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Elephant Gambit | The Refutation

Article by GM Avetik Grigoryan
Elephant Gambit | The Refutation

The Elephant Gambit is also known as the Queen’s Pawn Counter-Gambit, QP Gambit, or Englund counterattack.

 

It begins with the moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 and instead of the usual 2...Nc6 Black plays 2...d5 – a super-aggressive move.

 

After checking most of the books, articles, and videos about the Elephant Gambit, I’m going to tell you:
• The ideas and downsides of this interesting gambit
• Until what level you can try playing it for Black
• The history of the Elephant Gambit
• What happens in the modern theory
• What are the best sources to learn the Elephant Gambit
• Which variations are missed in all the sources, and finally...
• The refutation of the Elephant Gambit

 

You’ll learn a simple way to get a big advantage where the variations are easy to remember because the moves are very logical.

 

Let’s go through everything step-by-step.

 

The ideas and downsides

 

With 2...d5 Black attacks the center and opens lines for the Queen and the light-squared Bishop.

 

Additionally, after the possible move 3.ed5 they have the option to play 3...e4 and attack White’s only developed piece – the f3 Knight. A very aggressive fight for the center, isn’t it?  

 

Elephant Gambit

 

The only downside is that Black goes for an open fight, when White starts the game being a tempo up, making it White’s turn to give the "first punch". 

 

The history of the Elephant Gambit

 

According to my database, the Elephant Gambit first appeared in the game Cochrane - Staunton, of 1842.  

 

While the Latvian Gambit became popular in the 20th century, and many Grandmasters and World Champions gave it a try, the Elephant gambit never gained popularity.

 

Amongst the classics, only Paulsen and Lasker tried it a few times, and despite their okay results, they stopped playing it, most probably due to their home analysis. 

 

Soon we’ll see that the main problem of this opening is that White has too many options to fight for the advantage. 

 

Playing against the Latvian Gambit, White can get in big trouble if they’re unprepared and facing it for the first time. However, when playing against the Elephant Gambit, there’s not such a big chance of that happening. 

 

How should you counter the Elephant Gambit?

 

A very typical mistake at lower levels is to meet gambits and sacrifices by playing defensively or passively.

 

This is the wrong strategy. "That's why with this gambit, we should only consider moves like 3.d3 or 3.Nc3 at the end."

 

At first, we should think about the moves 3.ed5 and 3.Ne5 – both of which make a lot of sense.

 

After 3.ed5 if Black takes back with the Queen, they’ll be breaking one of the main chess rules of the opening phase – don’t develop your Queen early!

 

And with 4.Nc3 White can gain an advantage in development.

 

Development advantage

 

The move 3.Ne5 also makes a lot of sense, as after 3...de4, White can play 4.Bc4, immediately attacking the f7 pawn.

 

elephant gambit refutation - 3.Ne5

 

After checking multiple sources, games in databases, and analyzing with different engines I found that both 3.ed5 and 3.Ne5 give White a huge advantage. 

 

At first, I was going to recommend 3.ed5, but just before recording our course about the Elephant Gambit, I found a much easier way with 3. Ne5

 

If you’re eager to learn my recommended refutation on how to beat the Elephant Gambit, you can skip straight to the section "3.Ne5". 

 

However, I recommend spending a few more minutes to enlarge your knowledge about the Elephant Gambit. I’ll briefly show you what’s happening after 3.ed5 in the theory and why 3.Ne5 is a much more practical choice.

 

3.ed5

 

After 3...Qd5, White does indeed get a huge advantage with 4.Nc3. Coincidentally, this transposes to a variation which I showed in our Scandinavian Defense course. 

 

After 1.e4 d5 2.ed5 Qd5 3.Nf3! (the tricky and very strong move I recommended in the Scandinavian course) Black’s 3...e5 is not a good move. Why? After 4.Nc3 Qe6 5.Bb5+ c6 6.Ba4 there is the idea to go 7.0-0 next and exploit the Queen’s position with Black’s King in the center (8.Re1, 8.d4, and even 8.Ne5 moves are coming).

 

advantage in the opening

 

So, 3...Qd5 isn’t a good option.

 

3...e4

 

This move is recommended in most of the old books and YouTube videos about the Elephant Gambit.

 

3.exd5 e4 in Elephant Gambit

 

However, instead of moving the Knight somewhere like 4.Nd4, 4.Ne5, or 4.Ng1, moves which are deeply explored in the sources, White has a very strong move – 4.Qe2! 

 

Usually, such moves, when we develop the Queen and close our Bishop, should be avoided. However, this time it’s an exception, as everything is very concrete.  

 

White not only attacks the e4 pawn but continues attacking it on their next move with 5.d3 or 5.Nc3 – posing a huge question to Black as to how they should defend it. 

 

Position after 4.Qe2

 

After the main 4...Nf6 (4...Qd5 loses a pawn after 5.Nc3, and 4...f5 also doesn’t work because of 5.d3) White has a choice. To attack the e4 pawn with 5.d3 or 5.Nc3.

 

5.d3

 

In the case of 5.d3 Qd5 6.Nc3 Black has a very important move 6...Bb4! 

 

d3 Elephant Gambit - 6...Bb4!

 

After deep analysis with cloud engines, I found that 7.Nd2!, 7.Ng5 and even 7.de4 moves give White an advantage, but on a practical level it’s not very easy. 

 

After 5...Qd5, other good options for White are 6.Nbd2 and 6.Nfd2 with the idea of 7.c3 or 7.a3 after 6...Bb4.

 

Objectively, White gets an advantage in all the cases – but there’s a much simpler way...

 

5.Nc3

 

After 4...Nf6 5.Nc3, White avoids the pin after Bb4, as the pawn is on d2!  

 

5.Nc3! - Another refutation

 

Now Black can try 5...Be7 and sacrifice the e4 pawn.

 

After 6.Ne4 0-0! "Black gets huge compensation with the "e" line and White’s misplaced Queen on e2"  is written or said in many sources. 

 

Position after Black's 6...0-0

 

However, what was missed is that after 7.Nf6 Bf6 8.d4 Re8 9.Be3 Qd5, White has a very strong move available to them. Not only does this move solve all the problems with their development, but gives White joy while continuing the game being a pawn up.

10.Qb5! 

 

Advantage for White in the Elephant Gambit

 

Now Black should either exchange the Queens and fight an endgame being a pawn down, or lose another tempo, retreating with the Queen and defending the “e8” Rook, after which White can either play 0-0-0 or simpler – develop the light-squared Bishop and castle short. 

 

In both cases, White’s a pawn up and the engine gives an evaluation of around +2! 

 

Black could also play 6...Nd5.  

 

6...Nd5 instead of castling.

 

But after 7.g3 with 8.Bg2, or 7.Qd1 with 8.Bc4 White stays a pawn up. 

 

My match vs Daniel Naroditsky

 

After 5.Nc3 there is also the move 5...Bf5.

 

Defending the e4-pawn with ...Bf5.

 

Last year I had a blitz match with Daniel Naroditsky. In the beginning, I was leading the match. He tried the Elephant Gambit twice, but after 5...Bf5 6.Nd4 Bg6 7.Qb5+ he lost the pawn on b7 (or sacrificed it) and then lost both of the games.

 

https://bit.ly/3eGPzzq

https://bit.ly/3eJ1qgk

 

After that, he switched to normal openings and started to crush me as always smiley 

 

3...Bd6

 

Interesting move in Elephant Gambit - 3...Bd6

 

The first time I saw this move in our ChessMood forum, I didn’t give it much attention. But when I learned that Quality Chess published a book about the Elephant Gambit, and 3...Bd6 is recommended against 3.ed5, I started to explore the book.  

 

Overall Black’s idea is to get compensation for the sacrificed pawn in the Kingside. Black has a pawn majority there and if they manage to play f5, Nf6, 0-0, and e4, then at some point then they can launch a strong attack.

 

The problem of this variation for Black is that White has a wide choice of moves, like 4.d4, 4.c4, 4.Nc3, 4.Bc4, and 4.Bb5. Even without knowing the theory, White would get, at a minimum, a slightly better position. 

 

One thing that I absolutely agree with the authors of the book on is that despite the engine’s +1 to +1.5 evaluation, practically-speaking it’s going to be an unclear fight – especially at lower levels. 

 

In the course, I show more variations here, and you can dig deeper to find a clear advantage, choosing from the aforementioned moves.

 

Objectively, White has an advantage, and if it was a match between engines, I believe White would win all the games.
But because such gambits are popular amongst lower-rated opponents, I have a better option for you...

 

The refutation of the Elephant Gambit

 

Now let’s go to the refutation! 

 

What I’m about to show you is a very simple way to get a big advantage, where you won’t need to remember a bunch of variations. At the same time, it’s going to be very easy to play.

 

Trust me when I say that all your opponents who play the Elephant Gambit will hate you when you start playing this variation...

 

Main Refutation of Elephant Gambit - 3.Ne5

 

White takes the central e5 pawn, advancing the position of the Knight. As we’ll see, this leads to huge pressure on the f7 pawn. 

 

After 3.Ne5 Black’s main move is 3...Bd6. Before we go ahead, let’s see why after 3...de4, Black gets a lost position by force. 

 

3...de4?

 

As mentioned earlier, we play here 4.Bc4, developing the Bishop and attacking the f7 pawn. 

 

Why 3...de4 is a mistake?

 

Now if Black plays 4...Nh6, trying to defend the f7 pawn, it’s not just an ugly move, but a very temporary defense. 

 

After 5.d4! White opens another Bishop, attacking the defender of the f7 pawn. The game is almost over. 

 

After 4.Bc4 Black has two other options: 4...Qd4 and 4...Qg5 

 

4...Qd4

 

Double attack in the opening?

 

It looks that White might have issues saving a piece.

 

If 5.Nf7 Qc4 6.Nh8 Nf6 then sooner or later the Knight on h8 will be trapped.

 

But 5.Bf7! solves all White’s problems. 

 

After 5...Kd8 6.Bg8 Qe5 7.Bc4 is possible, but 6.f4 is much stronger!

 

Strong move - 6.f4!

 

The next move White wants to play 7.c3 with d4.
If 6...ef3, then simply 7.Nf3. If 6...Bc5 then after 7.Qe2 the threat of 8.c3 with d4 remains.

 

Black’s position is lost – they’re a pawn down and have a King on d8. 

 

Black could try 5...Ke7, but the same move 6.f4 works again! 

 

After 6...ef3 7.Nf3 Qe4, it looks like Black wins a piece. However, after 8.Kf2, the f7 Bishop is untouchable because of the clever fork Ng5 which means Black says goodbye to their Queen! 

 

Tactics in the Elephant Gambit

 

At the same time, White’s threatening 9.Re1

 

Black’s position is lost again.

 

Because of these short variations 4...Qd4 doesn’t work. 

 

Now let’s see what happens after 4...Qg5, a move which is recommended in many YouTube videos and some articles. 

 

4...Qg5

 

Black plays 4...Qg5

 

Black ignores the f7 pawn, developing the Queen and attacking the e5 Knight and the g2 pawn. 

 

Now if White mistakenly takes on f7 with the Knight, Black wins. 

 

After 5.Nf7? Qg2 6.Rf1 (If 6.Nh8 Qh1 7.Ke2 Bg4 then White’s loses the Queen) Bg4 7.Be2 Be2 8.Qe2 Kf7, Black is a piece up. 

 

Instead of 5.Nf7? White should play 5.Bf7 with 6.d4 next or 5.d4 and 6.Bf7 next. Either way, it transposes to the same position.

 

After 5.d4 Qg2 6.Bf7 Kd8 7.Rf1, many sources were (very strangely) saying that after 7...Bh3 Black is very active and the position is very unclear. 

 

Is it all over for White after 7...Bh3?

 

However, by simply clicking the engine analysis button, we’ll see that after 8.Bc4! the evaluation is +- 4!

 

Black’s position is hopeless.

 

After retreating the Bishop, White defends the f1 Rook, threatening a check on f7. Additionally, White is planning to simply develop their Queenside by playing Bf4, Nc3, Qd2 (or Qe2), 0-0-0…

 

Black’s King is in the center, and Black is not even a pawn up.  

 

In the course, I went a little bit further, showing the moves 8...Qh2 9.Qh5! after which Black can almost resign.

 

Crushing opening advantage for White

 

Because of these variations 3...de4? is a big mistake. Armed with this knowledge, you can now punish your opponents for playing dubious gambits and for learning from dubious sources smiley

 

Now let’s see what happens after 3...Bd6 – the main move.  

 

3...Bd6

 

Black's main move in Elephant Gambit - 3...Bd6

 

Black develops a piece, attacking the e5 Knight before planning to take on e4. This is very logical and is simply the best move for Black. 

 

We play 4.d4 de4 and again the same 5.Bc4! targeting the f7 pawn.

 

Targetting the weak f7-pawn

 

(5.Nc4 also gives a little advantage, but 5.Bc4 is so strong that there’s no reason to search for alternatives.)

 

After 5.Bc4, Be5 is the only move. If we play 6.de5 on autopilot, after 6...Qd1 7.Kd1 White has the advantage of the Bishop pair but has a King in the center.

 

Black plays 7...Nc6, attacking the e5 pawn. If 8.Bf4 then Bg4+ with 0-0-0+, and Black is fine. 

 

However after 5...Be5, White has a strong move 6.Qh5! 

 

Targetting the weak f7-pawn - 2

 

White threatens 7.Qf7 checkmate and also to take the Bishop back. By the way, this idea you might know from a famous variation in the Philidor Defense.   

 

After 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 Nd7 (The Hanham variation) 4.Bc4 c6 5.0-0 Be7 6.de5 de5 7.Ng5!  

 

A variation from Philidor Defense

 

Again White’s targeting the f7 pawn using the tactic, that after 7...Bg5 8.Qh5, White wins the g5 Bishop back and gets a Bishop pair advantage. 

 

In the Philidor Defense course, I’ve included model games with this position and shown why 7...Nh6 loses immediately. 

 

Going back to the Elephant Gambit, Black should play 6...Qe7
(6...Qd4 loses because of 7.Qf7 Kd8 8.Qf8 Kd7 9.Bg8 +-)

 

Black defends with 6...Qe7

 

Now White has a choice – whether to take on e5 with the pawn or with the Queen.

 

If you understand the basic principles of playing with a Bishop pair advantage, you’ll recognize that you should try to transition into an endgame.  

 

Side note: If you’re struggling to feel the power of the Bishop pair in your games, I highly recommend that you watch GM Gabuzyan’s instructive course about the power of the Bishop pair.)

 

“The Power of the Bishop Pair” course

 

So, after 6...Qe7 we don't even need to consider the move 7.de5.
Instead, we play 7.Qe5, taking the Bishop back and forcing an exchange of Queens.

 

After 7...Qe5 8.de5 Nc6 we get to the critical moment.    

 

Elephant Gambit main refutation position

 

Let’s evaluate the position.
1. White has a Bishop pair in the endgame
2. Both sides have weak pawns (e5 and e4) in the center
3. The development of the pieces is equal (White has a Bishop on c4 and Black has a Knight on c6)
4. It’s White to move! (a very important factor) 

 

Looking at the position after 8...Nc6, the most logical move is 9.Bf4, developing a piece and defending the e5 pawn.

 

However, after 9...Nge7 with 10...Ng6, anyway White will not be able to defend the e5 pawn. Additionally, they’ll need to lose a tempo, as after 10...Ng6 Black attacks the e5 pawn and the Bishop at the same time. 

 

With precise play, White can still get a slight advantage, but there is a much stronger move. 

 

The killer move

 

White ignores the e5 pawn, and plays 9.Nc3!

 

Killer move that refutes the Elephant Gambit

 

White sacrifices the pawn, after 9...Ne5 simply retreating the hanging Bishop – 10.Bb3! 

 

What’s this? Why did we sacrifice the pawn? smiley
The thing is that now White has numerous threats. 

 

11.Ne4 wins back the pawn with White still enjoying the Bishop pair advantage. 

 

But also 11.Nb5, and 11.Nd5 are annoying moves, after which it’s going to be very hard for Black to defend the c7 pawn. 

 

One more thing...
White also threatens to play 11.Bf4! with tempo developing the Bishop, attacking the e5 Knight, and targeting the c7 pawn. 

 

White's pleasant position in the gambit

 

If 10...Nf6 11.Bf4! (11.Nb5!? Kd8 12.Bf4 Re8 13.0-0-0 Bd7 White still has the initiative, but Black might defend) Ng6 12.Bc7 with a huge advantage. 

 

The same happens after 10...Bf5. White plays 11.Bf4 f6 12.0-0-0 with 13.Nb5, 13.Nd5 coming – and also the simple 13.Rhe1 taking the e4 pawn back. 

 

The strongest move 9.Nc3 was mentioned in the book "Exhilarating Elephant Gambit" and after 9...Ne5 10.Bb3 the authors offer Bd7! – the best move! 

 

Black strongest reply - ...Bd7!

 

Black’s idea is after 11.Ne4 to have the move 11...Bc6.
Like before when we were targeting our opponent’s Knight on e5 and the c7 pawn, now Black targets our Knight and the g2 pawn.   

 

Instead of 11.Ne4?!, 11.Bf4 is strong (11.0-0 also gives White a clear advantage) f6 12.Ne4 0-0-0 (12...Bc6? 13.Be5 fe5 14.Ng5 Nh6 15.Ne6, Black loses a pawn at a minimum).

 

Spot the killing move

 

Now instead of the move 13.Be5, which was offered for White in the aforementioned book, (after 13...Re8 Black has lots of chances for a draw) White has a killing move 13.Nc5!!

 

Nc5 - killing move

 

White is hunting Black’s Bishop. If the mission is accomplished, then the pair of Bishops will kill the pair of Knights on the open board.

 

And unfortunately for Black, they can’t avoid it…
In the course, I go a bit deeper, showing the moves 13...Bf5 and 13...Bc6.

 

In both cases 14.Ne6 kills. 

 

Will you need to remember until 13.Nc5?

 

Well, if you can remember, your opponent will be very sad.

 

And why not? You should have lots of chances to remember, as all the moves starting from the very beginning are very logical!

 

But the best part is that even if you forgot something in the endgame, you will still have an advantage. 

 

For example after 8...Nc6 9.Nc3 is the best move, but if you forget it and play 9.Bf4 or 9.0-0 or even 9.Bb3 straight back, you’ll still have a Bishop pair advantage and your opponents should prepare themselves for a long boring fight for a draw. 

 

3.Ne5 vs 3.ed5

 

Objectively speaking, I’m not sure, which one gives White a bigger advantage. Even the engines are not sure smiley
But on a practical level, for sure 3.Ne5 is the best!

 

Myself, if I played the Elephant Gambit for Black, I would not mind giving it a try, if I know my opponent will play 3.ed5. 

 

It would be fun to play the position after 3...Bd6 and try to play a romantic game.

 

But if my opponent chooses 3.Ne5, I would be very sad, no matter their level. 

 

If they are much lower-rated, there will be almost no chance for me to win the worse endgame. And if the opponent is strong, I would suffer for many hours, fighting for a draw. 

 

Anything else?

 

Do you need to know anything more after 3.Ne5?

 

These were the most important things you need to know, but in the course, I have also shown all of Black’s other options like 9...Bf5, 9...Nb4, etc...

 

You might also love this daily lesson on our YouTube channel, where I show how to refute the Elephant Gambit. Sometimes it’s easier to remember everything by seeing all these variations on the chessboard.

 

Should you try the Elephant Gambit?

 

For high-rated players, for sure you definitely shouldn’t. White gets an advantage in too many ways, and that's why you’ll almost never see it played at the top level.

 

But on lower levels, especially if your opponent plays 3.ed5 you can try 3...Bd6.

 

It’ll be fun smiley

 

The best sources to learn the Elephant Gambit

 

As I said, there are many videos and articles about the Elephant Gambit. However, nothing comes close to the quality of the content, as the aforementioned book "The Exhilarating Elephant Gambit."

 

The authors Jakob Aabling-Thomsen and Michael Agermose Jensen have done a very good job! 

 

The Exhilarating Elephant Gambit Book

 

The downside of learning it is that the book is very big – 416 pages smiley

 

So if you want to learn a new opening for Black against 1.e4, it’s better to learn something more fundamental, that can serve you for a long time.

 

But if you’re a big fan of the Elephant Gambit and nothing will stop you from playing your favorite gambit, you should check out the book.

 

Summary

 

That’s it, champions smiley

 

Previously I showed you the refutation of the Latvian Gambit and also recorded a course

 

Now you also know how to refute the Elephant Gambit.

 

To learn it deeper, check out the course and our daily lesson about it on our YouTube channel. 

 

Which will be the next Abracadabra gambit, that we’ll refute?
The Stafford Gambit! smiley

 

Stay tuned, and don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter for updates.

 

P.S. Feel free to share your thoughts, feedback, and questions in our forum.

 

Article by GM Avetik Grigoryan