Accept and Decline the Queen’s Gambit: Know Everything

Accept and Decline the Queen’s Gambit: Know Everything

If you’re playing Black and White, and the first move is moving the queen’s pawn to d4, what should you do?  If you don’t counter with your pawn on d5, White can advance into your territory. And if White’s next move is pawn to c3, should you capture it or bring out one of your pawns to support your pawn?

Base your decision to accept or decline the Queen’s Gambit on three factors:

  1. Your playing style.
  2. Your opponent.
  3. Your knowledge of chess strategy.

You should accept it if you enjoy aggressive play, are equally matched and understand chess strategy.  Otherwise, decline the gambit. 

The Queen’s Gambit is a powerful, commonly used opening that, if you haven’t seen it yet, you will. So let’s explore how to best respond to it.

What Is a Gambit?

A gambit is a sacrifice a player makes to gain an advantage in the opening moves. The advantage can be to gain control of the board, set up for a later attack, or set the tempo for the game.

Gambits can be classified as sound or unsound

In a sound gambit, the player gains something from the sacrifice, while an unsound gambit leaves the player at a further disadvantage. Most players consider the Queen’s Gambit to be sound. Although the King’s Gambit is deemed unsound, players like Boris Spassky have successfully used it. 

Finally, although White makes the queen’s gambit, Black can also play an opening gambit, such as Budapest or Benko.

What Does White Hope To Accomplish With the Queen’s Gambit?

White offers up a pawn for two reasons. First, White hopes to gain control of the board by having a pawn in the center that can be supported by another pawn, the bishop, or the knight.

Second, White wants to open up the game instead of having the power pieces locked behind a wall of pawns. If white moves the king’s pawn to e3, for example, White’s queen and bishop can spring into action quickly.

Here are the steps to make the three moves in the Queen’s Gambit:

  1. White moves the queen’s pawn two spaces to d4.
  2. To block White’s advance, Black moves its pawn to d5.
  3. White then moves the queenside bishop’s pawn to c4.

Once White moves the pawn to c4, the gambit has been made. However, because White’s pawn is attacking yours, the move cannot simply be ignored, unless you want the piece and get nothing in return. So you need to decide whether to accept or decline the gambit.

What Does It Mean To Accept the Queen’s Gambit?

Accepting the Queen’s Gambit means that Black takes White’s pawn on c4 with their pawn on e5, which leaves Black up one pawn.

So why would you take White’s pawn? By taking the pawn you hope to be able to get your stronger pieces out early. Once you get them out, you can play more aggressively while taking control of the center.

Note: Some chess players don’t consider the Queen’s Gambit a true gambit, but instead a delayed trade because it’s easy for White to take Black’s unprotected pawn a few moves later.

What Does It Mean To Decline the Queen’s Gambit?

Declining the Queen’s Gambit happens when Black refuses to capture the pawn on c4. Most players respond by declining. However, instead of capturing the pawn, they choose to hold on to the center square and build a solid defense.

If you decline, you might bring out the king’s pawn one space to e3 to support your pawn on d5.  If White takes your pawn, then you take his. Having a pawn on d5 keeps White from moving the king’s pawn to e4.

A disadvantage to protecting your pawn with the e6 move is you have blocked your bishop on c8. Generally, you want to avoid blocking your bishops while you develop your pieces.

How To Decide Whether To Accept or Decline the Gambit

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are you a better player than your opponent?
  • Do you like playing an aggressive game?
  • Are you willing to take risks even if the chances of winning are reduced?

If you answered yes to all three, then go ahead and accept the gambit.

Now consider these questions: 

  • Do you know whether your opponent is a stronger player?
  • Are you willing to lose your queen early in the game?
  • Do you count a draw as a loss?

It rarely happens that the queens are taken out early in the game, but if you prefer playing with yours for as long as possible, then decline.

What To Do if You Decline the Gambit

To defend the pawn on d5, bring out either bishop’s or king’s pawn to c6 or e6. Some players prefer c6 because it doesn’t block a bishop. Next, bring your knight to f6, which will provide more support to the pawn on d5, and you can move the king’s bishop out to castle. 

What To Do if You Accept the Gambit

Your priority, once you take out white’s pawn, is to protect yours, so move the knight’s pawn to b5. And since the pawn on b5 is not guarded, move the rook’s pawn to a6. Finally, move the queen’s bishop to b7 to control the long diagonal.

Although this is the ideal defense, whether you can create it depends on White. For example, White might choose to move the queen to a4 and put your king in check. If you respond by bringing out the knight’s pawn, White will take both that one plus the pawn on c4. Blocking the check with your bishop is a better option, but White will still be able to capture the pawn on c4.

You can try to take advantage of White having brought the queen out early, but a strong player will regain control of the game’s tempo.

Statistics About the Queen’s Gambit

Statistics don’t always tell the whole story, especially when the details behind the stats are not known. For example, according to The Chess World, White’s best opening is the Queen’s Gambit, with 40% wins and 36% draws (and 24% losses). 

However, the site doesn’t show how many games were counted to come up with stats, and statistics about taking or refusing the gambit are not given on that site.

Statistics at Chess Games tell a more complete story. For each move, the site lists how many games were played and the outcome of Black’s choice, as seen in the table below:

  Number of Games (out of 63,507) Wins Draw Loses
Black takes the Gambit 7,778 21.5% 26.5% 57.6%
Black refuses and moves pawn to e6 24,273 22% 36.8% 41.3%

As was stated earlier, most players refuse the gambit. But no matter what they chose, the chances of winning were only 1 out of 5. However, when Black takes the Gambit, it loses nearly 3 out of 5 times. Therefore, by refusing the gambit, black increases the likelihood of a draw by 13.2%.

Let’s look at one more set of statistics:

  Number of Games (out of 63,507) Wins Draw Loses
Black refuses and moves to c6 31,194 21.5% 40.1% 38.4%
Black refuses and moves the king’s pawn to e5. 1,013 32.3% 20.4% 47.3%

We see here that moving the bishop’s pawn makes little difference, but when Black counters with a gambit to e5, the chance of winning jumps to 1 in 3, while the chance that White checkmates is still nearly half. Again, however, it’s a risky, highly aggressive move, which might explain why so few players use it.

Recommended Books

If you want to know more about the Queen’s Gambit, here are books available on Amazon.com that you may want to read:

Bottom Line

If you are faced with the Queen’s Gambit, remember that the pressure is on from that move.  Regardless of what you do, White will be able to play aggressively. If you’re an aggressive player, then consider accepting the gambit. If you refuse it, moving the bishop’s pawn to c6 gives you slightly better odds of ending the game in a draw.

Sources

All our articles are reviewed and edited by GM Marian Petrov, a top level GM coach, theorist, mentor and and former Bulgarian champion, as well as winner of many open tournaments around the world.

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