Tennison’s Gambit (Chess Theory)

Tennison Gambit

The Tennison Gambit is a captivating chess opening that offers players a dynamic and unusual game right from the start.

It’s a chess strategy characterized by the gambit of a pawn by White, offering a unique challenge for both players.

This article aims to delve deeper into the nuances of the Tennison Gambit, from its move order to its history, as well as its appropriateness for different skill levels of chess players.

Move Order of Tennison’s Gambit

The Tennison Gambit commences with either the Zukertort Opening (Reti Opening) or the Scandinavian Defense.

The sequence for the Zukertort Opening is 1. Nf3 d5 followed by 2. e4.

The Scandinavian Defense, on the other hand, initiates with 1. e4 d5 and then 2. Nf3.

Tennison Gambit
1. e4 d5 2. Nf3

Essentially, White gambits a pawn early in the game, setting the stage for an exciting continuation.

Theory, Strategy, and Purpose of Tennison’s Gambit

The key purpose behind the Tennison Gambit is for White to provoke Black into playing 3…Nf6?!, which could potentially lead to an advantageous situation for White.

White then plans to play 4.d3 exd3 5.Bxd3 h6??.

If Black falls into this line, White can secure a win with 6.Nxf7 Kxf7 7.Bg6+ Kxg6 8.Qxd8.

This aggressive sequence of moves characterizes the theory and strategy underlying the Tennison Gambit.

Variations of Tennison’s Gambit

There are several interesting variations of the Tennison Gambit.

The “Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Variation”, which was humorously named by YouTuber Bosnian Ape Society, involves a sequence where instead of 8.Qxd8, White launches a surprising offensive against Black.

Additionally, two other noteworthy variations involve Black’s response to White’s third move.

If Black responds with 3…e5! 4.Nxe4 f5!, the position will generally favor Black.

Similarly, the move 3…Bf5 could also lead to a stronger position for Black, with a possible continuation being 4.Nc3 Nf6.

Evaluation of Tennison’s Gambit

Tennison’s Gambit is generally evaluated at around -0.90 to -1.30 for white.

Theory & Continuation Lines of Tennison’s Gambit

Below we have some common theory and continuation lines from Tennison’s Gambit starting move order 1. e4 d5 2. Nf3 that you would see at the highest level of play should the Tennison’s Gambit be played.

2… dxe4 3. Ng5 e5 4. Nxe4 Nc6 5. Bc4 f5 6. Nec3 a6 7. O-O Nf6 8. Ne2 Bc5 9. c3 Qe7 10. d4 Ba7 11. Re1 Bd7 12. a4 Ng4 

2… dxe4 3. Ng5 e5 4. Nxe4 Nc6 5. Bc4 f5 6. Nec3 a6 7. O-O Nf6 8. Ne2 Na5 9. Bb3 c5 10. d3 Bd6 11. f4 Nxb3 12. axb3 O-O 13. Nbc3 Qe8 14. fxe5 Bxe5 15. Bf4 b5 16. d4 Bxf4 

2… dxe4 3. Ng5 e5 4. Nxe4 Nc6 5. Bc4 f5 6. Nec3 a6 7. O-O Nf6 8. Ne2 Na5 9. Bb3 Nxb3 10. axb3 c5 11. d3 Bd6 12. Nbc3 O-O 13. f4 Re8 14. Ng3 g6 15. Qf3 Ra7 16. Nd5 b6 17. Nxf6+ Qxf6 

2… dxe4 3. Ng5 e5 4. Nxe4 Nc6 5. Bc4 f5 6. Nec3 a6 7. O-O Nf6 8. Ne2 Na5 9. Bb3 c5 10. d3 Bd6 11. Nec3 Nxb3 12. axb3 O-O 13. Bg5 Be6 14. Nd2 b5 15. Qf3 h6 

2… dxe4 3. Ng5 e5 4. Nxe4 Nc6 5. Bc4 f5 6. Nec3 Nf6 7. O-O a6 8. Ne2 Na5 9. Bb3 c5 10. d3 Nxb3 11. axb3 Bd6 12. Re1 O-O

2… dxe4 3. Ng5 e5 4. Nxe4 Nc6 5. Bb5 Bd7 6. O-O a6 7. Ba4 f5 8. Ng3 h5 9. d4 h4 10. Bxc6 Bxc6 11. Nxf5 Qd7 12. Qg4 Ne7 13. d5 Nxd5 14. Bg5 Nf6 15. Bxf6 gxf6 16. Nc3 Qf7 17. Nxh4 Qh7 

History of Tennison’s Gambit

The Tennison Gambit owes its name to chess enthusiast Otto Mandrup Tennison (1834–1909), who was the first to significantly explore this opening.

Tennison, a Denmark native who later moved to the United States, played at the chess clubs of New Orleans.

His innovative opening soon gained recognition among strong players, particularly during the first half of the 20th century.

Whether It’s Good for Beginners or Intermediates

While the Tennison Gambit is intriguing and dynamic, it’s not typically recommended for beginners due to its complex strategy and potentially risky play.

It requires a solid understanding of chess theory and an ability to anticipate an opponent’s moves.

For intermediate players, however, the Tennison Gambit can offer an exciting and unconventional approach to the game, especially for those interested in exploring less common openings.

How Often Tennison’s Gambit Is Played at the Grandmaster Level

The Tennison Gambit is relatively infrequent at the Grandmaster level.

The opening, although dynamic and exciting, can lead to a disadvantaged position for White if Black responds accurately.

Therefore, it is generally not a preferred choice for top-level players who often rely on openings that maximize positional advantage and reduce unnecessary risk.

FAQs – Tennison’s Gambit

1. What is the Tennison Gambit?

The Tennison Gambit is a specific sequence of moves in the game of chess, in which White intentionally sacrifices a pawn to gain a strategic advantage.

This gambit can be initiated through two main openings: the Zukertort Opening and the Scandinavian Defense.

The opening moves for each respectively are:

  • Zukertort Opening (Reti Opening): 1. Nf3 d5 2. e4
  • Scandinavian Defense: 1. e4 d5 2. Nf3

The term “Gambit” in chess signifies an opening in which a player, more often White, sacrifices material with the hope of achieving a resulting advantageous position.

2. Who was the pioneer of the Tennison Gambit?

The Tennison Gambit was significantly researched and brought into light by Otto Mandrup Tennison, an amateur chess player.

Tennison was born in Denmark in 1834, studied in Germany, and later migrated to the United States in 1854.

He played chess in the clubs of New Orleans, where the Tennison Gambit was picked up by many strong players during the first half of the 20th century.

3. What is the “Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Variation” of the Tennison Gambit?

The “Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Variation” (or the “ICBM Variation” or “ICBM Gambit”) is a particular continuation in the Tennison Gambit where White aims to trick Black into playing 3…Nf6?!

The moves that follow are 4.d3 exd3 5.Bxd3 h6??, after which White can secure a win with 6.Nxf7 Kxf7 7.Bg6+ Kxf7 8.Qxd8.

The term “Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Variation” was coined by YouTuber Bosnian Ape Society in a video.

This term has also been used by renowned players such as International Master Levy Rozman.

4. Can the Tennison Gambit favor Black?

Yes, the Tennison Gambit can favor Black with the correct sequence of moves.

If Black plays 3…e5! 4.Nxe4 f5!, Black would be in a favorable position.

Black’s strategy here is to exploit the potential weaknesses caused by White’s gambit, turning the game to their advantage.

5. What happens when Black responds with 3…Bf5 in the Tennison Gambit?

If Black responds with 3…Bf5 in the Tennison Gambit, they typically maintain an advantageous position.

A plausible continuation might be 4.Nc3 Nf6, allowing Black to keep their advantage in a solid position.

This sequence of moves highlights the need for strategic thought and planning in responding to the Tennison Gambit.

6. Are there any notable games where the Tennison Gambit was played?

Yes, there are several notable games where the Tennison Gambit has been played.

One such example is the game between Ermenkov and Bonchev in Bulgaria in 1970.

After the sequence 4.Bc4 e6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Ngxe4 Nxe4 7.Nxe4 b5 8.Be2 Bb7 9.Bf3, White had the advantage, demonstrating the potential effectiveness of the Tennison Gambit.

7. How commonly is the Tennison Gambit used in competitive chess?

While the Tennison Gambit is recognized in the world of chess, it’s not as commonly used in competitive chess as some other openings or gambits.

The Tennison Gambit is often considered somewhat speculative and can lead to complex positions that require a deep understanding of the game to navigate successfully.

However, it can offer interesting opportunities for tactical play and is enjoyed by many players for its dynamic nature.


The Tennison Gambit is a fascinating chess opening that brings a thrilling dynamism to the game.

While it might not be the best choice for novices or frequently utilized in Grandmaster matches, it does offer a unique avenue for intermediate players to explore unconventional strategies.

Its rich history and the myriad variations it offers make the Tennison Gambit an intriguing aspect of the intricate world of chess.

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