on dark squares around the king.

Similar issues on f2 can also arise from the line starting with 5.Nc3, if the game continues with 5…Bc5 6.Bc4 Ng4 hits the f2 pawn, and now white can castle kingside 7.0-0 but black can play 7..Qh4 with a double-attack on both f2 and h2 again. Therefore, the best move white can play instead of 6.Bc4 here is 6.h3, which prevents Ng4.

If Black plays 6…h5 here with the idea of supporting the knight after 7.Be2 Qd4 8.0-0 Ng4 since 9.hxg4 hxg4 soon leads to a mate on the h-file, so white should reply 6…h5 with either 7.g3-8.Bg2 or simply 7.d3 first and then play 8.Bg5.

As we can see already, white does have some issues developing naturally in many lines. This means, white needs to come up with a particular plan or setup to deal with the various threats on the kingside. One way to do that would be to play 5.e5 in tempo and take control of the center.

5…Ne4 6.d4 prevents Bc5, and against moves like 6…Qh4 or 6…Bf5 white usually plays 7.Be3 on the next move, protecting f2 and solidifying the control of dark squares in the center.

While the move 5.e5 offers white decent chances, the most standard way to deal with black’s threats would be to play the main line with 5.d3. 5…Bc5 is usually replied with 6.Be2 to prevent 6…Ng4, which relies on the following tactical idea: 7.Bxg4 Qh4 (double-attack on f2 and g4) 8.Qf3 Bxg4 9.Qg3 and white has already consolidated. If Black tries 6…h5 instead, white should try to cut off the bishop from the g1-a7 diagonal by playing 7.c3 to meet Ng4 with d4. White now already stands better but still has to be careful against possible traps.

Ways of avoiding the Stafford Gambit


White can try to deviate from lines that can lead to the Stafford Gambit by ignoring the threat on the e5 pawn altogether and playing 3.Nc3 in 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6.

Avoiding the Stafford Gambit - 3.Nc3

The most common reply is then 3…Nc6, which transposes to Four Knights Game. The natural ways to continue would then be 4.d4 or 4.Bb5. 4.Bc4 is also playable, but it is a slight inaccuracy because black can temporarily sacrifice the knight 4…Nxe4 5.Nxe4 d5 and has no clear weaknesses after that.

“Taking and getting back”: 4.Nf3

Alternatively, white can still capture on e5 with 3.Nxe5 but refuse to capture on c6. Instead, after 3…Nc6 white can retreat back with 4.Nf3.


This allows black to capture on e4 with 4…Nxe4 resulting in an equal and playable position for both sides. 5.Qe2, pinning the knight, is met by 5…Qe7 (5…d5 loses material after 6.d3). While white can avoid entering the Stafford gambit with moves like 4.Nf3, at the same time, these lines don’t give any concrete advantage to white.

Pros and Cons of the opening

Pros Cons
Difficult to play correctly as white and refute during the game. Objectively better for white
There are lots of tactical chances and tricks for black If white knows what to do, black can end up being a pawn down without proper compensation.
Easy to activate and develop pieces due to open diagonals and files.
Most of the seemingly natural developing moves for white (like Nc3 or Bg5 as we have seen) can lead to quick material loss.


It is a fun and tricky opening full of surprises to try out in fast-time controls like blitz or rapid, or simply in online chess games, especially if you are a player who prefers tactical battle. However, if white plays correctly, tables can turn quickly. Nevertheless, the high percentage of winning rates for black shows it is quite worth taking the risk by playing the Stafford Gambit.

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 Stafford Gambit a good opening?

The Stafford Gambit is considered an aggressive and unorthodox choice. It can be effective in catching opponents off guard but is not typically favored in high-level play due to its risky nature.

How do you crush a Stafford Gambit?

To counter the Stafford Gambit, it’s important to play cautiously, not to overextend your pieces, and to maintain a solid pawn structure. Developing your pieces quickly and controlling the center can help to neutralize Black’s aggressive intentions.

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