The Scotch Game is a King’s Pawn Opening which begins with 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4
White’s third move is quite logical – it fights for additional central space and opens more lines of development for the white pieces, and puts the e5-pawn under pressure. White will often develop rapidly in the Scotch Game to put black under pressure!
Black’s most popular move, by far, is to respond with 3…exd4. Other replies are generally considered to be inferior.
For instance, 3…d6 gives white a pleasant decision. White can advance with 4. d5 and claim a space advantage, or white can go back into a Ruy Lopez with 4. Bb5, now that black’s most reputable defenses to that opening are off the table! (This would be the Steinitz variation).
After 3…exd4, white has a choice. 4. Nxd4 is the most natural reply, which will be the focus of this article. 4. Bc4, the Scotch Gambit, is an alternative approach, where white doesn’t recapture their pawn right away.
Once the knight recaptures, black has two main options – 4…Bc5 or 4…Nf6
4…Bc5 – the Classical Scotch Game
This is a popular approach for black to take. Black develops a piece with tempo, threatening white’s knight.
If white plays 5. Nxc6, then black has the surprisingly in-between move 5…Qf6!
White remains up a piece for the time being, but black is threatening checkmate on f2. Black will surely get their piece back.
6. Qd2 is the main move to defend the checkmate (6. Qf3 is also an option), but now the queen blocks the path of white’s bishop.
Black can recover the piece with 6…dxc6 (6…Qxc6 is an option to avoid doubled pawns, but this move opens a line for black’s light-squared bishop) 7. Nc3 Be6 with a roughly equal game.
Instead, white may choose to defend the knight on move five with 5. Be3
This move develops a piece and contains a threat. White would like to play Nxc6, when both the queen and the c5 bishop are undefended for black, with a winning position for white.
Black’s main parry to this threat is 5…Qf6!, again embarking on an early queen excursion and attacking the d4 knight again. Play may proceed 6. c3 Nge7 7. Bc4 0-0 (7…Ne5 is also an option, covered in the above video) 8. 0-0
Black will often play 8…Bb6 here (putting this bishop on a defended square to stop white’s “discovered attack” threats once and for all), and after 9. Na3, the game is roughly equal. Both players developed with great speed!
White does have one other 5th-move alternative, covered in the video above: White can play 5. Nb3 to counter-attack the black bishop on c5. This is sometimes played with the intention to castle queenside – very similar to some sharp lines of the Sicilian! Nonetheless, black is perfectly fine if they take some caution.
4…Nf6 – the Mieses Variation
This move looks natural and innocent enough, but it’s actually most often associated with a very long, exciting line that leads to an imbalanced endgame!
Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look:
White could play 5. Nc3 here, which transposes to a line from the Four Knights Game. The real attempt to exploit the apparent downside of this move is 5. Nxc6 bxc6 6. e5, attacking the f6 knight immediately.
This knight doesn’t have a great square to go to (6…Nd5 7. c4 is a bit unpleasant), so 6…Qe7 is usually played, pinning white’s advanced e-pawn. Now after 7. Qe2 Nd5 8. c4, black gets to play 8…Ba6!
For the second time, a pin is used to keep the knight safe.
After 9. b3 g6 (where else to put the dark-squared bishop?) 10. g3 (10. f4 is one alternative) 10…Bg7 11. Bb2 12. Bg2 Rae8 13. 0-0:
The far-advanced e5 pawn is under heavy pressure from the black pieces. However, if black decides to take this pawn, then white’s queen will get exchanged in the process – and the pin preventing the d5-knight from being captured will be broken!
Nonetheless, this is black’s most popular option – there’s still a rook on f1 in the bishop’s line of fire, after all!
After 13…Bxe5 14. Qxe5 Qxe5 15. Bxe5 Rxe5 16. cxd5 Bxf1 17. Kxf1 cxd5 18. Nc3 c6:
We’ve reached the imbalanced endgame I promised. Both sides have their chances from here!
The Scotch Game adheres closely to the classical opening principles of chess, with both sides developing rapidly in a lot of the main lines. This opening remains popular at all levels of chess – and for good reason!
Thanks for reading! Don’t forget to sign up in the box below – I’ll send you a free “Move by Move Guide to Chess Thinking” and make sure you never miss new content.