Albin Counter Gambit unfolds with the moves 1.d4 (Queen’s Pawn Opening) d5 2.c4 e5 and the pawn sacrifice leads to an early central tension in the middle of the board to be resolved as quickly as possible.
Most of the opening names don’t take their name from the player who played it for the first time, but rather from the one who used it first in a master-level game, and Albin Counter Gambit is no exception in that sense; Adolf Albin tried his chance against Emanuel Lasker in 1893 by playing this courageous looking gambit. The opening has never managed to establish itself as a top-level opening; however, Alexander Alekhine and Alexander Morozevich are among its most famous practitioners.
Winning percentages on both sides
|Win for white
|Win for black
In the Albin Counter Gambit, white is confronted with a dilemma between two options. Ignoring the gambit is a form of concession, allowing black to capitalize on their early strike at the center. On the other hand, accepting the gambit leads to an original and uncommon middlegame structure that can disrupt the natural development of minor pieces. In either case, the resulting structure deviates from a typical Queen’s Gambit position, which might prove uncomfortable for white, especially if the player is not accustomed to handling a Queen’s Pawn Opening involving sharp, open game features.
The main idea behind the Albin Countergambit is for black to sacrifice the e5 pawn as a decoy, tempting white to capture it. By doing so, black gains control of the d4 square, allowing them to advance a pawn there. This invasive pawn acts as a battering ram, pressuring white’s position and limiting their development options. As a consequence, black seizes the initiative and gains swift attacking opportunities with tempo. Moves like …Nc6, …Bg4 or …Bf5, …Qd7 combined with …0-0-0 would be an ideal scenario for black in this opening. Additionally, white’s c2-c4 move now loses its main point, which is to challenge the d5 pawn, as the black pawn has already advanced beyond it with ..d5-d4. In short, the Albin Counter Gambit is all about dynamic compensation.
Albin Counter Gambit’s Theory
Four pawns facing each other in the middle of the board may seem intimidating or confusing at first sight; however, white actually has only one reasonable reaction against Albin Countergambit: accepting the gambit with 3.dxe5. Neither a routine move like 3.Nc3 nor capturing the defended pawn on d5 with 3.cxd5 give white any sort of advantage out of the opening. After 3.dxe5, black almost always advances their pawn by playing 3…d4, which leads to a double-edged position. The most reasonable strategy white can now adopt is a kingside fianchetto, since developing the light-squared bishop to d3 or e2 is not so easy. Thus, 3.Nc3 followed by 4.g3 and 5.Bg2 is the mainline. Alternatively, white may opt for a bolder choice and play 4.e4 and reply 4…Nc6 with an active 5.f4. Important to know is that 4…e3? leads to the Lasker Trap, which is examined in the chapter called “Common Traps” of this article.
White now finds themselves at a crossroads, facing different setups they can employ. The standard option involves a kingside fianchetto, typically achieved by starting with 4.Nf3 followed by 4.g3 or playing 4.a3 first, which then transposes into the lines from 4.Nf3. However, choosing 4.e4 leads to a more adventurous setup, but not as good as the mainline.
It is time for white to untangle their pieces on the kingside, and 4.Nf3 is the way to go. Black’s biggest asset in the position, the d4 pawn, is now under double attack, so 4….Nc6 is almost forced for black. 5.a3 is a sensible option, with the idea of preventing the annoying …Bb4+ check, but 5.g3 is the main move here, because g2 is the ideal square for the king’s bishop in this position. 5…Nge7 with the idea of 6…Ng6 is just as good as 5…Be6, but the former option is a little slower but steady, while the latter might lead to a more interesting game.
The main idea behind 5…Be6 is not to attack the undefended c4-pawn but to actually prepare a long castle. For example, 6.Bg2 Qd7 7.0-0 0-0-0 and now both sides will race for a faster flank attack. 8.a3, preparing b4, will be replied by 8…h5. The game might continue with the variation 9.b4 h4 10.b5 Na5 11.Qa4 b6 and black will succeed in opening up the h-file on the next move. Neither 12.gxh4 Bxc4 nor 12.Nxh4 Bxc4 is any good for white.
12.Bd2 would be more prudent instead, attacking black’s key defender on a5. 12…hxg3 13.hxg3 and we reach a complicated middlegame position now.
13…d3! would be a very strong move with a highly deep idea, which is revealed only after a couple of moves. In fact, this is the only move that keeps the position equal for black. The line starting with 14.exd3 may lead to an unexpected queen sacrifice by black: 14…Bh3 15.e6 Qxe6 16.Ng5, attacking queen and bishop simultaneously, 16…Bxg2!! Sacrificing the queen. The queen cannot be captured because, after 17.Nxe6 Bf3, white cannot avoid …Rh1# checkmate, and after 17.Kxg2 Qg6 black has a crushing position. The deep idea behind 13…d3! becomes clear now in retrospection: it deflects white’s e-pawn guarding the f3-square so that 17…Bf3 is possible!
The difference between 4.e4 and 4.e3?? is subtle but amusing. After 4.e4, 4…Bb4+ is not as effective as in the line with 4.e3??, because in the case of 4.e3 Bb4+ 5.Bd2, capturing on e3 with 5…dxe3 is possible. However, with 4.e4, the only way to capture would be 4…dxe3, using the en passant rule, which can only be applied immediately and not later.
So 4…Bb4+ 5.Bd2 and now 5…dxe3 would be illegal.
After 4.e4 Nc6, white may reinforce their grip on the center with 5.f4 and defend their extra pawn on e5. Black may choose to play a double gambit with 5…f6!? or to play the highly sharp variation, 5…g5!?, undermining white’s pawn chain. Black is slightly better, and an exciting game is guaranteed.
Capturing the d-pawn instead of the e-pawn lets black centralize their queen instantly: 3.cxd5 Qxd5 and now white’s d4 pawn is attacked twice, so there is no time for Nc3. Trying to resolve the tension with 4.dxe5 would only lead to a highly equal endgame after 4…Qxd1 5.Kxd1 Nc6 6.Nf3 Nge7 7.Nc3 Bg4 8.h3 0-0-0+ 9.Kc2 Bh5. Black will regain the pawn on e5 soon with …Ng6.
The standard 3.Nc3 does not create any problems for black at all. After 3…exd4 4.Qxd4 Nc6, it looks like white gains a pawn with 5.Qxd5, but black gets significant initiative as compensation after 5…Be6 6.Qxd8+ Rxd8. Now black has three pieces developed, while white has only one piece already in the game. The d-file is also controlled by the black rook, and white should be aware of certain unexpected tactical ideas. For example, a natural development move like 7.Nf3 would be a huge blunder due to 7…Nb4, which threatens mate and fork on c2 at the same time, and there is no way for white to deal with the double threat without giving up material.
Trap №1 – Lasker Trap
1.d4 d5 2.c4 e5 3.dxe5 d4 4.e3?? This natural looking move, which seeks to relieve white’s position, is a devastating mistake, because of 4…Bb4+! and blocking the check is now a big problem. 5.Bd2 allows 5…dxe3, it looks like black is sacrificing a bishop, but after 6.Bxb4 exf2+, white king has only one move to deal with check, as he is the sole defender of the queen. 7.Ke2 fxg1=N+! Now black is threatening Bg4+ and picking up the queen, so the only move is 8.Ke1, but now black’s queen joins the attack 8…Qh4+ 9.g3 Qe4+ followed by 10…Qxh1 with a huge lead in material.
Pros and Cons
|The Queen’s Gambit player is taken out of their comfort zone as the pace of the game quickens
|Once white untangles their pieces safely, they get a long term positional advantage.
|Bishop on g2 exerts immense pressure on black’s queenside.
The Albin Counter Gambit is considered one of the more reliable gambits to disrupt the usual course of the Queen’s Gambit. Black often initiates rapid queenside development followed by long castling, leading to thrilling confrontations in opposite-side castling positions. Though not as potent at the highest level of play, at club level and below, it presents excellent opportunities for black to create counterplay.