The Scotch Gambit is a popular, aggressive continuation white can select after playing the Scotch Game. The opening moves are 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 exd4 4. Bc4
Rather than recapturing the pawn on d4, white uses his fourth move to develop a bishop actively and take aim at the f7 square! This can cause the Scotch Gambit to be an exciting opening full of tactical chances for white to exploit.
Black’s two main moves against the Scotch Gambit are 4…Nf6 (attacking white’s e4 pawn) and 4…Bc5 (reinforcing the d4-pawn). Let’s take a look at how the game can proceed in each case, and we’ll circle back at the end of this article to discuss some alternatives.
This is black’s most popular move, and it’s quite a sensible one. The e4-pawn is now under attack, and black is getting closer to finishing their kingside development.
5. e5 looks like a tempting option for white – it would be quite disruptive to the black position if this knight had to move away. Black has a strong answer in 5…d5, counterattacking the c4 bishop.
Now 6. Bb5 is almost always played (taking en-passant only helps black to develop a bishop after 6. exd6?! Bxd6, and 6. exf6 dxc4 is also bad for white due to black’s menacing space advantage), and white will be able to inflict damage upon the black pawn structure after 6…Ne4 7. Nxd4 Bd7 8. Bxc6 bxc6 9. 0-0
An imbalanced, interesting position is the result – quite typical for the Scotch Gambit! White has a better pawn structure and could aim to expand on the kingside with f2-f4-f5, whereas black has the pair of bishops and might try to mobilize their central pawn mass with a later …c5 and …d4.
An alternative for white is to just castle on move 5: 5. 0-0
This is a typical response to …Nf6 in many King’s Pawn openings, simply getting the king to safety. If black takes on e4, the open e-file can become dangerous.
Here, it looks like white’s plan fails because of 5…Nxe4 6. Re1 d5, defending the knight and attacking white’s bishop. Fortunately white has some tactical resources here: 7. Bxd5! Qxd5 8. Nc3
The pins to the knight and d-pawn assure white of regaining the lost material. After 8…Qa5 9. Nxe4 Be6 (preventing discovered checks on the e-file) 10. Neg5, black will often allow white to win a pawn back and simply bring their king to safety with 10…0-0-0. The game is roughly equal.
This is black’s second-most-popular move against the Scotch Gambit, defending the d4 pawn and developing a piece. The downside is that the undefended c5 bishop can be a target for some tactics – as we will soon see!
5. c3 is one way for white to play, and black shouldn’t take the pawn: 5…dxc3? 6. Bxf7+! Kxf7 7. Qd5+ regains the piece by forking the king and the c5 bishop. Now the black king cannot castle, and white stands better.
Instead, 5…Nf6 is the main move, and play actually transposes to one of the main lines of the Italian after 6. cxd4 Bb4+ 7. Bd2 Bxd2+ 8. Nbxd2 d5
Another transposition to a line from the Italian can occur after 5. 0-0. 5…d6 is possible, but if black plays the natural 5…Nf6, now 6. e5 is the Max Lange Attack. One of the main lines is 6…d5 7. exf6 dxc4 8. Re1+ Be6 9. Ng5
With a very sharp position.
White’s most aggressive try against 4…Bc5 in the Scotch Gambit is to play 5. Ng5, immediately attacking the f7 pawn.
A forcing line results: 5…Nh6 (not 5…Ne5?, which looks like a natural move! Watch the video above to find out why). 6. Nxf7! Nxf7 7. Bxf7+ Kxf7 8. Qh5+ g6 9. Qxc5.
White regains the sacrificed piece and prevents black from castling, but black does okay from this position. Even 9…d5!? can be tried, intending to meet 10. exd5 with the annoying 10…Re8+.
Besides …Nf6 and …Bc5, black’s two most popular fourth moves are 4…Be7 and 4…d6.
These lines often transpose to each other. Black foregoes the opportunity to develop the dark-squared bishop actively and just tries to develop safely.
Often, white will simply be content to recapture the d4 pawn and play a normal “Scotch Game”-like position, with some of black’s options now restricted. For example, after 4…Be7 5. Nxd4:
Black won’t be able to play any of their …Bc5 systems that they often have against the Scotch, because they would be down a tempo!
Both sides will finish up their development, and white is likely to gain a small but enduring advantage due to their more active development and space advantage.
The Scotch Gambit is an exciting opening for white to choose, immediately placing the bishop on its most active diagonal and not being afraid to sacrifice a pawn! If aggressive, classical chess appeals to you, you might want to check out this opening.
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