If you play 1…e5 as Black in response to White’s 1.e4, you have to be prepared for a number of sharp continuations: the King’s Gambit, the Evan’s Gambit, the Danish Gambit, the Scotch Gambit, and so forth. Some of these and other lines are quite fine for White, whereas others are a bit dubious because they can cede Black immediately equality or even a small advantage. As White, a more practical approach is to try to secure a small advantage in the opening and press it, but at lower and intermediate levels, you will see all kinds of lines, and you have to respond correctly, or you can just end up worse.
The topic of this post is one such position. After White enters the Italian game, you might see him castle on move 4. See the image below.
We should ask ourselves, what does White want with this setup? Probably, he thinks he will get some initiative if you take the pawn. Also, he probably expects Black to be unfamiliar and uncomfortable with the resulting positions. I have to admit, that is how I felt for a while. I knew that the computer told me I should take the pawn, but I hated giving White the attack and all the fun. But, after looking at these lines in more depth, I am now more confident about how to play. I will still probably mess up from time to time, but, mostly, I think I will just get better positions when I have this on the board from the Black side. I’m sharing some of my research in the video below.
White’s last move leaves the e5 pawn up for the taking. In this video, I’ll discuss why you should take this pawn as Black. It seems a bit strange, as we often don’t want to pawn grab in the opening, and we also don’t want to move the same piece twice. But, as you’ll see, Black actually does not suffer from a development advantage in these lines–indeed, he often has the development advantage himself, the bishop pair, and/or an extra pawn. And, funny enough, if you don’t take the pawn as Black, your position will be a bit worse and more passive. Certainly, you can play with Bc5 or Be7 and then fight for equality, but why fight for equality slowly when you can have it immediately for free (and usually be even a bit better)?
A Word of Caution
Note that I am not suggesting that you try to hold onto the pawn. In most lines, that is a bad idea because playing d6 blocks your dark-square bishop and you give White the initiative that he wants. Just give the pawn back–White has to waste time while you develop and castle. There is one line where d6 makes sense, which I cover in the video, but if you aren’t sure, just develop; the best that White can do is get the pawn back anyway, and you have still achieved immediate equality due to the freedom that your pieces will have. You can silently thank you opponent for this nice gift, or, if you want to be a punk, you can thank him in the chat. Just make sure you kick his butt in the latter case!
Kidding aside, here are the goods (there are two videos below…the first one shows the main lines, and the second video adds one continuation that is even worse for White but that you still might see). If you can’t remember all the lines, remember the common themes (develop, castle, good piece placement, and generally not trying to hold onto the pawn).