The Evans Gambit is a pawn sacrifice white can make in the Italian Game. The opening moves are 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. b4!?
At first, this pawn sacrifice looks a bit strange – what does white get in return for his sacrifice? The answer is that after black takes the b4 pawn, white will be able to play c3 with tempo, accelerating white’s central expansion with c3 and d4.
The Evans Gambit was a popular opening all the way back in the 1800s, and maintains its popularity in present times. While it’s rarely seen in elite chess today, the Evans Gambit was famously used by no less than World Champion Garry Kasparov to defeat Anand!
Let’s look at what can happen if black accepts the gambit:
Black’s most popular retreat of the bishop is to a5. After 5…Ba5, we arrive at the following position:
From a5, this bishop will pin the c-pawn to the king if white follows up with 6. d4, preventing white from recapturing immediately in the center with the c-pawn after 6…exd4
Nonetheless, this is white’s most popular continuation. White can now play 7. 0-0, threatening to recapture the pawn next turn!
Black now gets the chance to play 7…dxc3 if they so choose, capturing a third white pawn. But after 8. Qb3:
White has a large lead in development to compensate him for his material deficit. The pawn on f7 is a potential weakness, and the c3 pawn can be recouped. White will remain down two pawns, but the attack can be dangerous!
In the video above, I covered an Adolf Anderssen game (from the 1870s!) which continued with 8…Qf6 9. e5!
White tries to open the center to exploit their lead in development. Anderssen’s opponent had opportunities to defend the attack, but in the end, white went on to win. In modern practice, white has done okay from this position as well.
Alternatively, black could resist the temptation to take the third pawn and instead play 7…d6:
Since white has now castled, white can regain a pawn and take the full center with 8. cxd4, but black remains a pawn to the good.
A possible continuation would be 8…Bb6 (re-routing this bishop to a more useful square to pressure white’s center – it’s job on a5 is done now that white has castled!) 9. d5 Na5 10. Bd3 Ne7 11. Bb2 0-0 12. Qd2
White has decent compensation for a pawn. The knight on a5 is out of play, and white retains a space advantage.
If black is looking for an alternative bishop retreat to the …Ba5 lines covered above, then this is the most popular option.
Other bishop retreats make less sense (…Bd6 blocks the d-pawn, …Bf8 undevelops the bishop entirely, and …Bc5 will allow white to play d4 with tempo after castling!)
After 5…Be7 6. d4, black will sometimes use the now-vacated a5 square for the knight, with 6…Na5. This allows white to restore material equality with 7. Nxe5 if white so desires, but after 7…Nxc4 8. Nxc4 d5:
Black is able to neutralize white’s space in the center. The position is roughly equal. White’s space advantage is nice, but black has the advantage of the bishop pair in an open position, and should have no trouble completing development.
Black also has the option to declined the Evans Gambit. White can play 5. a4, threatening to trap this bishop with a5 next turn. After 5…a6 6. Nc3 Nf6 7. Nd5:
We see one of white’s points of provoking black to move the a-pawn. If white were to take on b6 next turn, black would not be able to recapture with the a-pawn, and would instead have to play the pawn-structure-ruining …cxb6.
The main line continues 7…Nxd5 8. exd5 Nd4! (not 8…Nxb4, as the knight is nearly trapped there). White has sometimes tried the pawn sacrifice 9. d6 to try to stop black’s light-squared bishop from developing, but black can play 9…Qf6!, maintaining a reasonable position.
The Evans Gambit is an aggressive interpretation of the Italian Game that requires accurate play from black to defend. In many lines, white gets sufficient compensation for the sacrificed material, and it will be up to black to try to neutralize white’s play and catch up in development!
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