The Danish Gambit: Pros and Cons

Posted on 2022-04-12 by Odin Chess
Updated on 2022-09-29
A map of Denmark with a chess-themed background

The Danish Gambit is a chess opening that has been around for centuries. It's a risky opening, but it can be very effective if used correctly. In this blog post, we will take a look at the pros and cons of the Danish Gambit, as well as the main lines that you need to know about. We'll also discuss when you might want to use this opening in your games. So without further ado, let's get started!

What is the Danish Gambit?

The Danish Gambit is a chess opening that begins with the King's pawn opening 1.e4, followed by black replying symmetrically 1...e5. White then plays 2.d4, offering a pawn, and black takes with 2...exd4. So far this opening is called the Center Game, and is typically followed up by white taking back the pawn with 3.Qxd4. Instead, in the Danish Gambit, white offers up another pawn by playing 3.c3. Black now has a choice: They can either take the next pawn, with 3...dxc3, accepting the gambit, or they can decline.

Who Should play the Danish Gambit?

The Danish Gambit is a risky opening, and it's not for everyone. If you're looking for a safe, solid opening that will get you into a playable position, then the Danish Gambit is not for you. However, if you're looking for an aggressive opening that can give your opponent some problems, then you might want to give it a try.

Although the Danish Gambit is rarely played at the top levels of chess, it's still a popular choice for club and amateur players. This is because it's a fun and exciting opening to play, and it can be very rewarding if you're able to pull it off successfully.

It is especially useful against less experienced players who have most likely not studied it before, and may not be able to defend against it properly.

The Pros of the Danish Gambit

There are several pros to playing the Danish Gambit. It's a very forcing opening, which can lead to some interesting positions. It's also very active opening that can create problems for your opponent very early on. Finally, it's a relatively easy opening to learn, and it can be very effective if used correctly.

The Cons of the Danish Gambit

There are also a few cons to playing the Danish Gambit. One con is the fact that it's a risky opening, and you can easily get into trouble if you don't know what you're doing. On top of that, it's not a very reliable opening, and it's not guaranteed to win you the game, especially if you ropponent has studied it. A third issue is that it can be difficult to defend against counter-attacks from your opponent.

The Danish Gambit Accepted

If black chooses to take the pawn on c3 then they have accepted the gambit. At this point black is up by two pawns, but white has the opportunity to develop quickly and start attacking. White now has to capitalize on their lead in development by putting as much pressure on black as possible, while black needs to try to capitalize on their material advantage by trying to force white into trading more material.

There are a number of different lines that you can play from here, but the most common are as follows:

The Triple Gambit: Bc4

One of the main lines of the Danish Gambit is for white to avoid taking black's pawn, and instead offer the b2 pawn by playing 4.Bc4. If black responds with 4...cxb2, then white can take with Bxb2. White now has control of the long diagonals with their bishops, while black hasn't had a chance to develop at all.

This is a triple gambit, because white is offering 3 pawns right off the bat, but in exchange, white has gained a nice lead in development by placing both bishops on central diagonals, not to mention controlling the center with the pawn on e4. Black on the other hand has not developed at all, and has only managed to move a single piece: one pawn, which is now lost. From this point on, black must be very careful not to fall into any of white's traps. Here are a couple of sample lines you can study to see how some of these traps work:

5..d5 6.Bxd5 Nf6 7.Nc3 Nxd5 8.Nxd5 c6 9.Nf6 gxf6 10.Qxd8 Kxd8 11.Bxf6

This line is a great demonstration of how quickly and easily black can fall into a one of white's traps once those bishops are on the main digonals.

Black plays 5..d5 to try to threaten white's light-square bishop. White takes with 6.Bxd5, and black threatens again with Nc6. Now white can play Nc3, which looks like an innocuous way to defend the bishop, but it is really laying the groundwork for a trap later on. Black then takes the bishop with Nxd5, and white follows suit, playing Nxd5 as well. Now if black threatens the knight by playing c6, white can play Nf6+, appearing to hang a knight. Black then takes with gxf6. White can now trade queens by playing Qxd8, which forces black to play Kxd8. Finally, white can play Bxf6+, taking a pawn, and threatening both the rook and the king.

5..Bb4+ 6.Kf1 d6 7.Bxg7

This line shows an even quicker way for white to capitalize on their lead in development.

Black threatens white's king with 5..Bb4+, and white chooses the most casual possible response by playing Kf1, simply moving the white king to safety. Black now has to protect their kingside rook, but this is easy to miss. If instead black focusses on trying to close the gap in development by playing a simple move like d6, white can play Bxg7, taking a pawn, and leaving black no opportunity to defend their rook.

Take with the Knight: Nxc3

Another main line of the Danish Gambit Accepted is to take with the knight on 4.Nc3. This is not as highly recommended as 4.Bc4 because it doesn't give white the bishops along the main diagonals, but it does allow white to recover one of the pawns they have sacrificed while simultaneously developing their knight. Let's take a look at how this might turn out:

4.Nxc3 Nc6 5.Bc4 Nc3 6.Nf3 Bc5 7.e5 Ng4 8.Bxf7 Kxf7 9.Qd5+

White takes the pawn on c3 by playing Nxc3. Both sides continue developing with 4..Nc6 5.Bc4 Nc3 6.Nf3 Bc5 7.e5 Ng4. White can now play Bf2+, and black can take with Kxf2. White can now play Qd5+, putting the king in check, and taking advantage of the fact that black's dark-square bishop is badly defended.

The Danish Gambit Declined

Next let's take a look at the Danish Gambit Declined. This is what happens when black chooses not to take the pawn on c3. Black has a couple of good options here: the Sörensen Defense and the Rosentreter Defense. In both cases black hopes to prevent white's quick development and hold on to their small lead in material.

The Sörensen Defense: d5

3..d5 4.exd5 Qxd5 5.cxd4

Black can choose not to take the pawn on c3 and instead play e5, competing for control of the center. This is called the Sörensen Defense (also known as the Capablanca Defense).White then follows up with exd5, and black can safely take back with Qxd5. White can now play cxd4, getting back the pawn they lost earlier.

At this point neither player has a material advantage, and white can stll focus on early development, trying to get thier knights out and threaten the queen in the center.

The Rosentreter Defense: Qe7

3..Qe7 4.cxd4 Qxe4 5.Be3

Another good option for black that doesn't involve taking the pawn on c3 is to play the Rosentreter Defense by moving their queen to e7. White should then take with cxd4, black can take king's pawn with Qxe4+, and white can play Be3 to protect the king.

In this case white is still down a pawn, but has a small lead in development, and should continue trying to develop quickly.

How to defend against the Danish Gambit

Finally, let's focus on how to counter the Danish Gambit as black. One way is to decline the gambit altogether and play either the Capablance Defense or the Rosentreter Defense, as listed above. Both of these will prevent white from gaining the lead in development that the Danish gambit aims to achieve.

Assuming you accept the gambit as black, your best bet is to utilize the Schlechter Defense.

The Schlechter Defense: d5

4..d5 6.Bxd5 Nf6 7.Bxf7 Kxf7 8.Qxd8 Bb4+

The Schlechter Defense sets a trap for white by encoraging white to attack early using their well placed bishops.

After 4..d5 5.Bxd5, black's best move is Nf6. Now white might try to take black's queen with 7.Bxf7 Kxf7 8.Qxd8. But black has a great reply with Bb4+, putting white in check while also launching a discovered attack on white's queen with the kingside rook. At this point black will regain the queen and can steer towards a roughly equal endgame.

The effectiveness of the Schlechter Defense is the main reason that the Danish Gambit has fallen out of favour among top players, but if your opponent doesn't know how to play it properly, you can still get great results with the Danish Gambit.

A hand drawn image of the Norse God Odin playing chess
Odin Chess
The Odin Chess team is composed of several members. We have various levels of chess skill, from beginner to expert, but are united by our love of chess. Writing blog entries is a team effort, and each blog entry is written with the intent of helping our users improve their chess abilities.