Danish Gambit – How to Play as White and Black

The Danish Gambit is a romantic gambit where White sacrifices one or even two pawns to gain a lead in development and an open position for the bishops to attack Black’s king.

Quick summary:

  • Giving up a pawn is not something to do lightly, so make sure you understand what you are gaining in return for your material sacrifice.
  • Having a system against the lesser-known openings is extremely helpful. You’ll often find yourself facing them in rapid or blitz games, where you don’t have much time to figure them out on your own. Becoming familiar with White’s attacking plans will help you no matter what color you are playing.
  • Discover two effective ways to decline the Danish Gambit and achieve an equal middlegame position, from which you can play for a win.

The Danish Gambit: the Pros and Cons?

Both Alekhine and Mieses played the Danish Gambit regularly. Two other world chess champions used it mostly in simultaneous exhibitions – Capablanca and Lasker.

The Danish Gambit is a playable chess opening. Because it is a lesser played opening, you can often catch Black unprepared and pose problems Black might find difficult to solve over the board.

Playing gambits is an excellent way to learn how to play actively and the importance of having the initiative in chess.

The Danish Gambit gives you easy development and simple, straightforward plans whether your opponent accepts or declines the gambit.

White will seek to generate an attack on the kingside and target the f7-square. The Danish Gambit lends itself to open positions where White’s bishops can become potent attacking pieces.

The risk you take playing the Danish Gambit is one common to all gambits – you are down material. Entering into lots of piece exchanges is not the way to play the Danish Gambit.

Black is extremely happy to simplify the position and enter an endgame a pawn or more ahead. Keep in mind that although you can generate a strong attack and make it challenging for Black, the attack White gets is not an overwhelming one.

Both sides have every chance to play for a win.

The Danish Gambit Accepted

Whenever you sacrifice material, it is always a good idea to ask yourself, “What happens if they accept the sacrifice?” In the Danish Gambit, White sacrifices a pawn.

1.e4 e5 2.d4 exd4 3.c3

The starting position of the Danish Gambit

After 3…dxc3 4.Nxc3 Black has three main continuations:

After 3...dxc3 4.Nxc3 Black has three main replies.  They can develop the knight to c6, the bishop to b4, or play ...d6.
  • 4…Nc6.
  • 4…d6.
  • 4…Bb4.

The Danish Gambit Accepted: 4…Nc6

1.e4 e5 2.d4 exd4 3.c3 dxc3 4.Nxc3 Nc6

Since rapid development, attacking play, and casting fast are crucial factors in any gambit, a good way for white to continue is with 5.Bc4.

Remember, the white queen can quickly develop to b3 and add tremendous attacking power against f7!

For example: 5…Nf6 6.Nf3 d6 7.Qb3 Qd7 8.Ng5 Ne5 9.Bb5 c6 10.f4 cxb5 11.fxe5 dxe5 12.Be3

After 12.Be3 White has a lead in development, the open c and d-files for his rooks, and the semi-open f-file.

White’s rooks are spoiled for choice when it comes to open files and objects of attack. A common attacking theme in many games is 0-0 and Rxf6.

The d5-square then becomes an excellent outpost for a white knight!

You can disguise your intention to play the Danish Gambit by starting with the opening moves of the Scotch Game. This is the approach Melnikov adopted in his game against Palchun.

The Danish Gambit Accepted: 4…d6

The move 4…d6 is a safe, modest move from Black. Against most gambits, a safety-first approach is a good policy.

White should follow Alekhine’s approach and continue with 5.Qb3.

1.e4 e5 2.d4 exd4 3.c3 dxc3 4.Nxc3 d6 5.Qb3

This move ties the bishop on c8 to the defense of the b7-pawn and plans on adding pressure to f7 with Bc4. Playing 5.Bc4 allows 5…Be6 because the b7-pawn is not attacked.

5…Nc6 6.Bc4 Qe7 7.Nge2 Nf6 8.0-0 Ne5 9.Bg5

Developing the knight to e2 instead of f3 allows white to attack with the f-pawn. The knight can go to g3 and provide further support to the pawn when it advances to f5.

Take a look at how Alekhine soon generated a winning attack from this position.

The Danish Gambit Accepted: 4…Bb4

Yes, the best fourth move for Black got saved for last. Black develops his bishop to the most active square and puts pressure on the white central pawn.

When facing the Danish Gambit, it is vital to play actively with Black.

Sitting back and trying to hold onto your pawn is playing into White’s hands. Do not give white the chance to build up momentum.

1.e4 e5 2.d4 exd4 3.c3 dxc3 4.Nxc3 Bb4

5.Bc4 Bxc3 6.bxc3 Qf6 7.Qc2 d6 8.f4 Ne7 9.Nf3 d5

In the game Lehtivaara versus Rantanen, White made the mistake of closing the position with 10.e5 instead of capturing the d5-pawn. When you play a gambit, open lines and piece activity are crucial.

The open files and diagonals favor the side with the lead in development. Whether it is a gambit or a sacrifice, it is essential to play actively while observing the classic principles of chess.

Black entered an endgame a pawn up with a good knight and rook against a bad bishop and a rook. Take a look at how Lehtivaara capitalized on this mistake.

Black Declines the Gambit With 3…d5

This is definitely the most popular way of declining the gambit. Black takes advantage of the fact white must lose a tempo to free up the c3-square for his knight.

When the knight lands on c3, Black will usually pin it with …Bb4.

1.e4 e5 2.d4 exd4 3.c3 d5

4.exd5 Qxd5 5.cxd4 Nc6 6.Be3

The most popular move for White is 6.Nf3, but this runs into Capablanca’s defense. Capablanca played the natural 6…Bg4 and after 7.Nc3 Bb4 8.Be2 Bxf3 9.Bxf3 Qc4, White has yet to find a way to obtain any advantage.

In Conclusion

The Danish Gambit is a simple, direct opening that will appeal to players who enjoy playing active attacking chess, especially if Black takes up the challenge and accepts the gambit.

Nowadays, with the influence of chess engines, it is challenging to obtain any significant advantage out of the opening. Nearly every defense is playable, thanks to the help of our silicon friends.

That is why it makes a lot of sense to play one of the lesser-known openings to reach a middlegame position you enjoy playing while having minimal theory to memorize.

Make no mistake, the Danish Gambit offers White many opportunities for a win. Yes, it is possible for Black to hold his own with sensible play but taking your opponent into unfamiliar territory puts him under additional pressure.

No matter which side of the Danish Gambit you find yourself you will learn lots about chess beyond the opening. Learning to play with or against the initiative is a great chess skill to acquire.

When playing the Danish Gambit with White, you have every chance of creating your own attacking masterpiece in the spirit of Alekhine.

The Danish Gambit Frequently Asked Questions

Is the Danish Gambit a good opening?

Yes, the Danish Gambit is a good practical opening to use as a surprise weapon. In the Danish Gambit, like with all gambits, it pays to be well prepared before you sacrifice material. Fortunately, learning the theory in gambit openings is enjoyable because of all the attacking variations.

Should you accept the Danish Gambit?

Your personal playing style will determine if you should or shouldn’t accept the Danish Gambit. Accepting the Danish Gambit leads to open, tactical, attacking positions, and if you prefer a more quiet, positional game, then declining it with …d3 will suit you better.

What is the point of the Danish Gambit?

When playing the Danish Gambit, the idea is to gain a lead in development and active piece play. White will often get active play on both sides of the board, attacking chances against f7, and two powerful bishops.

Is the Danish Gambit refuted?

No, the Danish Gambit is not refuted, and you can certainly include it in your blitz and rapid opening repertoire.

What do you do against the Danish Gambit?

Since White gambits the pawn to gain a lead in development, it is vital for Black to develop as fast as he can. Developing moves that place pressure on White’s position are best.
For example, …Bb4 pining the c3 knight and threatening to leave White with a weakened pawn structure after …Bxc3.
Another approach is to decline the gambit with 3…d5 or 3…d3.

How do you counter the Danish Gambit?

After accepting the Danish Gambit, simplification is a highly sound strategy for Black to adopt. This strategy puts pressure on White to prove he has enough compensation for the pawn and won’t enter an endgame a pawn down.
Another approach is to make use of the fact that c3 is not a developing move and strike back in the center with …d5. Black can recapture on d5 with the queen because White doesn’t have Nc3 available.

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