Scotch Game Chess Opening

Scotch game is a King’s Pawn Opening that starts with 1. e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4 .

As move 3.d4 suggests, white attempts to destroy black’s center pawn e5 and reveals his aggressive intentions from early on. This opening is quite popular. If you want to play 1.e4 e5 as black, you must know how to defend against the Scotch game. Playing a white, Scotch game can be used as a surprise against the opponent who may recognize you as a player of let’s say, an Italian game.

Black has two major alternatives here. 4…Bc5 and 4…Nf6.

Also, White has an alternative for the third move, Instead of capturing on d4 with the knight, white can play a gambit with 3.Bc4, which is called the Scotch Gambit. This post will majorly touch upon these three lines.

Black Plays 4…Bc5

Black’s Bc5 move attacks the knight on d4. Therefore has three main choices.

White can play Be3, Nb3 or Nxc6

White Plays 5.Be3

After 5.Be3, Black continues his attack on d4 with 5…Qf6. The main line goes 6.c3 Ne7 andboth sides have a natural development of pieces available for next few moves. Let’s look at the plans for both sides.

  • White wants to go Be2 or Bc4, 0-0, Nd2 and f4 at a proper moment to take the initiative.
  • Black wants to finish the development naturally with …Ne7, Qg6 (attacking on e4 and g2), 0-0 and d6.

The game may continue as per this line: 7.Bc4 Ne5 8. Be2 Qg6 9.0-0 d6 and we reach position below. Note that 9…Qxe4 is bad. Without completing his development, black shouldn’t start grabbing center pawns. After 10.Nd2 Qg6 11.f4 Black may get under serious trouble due to the lack of development.

Beware of the trap

On move 6. White can’t become greedy and go 6. Nb5 to grab c7 pawn. Black plays Bxe3 and checkmate is threatened on f2. After that 7. Nxc7+ is a blunder because 7…Kf8 threatens both the checkmate on f2 and the Knight on c7. White loses a piece.

White plays 5.Nxc6

After 5.Nxc6, black still has a good move 5…Qf6! Threatening mate on f2!. White has to go 6.Qd2 to defend the mate. And after 6…dxc6 7.Nc3 Be6 there is an interesting imbalance in the position. Black has doubled pawns. But on the other hand, white has a misplaced queen on d2 which blocks the development of his bishop and may easily come under attack with …Rd8!

White plays 5.Nb3

After 5.Nb3 Bb6 6.Nc3 Nf6 white goes 7.Qe2, with the ideas of playing e5 or Be3, exchanging the dark squared bishops. 7…d6 8.Be3 Be6 9.0-0-0 Qe7 and again we have clear plans for both sides.

  • In case black castles short, white can play f3-g4 and go for a pawn storm. White can also play a quiet game by keeping the d5 square under control and developing the game around central d-file.
  • Black has waited for white to show his intentions. If white plays f3, black will simply castle queenside and have a fine game.

Black Plays 4…Nf6

After 4…Nf6, white has two major choices. 5. Nc3, which leads to four knights game and 5. Nxc6 with the idea of e5.

We will look at the lines after 5.Nxc6. The line goes 5…bxc6 6.e5 Qe7 (Using the pin!) 7.Qe2 Nd5 8.c4 Ba6! (Using the pin again!)

This position is the mieses variation of the Scotch Game. The main line goes 9.b3 g6 10.g3 Bg7 11.Bb2 0-0 12.Bg2 Rae8 13.0-0. And in this position the mass of exchanges happen which lead to an interesting endgame. 

13…Bxe5 14.Bxe5 Qxe5 15.Qxe5 Rxe5 16.cxd5 Bxf1 17.Kxf1 cxd5 18.Nc3 andwe reach an ending where white has two pieces for black’s rook and two pawns.

Thus we have covered main variations for the Scotch game. But white has another option of Scotch gambit which is important to learn for both the sides.

The Scotch Gambit (3.Bc4)

White can become really aggressive and play a gambit by not capturing the pawn on d4. Move 3.Bc4 aims to attack the f7 pawn, with ideas like Ng5 and Qd5 (if black’s d pawn is moved from that file).

Black has two major options. 3…Bc5 and 3…Nf6.

Black plays 3…Bc5

Now white can play 4.c3 where black cannot capture 4…dxc3 due to the tactic. White plays 5.Bxf7+! Kxf7 6. Qd5+ white wins back the bishop on c5 with a great lead in development and black has lost the right to castle.

Therefore black simply goes 4…Nf6. 5.cxd4 Bb4+ Bd2 which transposes to the Italian game main line.

White can also play 4.Ng5 Nh6 5.Nxf7 Nxf7 6.Bxf7+ Kxf7 7. Qh5+ g6 8.Qxc5. But black is fine with a move like 8…d6 or 8…Kg7

Black plays 3…Nf6

After 3…Nf6 white has two comfortable choices. 4.e5 and 4.0-0

After 4.e5 d5 5.Bb5 Ne4 6.Nxd4 Bd7 7.Bxc6 bxc6 we reach an imbalanced position where black has doubled pawn weakness compensated with the two bishop advantage.

After 4.0-0 Nxe4 5.Re1 d5 6.Bxd5 Qxd5 7.Nc3!!

With this beautiful move white regains the piece with good development.


The Scotch game can be used as a surprise and the Scotch gambit can be used as a really aggressive opening to crush an unprepared opponent. Both sides have to play accurately to avoid getting into trouble. Premature pawn grab or even a natural pawn capture such as dxc3 can be a mistake (as seen in Scotch Gambit) which gives white tactics like Bxf7+ and Qd5!

But with accurate play black can get a good playable position, sometimes even better if white gets too ambitious!

Harikrishnan A

I am an International Fide Rated player with 10+ years of experience. Played many International Chess Tournaments and Commonwealth games.

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