What is the Scotch Game?
The Scotch Game is an alternative for White instead of the Ruy Lopez (or Spanish Game) or the Italian Game.
The Scotch Game arises after:
The Scotch Game
A Short History of the Scotch Game
3.Bb5 would be the Ruy Lopez and 3.Bc4 leads to the Italian Game. They are both popular at all levels, but that doesn’t stop White playing the Scotch Game for a change.
The name if the opening comes from an 1824 correspondence game between Edinburgh and London. This was in the era when the King’s Gambit (1.e4 e5 2.f4) was very popular and the Scotch Game failed to become the new favourite.
Jan Timman tried it against Anatoly Karpov three times in the 1980s, but Karpov, then in his prime, won one and drew two of the games.
It was left to Garry Kasparov to show what the Scotch could really do. He resurrected it against Karpov in their 1990 title match, earning a win and a draw from two games, going on to use sporadically – but successfully – for the next decade.
The Good News and the Bad News
The involvement of Kasparov always brings new interest to an opening. However, the Scotch Game has yet to experience a surge in popularity since Kasparov reverted to other openings. That is the good news; despite its antiquity, the Scotch Game has a smaller amount of theory attached to it as compared to the Ruy Lopez and the Italian Game.
The bad news – and this is what stops the opening being more popular – is that is harder for White to obtain an advantage against a well-prepared opponent. However, below master-level it is a perfectly reasonable opening to play.
The Main Lines of the Scotch Game
White is clearly intent on trading the d-pawn for Black’s e-pawn, which will leave the first player with more space in the centre.
Inexperienced club players often go a step further and trade the knights too, with 3…exd4 4.Nxd4 Nxd4 5.Qxd4.
This is a mistake by Black. It may be tempting to drag the white queen to the centre, but unfortunately Black cannot easily gain time by attacking. Note that the natural move in such circumstances, …Nb8-c6, is no longer possible. Also, 5…c5 is a further mistake. Once the white queen drops back, away from the threat, Black’s pawn structure cannot easily be repaired. The backward d-pawn will keep under severe pressure throughout the game.
The Three Main Replies
…Black’s most serious replies are:
The Classical Variation
Black immediately places significant pressure on the white knight. White can reply with 5.Nb3, attacking the bishop, so as not to lose time. Incidentally, 5.Be3 Qf6 keeps the pressure game going. The Scotch Game has several examples of early queen moves going unpunished.
The Schmidt Variation
More pressure on the centre from Black. White is advised to play 5.Nxc6 bxc6 6.e5, chasing the black knight.
The Steinitz Variation
This is a tricky line. White can end up tied in knots while to keep material equality, but wise heads know that a pawn sacrifice is necessary. After 5.Nc3 Bb4 6.Be2 Black can win the pawn but has to put up with discomfort after (for example) 6…Qxe4 7.Nb5 Bxc3+ 8.bxc3.
Black now needs to play 8…Kd8 to guard against the threat of 9.Nxc7+. Black remains a pawn up, but not everyone can defend like Wilhelm Steinitz.
The positions are certainly more unusual than those arising from the standard Ruy Lopez and Italian Game lines. One could become an expert in the Scotch Opening or simply use it as an occasional surprise weapon, as did Garry Kasparov.
Lifetime Repertoires: Sethuraman’s 1.e4 – Part 1 is now available. Grandmaster S.P. Sethuraman advocates the Scotch Game against 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 and covers a significant number of Black’s other responses to 1.e4 in the course too.
Here are the expert’s thoughts on the suitability of the Scotch Opening.
‘Here is why the Scotch Game may be a good option for you. White’s idea behind playing d2–d4 on move 3 is to achieve harmonious development and take control over the centre. It offers logical and natural development of the pieces and many chances to grab an advantage. The Scotch Opening does not have as much opening theory as the Ruy López or the Italian Game. It is more likely to find unprepared opponents as the Spanish and Italian are more popular. This opening is often neglected by 1…e5 players who believe they will face other openings in the majority of their games.’
More Chess Opening Basics
Here are links to the other parts of our series on Chess Opening Basics. More openings will be added soon.
King’s Pawn Openings