The Englund Gambit is an unusual Queen’s Pawn Opening, which begins with the moves 1. d4 e5?!
The idea to play an early …e5 as a pawn sacrifice as black is known from several different set-ups, such as the Budapest Gambit. But the Englund Gambit is not considered as sound as many of these sacrifices, and if white plays properly, white has a good chance to remain up a pawn long-term!
I wouldn’t recommend playing the Englund Gambit with black (except as a fun surprise weapon in blitz!) because this pawn sacrifice is fundamentally unsound. But white has to know their stuff – there is a trap white can fall into if they are not careful!
In this article, we’ll examine how to play against the Englund Gambit and avoid some dangerous pitfalls.
2. dxe5 should certainly be played. Declining the gambit makes little sense – why allow black to strike at your center for free? 2…Nc6 is the most popular response by far, threatening to win the pawn back immediately.
White has a choice to switch openings into the Nimzowitsch with 3. e4 Nxe5 4. f4 (or 4. Nf3), which also gives white a good chance for an advantage. But there’s little reason to do so when 3. Nf3 is a perfectly fine move. White simply defends the pawn.
3…Qe7 is generally played, as it’s the only move to add more pressure to the pawn.
Now, many players play 4. Bf4 with white. This is a reasonable move, but I’m going to recommend an alternative. This line can get complicated – and contains a deadly trap!
After 4. Bf4 Qb4+:
Black attacks the bishop, king, and b2-pawn at the same time.
5. Bd2 would essentially be forced (5. Qd2?? Qxb2 6. Qc3 Bb4 wins for black), and now after 5…Qxb2, black wins back their material deficit and threatens to win a rook.
If white plays 6. Bc3??, black wins with 6…Bb4!
This move puts the a1-rook back under attack by pinning the bishop, and also threatens to win the bishop outright. White doesn’t have any way to wriggle out of this one! Fatal material losses are a best-case scenario for white, and after 7. Qd2 Bxc3 8. Qxc3 Qc1#, white even gets checkmated.
6. Nc3 can (and should!) be played here to avoid this trap, but there’s really no reason to enter these complexities and give black their pawn back at all!
To avoid having to memorize any of this, I recommend avoiding Bf4 altogther. Keep that bishop tucked safely away at home for now, so the b2 pawn is defended! White can simply play 4. Qd5 to defend their pawn.
It’s not often that an early queen excursion to the middle of the board is the best idea, but this is an exception. Because of white’s pawn on e5, the queen cannot be easily harassed by the black pieces – unless they want to permanently relinquish their chance to try to win the e5-pawn back!
In the main line, that’s just what black does. 4…f6 can be played, and now after 5. exf6 Nxf6 6. Qb3, white is doing well. Black has a slight lead in development for the time being, but we’ve forced them to exchange off our vulnerable e5 pawn, and white’s a clean pawn up.
One sample continuation is 6…d5 7. Bg5 Bd7 8. Nbd2 0-0-0 9. c3 h6 10. Bxf6 Qxf6 11. e3
And black’s compensation for the lost pawn is certainly insufficient.
The Englund Gambit is generally considered not to be as viable as some other early pawn sacrifices that black can employ. A key trap exists that white needs to watch out for, but my recommendation of 4. Qd5 gives white a clear path to a material advantage with minimal headache.
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