The Stafford Gambit has experienced a surge in popularity, thanks to some chess streamers who have covered it on their channels and even created courses about it.
It begins with the moves – 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 Nc6.
Black sacrifices a pawn on the third move. But is it a sound gambit? Should White accept the gambit to gain an advantage? Or should they decline it?
After researching most of the videos and articles, working with different engines, I came to an interesting conclusion.
Of all the abracadabra gambits, the Stafford Gambit is objectively the worst one but at the same time practically the best.
There are so many traps and dangers.
And at below 1,500 level, I wouldn’t be surprised if Black has a positive result with this Gambit. However, if White knows how to play correctly, Black ends up in a completely lost position.
The good news is when you face the Stafford Gambit playing with the White pieces, you’ll need to remember just the next 3 moves! And then practically the game is already over
But before we get there and I show you the easiest refutation of the Stafford Gambit, let’s start with the history. Then we’ll see the ideas behind the Stafford Gambit, the main traps and tricks, what the downsides of this gambit are (besides the sacrificed pawn), and why it’s never played at the top levels.
Lastly, I’ll show you how to refute the Stafford Gambit and punish opponents for daring to try something so dubious against you!
The history of the Stafford Gambit
According to my database, the first time the Stafford Gambit was played was during a simul in 1857 by the player Howard Staunton. Unfortunately for him, he lost the game. However, had he played correctly he could’ve gained the upper hand.
If Howard Staunton first played it, then you may be wondering why it’s called the Stafford Gambit. Well, the name of the opening comes from Joseph Stafford, who first played this line in a correspondence match back in 1950.
It went 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nxe5 Nc6 4.Nxc6 dxc6 5.e5?! Ne4.
In this position, White blundered with 6.d3??
This also turned out to be the last move of the game. Can you spot what Black played?
6...Bc5! and White resigned.
Any fighter who knows the ideas from our article about when you should resign, wouldn’t resign here. However, the position indeed is lost.
After 7.de4 Bf2! 8.Ke2 Bg4 White loses the Queen.
And in case of 7.Be3 Be3 8.fe3 Qh4 9.g3 Ng3 10.hg3 Qh1 Black is an exchange up.
Despite some nice short victories by Black, the Stafford Gambit never gained popularity. No World Champions or classical players gave it a try – probably knowing they risked getting into a lost position from the very beginning if their opponent was to know how to react.
The ideas of the Stafford Gambit
By starting the game with the Petroff Defence (also known as the Petrov Defense or Russian Defense), 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6, after 3.Ne5 Black instead of the main move 3...d6 plays 3...Nc6, offering a pawn sacrifice.
For what? After 4.Nc6 dc6 here is what Black’s gaining...
Their Queen and Bishops have open lines to jump to active squares.
Another important point is that White’s e4 pawn is under attack at the moment and they have to spend time defending it.
As a result, Black has a lead in development.
After White defends the e4 pawn with 5.d3 or 5.Nc3, Black plays 5...Bc5 trying to put pressure on the f2 pawn, with 6...Ng4 or 6...Qd4. So, White should be careful.
Traps in the Stafford Gambit
The Stafford Gambit is well-known to be full of traps. One small mistake can lead White into a lot of trouble.
Here are the most important ones to be aware of:
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Ne5 Nc6 4.Nc6 dc6 5.d3 Bc5 (threatening 5...Ng4 and 5...Ne4 6.de4 Bf2!) 6.Be2 h5 7.h3 Qd6 8.0-0??
8...Bh3! 9.gh3 Qg3 10.Kh1 Qh3 11.Kg1 Bd6 (the easiest one) 12.f4 Qg3 13.Kh1 Ng4 14.Bg4 hg4#
A similar idea, using the power of the Bishop on c5, Black has another trap.
7.0-0?! Ng4 8.h3 Qd6!
And now if 9.hg4?? hg4 – White can resign.
Or before resigning make their opponent even prouder playing 10.g3 Qxg3#
Instead of 9.hg4? White’s only move is 9.e5! with the idea after Qe5? 10.Bg4! hg4 11.Re1 wins Black’s Queen.
Instead of 9...Qe5 Black should have taken the e5 pawn with the Knight and had a fine game.
5.d3 Bc5 6.Bg5??
This is a very illogical move. Instead of solving the problems with the development of the kingside and the f2 pawn, White develops a piece from the Queenside, weakening the b2 pawn as well.
For example after 6...Qd4 White would regret their last move.
But after 6.Bg5 there are even more unpleasant surprises.
6...Ne4! and White can resign.
After 7.Bd8 Bf2 8.Ke2 Bg4# - White gets a beautiful checkmate, or after 7.de4 Bf2 8.Ke2 Bg4 loses a Queen.
Instead of 6...Ne4, 6...Bf2 also works.
After 7.Kf2 Ne4 8.Ke1 (8.Kg1 Qd4 with checkmate) Ng5, Black is a pawn up with a winning position, as additionally, White’s King is in the center.
5.Nc3 Bc5 6.Be2 h5 7.0-0? Ng4 8.h3
(After 8.d3 Qh4 9.Bg4 hg4 10.Bf4! White is fine, but after 8...Qf6! Black has dangerous threats. The idea of 8...Qf6 is that it doesn’t allow White’s Bf4 resource.)
Now the same 8...Qd6 is strong, and White should find the only move 9.e5. But instead of 8...Qd6 Black wins with 8...Qd4!
Even the engine doesn’t see this move at first.
Now if White plays 9.Qe1 defending the f2 pawn, they’re lost after 9...Qe5! (there is no e5 move any more!)
And if 9.hg4 hg4 10.Bg4 Qe5! 11.Re1 Qh2 12.Kf1 Qh1 13.Ke2 Bg4 and Black wins.
Instead of 10.Bg4, 10.g3 looks very solid, with the idea to play Kg2 next.
But after 10...Qe5 (with the idea 10...Qh5) 11.Kg2 they have a very nice move.
After 12.Rf2 Qh5! and there is no more Rh1.
Surprisingly, White is lost.
And if 12.Kf2 Rh2 13.Ke3 Qg3 after both moves 13.Bf3 or the brave 13.Kd4, Black plays 13...Be6 and White is in danger.
This is also an illogical move. Instead of solving the problem of their development, White makes a move with a pawn, where it’ll be attacked in the future anyway.
According to engines, Black’s best move is 5...Nd5 with some compensation.
But there are other traps after 5...Ne4.
One we have seen already.
Another one is 6.d4 Qh4 7.g3?? Ng3 8.fg3 Qe4 and Black wins an exchange.
Instead of 7.g3??, White should have chosen between 7.Be3, 7.Qe2, or 7.Qf3.
But there is a much easier way to counter the Stafford Gambit, so we don’t play the illogical move 5.e5, at least for 5...Nd5
There are many other traps, but now you know the main ones.
Now let’s start with understanding the downsides of the Stafford Gambit.
The downsides of the Stafford Gambit
After 3...Nc6 4.Nc6 dc6, despite being a pawn down, Black has two other problems.
1. They’ve got double pawns c6 and c5
2. They’ve no longer got any central pawns!
This means if White can handle Black’s initiative, they’ll not only be a pawn up, but have a strategically winning position.
One of my coaches used to joke in such cases:
“You’re not just lost, but also a pawn down”
Now, let’s see how we’re going to counter the Stafford Gambit, move by move.
The refutation of the Stafford Gambit
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Ne5 Nc6 4.Nc6 dc6 we play 5.d3!
5.Nc3 is another good and logical move, but soon you’ll see why I advise playing 5.d3 instead.
After 5...Bc5 (The move which Black was going to play after 5.Nc3 as well), let’s dive deeper into position.
We’ve already seen how strong the Bishop on c5 is.
What if we try to limit it by playing c3 and d4 at some point?
We won’t just do it with a tempo, but we’ll also limit our opponent’s Bishop and gain the center!
Well, 6.c3 immediately is interesting, with the idea after 6...Ng4 to have 7.d4. But we shouldn’t forget that after 5...Bc5 Black has 2 threats.
Not only 6...Ng4 but also 6...Ne4!
After 6.c3 Ne4! 7.Qe2 we can win a piece, but after 7...Bf2 8.Kd1 f5! 9.Kc2 0-0 10.de4 fe4 the position is complex.
So, we play 6.Be2 first!
We defend against both threats - 6...Ng4 and 6...Ne4, developing a piece.
Black has three options 6...h5, 6...Ng4, and 6...Qd4.
Let’s start with the most dangerous one.
7.h3! (7.c3 also kills the Stafford Gambit, but you’ll see soon why I recommend 7.h3)
Now, all Black’s all pieces are staring at the kingside and are ready to start attack if we castle short.
What do we do instead?
No short castle – no checkmate!
Instead, we’re going to take the center with tempos.
Actually, we even have a threat.
We want to play 9.d4 and after Bb6 10.e5 win a piece.
You see now why I wanted to include 7.h3 Qd6 before playing c3?
And this is not all.
There is one more point.
After 7.c3 Black’s only move to stop 8.d4 is 7...Bb6.
And now again the same slogan, that kills Stafford Gambit.
No short castle – no checkmate!
We play 9.Nd2! – developing the Queenside. And this move comes with a tempo.
We want to play 10.Nc4! getting Black’s dangerous Bishop.
After 9...Be6 10.Nf3 now we want to play 11.e5 again
This is the 3rd and the last reason why 7.h3 is slightly stronger than 7.c3!
If Black plays 10...Nd7, after 11.d4 as one of my favorite coaches would say “We’re not just winning, we also have a center and we’re a pawn up.”
If 10...Qe7 11.Bg5 again threatening e5!
If 10...Qd7 you have a big choice to win this winning position
The most practical ones are 10.Qc2 with the idea of d4, 10.Bg5, developing a piece or simply 10.Be3.
We just don’t castle short.
In the course about the Stafford Gambit, you’ll find some model games and see how to convert this big advantage.
After 6...Ng4 7.Bg4 Qh4 Black wants to checkmate us on f2, and also get back the Bishop.
This idea we have used ourselves in the Elephant Gambit.
Do you remember it?
Now it doesn’t give much to Black. Yes, they get a Bishop pair, but they were a pawn down and should have tried to avoid exchanges.
After 8.g3 Qg4 9.Qg4 Bg4 10.Be3 we have a technically winning endgame.
Black attacks the f2 pawn, using the fact that we can’t play 7.Be3 because of 7...Qb2
Do we 7.0-0 or 7.Rf1?
Well, now 7.0-0 also works.
But I recommend you to simply remember the slogan, no short castle – no checkmate, and play 7.Rf1.
Anyway, we’re going to castle queenside in the future right?
And after 7.Rf1 the moves c3, d4, and e5 all come with tempos.
However, 7.0-0 also works.
After 7...h5 we just go 8.c3, d4, e5
Black has no time for starting tricks with Ng4
That’s it Simple, right?
Facing the Stafford Gambit, you just need to remember the following 3 things...
Things to remember when facing the Stafford Gambit
1. Don’t panic. We take the pawn and simply handle our opponent’s initiative in a few moves.
2. No short castle – no checkmate
3. 5.d3, 6.Be2, 7.h3, 8.c3 with d4.
Other refutations of the Stafford Gambit
If you forget to play 7.c3 after 6...h5, you will also have a completely winning position. But as you’ve seen, it’s very useful to seduce Black’s Queen to d6 and win additional tempos in the future.
Just don’t start with 6.h3
You’ll allow 6...Ne4!? 7.de4 Bf2 8.Ke2 Qh4 with some annoying compensation.
Or 6...Bf2 7.Kf2 Ne4.
If somehow you forgot and played 6.h3 instead of 6.Be2!, no worries. The engine says it’s still winning for White.
Just take a deep breath, switch to defensive mode and handle your opponent’s initiative.
Especially if you’ve watched Grandmaster Johan Hellsten’s course about defense, you should be able to solve these temporary problems.
This move is also a good refutation of the Stafford Gambit, but 5.d3 is much easier.
If you play 5.Nc3, then after 5...Bc5 you should know to play 6.h3 followed by d3, Qf3, Be3.
This idea you can also do when starting 5.Qf3 or 5.Qe2
The ugliest move to refute this gambit
Surprisingly even a very ugly move like 6.f3 also solves White’s problems.
White defends the e4 pawn and controls the g4 square.
Next, they either prepare to play c3 with d4, or Qe2 with Be3.
Do you need to try this? No!
Our way is much easier.
This is just something fun to know – even 5.f3 works
There are many other ways to refute the Stafford Gambit, but this is enough. I don’t want to overwhelm you with information you don’t need now that you already know the easiest way.
I just wanted to show you that the way I recommend playing against the Stafford Gambit, is not the only one.
So you should really think twice if you’re tempted to learn the Stafford Gambit for Black.
Until what level can you play Stafford Gambit for Black?
Below 1,500 level it might work very well.
It may even work up to 2,000 level.
But if someone tries to persuade you to learn it, or shows you how they can beat Grandmasters using it, you shouldn’t buy into that idea easily. For sure, they’ll not show all the games where they were beaten very badly
Another downside of learning to play the Stafford Gambit is that after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 you should learn how to play against 3.d4!? – one of the main moves against the Petroff defense.
You’ll also need to learn what to play after 3.Nc3 Nc6.
White can play 4.Bb5 – going to the 4 knights openings, with a lot of theory, or 4.d4 – to the Scotch game.
If you need to learn so many things in order to play such a dubious gambit, isn’t it much better to learn a fundamentally sound opening instead?
Now for the last downside.
Let’s say you play the Stafford Gambit with the Black pieces and successfully trap your opponents without calculating any moves yourself.
You don’t learn anything. And despite getting a few rating points and satisfying your ego in the short term, you won’t gain much in the long term.
But when opponents don’t fall for the traps, you’ll hate your opening choice, being forced to play without a pawn (or worse) for the whole game.
The best sources to learn the Stafford Gambit
If after all these considerations you still want to learn Stafford Gambit, it’s your choice
There are many articles, videos, and even a book about it
But the best source to learn it is Eric Rosen’s Youtube Channel.
He really did a good job of finding different tricks, traps, and resources in the Stafford Gambit and brought it back to life.
I believe if Eric was born 100 years ago, the Stafford Gambit would have been called the Rosen Gambit
Unfortunately, the gambit is too dubious, and White has multiple ways to refute it.
If you want to remember the lines better, see Black’s other options and watch some model games that show how to convert the winning positions you’ll get playing against the Stafford Gambit, check out our new course: Stafford Gambit – The Refutation
You can also check out the daily lesson with a Grandmaster where I show you these variations over the board. It should help you to visualize and memorize what you need to know.
Best of luck when you face the Stafford Gambit.
And don’t forget. No short castle – no checkmate!
P.S. Do you hate facing the Stafford Gambit? Have you fallen for some of its traps and lost some games? Did you love the refutation I’ve shown?
Feel free to share any of your thoughts in our forum!