When accepted, Evan’s Gambit is one of the most aggressive gambits I’ve seen in chess.
In this guide I’m going to walk through all of the main variations to the Evan’s Gambit so you can win more of your games.
Mastering the concepts and understanding the rationale behind this opening will double your wins as White when your opponent answers with e5.
I have personally tried every variation you’ll see in this guide.
Let’s get started.
Table of Contents
- What is the Evan’s Gambit?
- What is a Gambit
- Main Ideas of Evan’s Gambit
- Common Mistakes
- Main Variations when Accepted
- Evan’s Gambit Declined
What is the Evan’s Gambit?
The Evan’s Gambit is a variation of the Italian Game in which white brings their bishop to c4 on move 3. White can now castle quickly as all of the kings’ side minor pieces are developed.
The Evan’s Gambit is named after William Davies Evans, who is said to be the first played to use this aggressive white opening back in 1827.
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. b4
Black begins the game by mimicking all of white’s moves, and with good reason. Both players are attacking the center and following all of the major chess opening principles.
The gambit begins with the move b4.
What is a Gambit?
A gambit occurs when you give up a piece, generally a pawn, for a better position. Gambits are effective because a great position is everything in chess. However, if you fail to take advantage of your superior position, you won’t be able to fall back on your pieces since you’ll be behind.
With gambits, you usually create an all or nothing scenario because if you don’t succeed, you will be behind the rest of the game. The goal of a gambit is to win the game outright, or gain a major advantage that turns into gaining material over your opponent.
The move that begins the gambit is 4. b4 which attacks black’s bishop, causing it to react, and thus move twice. The bishop can move away and decline the gambit, but we’ll be looking at variations where the bishop takes the pawn.
The reason white gives up this pawn is because it distracts black’s piece and pulls it away from the center. Even better, white can build up an attack on the center with more tempo on the bishop after 5. c3, as we’ll see.
The general way to accept the gambit is for the bishop to recapture the b pawn. However, the knight can also take the pawn. This will be lumped into the major variation on move 7. Bc5 that we will explore later as it revolves around the same idea.
What are the Main Ideas of the Evan’s Gambit Opening?
- Keep the black king from castling
- Don’t worry about how many pawns you have lost
- Keep attacking
- Every move should create pressure for your opponent
- Maintain your positional edge
If you don’t recall any of these exact moves detailed in this guide, don’t worry! Memorization is never my intention in any of my guides or videos
Instead, focus on the main ideas of the opening and you’ll start to remember variations as you play this chess opening more. I hope that the many visualizations in this guide will help you to remember positions to aim for, not necessarily the moves that led to that position.
I also recommend using every skittles speed chess game you play that opens with 3…Bc5 as an opportunity to play Evan’s Gambit so you can learn what new variations come about. Bear in mind, there will be moves your opponent’s play outside of this guide, as chess is completely unpredictable.
Mistakes and Why Evan’s Gambit is so Precise
You may think that the above scenarios are not common and your opponent will not memorize as many lines and ideas to play perfectly.
To that I say, you’re absolutely correct.
Any level below grand master has chess mistakes, inaccuracies and blunders all over the place.
A common move when you don’t know what to do at lower levels is to play h3, h6, a3, or a6. Let’s take a look at why there simply isn’t time to play that for black in this opening.
An opponent I played on LiChess who played H6
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. b4 Bxb4 5. c3 Ba5 6. d4 exd4 7. O-O
Here we have a very common occurrence where black played everything correctly so far. 5…Ba6 and 6…d6 are logical moves and follow our annotations. However, black makes an honest mistake next.
Of course, even players who study the Evan’s Gambit will want to prevent what is to come with move like Bg5 and Ng5, but this is simply not able to be done in this opening. In fact, none of the variations in this article recommend h6 for black.
The problem is that white has given up a pawn for development and taking away black’s ability to castle. 7…h6 does not help black castle or combat the overpowered center white has built up. White should follow with:
9. Qb3 Qe7
Better is Qd7, but not by much.
Again, a logical move for black as the f7 pawn must be protected. However, the queen coming off the d8 square means that the ideas behind attacking the a5 bishop come alive again. All that has to be done is kicking the knight. This comes easily as we have a strong center with:
Nd8 11. Qa4+
And the bishop is lost after the king is in check and must be stopped.
Variations your opponent can play when the gambit is accepted:
In general, the first 6 moves are the same for white and black in this opening. There are almost no variations if you are playing the Evan’s Gambit.
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. b4 Bxb4 5. c3
Since the bishop is under attack after 5. c3, black needs to move his bishop so the variations we will be exploring are:
5…Ba5 (Click to view article)
5…Be7 (Click to view article)
Other variations that don’t make sense in general are:
- 5…Ba3 – the bishop is just lost
- 5…Bd6 – the bishop is blocking the d pawn, which is key in many openings to attack the center and develop the light squared bishop.
- 5…Bf8 – the bishop’s starting square. You almost never want to develop a piece just to put it back in its starting position.
- 5…Any other move – The bishop is lost after 6. cxb4.
Click to view more indepth analysis and games for any of these variations. Ba5 is the most common followed by Be7. Often, Bc5 variations can turn into the same lines as Ba5.
Evan’s Gambit Declined
There are a few ways to decline the Evan’s Gambit and not enter the debacle against white’s offensive prowess.
However, despite Evan’s Gambit not going well for black, not accepting means you are losing tempo and not quite gaining anything by moving your pieces around.
Here are a few variations
This variation attempts to put a tempo on the rook and create an awkward center for white if he takes the bishop back.
However, the obvious move here is to continue with your plan on the center as if the bishop had taken on b4. C3 is the move here.
The bishop is forced to retreat to b6, where it probably should have gone in the first place, which brings us to the second variation.
Continuing with a4 (ignoring the hanging pawn on b4) is the main line. Black often plays a6 to give the bishop space. White doesn’t want to push too eagerly with a5 because of the hole on b5.
This turns into a normal game where white hasn’t lost any pawns, but can work towards a normal center with c3, d4, etc in the Italian game.
Because black hasn’t taken the b4 pawn, it is still hanging. However, you can use this to your advantage to gain a strong center with possibilities like 5 b5. This forces the knight away and allows why to capture the central pawn e5.
5.b5 Na5 6.Nxe5 Qg5
What I want to emphasize is how weak this move is for white. White needs to spend time developing and not taking pawns. It’s almost like the gambit is turned back onto white in this opening.
King safety should be number one.
Since the white King hasn’t had time to castle yet, this exploits the weakness. White cannot easily take the f7 pawn.
7.Bxf7+ Ke7 8.Bxg Qxe5
Now white is losing and the queen is centralized while not other pieces are developed by white
Going back to the main idea, you can develop as normal and leave the b pawn hanging. Natural moves such as 0-0 or c3 work here to continue the opening.
It transforms from Evan’s Gambit into Guicco Piano, but with the b pawn pushed. This is good because it allows the bishop to assist in the center with Bb2.
Guicco piano and Evan’s side by side