'Gambit,' 'Gamut,' or 'Gamble'?

People enjoyed "The Queen's Gambit" so much they caused a run on chess boards, and some were also left asking "What is a gambit?" and "How do we use the word outside of chess?"

Brenda Thomas, writing for
3-minute read
The Quick And Dirty

A gambit is a strategic move made for an advantage. In chess and sometimes in other uses, it involves a sacrifice.

A gamut is a range, such as a range of colors or emotions. You can "run the gamut."

A gamble is a wager. You may lose, and if you do, you don't get an advantage as you would in a gambit.

Of all the shortages of things on store shelves and online shopping sites during 2020, one of the most unexpected was chess sets. It made sense that there was a run on food staples and toilet paper when people were locked down or quarantined in their homes. But, chess sets?

It appears the popularity of the Netflix mini-series “The Queen’s Gambit” caused the sudden, overwhelming demand that outpaced the supply of a game that has been around since the sixth century. But, one of the benefits, aside from more people learning to play chess, is that now we can more easily understand and remember the word “gambit.”  

“The Queen’s Gambit” was based on a novel of the same name written by Walter Tevis in 1983. It is a story about an orphaned girl who becomes a chess prodigy and top player around the world. The title for that fictional tale is borrowed from a strategic move some players use at the beginning of a chess game. 


In chess, a gambit is an opening move where a player starts the game by purposely sacrificing a piece (usually a pawn) in order to gain an advantage over an opponent. There are many gambits in the game of chess, some of which are named after people, places, and even animals. Others, such as the queen’s gambit, are named after chess pieces. In that particular gambit, the pawn in front of the queen is moved two spaces and then the pawn in front of the bishop next to the queen is moved two spaces. The goal is to gain control of the chess board.

But gambits are not limited to chess, and they don’t have to involve a sacrifice. In other areas, “gambit” has a sense of simply being an opening maneuver or something you do to gain an advantage. People might employ gambits in business or politics, for example. One could say there are a gamut of gambits.


The word “gamut” refers to an entire range or scope of something. The etymology of “gamut” can be traced back to a musical context where it referred to a complete range of notes or pitches. But, just as the word “gambit” is not limited to chess, “gamut” is not limited to music. Some of the more common usages of “gamut” are when people refer to a range of emotions or colors. Computer monitors and digital screens are even described as having a specific “color gamut.” For example, a fancy monitor may be described as having a wider color gamut than an older or less expensive model.

Even though they sound similar, the words “gambit” and “gamut” have two very different meanings.  


Another word that contains most of the same letters as “gambit” does have a somewhat similar meaning though. That word is “gamble.” Both a gambit and a gamble can involve risking losing something. However, those two words are not interchangeable because, unlike a gambit, a gamble is a risk where if you lose what you have risked, you do not gain an advantage. Also, a gamble is taking a chance, and a gambit is employing a strategy. 

As a way of remembering the meanings and differences of the words “gambit,” “gamut,” and “gamble,” think of the game of chess. People can gamble on chess by placing bets on who will win. Chess players employ gambits to gain an advantage. And there are a gamut of gambits that players can use.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.


About the Author

Brenda Thomas, writing for Grammar Girl

Brenda Thomas is a freelance writer and online educator.