gam·​bit ˈgam-bət How to pronounce gambit (audio)
: a chess opening in which a player risks one or more pawns or a minor piece to gain an advantage in position
: a remark intended to start a conversation or make a telling point
: topic
: a calculated move : stratagem

Did you know?

Don’t let the similarities of sound and general flavor between gambit and gamble trip you up; the two words are unrelated. Gambit first appeared in English in a 1656 chess handbook that was said to feature almost a hundred illustrated gambetts. Gambett traces back first to the Spanish word gambito, and before that to the Italian gambetto, from gamba meaning “leg.” Gambetto referred to the act of tripping someone, as in wrestling, in order to gain an advantage. In chess, gambit (or gambett, as it was once spelled) originally referred to a chess opening whereby the bishop’s pawn is intentionally sacrificed—or tripped—to gain an advantage in position. Gambit is now applied to many other chess openings, but after being pinned down for years, it also finally broke free of chess’s hold and is used generally to refer to any “move,” whether literal or rhetorical, done to get a leg up, so to speak. While such moves can be risky, gambit is not synonymous with gamble, which likely comes from Old English gamen, meaning “amusement, jest, pastime”—source too of game.

Example Sentences

I couldn't tell whether her earlier poor-mouthing had been sincere or just a gambit to get me to pick up the dinner check.
Recent Examples on the Web Ederson pitched the ball high into the night sky, an unusually rudimentary opening gambit for a team coached by Pep Guardiola. Rory Smith, New York Times, 9 May 2023 Without Kokuho Rose, the farm’s special strain of medium-grain rice, his sushi gambit might have failed. Daniel Miller, Los Angeles Times, 3 May 2023 The Metals Company’s audacious gambit may have opened the door to deep-sea mining for the first time. WIRED, 28 Feb. 2023 Eye makeup remover is one of those products that spans the gambit in pricing, with some options hitting close to $10, and others approaching $100. Madison Yauger, Peoplemag, 30 Nov. 2022 The gambit for the tour is that the sibling trio will play five of their albums each night. Chris Willman, Chicago Tribune, 3 May 2023 In a bold gambit to change New York’s law, Mr. Sharpe set up two pinball machines inside City Hall. Stephen Humphries, The Christian Science Monitor, 15 Mar. 2023 In any case, Iger has judged Chapek’s gambit a failure. Shawn Tully, Fortune, 24 Feb. 2023 His last attempt in August, a cold turkey gambit without nicotine replacement therapy, triggered an excruciating maelstrom of cravings that lasted several months. New York Times, 2 Aug. 2022 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'gambit.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


borrowed from Spanish gambito, borrowed from Italian gambetto, literally, "act of tripping someone," from gamba "leg" (going back to Late Latin) + -etto, diminutive suffix — more at jamb

First Known Use

1656, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of gambit was in 1656


Dictionary Entries Near gambit

Cite this Entry

“Gambit.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 10 Jun. 2023.

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