The main line of the Urusov Gambit is reached after 1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 Nf6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nf3.  Documented by Ponziani in the 18th century, the gambit was first analyzed in 1857 by Prince Sergei Urusov (sometimes rendered "Urusoff" or "Ouroussoff"), a friend of Tolstoy and one of the best Russian players of the mid-nineteenth century after Petrov.  Few of Urusov's games survive, and none with his gambit, but for an example of his play see Urusov-Petrov, Warsaw 1859 (or download a PGN file of his games and those of his brother compiled by Max Burkett). Perhaps the earliest surviving example of the gambit was played by Urusov's secretary, Ignatz Van Kolisch, in Kolisch-Paulsen, London 1861.

    The Urusov has been popular among attacking players for nearly 150 years. Adopted by Keidanski, Schlechter, Tartakower, Caro, and Mieses, the opening claimed victims among the best defenders of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including Steinitz and Lasker. By 1924 there was enough interest in the line that a thematic tournament was organized in New York featuring Marshall, Torre, and Santasiere (see the Dimock Theme Tournament web site for more details). More recently, correspondence players have explored the opening's many forcing lines, and Yakov Estrin (World Correspondence Champion from 1975 to 1980) published several monographs that carried the analysis into the middlegame.  Estrin's analysis revealed, however, a possible equalizing method for Black (with Panov's 4....d5) and suggested that some of the deepest lines might end in equality with best play. With that the opening fell into disfavor at the highest levels of master competition, and today it is mostly seen in club play, where it racks up quick scores against inexperienced or unprepared opponents.

Index of Lines
A) 1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 Nf6 3.d4 ...
B) 3.d4 Nxe4 4.dxe4
C) 3.d4 exd4 4.Nf3 ...
D) 4.Nf3 Bb4+
E) 4.Nf3 d6
F) 4.Nf3 c5
G) 4.Nf3 Bc5
H) 4.Nf3 d5
I) 4.Nf3 Nxe4 5.Qxd4 ...
J) 5.Qxd4 Nf6 6.Bg5?!
K) 5.Qxd4 Nf6 6.Nc3! ...
L) 6.Nc3 Be7 7.Bg5 Nc6 8.Qh4 d5
M) 6.Nc3 Be7 7.Bg5 Nc6 8.Qh4 d6
N) 6.Nc3 Be7 7.Bg5 c6 8.O-O-O d5
Urusov Gambit & Related Links
Urusov PGN File from Pitt Archives

      Though my main audience for this website is developing players (who will learn much here about tactics, time, and material), I also hope that my analysis encourages correspondence and master players to take another look at the Urusov. Though it is considered an heirloom opening, the Urusov is still very much alive and well. As my analysis shows, White achieves an enduring initiative for his pawn, offers Black many opportunities to go wrong, and reaches level and still uncharted territory against even the most accurate defense. With proper preparation, the Urusov poses few risks for the first player and is likely to surprise quite a few opponents. Especially if you like playing open games and enjoy the White side of the Two Knights Defense with d4 (which Black will transpose to over half the time), you are bound to feel very much at home in these sharp lines.

    As with all gambits, the second player can accept or decline. Alekhine wrote of the Urusov that “after 4....Nxe4 5.Qxd4 White has a very strong attack.  I avoid such material gains in the opening on principle, for they lead only to loss of time and delay of development.”  Alekhine’s advice is practical and sound, but many players have accepted the pawn and tried to endure the attack, using a timely thrust with ....d5 to seek equality.  The most common alternative is to return the material immediately with 4....d5, though even here White is not without attacking resources.  Also of interest are the lines beginning with 4....c5, 4....Bb4+, and 4....d6 (transposing to the Philidor Defense), and the move 4....Nc6 transposing to The Two Knights Defense (which I treat partially in my website on the Perreux Variation -- though players are urged to investigate the Modern Variation for even better results).

    Published analysis and practical games are always attributed, and where there is no attribution the analysis is my own. I have enjoyed sharing my discoveries and hope you will consider sharing yours as I continue to revise and update this article (a process that continues week by week, so it pays to check back here from time to time). I welcome questions, recent games, corrections, suggestions, and links at I have tried to include links to some of the better opening resources available on the web. For a great collection of games, see Max Burkett's PGN files, also available at the Pitt Chess Archives (along with a larger collection on the Bishop's Opening). For an excellent review of the games in the Pitt Archives see Tim Harding's articles: "The Eternal Appeal of the Urusov Gambit" and "Is the Urusov Gambit Sound?".

    The reader is advised that this article is in a constant state of revision, so it pays to check back here from time to time.

Line A >>>

Contact: Michael Goeller,
Last modified: February 1, 2003
Copyright © 2002 All Rights Reserved