Queen’s Gambit

The Queen’s Gambit is one of the most popular chess openings in the world and it’s a branch of the Queen’s Pawn opening for Black, which is characterized by the opening moves 1.d4 d5 2.c4.

Queen's Gambit Opening

About Queen’s Gambit

It is one of the oldest chess openings in existence, with its origins dating all the way back to the 15th century. White’s main idea with the move 2.c2-c4 is to develop the queenside Knight with the move Nb1-c3, but this would be rather cumbersome if the Knight were standing in front of the pawn. For this reason, the Queen’s Gambit is played, putting pressure on Black’s center and preparing to develop as harmoniously as possible. It has the downside offerring the c4-pawn “for free” (hence was named Gambit), but the acceptance of this pawn by Black also gives White something in return. Let’s analyze the pros and cons of accepting the Queen’s Gambit:

Pros Cons
Temporarily wins a pawn for Black  Black loses a central pawn, losing some control over the center
White will be forced to lose a lot of tempos if they want to get the pawn back (for example, with the maneuver Qd1-Qa4-Qxc4) It will be difficult to remain a pawn up without creating weaknesses in Black’s camp (for instance, with moves like b7-b5)

As you have probably noticed, the table above was written from Black’s perspective. This is due to the fact that the decision of whether to accept the sacrifice or not is on Black’s shoulders. If Black decides that the long-term disadvantages of giving up a central pawn are too much to bear (which is the current state of theory), they can decide to either protect the d5 pawn, or try to counter-attack White’s center. Before we consider the most common moves at Black’s disposal, let’s see some statistics taken from games played online on lichess:

Lichess Online Database Rating 1000-2500, All time controls (%) Rating 2000-2500, All time controls (%) Rating 2200-2500, Blitz only  (%)
White wins 53 51 49
Draw 4 6 8
Black wins 43 43 49

The soundness of this chess opening can be “confirmed” by these statistics, as White is always slightly ahead in winning percentages.

Queen’s Gambit Theory

Let’s now consider the most common variations Black has at their disposal:
2…e6 (Queen’s Gambit Declined)
2…dxc4 (Queen’s Gambit Accepted)
2…c6 (Slav Defense)
2…e5!? (Albin Counter-Gambit)
2…Nf6?! (Marshall Defense)

Queen’s Gambit Declined: 2.c4 e6

Queen's Gambit Declined

The Queen’s Gambit Declined appears on the board after Black declines the offer on c4 and consolidates the center with e7-e6. Black’s play is very sound – it opens a line for the dark-squared Bishop to be developed while at the same time making sure that the option of recapturing on d5 with a pawn is possible. We will see why this is of utmost importance when we analyze the dubious Marshall Defense.
If White wants to fight for an opening advantage, in the current state of theory, there are two main setups that revolve around deciding where to develop the light-squared Bishop – fianchettoed or not. The Catalan is defined by the variation 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.g3 (below) and its main plan is to fianchetto the light-squared bishop before striking in the center.

It’s an ambitious plan as it prepares the development of the King’s Bishop to a long diagonal where it can exert maximum pressure on the center and the queenside. On the other hand, the offer of the c4-pawn starts to become more and more interesting for Black to consider, as the light-squared Bishop will not be ready to quickly recapture the pawn anymore. Consider the diagram below:

Black just played 6…dxc4, finally accepting the Gambit. Now, if White wants to recapture it with the Queen and then return this piece to a safe square, they need three tempos, as indicated by the green arrows, which Black can use to solve the problem of the light-squared bishop on c8.
White can also decide not to fianchetto the light-squared Bishop by playing e2-e3 and keeping an eye on c4. With this setup, White claims to have an advantage based on the better development of its pieces, as Black is always stuck with the c8-Bishop. After 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 Be7 5.Bf4 0-0 6.e3

we can see that Black would rather have their light-squared Bishop outside the pawn chain, for instance on f5. This chronic problem plays a major role in most of the variations that result from the Queen’s Gambit, and most of the time Black tries to free this Bishop by either accepting an isolani in the center (by playing c7-c5) or by playing b7-b6 and Bc8-b7, which create weaknesses on the c-file.

Queen’s Gambit Accepted: 2.c4 dxc4

Queen's Gambit Declined

This is perhaps the “critical” test of the Queen’s Gambit – Black simply accepts it. We have already discussed the pros and cons this movie has, so let’s see how these concepts can be translated into concrete moves. White has two main choices – play aggressively by claiming the whole center as fast as possible with 3.e2-e4, while opening lines for their pieces, or play more positionally with moves like 3.Nf3 or 3.e3. After the former, the game may continue with the variation 3…Nf6 4.e3 e6 5.Bxc4

when, again, Black is suffering with the poor placement of the c8-Bishop and the space disadvantage. What was the justification for playing 2…dxc4 then? Well, White’s light-squared Bishop is somewhat vulnerable, and could be hit with b7-b5, which would allow Black to develop their own light-squared Bishop to the active b7-square, with the gain of tempo. Still, the general consensus is that it should not be enough to compensate for the fact that White has more central control, and easier development.

Slav Defense 2.c4 c6

Slav Defense

Together with the Queen’s Gambit Declined, the Slav Defense is one of the main responses Black has available to the Queen’s Gambit opening. It shares some of the objectives of the aforementioned opening, but it is much more ambitious, as it leaves the line open for the light-squared bishop to come out, and also suggests to White that maybe they should protect the c4-pawn soon, as Black is much better placed to capture it now (due to the fact that b7-b5 is a viable option now). It has two main disadvantages:
⦁  It does not contribute to the development of the kingside
⦁  It is not easy to develop the c8-Bishop without having problems with the b7-pawn
For instance, after the following natural variation 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 Bf5 White can immediately strike with 5.cxd5! cxd5 6.Qb3 when Black cannot comfortably defend the b7-pawn. For this reason, it is common for Black to prepare the development of this bishop with 4…a6

Which introduces the idea of, among others, using Ra8-Ra7 to defend the pawn. This move, on the other hand, loses some time, which is not desirable at this stage of the opening.
It should be said that the Queen’s Gambit Declined and the Slav Defense are closely related and can transpose to each other at the early stages of the game. The strategic ideas in the middle-game can also be similar, for both sides.

Albin Counter-Gambit: 2.c4 e5!?

Albin Counter-Gambit: 2.c4 e5!?

The Albin Counter-Gambit is an energetic move that is rather frowned upon by current theory, but it is a very interesting weapon at the amateur level, as White needs to be precise to keep an opening advantage. With the move 2…e5, Black is saying that is not interested at all in suffering under less space and having worse pieces, but instead that it would rather have MORE space, and freer lines of development! This can be achieved after White takes on e5 (as they should) and Black responds with 3…d4.

We can see that both Bishops are open and the d4-pawn gives Black a very nice grip on the center. What’s not to like? Well, the main problem with this opening choice is that Black had to give up a pawn to achieve all this, and the time that Black needs to recover it will be enough for White to get a nice lead in development (a similar idea was discussed in the Catalan, but it was White who was trying to recover the pawn). In practice, games normally continue with 4.Nf3 Nc6 5.g3 Nge7 when we can already see that Black will lose quite some time with the Knights to recover the e5-pawn.

Marshall Defense: 2.c4 Nf6

Marshall Defense

The Marshall Defense is a variation characterized by the move 2…Nf6 in the Queen’s Gambit. It isn’t a great defense and, by comparing it with the previous topics, you might have already guessed why. Black does not reinforce the center with a pawn which allows White to capture the d4-pawn and get more central control without having to spend any tempos moving their pieces around. If this problem was not bad enough already, once Black recaptures on d5 with the Knight, the expansion e2-e4 comes with tempo. The capture on d5 with the Queen comes with a similar problem, the move Nb1-c3, developing with the gain of tempo.

Traps in Queen’s Gambit

Chess openings should not be chosen based on traps, because often if the opponents do not fall for them, they will get a better position. Still, there are some one’s that come naturally with the position, and it is good to be aware of them. Below are a few positions that contain typical traps in the discussed variations.

№1

1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.g3 Be7 5.Bg2 0–0 6.0–0 dxc4 Now that the Bishop has left the f1-a6 diagonal, this move makes a lot of sense 7.Qc2 a6 hinting at b7-b5 and Bc8-b7 8.a4 stopping b7-b5 Bd7 9.Qxc4 Bc6 10.Nbd2 a natural move, as the Knight prepares to go to b3. There is a problem though!

10…Bb5! The Bishop cannot be captured and the e2 pawn will fall.

№2

1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 3.e3 preparing to capture on c4 as soon as possible 3…e5 striking immediately. White should not take because Black can exchange Queens and misplace White’s King 4.Bxc4 exd4 5.Nf3 Quick development and at the same time setting up a small trap. Should Black win a second pawn with 5…dxe3?

No! White wins with 6.Bxf7+!

№3

1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.cxd5 a rather harmless variation, if Black knows what they are doing. White is arguing that the better development will cause Black some problems cxd5 4.Nc3 Nc6 5.Nf3 Nf6 6.Bf4 Bf5 7.e3 a6 a logical move, preparing b7-b5 to expand on the queenside 8.Be2 e6 9.Qb3 how to defend b7? 9…Na5 10.Qa4+ b5 Not like this!

11.Bxb5! axb5 12.Nxb5 There is no way to stop loosing material Qd7 13.Ne5 Bb4+ 14. Qxb4 +-

№4

1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 3.e3 b5 Black tries to hang on to the extra pawn, but there is a flaw with this plan 4.a4 c6 reinforcing the pawn chain. What now?


5.axb5! +- Black’s pawn chain is collapsing, as cxb5?? loses the Rook by 6.Qf3

Famous games on Queen’s Gambit

Alekhine – Bogoljubov, Warsaw 1943

Kramnik – Topalov, World Championship Match, Elista, Russia 2006

Aronian – Vishy Anand, FIDE World Championship Tournament, Mexico City 2007

Conclusion

The Queen’s Gambit is an extremely vast chess opening that has been played since the beginning of the game. White’s play is very logical, putting pressure on the center and developing swiftly, posing a few questions to Black that need answering, mainly related to the space advantage and the bad light-squared Bishop, hence giving a slight opening advantage to White.

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.
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