Urusov Gambit

The Urusov Gambit is an offbeat opening, characterized by the moves 1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 Nf6 3.d4 or 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Bc4.

Urusov Gambit

One of the earliest recorded serious attempts in this opening dates back to the games of Sergey Semyonovich Urusov, a Russian prince who lived from 1827 until 1897. It is sometimes possible to reach the starting position of the Urusov Gambit from the Russian Defense, commonly known as the Petrov Defense, with the moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.d4 exd4 4.Bc4. Although not widespread across the elite level, the opening has been occasionally employed, even by the likes of Magnus Carlsen and his secondant, Daniil Dubov. This means that the Urusov Gambit provides enough intricacies to be worth a try for players of all levels.

Winning percentages on both side

Results Rate
Win for white 30%
Draw 48%
Win for black 22%

Main Ideas of the Urusov Gambit

The Urusov Gambit’s allure lies in its unpredictability and potential for exciting clashes on the board. By sacrificing a pawn, white seeks to secure an advantage in the mobility of their pieces and accelerate their development. Opening the variations favors the side having the initiative, in this case, white would benefit from such a scenario.

At the cost of a mere pawn, which can be regained later in most cases, white not only gains dynamic compensation in the form of activity but also a significant space advantage in the center. This provides white the flexibility to castle on either side. Long castling and bringing the rooks to the d- and e-files become viable ideas. Knights typically find their natural squares on f3 and c3, while the light-squared bishop on c4 stands ready to sacrifice on f7 at any moment.

Urusov Gambit Theory

After 1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 Nf6 3.d4, black needs to make the first critical decision in the game by either accepting the gambit with 3..exd4 4.Nf3 Nxe4 or declining it with 3…Nc6. Accepting the pawn sacrifice on e4 right away with 3…Nxe4 shifts the evaluation of the position significantly in favor of white. An alternative way to decline the gambit would be 3…exd4 4.Nf3 Nc6, which then transposes lines from the Scotch Gambit and usually continues with the moves 5.e5 d5 6.Bb5 Ne4 7.Nxd4 Bc5 8.Be3

Urusov Gambit Accepted: 3…Nxe4

Urusov Gambit Accepted 3…Nxe4

Black should not hurry with accepting the gambit and prematurely capture the pawn, as it would get black into some trouble after 3….Nxe4 4.dxe5. The knight on e4 feels a bit shaky now, and white also has a sneaky threat. If black ignores white’s tactical threats and plays a natural move like 4…Nc6, then white lands the unexpected blow on f7: 5.Bxf7+ Kxf7 6.Qd5+, regaining the material. Black has lost their right to castle and the king is now vulnerable due to the absence of the f7 pawn. So, white is simply better here.

Instead of 4…Nc6, black should make a prophylactic move that deals with the threat of Bxf7. Retreating the knight back to c5 right away with 4…Bc5 or controlling the d5 square with 4…c6 are viable options. Most resistant is perhaps 4…Qe7, which also eyes at the b4 square. For example: 5.Nf3 Qb4+ 6.Nbd2 d5 7.Bd3 Nc5, white is still better, but black has some activity.

If white attacks black’s knight with 5.Qe2, then black needs to be very concrete and prepare …d5 with 5…c6. 6.Qxe4 d5 and capturing 7.exd6??, using the en passant rule, hangs the queens, 7….Qxe4. Instead, 7.Qe2 dxc4 8.Nf3 (8.Qxc4 Qxe5+) should be played.

Urusov Gambit Accepted : 3…exd4 (Main line)

Urusov Gambit Main line

Black should start capturing white’s central pawns first by taking on d4: 3…exd4 to avoid dxe5 as in the variation 3…Nxe4 4.dxe5. After 3…exd4, 4.e5 is not effective due to 4…d5! Black not only strikes at the center with tempo, but it is not easy for white to capture the pawn on d4. For example: 5.Be2? Ne4 6.Qxd4?? Bc5! 7. Qxd5 Qxd5 8.
Bxd5 Nxf2 9. Rf1 c6

On the other hand, recapturing on d4 right away would no longer be a gambit. 4.Qxd4 Nc6 5.Qe3 Bb4+ 6.Nc3 0-0 and now black is the one who is seizing the initiative, and the gambit has lost its whole point.

The main starting position of the Urusov Gambit is reached after 4.Nf3. Now, 4…Nc6 would transpose to the Scotch Game after 5.e5 d5 6.Bb5 Ne4 7.Nxd4 Bd7.

If black accepts the gambit instead and captures on e4 (4…Nxe4), then white activates their queen: 5.Qxd4 Nf6 6.Nc3. Black has several ways to continue the game, the main ones being 6…Be7, intending to castle, or chasing the queen away with 6…Nc6.

6.Nc3 Nc6

Urusov Gambit Accepted 6.Nc3 Nc6

White’s queen has many squares to go, but the best one is to place it on the kingside: 7.Qh4. White is intending a battery on the h4-d8 diagonal with Bg5 next, so it makes most sense for black to develop the king’s bishop to e7: 7…Be7 8.Bg5 d6 9.0-0-0! A big portion of the board, basically the first five ranks, is now under white’s control. This provides decent attacking chances for white. For example: 9…Bf5 (otherwise, 9…0-0 10.Bd3 h6 11.Bxh6! +-) 10.Rhe1 0-0 11.Qf4 Bg6 12.g4, followed by h4-h5, looks quite scary for the black king, despite the fact that the position is objectively close to equal with the best play.

6.Nc3 Be7

Urusov Gambit Accepted 6.Nc3 Be7

Prioritizing Kingside development is a prudent strategy for black. So, 6…Be7, preparing to castle, 7.Bg5 0-0 8.0-0-0 c6 9.Rhe1 d5 10.Bd3 is one way the game could continue in this case.

If black decides to fight for control of the center after 6…Be7, this may lead to intriguing tactical variations: 7.Bg5 c6 8.0-0-0 d5 9.Rhe1!, making use of the pin, 9…Be6 (9…dxc4 10.Qxd8# would be checkmate) 10.Qh4 Nbd7 (10…dxc4 10.Rxd8 +-) 11.Nd4!, sacrificing the bishop this time.

If black cannot resist extra material and accept the sacrifice, 11…dxc4, white can justify the sacrifice easily with 12.Nxe6 fxe6 13.Bxf6! Bxf6 (13…gxf6 14.Rxe6 and it is hard for black to defend in a practical game) 14.Rxe6+ Kf8 15.Qf4, pinning the f6 bishop and threatening Ne4-Nxf6, 15…h5, with the idea to meet white’s Ne4 with …Rh6 to defend the bishop on f6, 16.Qf5 (16.Red6 Qb8 would solve black’s issues) Kg8 17.Red6 and white picks up the knight next.

Therefore, it is safer for black to not allow these complications starting after 11…dxc4 and simply castle kingside instead: 11…0-0 12.Rxe6 fxe6 13.Nxe6 Qb6 14.Nxf8 Rxf8 15.Bd3 (the bishop now has to retreat finally, exactly 7 moves after 8..d5) Ne5, resulting in a rich and balanced middlegame with practical chances for both sides.

Urusov Gambit Declined: 3…Nc6

Urusov Gambit Declined - 3…Nc6

By declining the gambit with 3…Nc6, black hopes that white captures on e5, which would give black comfortable position: 4.dxe5 Nxe5 5.Bb3 d5!, a typical way to break through in the center in many gambits in King’s Pawn Opening, 6.exd5 Bc5 7.Nc3 0-0 8.h3, to prevent …Bg4, 8…Re8 and black is the one who keeps pressuring the opponent.

A stronger move would be 4.d5. It may look as if white is blunting their own bishop, however, the question of where to retreat the c6-Knight is a problematic one for black. 4…Na5 5.Be2 and the knight is misplaced on a5.

If 4…Ne7, then 5.Nc3 Ng6 6.h4, with the idea of h5, and black faces some issues regarding development and space.

Common Traps in Urusov Gambit

Trap №1

1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 Nf6 3.d4 Nxe4 4.dxe5 d5? 5.Bxd5 Nc5?? would lead to the loss of the queen for black after 6.Bxf7+ Kxf7 (6…Ke7 7.Bg5+) 7.Qxd8 +-

Trap №2

1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 Nf6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nf3 Nxe4 5.Qxd4 Nd6? 6.0-0! Nxc4?? Now, blocking white’s check is a big problem for black, 7.Re1+ Be7, leaving g7 unguarded, 8.Qxg7 Rf8 9.Bh6 +- followed by Qxf8 next.

Pros and Cons

Flexibility of a longcastle with better attacking chances on the kingside Black may consolidate in many lines with …d5 break or transpose to Scotch Game
Easy-to-play position, where pieces can be placed on their natural squares. Potential stronghold in the center with a pawn chain ..c6-..d5 and …Ne4.


The Urusov Gambit offers rich middlegame positions, and adhering to opening principles becomes crucial in such open game scenarios. White typically gains strong compensation in the form of initiative and space despite sacrificing a pawn, making it challenging for black to fully capitalize on the extra material in practical play. As a result, the Urusov Gambit presents an enticing option for white players of all levels to explore and employ in their games.

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 Urusov Gambit good?

The Urusov Gambit can be a strong opening choice for white, particularly in club-level play. It leads to aggressive, open positions, which can be advantageous for players skilled in tactical and attacking play. However, like all gambits, it involves risks and requires accurate play to maintain the initiative gained by the sacrificed pawn.

How do you beat Urusov Gambit?

To counter the Urusov Gambit effectively, black should focus on solid development and avoid getting caught in white’s tactical traps. It’s important to counter-attack at the right moment and not to fall behind in development. Studying the main lines and common traps can also prepare players to handle the gambit’s challenges.

How do you respond to Urusov Gambit?

A common response to the Urusov Gambit is to accept the pawn sacrifice (3…exd4) and then focus on developing pieces while maintaining a solid position. It’s crucial to avoid passive play and be ready to counter white’s aggressive intentions. Familiarity with the key lines and understanding the underlying tactical themes are essential for playing against this gambit.

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