While it’s been facetiously deemed a dubious strategy, it has nonetheless held a unique place in chess history.
Below we look at the Blackburne Shilling Gambit, detailing its move order, theory, variations, history, and its applicability for beginners and intermediates.
We will also explore its popularity at the Grandmaster level.
Move Order of the Blackburne Shilling Gambit
The Blackburne Shilling Gambit is derived from an offshoot of the Italian Game.
The sequence of moves is as follows:
- e4 e5
- Nf3 Nc6
- Bc4 Nd4?!
The question mark indicates the unusual nature of this move and its reputation as a trap-setting move in the gambit.
Theory, Strategy, and Purpose of the Blackburne Shilling Gambit
At first glance, Black’s third move seems weak and a waste of time.
However, the move has a purpose – it sets a trap, hoping to ensnare the unwary player.
If White takes the bait and responds with 4.Nxe5, Black counters with 4…Qg5!
At this point, the seemingly natural move 5.Nxf7 leads to 5…Qxg2, a deadly smothered mate after 6.Rf1 Qxe4+ 7.Be2 Nf3#.
This surprising turnaround is the true purpose of the Blackburne Shilling Gambit: it’s designed to trap players into losing material or even the game.
Variations of the Blackburne Shilling Gambit
The Blackburne Shilling Gambit may not be a true gambit, but it can lead to a variety of complex situations.
Several sound responses to Black’s third move exist. Notably, 4.0-0, 4.c3, 4.Nc3, and especially 4.Nxd4, can give White an advantage.
After 4.Nxd4! exd4 5.c3, White has a strong position. If 5…dxc3, White retains the initiative in the center with 6.Nxc3 d6 7.d4.
If Black attempts the dubious 5…Bc5, they lose a pawn to 6.Bxf7+ Kxf7 7.Qh5+.
Evaluation of the Blackburne Shilling Gambit
The Blackburne Shilling Gambit is generally evaluated at around +1.40 to +1.70 for white.
This assumes white chooses 4. Nxd4 as its fourth move.
Theory & Continuation Lines of the Blackburne Shilling Gambit
Below we have some common theory and continuation lines from the Blackburne Shilling Gambit starting move order 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nd4 that you would see at the highest level of play.
4. Nxd4 exd4 5. O-O c6 6. Re1 d6 7. c3 g6 8. cxd4 Bg7 9. d5 Ne7 10. a4 O-O 11. d3 cxd5 12. exd5 Nf5 13. Nc3 Be5 14. Ne4 h6 15. Bd2 Bxb2 16. Rb1
4. Nxd4 exd4 5. O-O Nf6 6. Re1 d6 7. c3 Be7 8. cxd4 d5 9. exd5 Nxd5 10. Qf3 c6 11. Nc3 O-O 12. Nxd5 cxd5 13. Bxd5 Bf6 14. b3 Bg4 15. Qxg4 Qxd5 16. Bb2 h5 17. Qf4 a5 18. Rac1 a4 19. Rc5 Rfe8 20. Rxe8+ Rxe8 21. h3 Qe6 22. Bc3 axb3 23. axb3 Qxb3 24. Rxh5
4. Nxd4 exd4 5. O-O Nf6 6. Re1 d6 7. c3 Be7 8. cxd4 d5 9. exd5 Nxd5 10. Nc3 c6 11. Qf3 O-O 12. Bxd5 cxd5 13. Nxd5 Re8 14. d3 Bg4 15. Qxg4 Qxd5 16. Bd2 Bf6 17. Re4 Qb5 18. Rae1 h5 19. Rxe8+ Rxe8 20. Rxe8+ Qxe8 21. Qe4
4. Nxd4 exd4 5. O-O Nf6 6. Re1 d6 7. c3 Be7 8. cxd4 d5 9. exd5 Nxd5 10. Qf3 c6 11. Nc3 O-O 12. Bxd5 cxd5 13. Nxd5 Bd6 14. d3 Be6 15. Nc3 Qh4 16. h3 Qxd4 17. Qxb7 Qf6 18. Bd2 Be5 19. Qe4 Bd4 20. Qe2 Rad8 21. Ne4
4. O-O Nxf3+ 5. Qxf3 Qf6 6. Qg3 d6 7. Na3 Be6 8. d4 exd4 9. Bg5 Qg6 10. f4 Be7 11. Qb3 O-O-O 12. Nb5 Bxg5 13. f5 Be3+ 14. Kh1
4. O-O Nxf3+ 5. Qxf3 Qf6 6. Qc3 c6 7. d3 Nh6 8. f4 Ng4 9. fxe5 Bc5+ 10. d4 Qxe5 11. Bxf7+ Kd8 12. Bg5+ Qxg5 13. dxc5 b6 14. Na3 Ba6 15. Rf5 Qe3+ 16. Qxe3 Nxe3 17. Rf3
4. O-O Nxf3+ 5. Qxf3 Qf6 6. Qg3 d6 7. Nc3 c6 8. d4 exd4 9. Ne2 Be7 10. Bd2 Qg6 11. Qb3 Nh6 12. Nf4 Qf6 13. Nh5 Qg6
4. O-O Nxf3+ 5. Qxf3 Qf6 6. Qc3 c6 7. d3 Nh6 8. Bb3 Bd6 9. a4 a5 10. f4 O-O 11. h3 Qe7 12. fxe5 Bb4 13. Qc4 d6 14. exd6 Bxd6 15. Bxh6 gxh6 16. Qc3 Be6 17. Nd2 Bb4
4. Nc3 c6 5. O-O Nxf3+ 6. Qxf3 Nf6 7. d4 exd4 8. Ne2 Bd6 9. Nxd4 O-O 10. Re1 Qc7 11. h3 Bh2+ 12. Kh1 Be5 13. Qd3 d6
4. Nc3 c6 5. O-O Nxf3+ 6. Qxf3 Nf6 7. d4 exd4 8. Ne2 Bd6 9. Bf4 Bxf4 10. Qxf4 O-O 11. Nxd4 d5 12. exd5 cxd5 13. Bd3 Qb6 14. Nb3 a5 15. Qd4 Qc7 16. Rfe1 a4 17. Nd2
4. Nc3 c6 5. O-O Nxf3+ 6. Qxf3 Nf6 7. d4 exd4 8. Ne2 Bd6 9. Bf4 Bxf4 10. Qxf4 d6 11. Nxd4 O-O 12. Rad1 d5 13. exd5 cxd5 14. Bb3 Qb6 15. h3 a5 16. Nf3 Bd7 17. a4 Bc6 18. Rfe1 Rae8 19. Rxe8
4. Nc3 c6 5. O-O Nxf3+ 6. Qxf3 Nf6 7. d4 exd4 8. Ne2 Bd6 9. Bf4 Bxf4 10. Qxf4 d6 11. Nxd4 O-O 12. Rad1 Qb6 13. Nf3 Qc5 14. Rd4 Re8 15. Re1 Be6 16. Bd3
What are the best counters to the Blackburne Shilling Gambit?
The best replies to the Blackburne Shilling Gambit are (in order of strength):
- 4. Nxd4
- 4. O-O
- 4. Nc3
History of the Blackburne Shilling Gambit
Wilhelm Steinitz first mentioned this line in 1895.
The opening gets its humorous name from English master Joseph Henry Blackburne, who supposedly used it to win one shilling per game from café visitors.
However, despite this folkloric reputation, no recorded games exist of Blackburne actually playing this line.
The opening is also sometimes named after Serbian grandmaster Borislav Kostić, who used it in the early 20th century.
Is the Blackburne Shilling Gambit Good for Beginners or Intermediates?
The Blackburne Shilling Gambit could be a valuable tool for beginners and intermediates to learn about the perils and pitfalls of traps in chess.
It offers lessons in thinking ahead, reading the opponent’s intentions, and not succumbing to seemingly tempting moves.
However, it’s important to note that the gambit itself is not considered a solid opening strategy. It’s more of a ruse that relies heavily on the opponent’s missteps.
The tricky Blackburne Shilling Opening Trap!
How Often Is the Blackburne Shilling Gambit Played at the Grandmaster Level?
The Blackburne Shilling Gambit is not a common choice at the Grandmaster level.
The gambit’s reliance on a trap rather than on a solid, sound opening strategy makes it less appealing to the highest-ranking players, who typically opt for more reliable strategies.
FAQs – Blackburne Shilling Gambit
1. What is the Blackburne Shilling Gambit?
The Blackburne Shilling Gambit, also known as the Schilling-Kostić gambit, is a somewhat unconventional chess opening that begins with:
- e4 e5
- Nf3 Nc6
- Bc4 Nd4?!
This opening is derived from the Italian Game and is seen as somewhat dubious due to Black’s third move being considered a weak, time-wasting move.
The gambit is named after Joseph Henry Blackburne and Borislav Kostić, who were reputed to have used it.
2. How did the Blackburne Shilling Gambit get its name?
The gambit was named after the English master Joseph Henry Blackburne and Serbian grandmaster Borislav Kostić.
It is believed that Blackburne used this opening to win a shilling per game from café visitors.
However, there are no recorded games of Blackburne playing this line, leading to some controversy over the name.
3. Why is the third move of the Blackburne Shilling Gambit considered weak?
The third move, 3…Nd4, is seen as weak and time-wasting because it doesn’t contribute much to Black’s control of the center of the board, an important strategic objective in the opening phase of a chess game.
Wilhelm Steinitz recommended 4.0-0 or 4.Nxd4 in response.
Furthermore, Jeremy Silman, an International Master, suggested that White gains an advantage after 4.0-0, 4.c3, or 4.Nc3.
4. What happens if White falls for the trap set by 3…Nd4?
If White falls for the trap and plays 4.Nxe5?, Black can respond with 4…Qg5!
This move threatens White’s knight and simultaneously attacks the pawn on g2. If White plays 5.Nxf7??, then 5…Qxg2 is a powerful response.
An example line can be: 6.Rf1 Qxe4+ 7.Be2 Nf3#, ending the game with a smothered mate.
5. Can White maintain a playable game after 4.Nxe5 Qg5?
Yes, after 4.Nxe5 Qg5, White can still maintain a playable game with 5.Bxf7+.
Wilhelm Steinitz noted that this move, followed by castling, is now White’s best chance and in some measure a promising one, considering that he has two Pawns and the attack for the piece.
6. Why is the Blackburne Shilling Gambit not a true gambit?
The Blackburne Shilling Gambit is not a true gambit because in a typical gambit, a player sacrifices material with the hope of achieving a resulting advantageous position.
In this case, if White tries to win the pawn on e5 with 4.Nxe5, they end up losing material due to Black’s response 4…Qg5.
7. How should White respond to the Blackburne Shilling Gambit?
Several responses have been recommended by chess experts.
Wilhelm Steinitz suggested 4.0-0 or 4.Nxd4. International Master Jeremy Silman recommended 4.0-0, 4.c3, or 4.Nc3.
Another effective response is 4.Nxd4! exd4 5.c3 d5 6.exd5 Qe7+ 7.Kf1.
This sequence leaves White in an advantageous position.
8. What is the “Oh my God!” trap in the Blackburne Shilling Gambit?
The “Oh my God!” trap refers to a move sequence in the Blackburne Shilling Gambit where Black exclaims “Oh my God!” pretending to have accidentally blundered the e-pawn.
This is done to induce White into playing 4.Nxe5, falling into the trap.
However, this behavior is deemed unethical and if White avoids the trap, they will be in a significantly better position.
9. What’s the historical significance of the Blackburne Shilling Gambit?
The Blackburne Shilling Gambit gained its historical significance due to its namesake, Joseph Henry Blackburne, reputedly using it to win one shilling per game from café visitors.
Furthermore, the earliest game with this opening on chessgames.com, Dunlop–Hicks, dates from 1911, and another early game, Muhlock–Kostić, was played in Cologne, 1912.
These historical records highlight the long-standing existence of this unusual opening.
10. What happens if after 4.Nxd4, Black responds with 5…dxc3?
If after 4.Nxd4, Black responds with 5…dxc3, White can gain initiative in the center with 6.Nxc3 d6 7.d4.
This series of moves leaves White in a stronger position.
If instead 5…Bc5?, Black loses a pawn to 6.Bxf7+ Kxf7 7.Qh5+, showing the inherent risks for Black in this line.
In chess, as in life, sometimes a seeming disadvantage can be turned into an advantage with a little cunning and a lot of surprise.
The Blackburne Shilling Gambit is a perfect example of this, a gambit that, while dubious on the surface, can lead to victory for the unwary opponent.
While it may not be a staple in the repertoire of top-tier players, it has nonetheless carved out its place in chess history and serves as an educational tool for beginners and intermediates alike.