Let’s say it in the beginning – the Latvian Gambit is a controversial opening, and I don’t recommend playing it against a strong opponent in a normal (non-blitz) game, as you will most likely lose. So, why should you learn it? This opening is somehow attractive to players who like to risk and derail the opponent’s train of thoughts because they know that it is not always easy to exploit these situations, and a pedantic chess player sometimes makes a mistake during an attempt to punish us for our mistakes.
Basically, Black’s idea is to generate an unbalanced game with attacking chances, by playing a sort of reversed King’s Gambit, and following the same idea – open the f-file and escalate the pressure on the White’s king-side. Whether this strategy is successful or not mostly depends on the initial move selection, and the opponent’s abilities to avoid the most common traps.
The main line of the Latvian Gambit continues with 3. ♘xe5 ♛f6, with the idea of recapturing the pawn on f5 with the queen and gaining a tempo on the knight. White has several options to respond, including 4. ♘c4, 4. d4, and 4. ♘f3, each with its own strengths and weaknesses.
Fraser Defense: 1. e4 e5 2. ♘f3 f5 3. ♘xe5 ♞c6
Let’s start with a less recommended line for Black. As the Fraser Defense doesn’t solve the weakened king-side problem, it usually leads to a loss. The following game demonstrates the correct strategy for White.
Main Line: 1. e4 e5 2. ♘f3 f5 3. ♘xe5 ♛f6 4. d4
If Black has the courage to play this gambit, the Main Line is the most robust strategy to follow. It is also the right way to apply the fundamental idea to enforce an attack through the f-file. Besides that, the game shows an interesting example of Alekhine’s Gun, and not only once.
Latvian Gambit Accepted: 1. e4 e5 2. ♘f3 f5 3. exf5
This variant resembles the King’s Gambit (reversed) the most, and Black gets a good opportunity to control the center.
Mayet Variation: 1. e4 e5 2. ♘f3 f5 3. ♗c4
This line is primarily what attracts many players to the Latvian Gambit, as White spots the opportunity to attack the weak point f7. However, Black is ready to launch a counterattack with their own queen, and wreak havoc on the white king’s base.
While the Latvian Gambit is not considered to be a sound opening at the highest levels of play, it can be a powerful weapon in the hands of a skilled and aggressive player. The opening has been used successfully by several grandmasters throughout history, including Alexander Shabalov and Mikhail Tal.
Overall, the Latvian Gambit is an exciting and challenging opening that can lead to dynamic and unpredictable games. However, it requires careful study and preparation to use effectively, and may not be suitable for players who prefer more solid and conservative openings.