Chess Traps | Scotch Game

The Scotch Game, or Scotch Opening, is a chess opening that begins with the moves:

1. e4 e5

2. Nf3 Nc6

3. d4

Ercole del Rio, in his 1750 treatise Sopra il giuoco degli Scacchi, Osservazioni pratiche d’anonimo Autore Modenese ("On the game of Chess, practical Observations by an anonymous Modenese Author"), was the first author to mention what is now called the Scotch Game. The opening received its name from a correspondence match in 1824 between Edinburgh and London. Popular in the 19th century, by 1900 the Scotch had lost favour among top players because it was thought to release the central tension too early and allow Black to equalise without difficulty. More recently, grandmasters Garry Kasparov and Jan Timman helped to re-popularize the Scotch when they used it as a surprise weapon to avoid the well-analysed Ruy Lopez.


White aims to dominate the centre by exchanging his d-pawn for Black's e-pawn. Black usually plays 3...exd4, as he has no good way to maintain his pawn on e5 (this same position can be reached by transposition from the Centre Game 1.e4 e5 2.d4 exd4 3.Nf3 Nc6). After 3...d6, White is better after 4.dxe5 dxe5 5.Qxd8+ Kxd8 6.Bc4 or he may simply play 4.Bb5, when 4...exd4 5.Nxd4 Bd7 transposes to the Steinitz Defense in the Ruy Lopez.

3...Nxd4 is possible, though rarely played today by strong players. It was popular in the 19th century and receives five columns of analysis in Freeborough and Ranken's opening manual Chess Openings Ancient and Modern (3rd ed. 1896 p. 53). It is often described today as a strategic error, since after 4.Nxd4 exd4 5.Qxd4 (5.Bc4 is the Napoleon Gambit) White's queen stands on a central square and is not developed too early since it cannot be chased away very effectively (5...c5? is a seriously weakening move that blocks Black's king's bishop). Nonetheless, the Encyclopaedia of Chess Openings (ECO) concludes that Black equalises with 5...Ne7 6.Bc4 Nc6 7.Qd5 Qf6 8.0-0 Ne5 9.Be2 c6 10.Qb3 Ng6 11.f4 Bc5+ 12.Kh1 d6 (I. Sokolov). Similarly, Harald Keilhack concludes in Knight on the Left: 1.Nc3 (p. 21) that although ...Nxd4 is a "non-line" these days if Black continues perfectly it is not clear that White gets even a small advantage. Keilhack analyses 5.Qxd4 d6 6.Nc3 Nf6 7.Bc4 Be7 8.0-0 0-0 9.Bg5 c6 10.a4 Qa5 11.Bh4 and now after 11...Qe5 or 11...Be6, "White has at most this indescribable nothingness which is the advantage of the first move." (Id. p. 25) The ECO also concludes that Black equalises after the alternative 4.Nxe5 Ne6 5.Bc4 Nf6 6.Nc3 Be7 7.0-0 0-0 8.Be3 d6 8.Nd3 Nxe4 10.Nxe4 d5 (Parma).

After the usual 3...exd4, White can respond with the mainline 4.Nxd4 or can play a gambit by offering Black one or two pawns in exchange for rapid development.

Mainline: 4.Nxd4 

Mainline: 4.Nxd4

In the mainline after 4.Nxd4, Black has two major options. Either 4...Bc5 or 4...Nf6 offers Black good chances for an equal game.

Classical Variation: 4...Bc5 

Main article: Scotch Game, Classical Variation

After 4...Bc5 White has 5.Nxc6, 5.Be3, or 5.Nb3. After 5.Nxc6, play almost always continues 5...Qf6 (Black does not lose a piece on c6 because he is threatening mate with 6...Qxf2) 6.Qd2 dxc6 7.Nc3. On 5.Be3 play almost always continues 5...Qf6 6.c3 Nge7 7.Bc4 (as proposed by IM Gary Lane in Winning with the Scotch; several seventh move alternatives for White are possible here, 7.g3 for example) 7...0-0 (7...Ne5 is more often played here. Play usually continues at 8.Be2 Qg6 [8...d5 is also possible] 9.0-0. Here, Black has the option of taking the unprotected pawn on e4, but it is considered "poisoned".) 8.0-0 Bb6 where the position is roughly equal. On 5.Nb3 play almost always continues 5...Bb6 6.a4 a6 7.Nc3. Another plan for White is to play 6.Nc3, followed by (in some order) Qe2, Be3, h4 and 0-0-0.

Schmidt Variation: 4...Nf6 

After 4...Nf6 White has 5.Nxc6 (the Mieses Variation) or 5.Nc3 (the Scotch Four Knights Game). After 5.Nc3 almost always played is 5...Bb4 6.Nxc6 bxc6 7.Bd3 d5 8.exd5 cxd5 9.0-0 0-0 10.Bg5 c6. After 5.Nxc6 bxc6 6.e5 Qe7 7.Qe2 Nd5 8.c4 is also very common. Where these main lines end, the first real opening decisions are made, which are too specific for this survey.

Steinitz Variation: 4...Qh4!? 

Steinitz's 4...Qh4!? almost wins a pawn by force, but White gets a lead in development and attacking chances as compensation. As of 2005, White's most successful line has been 5.Nc3 Bb4 6.Be2 Qxe4 7.Nb5 Bxc3+ 8.bxc3 Kd8 9.0-0, when Black's awkwardly placed king has generally proven more significant than his extra pawn.

Scotch Gambit: 4.Bc4

Scotch Gambit: 4.Bc4

Instead of 4.Nxd4, White has two ways to offer a gambit. The Scotch Gambit (which is the line recommended by GM Lev Alburt in his book Chess Openings for White, Explained) starts with 4.Bc4. Black can transpose into the Two Knights Defense with 4...Nf6 or he can continue the Scotch with 4...Bc5 5.c3 and now 5...Nf6 will transpose into a safe variation of the Giuoco Piano. Black can instead accept the gambit with 5...dxc3 but this is riskier because White will gain a lead in development, after 6. Bxf7+ Kxf7 7. Qd5+ and Qxc5.

Göring Gambit: 4.c3 

Göring Gambit: 4.c3

The Göring Gambit is a relative of the Danish Gambit that starts with 4.c3. White sacrifices one or two pawns in return for a lead in development, and typically follows up by putting pressure on f7 with Bc4, Qb3 and sometimes Ng5, while Nc3-d5 is another common motif. The Oxford Companion to Chess notes that the gambit was first played at high levels by Howard Staunton in the 1840s, and the earliest game with it was probably played in 1843. The first game with the gambit accepted may be Meek vs Morphy, New York 1857. Carl Theodor Göring introduced it into master play in 1872, but while Göring's name is most often associated with the one-pawn gambit (5.Nxc3) Göring invariably used the double-pawn gambit with 5.Bc4. The gambit has been played by Ljubomir Ljubojević, David Bronstein, Frank Marshall, and Jonathan Penrose. In casual games, Alexander Alekhine often transposed to it via the move order 1.e4 e5 2.d4 exd4 3.c3 dxc3 4.Nxc3, when ...Nc6 for Black and Nf3 for White often followed. In general, the opening is unpopular at master level but is more popular at club level. It is recommended to study the Göring Gambit in connection with the Danish.