The Rousseau Gambit, also known as the Ponziani Countergambit, is a rare and aggressive opening that is not often seen at the highest levels of chess. It occurs after the moves 1. e4 e5 2. ♘f3 ♞c6 3. ♗c4 f5, where black sacrifices a pawn to gain control over the center of the board and develop their pieces quickly.
This variant, named after French chess master Eugène Rousseau, belongs to the “Reversed King’s Gambit” family of openings, along with the Latvian Gambit (already described in another article) and the Jänisch Gambit, a sharp line against Ruy Lopéz, which I will analyze later.
What’s the idea? Black is willing to sacrifice a pawn (only temporary in some sub-variants) to gain control of the center, open the f-file, and prepare an attack against White’s king-side. White’s best response is to decline the gambit and occupy the center themselves to get a clear advantage. Ergo, it is risky to choose this gambit against a well-prepared strong player, but it can become a pretty effective weapon in all other cases.
Let’s analyze the most common White responses on real games from my database:
Accept and pray
4. exf5: White accepted the gambit, as they most likely didn’t know that it was the worst choice to make. Before I comment on the database game, let me describe a trap Black can easily fall into:
And now the game played on BrainKing.com in 2004:
Destroy the castle
4. ♗xg8: An interesting option is to capture a black knight at its initial position to forfeit Black’s right to castle king-side, at the cost of losing the bishop pair and the development headstart.
Charge and retreat
4. ♘c3: The natural move in the Italian Game to develop a knight is a mistake here, and only provokes Black to push the white army away. I found only two games with this line in the database, and both of them were horrible to observe, so let me just show the theoretical analysis.
Decline and develop
4. d3: Definitely better than accepting, and invites Black to play the questionable Lucchini Gambit (4. … ♝c5) or even more dubious Dubois Variation (5. ♘g5 f4).
Decline and attack
4. d4: The recommended line for White. I found only one game in the database, but it also shows a typical opening trap.
Overall, the Rousseau Gambit is a creative and dynamic option for black that can catch white off guard and lead to powerful counterattacks. It requires careful calculation and a willingness to take risks, but for those who enjoy a complex and aggressive game of chess, it can be a very rewarding choice.