How to play the Belgrade Gambit

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Quick overview:

  • The Belgrade Gambit is an uncommon gambit arising from the Four Knights Game or the Scotch Game, typically reached via the move order 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.d4 exd4 5.Nd5.
  • White hopes to take Black out of preparation by sacrificing a pawn and wants to enter into challenging lines after 5…Nxe4.
  • The gambit is not refuted or unsound, though Black can easily sidestep the complications that come with it with a move like 5…Be7.

The Belgrade Gambit is an interesting gambit that is played far less than other gambits that score similarly, such as the Budapest Gambit or the Smith-Morra Gambit. It is a fine gambit that is surely bound to work as a surprise weapon for a lot of opponents.

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.d4 exd4 5.Nd5

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In this gambit, if Black plays a move like 5…Nxe4, White has some chances to complicate things. However, Black can calmly play a developing move like 5…Be7, and this sidesteps White’s plans for complicating things, which is probably why it is not such a popular gambit.

The Belgrade Gambit was first played in Berlin on March 12, 1938, between Kurt Ricther and Albert Becker. Richter lost to Becker and purportedly never used the opening again.

Six years later, at a Belgrade chess club, young talent Mihajlo Trajkovic found the Richter-Becker game in a German chess handbook entitled How Not to Play Chess.

Upon further review, Trajkovic found the opening to have more merit than it was given, analyzed it heavily, and was responsible for its name and revitalization.

5…Nxd5 6.exd5

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Black decides to take the knight that has uncomfortably gotten into their side of the board. It is only natural for White to take back with the e-pawn, now attacking the c6 knight.

Black can move the knight immediately or interject an in-between move such as 6…Qe7+ 7.Be2 and Black will still have to move the knight and White will regain the pawn on d4 after the knight moves.

Black could also offer a sacrifice of their own with 7…d3 and after 8.cxd3 Nb4, it looks like Black has accomplished something as White will have a hard time moving their light-squared bishop, but White is much better off.

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More probable is 6…Ne7 or Ne4.

6…Ne7 7.Qxd4, White regains material and has a much better position due to Black’s passivity.

There is an interesting trap here. If 7.d6 and Black mistakenly moves the knight, White will win material after 8.Qe2+.

It seems that 5…Nxd5 is not the strongest option for Black. Valuation swings to White after this move, especially if they begin to play passively with a move like 6…Ne7.

If Black plays 6…Nb4 White can defend the pawn with 7.Bc4, but may have to retreat the bishop after …Qe7+. Another option is to just eject the knight with 7.a3 and let Black capture the d-pawn.

5…Nxe4

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White has two main responses here.

6.Qe2 pins the knight, to which Black responds …f5 adding another protector.

Black’s knight now has a nice outpost, and White’s queen is blocking development of the light-squared bishop.

Black’s kingside is very weakened, so White would love to develop the light-squared bishop to c4 to place pressure on the weak kingside, but 6.Qe2 makes such a move difficult.

Another option is 6.Bd3, developing the kingside bishop and attacking the knight.

The queen may also later go to e2.

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If 6…f5 7.Bxe4 fx34 8. 0-0

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If 8…exf3, White is now winning because of 9.Re1+ and there is simply too much pressure around the king and material will be lost.

Thus, better for Black is 6…Nc5 7.0-0 Ne6. Black is up two pawns, has a slight lead according to engines, though White has better development.

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Another sample line might look like 6.Qe2 f5 7.Ng5 d3 8.cxd3 Nd4 9.Qh5+ g6 10.Qh4 producing an extremely chaotic and sharp position. Engines say Black is better, but many players may not feel comfortable in such territory.

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5…Be7

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If Black would rather forgo White’s attempts to draw them into a tactical minefield, then this is the safe option. Black simply ignores White’s attempts, and this move is the whole reason the Belgrade Gambit is not so popular for White.

White can take back the pawn immediately with 6.Nxd4 or focus on fast development for the moment with 6.Bc4 or 6.Bf4.

If 6.Nxd4 Nxd5 7.exd5 Nxd4 8.Qxd4 0-0, we have a very even-looking game, with both sides retaining the bishop pair.

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5…Nb4

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This is Black’s most challenging counter making for a very exciting game with opportunities for both sides.

White can try a setup like the following, focusing on control of the d4 pawn, though they will be a pawn down.

6.Nxf6 Qxf6 7.a3 Nc6 8.Bc4 Bc5 9.b4 Bb6

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Another option is 6.Bc4 Nbxd5 7.exd5. It is better to take with the pawn here rather than the bishop as the pawn may become a nuisance for Black later.

Summary

The Belgrade Gambit is a solid opening that is underappreciated. It is far from refuted and White can get some beautiful tactical games if Black plays 5…Nxd5 or 5…Nxe4.

However, if Black plays the quiet 5…Be7, this probably thwarts White’s plans for a tactical showdown, thus being the reason it is not as popular as some other gambits.

Try the Belgrade Gambit out and see what kind of results you get with it.

FAQs

What is the Belgrade Gambit?

The Belgrade Gambit is an attempt by White to sacrifice a pawn for activity and entry into Black’s position after the moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4.d4 exd4 5.Nd5

Is Belgrade Gambit sound?

Yes, the Belgrade Gambit is considered very sound and only gives Black a very slight edge in valuation, which humans will have a very hard time converting.

Who plays the Belgrade Gambit?

The Belgrade Gambit is not a very common opening, so it does not have a lot of advocates at the top level. However, GM Peter Svidler has played it on multiple occasions.

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