It’s time to refute a rather dubious and aggressive gambit – the Colorado Gambit!
If you look at the diagram of this article, have never heard of this gambit before, and say to yourself, “Whaaaat? 2...f5??”, it’s okay.
I’m a Grandmaster, and even I didn’t know about this opening for a while. The first time I heard of it was a few years ago during a Skype call with one of my students when he told me he played the Colorado Gambit. I didn’t know what he meant and couldn’t find it on Google either
We laughed a lot.
But I was more shocked to see how it arises.
1.e4 Nc6 2.Nf3 f5?!
It’s very strange – but it has some interesting ideas.
If you don’t know how to react to the first few moves, you could find yourself in trouble very fast.
In this guide, I’ll show you how to counter the Colorado Gambit and positionally torture your opponent during your game, making them wish they never played it!
There will be very little to remember. Just 4 very logical moves and 1 positional concept!
To understand it, we’ll start by looking at Black’s ideas, and what they’re trying to achieve from this dubious opening.
Then we’ll see the downside of it.
And then… we’ll kill the gambit
The ideas of the Colorado Gambit
In our article about the Nimzowitsch Defense, after 1.e4 Nc6, I recommended responding with 2.Nf3, to avoid any complicated variations that arise from 2.d4 d5.
But now instead of the moves 2...e5 or 2...d6, Black goes 2...f5?!
So what’s the idea?
If Black successfully exchanges their f5 pawn with White’s e4 pawn, they might be able to gain the center and use the “f” half-open line for their Rook.
And when after 2...f5 White takes 3.ef5, accepting the pawn sacrifice, Black goes 3...d5, opening their light-squared Bishop and attacking the f5 pawn.
If they successfully gain back the pawn and manage to play e5, they’ll be more than okay.
But notice how the last sentence started with the word “if ”
The downsides of the Colorado Gambit
This gambit has 2 main downsides:
1. Black seriously weakens their King’s position and the h5-e8 diagonal. If they had played f5 on the first move, it would be even more catastrophic.
After 2.ef5 we would threaten the killer check 3.Qh5!
After Black includes the moves Nc6 and Nf3, we can’t play Qh5+ check, but as we’ll see soon, Black should still be very careful with threats on that diagonal.
2. After 3.ef5 d5, Black seriously weakens the e5 square, and risks having a backward “e” pawn. Let’s look at the position after 4.d4 Bf5:
Black has big issues with control of the central e5 square and if they don’t manage to break through and play e5 at some point, they’ll suffer positionally for the whole game.
How to counter the Colorado Gambit
After the dubious move 2...f5, we should take the pawn with 3.exf5. Black then plays 3...d5 after which the best move to play against this gambit is 4.Bb5! I have covered this move in depth in the latter section of the article. But before that, let me show you the other options that White has on their 3rd move.
There is also the option to play 3.e5, but after 3...d6 4.Bb5 de5 5.Ne5 Black has an important resource 5...Qd5!
And if White tries to punish their opponent, then after 6.Bc6 bc6 7.Qh5, they will be trapped.
After 7...g6 8.Ng6 Nf6! 9.Qh3 (9.Qh4 Qg2) Qe4 with the next move f4, Black wins a piece.
Coming back to the main variation after 3.ef5 d5 White has a wide range of options. I recommend giving up the f5 pawn and torturing your opponent positionally.
But first, let’s see what happens if we try to keep the f5 pawn.
There are three ways to defend the pawn: 4.g4, 4.Nh4, and 4.Bd3. With each of these moves, Black gets active play. I’ll briefly show you what happens in each case:
After 4.g4, White temporarily defends the f5 pawn. But they weaken their kingside. Additionally after 4...h5! White’s unable to keep the pawn chain.
Black also brings their h8 Rook into the game and after gaining the f5 pawn back, they’ll have lots of reasons to fight for an advantage.
4.g4 is a common move for players of lower levels, and Colorado players are very happy to see it.
White develops a Bishop, defends the f5 pawn, and prepares to castle. The downside of this move? It’s very ugly and rather egoistical of the light-squared Bishop.
The Bishop on c1 will hate this move. Additionally, the egoistic Bishop on d3 can be attacked with 4...Nb4.
The engine thinks that Black’s 2...f5 is such an ugly move that White can fight for advantage – even here. But instead of playing like this, I’ll advise you of a different way, that allows you to torture your opponent even more brutally
With 4.Nh4, White defends the f5 pawn and threatens 5.Qh5+.
However, Colorado players will be very happy to see this move as well! There are 2 main options for Black that give them very active and even romantic play.
The 1st option is 4...Nh6 and after 5.Qh5 g6 6.fg6 hg6 7.Qg6 (7.Ng6? Bg4 8.Qh4 Qd6! 9.Nh8 Qe6 with mate) Nf7:
It would probably be very fun to play this position for Black. They’re 2 pawns down but are far ahead in development. The h4 Knight hangs, and White’s Queen has been developed too early, so it will be attacked by Black pieces.
Black has full compensation.
The 2nd option is 4...e5!? (attacking the h4 Knight) 5.Qh5 g6 6.fg6 Nf6 7.g7 Nh5 8.ghQ Qh4 9.Qh7 Nd4!
And despite being an exchange and 2 pawns up, it will be very unpleasant to play this position for White.
Now let’s get to what you’ve been waiting for, I’ll show you how I recommend countering the Colorado Gambit.
We’ll give back the f5 pawn and not allow our opponents to have fun playing the aforementioned positions.
After 3.ef5 d5 before I show you the best move, let’s understand the pawn structure after 4.d4 Bf5:
What would you play here?
Pause for a minute, before continuing to read the article…
When our opponent has a weak central square, we want to occupy it. And an easy way to do it is to exchange the pieces which are controlling that square.
In this position, Petrosian played 18.Bb5! He wants to exchange the defender of the e5 square.
After 18...Qd6 19.g3 Rf5 20.Bc6 Bc6 21.Ne5
White got a very strong, central, untouchable Knight on his opponent’s weak square.
Later Petrosian went on to win. You can find the full game here.
Here’s another classic game from the same course:
In the above position, Andersson played 25.Ba5!
He wants to exchange the defender of the d5 weak square, and fully occupy it with his Knight.
Now let’s go back to the Colorado Gambit:
At this point, I guess you know what the best move is… Right! 5.Bb5!
The c6 Knight not only defends the weak e5 square but can also help Black to organize the e5 breakthrough they desperately need.
With 5.Bb5 White’s going to exchange Black’s important Knight.
Their plan will then be to exchange the dark-squared Bishops and leave Black’s light-squared Bishop on the board.
Why? Because it will not fight for the e5 square!
Here is what White will try to achieve:
A very similar position from Petrosian’s game.
Now let me show you the move order I recommend for White.
The best move order against
the Colorado Gambit – 4.Bb5!
1.e4 Nc6 2.Nf3 f5 3.ef5 d5 4.Bb5!
This move order is better than 5.d4.
After 5.d4 e6 6.Ne5 Black has Nge7!. It’s not that they’re fine after that, but it’s better not to allow it and 5.Ne5 puts immediate and unpleasant pressure on c6.
Ne5 was already in White’s plan, but doing it now also opens the Queen – and Black has one more headache... Qh5+ at some point!
What should Black do? There’s no Nge7, so they have two options 5...Qd6 or 5...Bd7.
Both have downsides.
After 5...Qd6 Black develops their Queen early into the game, now breaking one of the main principles of opening play – don’t develop the Queen early. And as we’ll soon see, it will be attacked by White minor pieces.
Additionally the move 5...Bd7 doesn’t follow traditional opening principles that suggest you shouldn’t move the same piece twice in the opening.
Let’s take a look at both of them.
After 5...Qd6 we go 6.d4 Nf6 7.0-0 e6 8.Bf4!
Black is made to answer for their early Queen development.
They have to lose another tempo to solve the problem of their Queen. But Black’s main problem is their strategically lost position.
5.Bd7 is a better option for Black.
Now it seems we can finish the game with 6.Qh5 g6 7.Ng6 hg6 8.Qg6#
However after 7...Nf6 8.Qh4 hg6! 9.Qh8 Nb4! Black gets some serious counterplay.
10.Bd7 (10.Bd3 Nd3 11.cd3 Bf5 with Qd6 and 0-0-0, Black has the initiative).
Qd7 11.Na3 (11.Kd1? Qg4-+) Qe6 12. Kf1 (12.Kd1? Qg4) Qa6! 13.Ke1 (13.d3 Nc2! Or 13.Kg1 Qe2! ) Qe6 with perpetual check or 13...0-0-0 with an unclear fight.
Of course, we don’t need all these complications.
We take on c6, and follow our strategy – exchange the pieces that can fight for the e5 square.
Now black has two options.
6...Bc6 or 6...bc6
After 6...bc6? you have a choice. The first option is to play 7.Qh5 g6 8.Ng6 Nf6 9.Qh4 and now there’s no more Nb4!.
After 9...Rg8 10.Nf8 Kf8 11.0-0 White has a winning position.
But if you like to torture your opponents you can also go for 7.b3!?
The idea is that sooner or later, Black should play e6, and then you’ll play Ba3, exchanging the dark-squared Bishops as well! Do you remember? It was part of our strategy.
Also after b3, you can develop your Bishop to b2, controlling the important e5 square and supporting your central Knight on e5.
Now 7.Qh5 is possible but it’s not as good.
After 6...Bc6, the difference is that with 7.Qh5 g6 8.Ng6 Nf6 9.Qh4 Rg8 10.Nf8 Black has the strong move 10...d4! with some complications.
I recommend that you simply play 7.d4!
White has a big advantage due to their control over the central e5 square and Black’s backward “e” pawn.
Also, White has 3 minor pieces to fight for the e5 square while Black has two as the light-squared Bishop can’t control it.
3 vs 2.
The fight for the e5 square is won. Mission accomplished.
The next step will be to play a positional masterclass
To learn more about the Colorado Gambit and to see model games with this pawn structure, you can check out our newly released course on it.
Until what level is the Colorado Gambit playable?
I think below 1,500 it might be okay as many players will try to defend the f5 pawn. But if your opponent knows, or without knowing decides to give up the f5 pawn and kills you positionally, you’ll have big issues.
Is this gambit sound?
No, not at all! As you saw White can crush Black positionally with very simple moves. Therefore I definitely don’t recommend spending time and learning to play the Colorado Gambit for Black.
If you love gambits and having fun is more important for you than the results, I would recommend choosing one of the other so-called abracadabra gambits we’ve refuted.
You can find links to our articles about them, and their refutations below:
If you face the Colorado Gambit for the first time, and you have no preparation, there’s a good chance that you might try to keep the f5 extra pawn and punish your opponent. However, as we’ve seen, this gives Black counterplay. Instead, we’ll give back the f5 square and start crushing our opponents using their weak central e5 square.
The key is to exchange the light-squared Bishop for the Knight, following the principles shown in the game Petrosian-Chistiakov.
1.e4 Nc6 2.Nf3 f5 3.ef5 Bf5 4.Bb5 is a very strong move order.
But even if you forget it and play 4.d4 – it’s still fine, you will still have the advantage. It’s just 4.Bb5 e6 5.Ne5 will crush your opponent!
To learn more about the Colorado Gambit, and see some model games, you can check out our newly released course.
You may also find it useful to watch today’s lesson with a Grandmaster where I show and explain all of this on the board so you’ll remember it easier.
P.S. Don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter as we have other gambit refutations on the way! And feel free to share your thoughts and games while crushing the Colorado Gambit in our forum.