I borrowed this definition from Cambridge Dictionary, the on-line version.
You have already noticed, I’m sure, the accent on cleverness, the ‘intent to achieve an advantage’ and the relative downplay of the risk that is only ‘usually’ involved.
A more nuanced definition of the concept would mention that the person who uses this tactical maneuver has to get out of their psychological comfort zone in order to perform it properly.
The whole thing involves offering a valuable bait which, once taken, might produce consequences favorable to the party that is ‘spending’ it.
Since the favorable consequences are not sure – otherwise it would have been a bribe, not a gambit – but the expenditure is certain the guy who initiates this has to thread very carefully. Hence the need for the bait to be really valuable. Valuable enough for the taker to take it and valuable enough so the giver would be really careful when performing the maneuver.
We have witnessed three gambits in close succession.
Britain’s David Cameron promised a Brexit referendum in an attempt to win the 2015 general election. He won the election but lost the referendum.
Quite a large number of Americans, fed up with what has been going on in their country, have pinched their noses and elected Trump into the Oval Office. The deal is not going exactly as they have planned it – Clinton is not going to be charged, the ‘swamp’ is more likely being repopulated rather than drained in earnest – but the jury is still out on this one.
Italy’s Matteo Renzi tried to cash in on his popularity and stream-line the constitution – a move which would have given more powers to the central administration. He has just lost the referendum, is about to resign – as promised and his losing the gambit has opened a wide venue for the opposition 5 Stars Movement led by a comedian – Beppe Grillo.
Need a moral to this?
Gambit works fine when playing chess. That’s a special kind of game where all the pertinent information is out there on the table and the sole variable is the opponent’s mind/will.
Real life, a.k.a. politics, is a completely different game. There are lots of stakeholders, instead of the two chess players, while most of the pertinent information is jealously guarded by each of the stake-holders – along with most of their real intentions.
If we add here the ‘detachment’ of the players – Trump and Cameron are both independently wealthy while Renzi is rather inexperienced – we’ll soon arrive at the conclusion that we’d be better off with some unadventurous, bland even, politicians.