The Budapest Gambit is an unusual Queen’s Pawn Opening which begins with 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e5
At first glance, black’s second move makes little sense. Black voluntarily gives up one of their valuable central pawns, and even allows white to attack the f6 knight as this free pawn is taken!
But as we’ll soon see, black has some tricks up their sleeve as well, and it’s not so easy for white to hold onto their extra pawn if they accept the Budapest Gambit.
White really needs to accept this pawn sacrifice by playing 3. dxe5. Other moves make little sense – allowing black to strike at white’s center for free would be quite a passive way to play.
After 3. dxe5, black’s main move is 3…Ng4, putting the e5 pawn under attack. We’ll consider an alternative in 3…Ne4 later.
Now white can defend the pawn with 4. Nf3
White’s e5 pawn is now defended. Black needs to keep up the pressure – if black doesn’t keep adding pressure to the e5 pawn, then white is one move away from playing h3 to kick the g4 knight away, when black’s opening is a complete failure!
Black generally plays the logical 4…Nc6 here, and now white can play 5. Bf4 to defend the pawn once more. (Note that white sometimes plays Bf4 before Nf3, which will most often result in the same position after move five).
Now, black would like to play …Qe7 to increase the pressure on the e5 pawn, but blocking the dark-squared bishop is undesirable. So first, black plays 5…Bb4+:
We’ve reached the key “starting position” of the mainline Budapest Gambit, and now white has an important decision to make:
6. Nbd2 is the main move. This avoids doubled pawns, but also cuts off white’s queen from accessing the d5 square, and thus after 6…Qe7, white is out of ways to defend the e5 pawn.
Play may continue with 7. e3 Ngxe5 8. Nxe5 Nxe5 9. a3 Bxd2+ (black would like to preserve the bishop pair, but this bishop doesn’t have a good home – it’s easily harassed on c5) 10. Qxd2:
This calm position might not have been what you expected after black’s aggressive second move! White likely remains a bit better here, with the pair of bishops and the slightly easier development. But black’s position is quite solid as well.
6. Nc3 is perhaps white’s more ambitious option:
White allows black to double his pawns, in exchange for keeping the option to play Qd5 open. White isn’t ready to give the e5 pawn back so easily!
After 6…Bxc3+ 7. bxc3 Qe7 8. Qd5, black is out of ways to attack white’s e5 pawn. White is threatening to simply play h3 next turn and greatly destabilize black’s position, so black seeks immediate action with 8…f6
After 9. exf6 Nxf6, white remains up a pawn, but black has some compensation. The queen will have to move again, and the doubled c-pawns are quite weak.
A sample continuation is 10. Qd3 d6 11. g3 0-0 12. Bg2 Bg4 13. 0-0 Rae8
All the black pieces stand well – but is it enough compensation for a pawn? That’s for the players to decide from here!
This move appears to be less logical than 3…Ng4, as it doesn’t place the vulnerable e5-pawn under attack. It has never been as popular as the aforementioned alternative, but I’ll provide a sample line here to illustrate how the game might progress.
4. Nf3 (4. a3!? is quite an interesting choice, simply spending a tempo to avoid …Bb4+) 4…Bb4+ 5. Nbd2 Nc6 6. a3 Bxd2+ 7. Bxd2 Nxd2 8. Qxd2 Qe7:
After the simple 9. Qc3, black probably doesn’t have enough compensation for a pawn. If black tries 9…0-0 (intending …Re8 to win the pawn), white has 10. Rd1! Re8 11. Rd5, and black is a bit tied up.
The Budapest Gambit may catch some white players off-guard, but white has many responses which maintain a slight edge. White can either return the pawn at some point and hope to play a position with other advantages (such as the bishop pair), or accept doubled pawns in exchange for remaining a pawn to the good.
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