Queen’s Gambit Opening – How to Play as White and Black

Netflix’ “The Queen’s Gambit” may have mesmerized the non-chess-playing world. But the Queen’s Gambit — the opening — has captured the attention of true connoisseurs of the game for hundreds of years.

World Champions favor the opening because it strikes the perfect balance between ambition and safety. Amateurs pick up the Queen’s Gambit to learn, not just opening theory, but also classical strategic chess for both colors.

If you’d love to add the Queen’s Gambit to your arsenal, then this Black-and-White survey of the opening will get you started in the right direction.

Where The Pawns And Pieces Go

Knowing where the pieces and pawns go — and why — will go a long way in helping you understand why the following openings are played the way they’re played.

So before we look at actual moves and variations, here are some Queen’s Gambit “rules of thumb” you must remember:

Queen’s Gambit For White

  • The pawns go to d4 and c4, controlling as many central squares as possible.
  • The knights go to their natural squares, c3 and f3.
  • The dark-squared bishop goes to f4 or g5… 
  • After which, e2-e3 is played to fortify the d4-pawn.
  • The light-squared bishop goes to d3, ruling over the b1-h7 diagonal and preparing a potential e4-break.
  • The queen goes to b3, c2 or e2, depending on the chosen plan.
  • And the rooks set up shop on c1 and d1.

Queen’s Gambit For Black

  • The pawns go to d5 and e6, maintaining Black’s share of the center.
  • The kingside knight goes to f6 while the other goes to d7 to prepare the …c7-c5 break.
  • The dark-squared bishop often settles at e7 to break the g5 pin, instead of d6 to avoid e4-e5.
  • The light-squared bishop goes to b7 to control e4 after …dxc4 and …b7-b5.
  • The queenside rook supports the c5 break from c8, while the other rook and queen often stay put until the position breaks open.

Queen’s Gambit Accepted – Black Takes The Pawn With 2…dxc4

The move 2…dxc4 signals the Queen’s Gambit Accepted. Black surrenders their grip on the center and gives White the option of establishing a classic pawn duo on the very next move.

Queen's Gambit Accepted

Note that Black cannot hang on to the pawn, at least not favorably. For example, after 3.e3, trying to keep the pawn with 3…b5? 4.a4 c6?? quickly drops a minor piece.

So if Black loses their central presence after 2…dxc4, and they cannot hang onto their loot anyway, why accept the gambit in the first place!?

The answer lies in the way Black creates counterplay. By taking the pawn, the second player no longer needs to worry about defending a pawn on d5. Meaning they can immediately strike against the enemy center with …c7-c5 or …e7-e5, depending on how White responds.

White must also spend time recapturing the pawn on c4, oftentimes with the light-squared bishop. Knowing this, Black plays …a7-a6. So that after Bxc4, they can play …b7-b5 — expanding on the queenside and vacating the b7-square for the c8-bishop with gain of time.

Let’s see these ideas in action:

Queen’s Gambit Declined – Black Declines The Pawn With 2…e6

At the top level, declining the Queen’s Gambit with 2…e6 is the most popular choice. By supporting the d-pawn, Black maintains their stake in the center and gets a rock-solid position.

2queens gambit declined

Black’s pawn structure is robust. So the second player will develop their pieces behind this barricade — starting with …Ng8-f6, …Bf8-e7 and …O-O. From here, Black will exchange some pieces to ease the cramp.

As for White, the first player gets a slight advantage… thanks to his easy development and lion’s share of the center. White will also try to play against the c8-bishop, whose activity is severely restricted by the pawns on e6 and d5.

Here are some ins in the Queen’s Gambit Declined:

Other Ways To Respond To The Queen’s Gambit

Of course, the Queen’s Gambit won’t be the rich and highly respected opening it is today if there were only two ways to play it. In the following sections, we will look at other ways to respond to the Queen’s Gambit and the type of game they lead to.

The Slav And Semi-Slav

The Slav and Semi-Slav Defenses start with 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6. By using the c-pawn to support the d-pawn, Black keeps the c8-h3 diagonal open for his light-squared bishop.

3slav semi slav

In the Slav, Black may resolve the tension in the center with …dxc4 then bring the c8-bishop out to f5 or g4. The second player cedes space in the center, but their pieces enjoy easy development in exchange.

On the other hand, the Semi-Slav builds a triangle formation with an eventual …e7-e6. The second player then rallies their pieces behind this bunker of pawns with …Ng8-f6, …Nb8-d7 and …Bf8-d6.

From here, Black captures with …dxc4, intending to hang on to the pawn or gain ground on the queenside with …b7-b5 and …Bc8-b7.

Let’s see these ideas in action:

The Tarrasch Defense

After 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 c5, we arrive at the Tarrasch Defense. The opening was named after German Grandmaster Siegbert Tarrasch, who was a staunch supporter of isolated queen’s pawns and their dynamic potential.

4tarrasch defense

“He who fears an isolated queen’s pawn should give up chess!”

— Siegbert Tarrasch

Because of the tension between the c- and d-pawns, exchanges are almost guaranteed to lead to an isolated queen’s pawn for the second player.

Black must play with force and energy to “stir up” counterplay with their pieces… while White’s main strategy is to pile up pressure on the isolated pawn, especially in the endgame.

The Chigorin Defense

The Queen’s Gambit variations we’ve discussed so far are what most players would call “proper.” Now let’s turn our attention to some offbeat options, starting with the Chigorin Defense. The opening goes 1.d4 d5 2.c4 Nc6!?

5chigorin defense

The knight gets in the way of the c-pawn, making the …c7-c5 break difficult if not impossible to achieve. But it also threatens to win a pawn, and starts active piece play right away to combat White’s inherent space advantage.

Here are some crazy and fun games in the opening by one of the Chigorin’s champions, former world number two, GM Alexander Morozevich.

The Albin Countergambit

The Albin Countergambit sacrifices a pawn on the second move to drive their d-pawn deep into the first player’s territory, cramping the white pieces.

It starts with 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e5!?, and the most common continuation is 3.dxe5 d4.

6albin counter gambit

Black’s game plan revolves around maintaining the d4-pawn and castling queenside to drum up active play. On the other hand, White’s best continuation is to fianchetto their light-squared bishop… play Ng1-f3 and Nb1-d2… and castle kingside before confronting Black.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Is the Queen’s Gambit a real gambit?

No, because White will regain the pawn on c4 sooner rather than later. Black can maintain the advanced c-pawn and its cramping effect in certain variations, say, after 3.e4 b5. But they must be willing to sacrifice the exchange after 4.a4 c6 5.axb5 cxb5 6.Nc3 a6 7.Nxb5 axb5 8.Rxa8 Bb7 9.Ra1.

This double-edged exchange sacrifice is at the core of Lifetime Repertoires: Queen’s Gambit Accepted – a razor-sharp repertoire that meets White’s center-grabbing strategy with aggressive piece play and deep, engine-approved tactics.

Is the Queen’s Gambit a real opening?

Not only real, but highly regarded, too. You’d be hard-pressed to find an official World Chess Championship match where 1.d4 d5 2.c4 wasn’t played. The best players love the Queen’s Gambit from both sides, because it offers a nice balance between ambition and safety.

Is it better to accept or decline Queen’s Gambit?

Both openings are sound, and their win rates are almost identical. However, where they differ is in their character.

The Queen’s Gambit Accepted often leads to lively games… in no small part, because Black must compensate for his lack of central space with piece play and well-timed pawn breaks. Play leans on the slower side in the Queen’s Gambit Declined, with both sides maneuvering to maintain their share of the center.

What do you do after the Queen’s Gambit opening?

After the initial moves 1.d4 d5 2.c4, your next steps are to develop your knights and bishops to their ideal squares… castle to safety… and connect your rooks by moving your queen. Check out the section, Where The Pawns And Pieces Go, for more information.

What is Queen’s Gambit Accepted in chess?

It’s a chess opening which starts with the moves 1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4. By accepting the gambit, Black surrenders the center in exchange for easy development. On the other hand, White will seize the center and use their space advantage to launch an attack.

How do you respond to Queen’s Gambit?

You can respond to the gambit by accepting it (2…dxc4) or by declining it — usually with 2…e6 or 2…c6. There are other ways to turn down the pawn offer, like the Chigorin Defense or Albin Counter-Gambit. However, these responses are nowhere near as popular as 2…e6 and 2…c6.

TL;DR Version

The Queen’s Gambit is an opening which starts with 1.d4 d5 2.c4. White offers a pawn to “sidetrack” Black’s d5-pawn away from the center. 

The second player can either: (1) Accept it with 2…dxc4, surrendering the center for easy piece play. Or, (2) decline it with 2…e6 and a host of other moves. This approach demands patient maneuvering and timely exchanges to combat White’s in-built space advantage.

Either way, the Queen’s Gambit is an opening that will teach you plenty of positional themes, tactical ideas, and time-tested strategies — all of which will serve you well as you climb the ranks.

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