Whether you're a fan of scotch tape or always eat scotch eggs when you picnic; even if you enjoy a nightly scotch, you can rest assured that this opening has nothing to do with any of your other scotch favs.
It does, however, uphold the definition of 'scotch': to end something quickly and definitively or prevent something from getting started. Provided the chess player makes their moves judiciously, that is.
This opening's name was derived from an 1824 correspondence chess match between a London player and one from Edinburgh. However, the opening predates that match by at least a hundred years; it was featured in a treatise written in 1750 by Ercole del Rio.
Oddly enough, he's better remembered as a lawyer and author than a chess player, even though he is known as one of the three Modenese Masters. Specifically, he was dubbed The Devil Who Could Never Be Beaten. Might that have also applied to his legal career?
Back to the Scotch Game, now.
Superprof lays out an opening that, upon gaining initial notoriety was soon disfavoured because it appeared too easy for Black to gain the advantage. That was all before Garry Kasparov and Jan Timman, two of the most renowned chess grandmasters, put it back in the spotlight.
Maybe, once you know more about it, you too will make it one of your top chess openings.
Analysing the Scotch Game
The Scotch Game's opening looks, at first, like any other open game's. Consider the notation:
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6
These are exactly the moves that define the Ruy Lopez opening, as well as a host of other openings and gambits: the Vienna Game, the Elephant Gambit and the Danvers opening among them. All of these openings/games/gambits are defined by which move White makes next. In the Scotch Game, that move is 3. d4
Playing the Scotch Game - as in any other game, White strives for centre domination, hence the double pawn. Black's typical response is to capture their opponent's d4 pawn with theirs on e5 because, unlike in the Ruy Lopez, that's the best use for it. Indeed, any other possible move Black might make is considered subpar.
What does White do next? There are plenty of options but by far the most advisable move is 4. Nxd4 - capturing the pawn that made the first capture. Another recommended move is 4. Bc4, belatedly following the Ruy Lopez strategy. This move initiates the Scotch Gambit. Note the difference in terminology; the gambit is different from the game.
We'll discuss the Scotch and Göring gambits in a mo...
In many ways, the Scotch Game is very traditional, in that it closely follows classical opening principles and allows for a lot of development. However, it is tricky for beginners because there are so many optional moves to consider. As a novice player, it's hard to calculate your advantage unless you have an idea of what may lie ahead.
Much the same could be said for The Queen's Gambit strategy. Although made popular through the Netflix series, actually playing that gambit is much more complex than the series makes it out to be.
So, let's look at some of the variations players might consider, regardless of which side of the board they play.
Most Oft-Played Variations
Before we explore other possible moves by either player, let's see what we have so far:
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 exd4 4. Nxd4
Once White recaptures its lost pawn, Black can respond in several ways. The Classical variation would see Black's kingside bishop move to square c5 while the Schmidt variation would see the kingside knight take up residence on f6.
The Steinitz variation, Qh4 is a questionable move. Developing the queen so early in the game is considered risky by some; certainly not something a novice chess player or one with limited game experience should do. For more advanced players, early queen development could be considered enterprising, possibly suggestive of a few wild, exciting plays coming up.
For Black, Qh4 signals that White is willing to sacrifice a pawn to take the lead in developing their pieces and more chances to attack. That's a lot of advantage for Black to give up, isn't it?
In similar fashion, Black using their queenside knight to capture White's d4 knight would raise a few eyebrows; it doesn't really serve a good purpose and doing so limits the development of other pieces that could be brought into play.
Finally, the last of the questionable plays: Black plays their kingside bishop. Bb4 is seen by some as a clever ploy - especially as Black comes out ahead but others believe it takes the focus from where the action should really be at this point in the game: the board's centre.
Same as with the King's Gambit strategy, White is not limited to the Nxd4 response. Let's take a look at other ways this game could play out.
Scotch Game: Possible Gambits
How are gambits different from answers in chess?
So far, we've reviewed possible ways that White might respond to Black capturing their d4 pawn. Some are good and some are questionable but all are possible and could provoke responses from Black that might take the game in a completely different direction.
We'll explore some notable games towards the end of this article.
Gambits are different. They are a series of planned moves in which the sacrifice of a minor piece, usually a pawn allows the player a greater overall advantage. White can offer two possible gambits after the d4 pawn capture.
The Göring Gambit: 4. c3
White gains an advantage in piece development through the possible sacrifice of two pawns and follows through by putting Black's f7 pawn in the hot seat.
In the Göring gambit, every piece aligns along the 2-g diagonal line. White may move their queen to b3 and their kingside bishop to c4; they may add further pressure on Black's f7 pawn by moving their kingside knight to f5. Conversely, White may also opt to move their queenside knight to c3 if Black has a pawn on d5.
This gambit, which closely resembles the Danish Gambit, enjoyed quite a bit of popularity among high profile players such as Alex Alekhine and Jonathan Penrose but is generally not well-received when played in master-level games. However, it sees a lot of play in chess clubs; yours might even feature a player who routinely offers this gambit.
Unlike the Göring Gambit, the French Defence gives Black a more decided advantage.
The Scotch Gambit
4. Bc4 is the second way White can offer a gambit, giving Black two possible responses. They may let the Scotch play out by moving their kingside bishop to c5, to which White would respond by moving their c-file pawn up one square. Black would then develop his queenside knight: Nc6.
The notation for this gambit is: 4. Bc4 Bc5 5. c3 Nc6
Black may instead choose a shortcut to arrive at essentially the same result by invoking the Two Knight Defence. This ill-named defence calls for Black to develop his kingside knight, moving it to f6. Thus, both knights are on the sixth rank, ready to defend - but more likely to attack.
That's why its name is considered misleading.
Should Black accept the offered gambit, they would capture White's c3 pawn but doing so would play right into White's strategy and give them a much greater advantage.
Incidentally, the Two Knight Defence has its origins in the Italian Game; it is considered a particularly aggressive Black strategy.
Notable Matches Featuring the Scotch Game
Some people think watching chess matches must be dull as watching paint dry but, for those in the know, plenty goes on the could elicit roars of approval (or dismay). If only the players didn't have to focus so hard on their game, spectators may be just as loud and rowdy as football fans!
On second thought, probably not.
Still, these games generate substantial excitement, not just for their high profile and the players' reputations but for the gambits offered and declined, the attacks pursued and astounding moves (blunders?) made.
Here are three high-profile games that featured the Scotch Game:
- Kasparov-Nakamura, St Louis, Missouri, 2016: instead of castling early in the game, Nakamura found a better move
- Campora-Olafsson, Campora, Spain, 2004 chess Olympiad: the Black king was in trouble because of a lost castling opportunity
- Kasparov-Karpov, Lyon, France, 1990: World Chess Championship Match
It should come as no surprise that the Kasparov-Karpov match would cause a stir, even after all this time.
For one, the two men hated each other; they could barely respect one another for their chess-playing skills, let alone for being from the same homeland. In fact, that was one point of friction between them. Karpov was playing under the Soviet flag while Kasparov had long reverted to the Russian flag.
As a result of this contention, these grandmasters played for the 1990 World Championship title with no flags on the table. See? Chess can be dramatic and exciting!
All of that aside, Garry Kasparov has helped bring the Scotch Game back into the forefront and, with the help of Bobby Fischer, did much of the same for the Sicilian Defence.