The Elephant Gambit is a rare response to the King’s Pawn Opening – and it’s rare for a reason! The opening is characterized by the first moves 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 d5?!
Black’s attempt to grab the full center could be seen as ambitious, but black simply doesn’t have the development needed to justify this pawn thrust. We’ll see how white can exploit the Elephant Gambit to get a sizable opening advantage!
White’s clearest path to an advantage is by playing 3. exd5. Black simply doesn’t have an adequate response to this move.
Black could respond with 3…Qxd5, but after 4. Nc3, black is essentially playing a significantly worse version of the Scandinavian Defense. Not only will the queen have to move again already, but now the e5-pawn has to be looked after! White’s lead in development will be significant.
Instead, when black plays the Elephant Gambit, they generally intend to respond to 3. exd5 by playing 3…e4:
However, black’s attempt to drive the knight away can be thwarted with 4. Qe2! Now black has a few options…
4…Qxd5 5. Nc3 simply wins a pawn for white
4…Qe7 breaks the pin, but now black has trouble recapturing the d5 pawn. After 5. Nd4 Nf6 6. Nc3, white’s still a pawn up.
4…Nf6 is most popular, and here I recommend 5. d3!
Other set-ups are possible, of course. 5. Nc3 is a reasonable move, but I prefer not to allow the …Bb4 pin. This is a clear path to a large advantage for white.
White is still up a pawn, and threatening to win another on e4. After 5…Nxd5 6. dxe4, for example, white’s a clean pawn up without any compensation for black.
The main move is 5…Qxd5, and now I recommend 6. Nbd2! (once again avoiding 6. Nc3 Bb4)
Material is equal for the time being, but black is left without a way to defend their e4-pawn. 6…Bb4 now accomplishes nothing because of 7. c3, so black will have to look for an alternative plan.
6…Nc6 has been tried, giving up on defending the pawn. Some games have continued 7. dxe4 Qh5 8. Qb5. It’s hard to see what compensation black has for a pawn.
6…Bf5 looks to be the most trying move, but now after 7. dxe4 Bxe4 8. Ng5!, white is close to winning
8…Qxg5 is essentially forced, and now after 9. Nxe4 (attacking the queen and threatening discoveries on the black king), 9…Qe5 is forced. There follows 10. Nxf6+ gxf6 11. Bf4 (exploiting the pinned queen) 11…Qxe2 12. Bxe2
With an atrocious endgame for black. White has two bishops in an open position, a lead in development, a much better pawn structure, and c7 is currently hanging. Black won’t have fun trying to hold on for dear life from here!
In the vast majority of my Openings articles, I do my best to remain objective and present all the options that each player may face.
I feel little need to do this in the Elephant Gambit, however, because I would never recommend anybody to play this opening with black! We’ve found a clear path to an advantage with white, and once we’ve found one, we don’t need another.
But for the sake of completeness, let’s briefly consider this move three alternative that the player with black would need to be prepared for as well. I believe they should be happy to see it, as white’s path to an advantage is murkier here.
One sample line is 3…Bd6 4. d4 dxe4 (black restores material equality) 5. Nc4 Nf6
And white’s a bit better.
The Elephant Gambit is not considered to be a good opening for black. By following my recommendation of 3. exd5 as white, you’ll be able to get an advantage against it every time!
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