The Scotch Gambit: Seize the Initiative Early

The Scotch Gambit

Playing with the initiative and improving your attacking play is vital for improving chess players. The Scotch Gambit helps you learn how to take the initiative, keep it, and play attacking chess.

If the thought of playing d4 instead of d3 on move 3 causes you to experience a slight panic, then it is time to face these fears with the Scotch Gambit. When you start playing this excellent gambit, a new world will open to you.

The Scotch Gambit often transposes to the Two Knights Defense or Giuoco Piano, but it does so on your terms.  

IM Irina Bulmaga knows a lot about the typical tactics in the Scotch Game, and here she gives you a taste of the attacking potential within the Scotch Opening. You’ll have even more fun playing the Scotch Gambit.

Common Strategies and Themes In the Scotch Gambit

The Scotch gambit starts with the moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Bc4

Scotch Gambit Starting Position

Here are some common motifs and strategies that occur frequently in the Scotch Gambit:

  • Play in the center is critical. Unlike hypermodern openings like the Reti (1.Nf3) or Larsen-Nimzowitsch Attack (1.b3), in the Scotch Gambit, there is early action in the center.
  • Both sides make use of centralization when developing their pieces.
  • There are dynamic imbalances in many of the variations. Black might get the bishop pair in exchange for double c-pawns, while White focuses on attacking with the f-pawn.
  • King safety is a factor in the 4…Bc5 variation, with Black losing the right to castle and White’s king getting exposed.
  • White often gets a slight edge from having a space advantage.
  • One of White’s thematic attacking plans involves the advance of the e and f-pawns.

Two Knights Variation of the Scotch Gambit

After 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Bc4, the Two Knights variation begins with 4…Nf6.

Scotch Gambit Two Knights Variation Starting Position

In this position, 5.0-0 is a perfectly playable move but more in keeping with the Scotch Game than the Scotch Gambit. Here, the more aggressive approach is 5.e5, which forces the knight to move again.

There is a saying in chess that if you can gain two tempi, it is worth sacrificing a pawn, and three tempi are worth a piece.

Unless there is a clear path to mate, keep the sacrifice to a minor piece.

Here White gains one tempo immediately after 5…e5, with more to follow soon.

5.e5 d5 6.Bb5 Ne4 7.Nxd4 Bd7 8.Bxc6 bxc6 9.0-0 Bc5 10.f3 Ng5

Scotch Gambit Two Knights 10...Ng5

Do not be tempted into playing 8.Nxc6 in the hopes of keeping the bishop pair. Nemeth tried this approach without success against Pacher.

Nemeth, Zo – Pacher, M., 2016.10.03, 0-1, FSGM October 2016 Round 3.3, Budapest HUN

The loss of time retreating the bishop allows Black to place tremendous pressure on the white e-pawn with …Qe7.

White’s attacking plan is built on advancing the central pawns with f4-f5 and e6. The position might seem easy to play, but White must keep a close watch on Black’s light-square bishop.

Black’s light-square bishop cannot be countered thanks to the earlier capture on c6; however, as compensation White has a pawn majority on the kingside, while Black must work hard to create a passed pawn in the center.

Look at how Gawain Jones used his kingside pawn majority to defeat Shakhriyar Memedyarov, in 2015, despite being rated 113 points lower.

Jones, G. (2623) – Mamedyarov, S. (2736), 2015.10.14, 1-0, World Blitz 2015 Round 14.9, Berlin GER

Two Knights Variation With 5…Ne4

This variation is not as well-known as 5…Ng4 and thus may prove more challenging to meet at the board. This move allows White to gambit a pawn with 7.c3.

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Bc4 Nf6 5.e5 Ne4

The Scotch Gambit 5...Ne4

6.Qe2 Nc5 7.c3 dxc3 8.Nxc3 Be7 9.Be3 0-0 10.0-0-0 Ne6

Scotch Gambit Two Knights 10...Ne6

White has a comfortable space advantage with open lines for the minor pieces and two semi-open files for the rooks. Even though this is a gambit opening, once you have the advantage from the opening, you can switch to a more positional approach.

There is no need to fear transposing to an endgame or a queenless middlegame.

In his game against Nakamura, Fressinet actively sought the exchange of queens and went on to win an excellent game.

Nakamura, Hikaru – Fressinet, Laurent, 2004.01.25, 1-0, Corus-B Round 13, Wijk aan Zee

Here is a game from the 2008 Commonwealth Championship showing how to play against the popular 5…Ng4.

Vinay Kumar Matta – Aleksandar H Wohl, 2008.10.01, 1-0, Commonwealth Championship Round 5, Nagpur India

The Scotch Gambit With 4…Bc5

This variation leads to exciting play where both sides have exposed kings. Black gives up the right to castle but, in turn, captures on f3 with the bishop and forces the weakening gxf3.

For many players, the excitement obviously proves too much since 4…Nf6 gets played about three times as much as 4…Bc5.

One advantage for White is that having the bishop pair in an endgame will provide a nice advantage with pawns on both sides of the board. However, as Siegbert Tarrasch reminds us, “Before the endgame, the gods have placed the middlegame.”

There is a lot of exciting, attacking chess to play before you reach the endgame.

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Bc4 Bc5

Scotch Gambit 4...Bc5

5.0-0 d6 6.c3 Bg4 7.Qb3 Bxf3 8.Bxf7+ Kf8 9.gxf3 Nf6 10.Bc4 Qd7

Scotch Gambit 10...Qd7

Although the bishop pair is an advantage in the resulting endgame, exchanging the light-squared bishop for the knight on c6 favors white. The knight can become an excellent attacker if allowed to reach e5, from where it puts pressure on f3.

10…Qe8, instead of 10…Qd7 allows 11.Bb5 followed by Bxc6. As well as removing a dangerous attacker, the exchange removes a defender of the d4 pawn.

White can develop the dark-squared bishop to f4, where it can fall back to g3 and aid in defending the king.

This is a dynamic, balanced position with chances for both sides, even though Kantans made winning look easy.

Kantans, T. – Zuferi, E., 2018.02.12, 1-0, 9th Pfalz Open 2018 Round 6.8, Neustadt an der Weinstrasse G

Black Avoids Complications and Chooses a Safer Option

Black does not need to enter the complications after 7…Bxf3 and can play the more cautious 7…Qd7.

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Bc4 Bc5 5.0-0 d6 6.c3 Bg4 7.Qb3 Qd7

Scotch Gambit 7...Qd7

A simple and good variation for white is 8.Nxd4 Na5 9.Qb5 Nxc4 10.Qxc4 Ne7 11.h3 Be6 12.Qd3

Scotch Gambit 12.Qd3

This position is another example in the Scotch Gambit that offers chances for both sides.

Although it is probably not fair to criticize a natural developing move like 16.Nc3, a slightly stronger move is 16.f3. Play might continue with 16…Ng6 17.Bd4 Rae8 18.Nc3 leads to an equal position.

Ponkratov, P. – Goryachkina, A., 2021.10.09, ½-½, 74th ch-RUS 2021 Round 1.2, Ufa RUS

What About a Quieter Variation for White

Playing the Scotch Gambit does not force you to go all in with crazy attacks and expose your king. White has a dangerous alternative to 5.0-0 against 4…Bc5.

The alternative 5.c3 was popularized by Jobava and played many times by Aronian. Jobava and Aronian have enjoyed success with this move against several players rated over 2700 Elo.

The distinctive move in the Jobava variation is to meet 6…d5 with 7.Be2 instead of 7.Bb5.

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Bc4 Bc5 5.c3

Scotch Gambit 4...Bc5 5.c3

Now 5…dxc3 allows 6.Bxf7+ Kxf7 7.Qd5+ Kf8 8.Qxc5+ Qe7 9.Qe3. There is no need to fear 9…cxb2 because it only increases White’s lead in development after 10.Bxb2 with Nc3 and 0-0 to follow.

9…c2 is also met with natural developing moves – 10.Nc3 Nf6 11.0-0. The pawn on c2 will get captured by the queen with Qd3-Qxc2.

5…Nf6 6.e5 d5 7.Be2 Ne4 8.cxd4 Bb4+ 9.Bd2 Nxd2 10.Nbxd2 0-0 11.0-0

Scotch Gambit Jobava Variation 11.0 0

White has a central pawn majority and the semi-open c-file for a rook. There is no exposed king to worry about, which is a straightforward variation to play.

In his game against Ding Liren, Levon Aronian did not forget about one of the standard attacking plans for white in the Scotch Gambit – advancing the kingside pawns.

Aronian, L. – Ding Liren, 2019.12.04, 1-0, 11th London Classic 2019 Round 1.8, London ENG

Ding Liren resigned because checkmate is unavoidable after 33.Nf3. There follows 33…Qe7 34.Qg6+ Kh8 35.Qxh6+ Qh7 36.Qf6+ Qg7 38.Qxg7#

In Conclusion

The Scotch Gambit is a good gambit for 1.e4 players to include in their repertoire. This opening leads to exciting chess while providing quieter options that remain dangerous.

Another advantage to the Scotch Gambit is that you can use it as a surprise weapon if you play the Scotch Game. These two openings share many common themes and strategies, cutting down on time spent learning the openings.

The Two Knights variation of the Scotch Gambit is the most popular, so you can save even more time by focusing most of your study time on this variation. Against 4…Bc5, the Jobava System will take hardly any time to learn.

You can confidently play the Scotch Gambit, knowing it is theoretically sound and offers full compensation for any sacrificed pawns.

If you want a more mainstream opening to the Scotch Gambit, then the Scotch Game is what you want. Given new life by Garry Kasparov, the Scotch game is a potent attacking opening for white.

A vital part of any opening preparation is studying the thematic tactics and attacking plans within your chosen opening. IM Irina Bulmaga has put together an excellent 8-hour course on tactics in the Scotch game.

Learn the ideal squares for your pieces in this opening and how to use them to deliver crushing attacks!

Grab your copy today and become an unstoppable force against 1.e4 e5 thanks to the 80/20 Tactics Multiplier: The Scotch Opening.

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