Chess Openings For Dummies
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The Queen’s Gambit is more than the name of the latest Netflix mega-hit. It’s one of the oldest and best openings in the game of chess and the one Beth, the main character in The Queen's Gambit, uses (spoiler alert!) to defeat Russian grandmaster Vasily Borgov to become the world’s top chess player.

Going for the Queen's Gambit.
©Shutterstock/Agustin Bernatene

In the Queen’s Gambit, whether Black accepts or declines the gambit, White has good chances to secure an advantage in the center.

This chess opening appeals to players who like games that require long-term strategic planning. If you enjoy applying subtle pressure until your opponent finally cracks, this opening may be right for you. And as Beth demonstrated, this is one of the best chess openings!

A quick look at the Queen’s Gambit

The Queen’s Gambit occurs after the moves 1.d4 d5 2.c4 (Check out our article for a quick refresher on chess notation). It isn’t entirely correct to characterize White’s second move as a gambit because Black really can’t hang on to the pawn. If Black does capture the pawn on c4, it’s usually with the intention of allowing White to recapture it later.

Queen's Gambit The Queen’s Gambit begins after the moves 1.d4 d5 2.c4.

White tries to gain an advantage in the center by attacking Black’s pawn on d5. If the pawn is removed, the advance e2-e4 is facilitated, giving White a potentially powerful pawn center. Black can decline the gambit in a variety of ways, or simply capture the pawn.

If Black captures the pawn, the opening is referred to as the Queen’s Gambit Accepted. If Black doesn’t take the offered pawn and protects the d-pawn with e7-e6, the opening is called the Queen’s Gambit Declined. The Queen’s Gambit Declined can lead to a rich variety of strategically complex variations.

Many chess openings can be arrived at via different move orders, which is referred to as transposition. The most likely move order for the Queen’s Gambit is 1.d4 d5 2.c4, for example, but 1.c4 d5 2.d4 amounts to the same thing.

The Queen’s Gambit Accepted

The Queen’s Gambit Accepted arises following the moves 1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4.

Queen's Gambit Accepted The Queen’s Gambit Accepted begins after the moves 1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4.

It isn’t normally recommended for Black to try to hold on to this pawn. The basic idea is to develop rapidly and try to saddle White with an isolated d-pawn by playing …c5 and …cxd4. The isolated d-pawn is an intriguing structure in chess. If it can be blockaded (prevented from advancing), it may turn into a weakness and have to be defended by pieces. Pieces don’t like performing guard duty for pawns!

However, if it can advance, it can often break down Black’s defenses and pave the way for a winning attack. Grandmaster games over the years have featured many a delicate dance with an isolated d-pawn.

When things go White’s way in the Queen's Gambit

White can advance the d-pawn from d4 to d5 and disrupt the coordination of Black’s pieces. It’s surprising to see how rapidly Black’s position can crumble.

In a 1995 game in Sweden between Ulf Andersson (as White) and Anatoly Karpov, Black gave White an isolated d-pawn and then tried to prevent its advance. It must’ve been a shock to Karpov when Andersson advanced the pawn anyway.

1.Nf3 d5

2.d4 Nf6

3.c4 dxc4

Reaching the Queen’s Gambit Accepted through a transposition of moves. The same position occurs more often by the move order 1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 3.Nf3 Nf6.

4.e3 e6

5.Bxc4 c5

6.0–0 a6

7.Qe2 cxd4


Now, White has an isolated d-pawn.


9.Nc3 b5

10.Bb3 0–0

11.Bg5 Bb7

12.Rad1 Nc6

13.Rfe1 Nb4?

Black’s move is a serious mistake. Obviously, Black figured he was preventing White from playing 14.d5.


This is the thematic break in isolated d-pawn type of formations. When it can be safely played, things usually go White’s way.

Queen's Gambit thematic Pawn advance The thematic Pawn advance from d4 to d5.


15.Nxd5 Bxg5

16.Nxb4 Qe7

17.Nd5 Bxd5

18.Bxd5 1–0

White wins a piece, and Black has no compensation for it. It’s amazing that a player of Karpov’s status can lose so quickly.

When things go Black’s way in the Queen's Gambit

Black can saddle White with an isolated d-pawn and prevent it from advancing from d4 to d5. The pawn becomes weak and gets in the way of White’s pieces. As the endgame approaches, the d-pawn’s weakness grows more and more pronounced.

In a game from 1997 played in San Francisco between Guillermo Rey (White) and Alexander Baburin, Black was able to isolate White’s d-pawn and prevent it from advancing. Baburin then attacked it repeatedly, causing White’s pieces to become passive in defense. Eventually, White couldn’t meet Black’s threats, and the d-pawn fell.

1.d4 d5

2.c4 dxc4

3.Qa4+ Nc6

4.Nf3 Bg4

5.Nc3 Bxf3

6.exf3 e6

7.Be3 Nf6

8.Bxc4 a6

9.Qd1 Nb4

10.0–0 Be7

11.Rc1 0–0

12.Qe2 c6

13.Rfd1 Nbd5

Black occupies the d5 square with his knight, and White has no way to dislodge it. If White captures on d5, it’s important for Black to recapture with a piece rather than a pawn to maintain the blockade.

isolated d-pwn Queen's Gambit Black successfully blockades the isolated d-pawn.

14.a3 Nxc3

15.Rxc3 Nd5

The Black knight takes up the blockade by moving in front of the isolated pawn.

16.Rcd3 Bf6

17.g3 Qd7

18.Ba2 Rad8

19.Qc2 Qc7

20.Kg2 Rd7

Black intends to eventually move the rook on f8 to d8. When two rooks are placed on the same file, it’s called doubling them.

21.h4 h5


When the bishop is placed behind the queen along a diagonal like White did in the preceding move, the two pieces are referred to as a battery.


23.Qd2 Rfd8

Black doubles his rooks on the d-file.

24.Bg5 Bxg5

Although the exchange of bishops leaves Black with some dark-square weaknesses around his king, White has no way to exploit them.

25.Qxg5 Ne7

26.R3d2 Rd5

27.Qe3 Nf5

28.Bxf5 Rxf5

Black captures with the rook to preserve his pawn structure. The rook will head back to the d-file soon enough.

29.b4 Rfd5

30.Qc3 R8d6

31.f4 a5

32.Rb1 Qb6

33.Rbd1 axb4

Black is creating a second weakness in White’s position (the pawn on b4), which he will then attack. White won’t be able to guard both weak pawns.

34.axb4 Rd8

35.Qa3 Rb5

36.Rb1 Rxd4

Finally, the d-pawn falls, and it’s a simple win — at least for a grandmaster!

37.Qa8+ Kg7

38.Rbd1 Rbxb4

39.Qb8 c5

40.Rxd4 Rxd4

41.Ra1 Rd8

42.Qe5+ Kg8

43.Qf6 c4

44.f5 Qd4 0–1

Want to learn more? Check out our Chess Openings Cheat Sheet.

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