Scotch Gambit is a variation of Scotch Game that starts with 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Bc4 . White deviates from the Scotch game which occurs after simple 4.Nxd4 and reveals his aggressive intentions. White wants to finish his development quickly and try to create a strong attack on f7 pawn. As we will see, moves like Ng5 and Qh5 are possible ideas that black has to always watch out for.
Here black has 4 main ways to continue. 4…Bc5 and 4…Nf6 are the main variations which lead to sharp lines. 4…Be7 and 4…d6 lead to pretty much similar set up which is a worse version of the Scotch game for black.
Black plays 4…Bc5
Here white can play either 5.c3 or continue with 5.0-0. After 5.c3, white has set a nice trap. Black cannot capture 4…dxc3 due to the tactical shot.
Exercise: Take a moment to find a nice tactical shot in this position for white before reading further..
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.
On move 5, white can play 5.0-0 instead of 5.c3 and after 5…Nf6 6.e5! d5! 7.exf6 dxc4 8.Re1+ Be6 9.Ng5 the game is very sharp with complex variations.
Here, black can continue with 9…g6, relieving the tension from g7 pawn. The game can continue with 10.Nxe6 fxe6 11. Rxe6 Kf7 12 Re4 Re8 and even though the position looks very unbalanced, it is objectively equal. Black’s king seems to be weak but white’s queenside pieces are still asleep. Black has almost completed the development and has two strong pawns in the center c4 and d4 which restrict white’s natural development.
One other alternative that black needs to watch out for is 5.Ng5. Here, black has to remember the correct move that is 5…Nh6!. After 6.Bxf7+Nxf7 7.Nxf7 Kxf7 8.Qh5+ g6 9. Qxc5 d5! And black is fine in this position.
Now black could also defend his f7 pawn with 5…Ne5, but following the similar sequence after 6.Bxf7+Nxf7 7.Nxf7 Kxf7 8.Qh5+ g6 9. Qxc5 d5 and here the difference is that black’s g8 knight is undeveloped. That gives white an advantage. White has almost a winning position after 10.Qxd4.
Observe the difference between last two diagrams. Having knight on c6 makes a huge difference.
Black plays 4…Nf6
After 4…Nf6 white has two comfortable choices. 5.e5 and 5.0-0
After 5.e5 d5 6.Bb5 Ne4 7.Nxd4 Bd7 8.Bxc6 bxc6 we reach an imbalanced position where black has doubled pawn weakness compensated with the two bishop advantage.
The game can continue 9.0-0 Bc5 10.f3 Ng5 11.f4 Ne4 12.Be3 with an equal position. White has scope of playing on the kingside with his advanced e5 and f4 pawns and a semi-open f file. On the other hand, black has strongly occupied d5 and e4 squares and also maintains two bishops advantage.
After 5.0-0 Nxe4 6.Re1 d5 7.Bxd5 Qxd5 8.Nc3!!
With this beautiful move white regains the piece with good development. After 8…Qa5 9.Nxe4 Be6 10 Neg5 0-0-0 11 Nxe6 fxe6 12 Rxe6 again we reach an equal game.
White keeps his kingside pawn majority and temporary control over open e file. On the other hand, black has queenside pawn majority and a strong point at d4.
Also note that after 5. 0-0 if black plays 5…Bc5, the position transposes to a variation that we saw in 4…Bc5 line.
Black plays 4…Be7 or 4…d6
If black doesn’t want to go into sharp variations, or isn’t familiar with the opening, he can choose a worse version of the Scotch game with either 4…Be7 or 4…d6
After 5.Nxd4 d6 6.0-0 Nf6 7.Nc3 0-0 8.h3 Re8 9.Re1 white has a slight advantage considering his better developed pieces and black’s bishop on e7 is slightly passive. Nevertheless, it is a playable game for black.
The Scotch gambit is a tricky opening which can easily get black into a worse situation if he isn’t familiar with the sharp lines. However, if black is well prepared, in most lines the game leads to an equal position where neither side has any advantage. Therefore in playing the Scotch gambit, white also risks losing his slight advantage that he gets due to first move. But such advantages count only at a really top level. At club level, the Scotch gambit can be a really good choice for white. Black on the other hand has to be well prepared to meet variations like Ng5 and always keep an eye on tactics that occur due to weak f7 square.