The Danish Gambit is a King’s Pawn Opening beginning with 1. e4 e5 2. d4 exd4 3. c3
White begins the Danish Gambit by playing the “Center Game” with 2. d4, but after black captures the queen’s pawn, white does not recapture. Instead, white offers black a free pawn in exchange for speeding up white’s development!
After white plays 3. c3, black has a choice. Black can either accept the gambit by playing 3…dxc3, or black can decline. We’ll consider both options below:
White could play 4. Nxc3, when the position would bare some resemblance to the Smith-Morra Gambit of the Sicilian Defense. I cover this line in the video above.
But the Danish Gambit is most often associated with the move 4. Bc4 in this position, offering black yet another pawn! After 4…cxb2 5. Bxb2, we arrive at the following position:
White is down two pawns instead of just one – but look at those bishops! Black has no pieces developed, and has to be careful to ensure that their king does not fall prey to a swift attack.
Even if white doesn’t succeed in checkmating the black king, white will often succeed in obtaining some enduring positional pressure. For example, let’s consider the continuation 5…d6 6. Nf3 Nc6 7. 0-0 Be6 8. Bxe6 fxe6 9. Qb3 Qd7 10. Ng5:
White has some pressure against the weak b7 and e6 pawns. After 10…Nd8, white can play 11. f4 and take some more space. Black has a long way to go to finish up their development!
However, black has a way to spoil white’s fun in the Danish Gambit Accepted. Black can play a pawn sacrifice of his own: 5…d5!
This pawn sacrifice opens lines of development for the black pieces, and gives white a tough choice. Taking with the queen on d5 would allow black to exchange queens, and black would remain up a pawn in the endgame. Taking with the pawn would blunt white’s light-squared bishop.
The most obvious move is 6. Bxd5 – not only winning a pawn back, but also threatening Bxf7, deflecting the king away from the queen!
But black is well-prepared for this, and plays 6…Nf6:
This seems to ignore white’s threat, but after 7. Bxf7+ Kxf7 8. Qxd8 Bb4+, black gets their queen back by unleashing a discovered attack against the white queen.
White should make sure they at least get a bishop for the queen by playing 9. Qd2 Bxd2 10. Nxd2
The result is an equal endgame – though one might consider this a moral victory for black. When white sacrificed two pawns in the opening for a big lead in development, they probably weren’t looking to play an endgame!
Striking at the center is black’s most popular way to decline the Danish Gambit. After 4. exd5 Qxd5, white cannot chase black’s queen away immediately with Nc3 as they may in a Scandinavian Defense.
Instead, after 5. cxd4 Nc6 6. Nf3 Bg4 7. Be2:
We arrive at a fairly typical “Isolated Queen’s Pawn” position. White’s d4 pawn grants white a space advantage, but this pawn could be a target later on, and black has no trouble finishing their development.
The Danish Gambit is an exciting opening where white sacrifices two pawns for the sake of a lead in development.
Black can either accept the challenge and try to retain a material advantage, or give the material back and hope for an equal game. If black opts for the latter option, they may do so by playing the Danish Gambit Declined, or by accepting the gambit and going for the “endgame line” with 5…d5!
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