How to Lose in the Scotch Gambit

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This post is dedicated to exploring the wonderful world of the Scotch Gambit! Before going any further, it has to be said that the Scotch gambit is not often seen in top-level play. The reasons? While there are many motives within the Scotch Gambit for the amateur to try to make sense out of, it seems for the top players the defensive tries for Black to master are relatively easy.

What makes the Scotch gambit somewhat barren for the top players is probably the fact that there are two major outcomes of the opening in top play: a) with 4. Bc5, the tension in the center is to be released at some point; b) with Nf6 the game will be defined by a somewhat rigid structure. We will look at those cases later. However, what I just wrote is pretty much a fun fact for the amateur … In reality, there are many dangers in the opening for both sides, many ways to get dynamic play in and many ways to lose!

First stop: 4. .. Nf6 or Bc5

Fig. 1. The first stop in the Scotch gambit: 4. .. Nf6 or 4. .. Bc5.

This is actually a very important question what Black has to answer. Black can decide mainly between Nf6 and Bc5, or even d6 and Be7 ideas. Even if the choice is mainly made based on how the move feels and fits with the style of the player, it is very important. Playing without concrete knowledge of what is to come in 1. e4 e5 on move 4 is usually a bad idea and the Scotch Gambit is no exception!

Generally speaking, Nf6 exposes Black to many motives common in other variations of the Two Knights Defence. Black has to learn how to counter 5. 0-0 too. But the upside of Nf6 is that d5 gets in fairly easy and if played correctly, there will be no significant tention in the center to Whites advantage.

4. .. Bc5 of course avoids many of the common sharp motives connected with the Two Knights Defence, but makes it more difficult for Black to figure out what to do in the center. In the case of Nf6 and Bc5, d5 of course is the main mechanism for Black to equalize, but the way it is done is different in the cases of Bc5 and Nf6. 4. .. Bc5 does not support d5.

And if you decide to play Be7, one tip, do not do this:

Second Stop: 5. 0-0 or 5. e5

So Black has played the more popular 4. .. Nf6 and the move is passed to White. This is definitely a phase every White Scotch Gambit player has to go through. Now, everybody knows that 5. 0-0 leads to some very pretty sacrifices in the center. Yes, everybody! Also the Black side. But just look at it!

Unfortunately it does not lead to anywhere… Lets take the following game as proof:

5. 0-0 definitely has its own pros. It has a considerable surprise value, first off. Also there is a considerable chance the game will become messy which some players like or find interesting.

However, 5. e5 is the trendier move and there are reasons for it. Firstly, it is somewhat more flexible and positionally more critical. 5. 0-0 generates fast play for both sides, but there could be the cases where the fog is lifted and Black stands fine with no tension in the center. The aforementioned could be enough for some players to tend to avoid it, though.

Third Stop: 7. .. Bc5

So we have followed along the lines of 5. e5 – White strives for space and prepares f4-f5 (e5 usually offers good prospects of attacking on the kingside!). Positionally, also the c5 square will be an important matter. What is Black to do? A critical decision has to be made on 7th move. 7. .. Bd7 is the safer try for Black – without any complications, c6 is secured and Black can sit back and see how White struggles to show his teeth. However, there is a way for Black to pose some problems for White himself! 7. .. Bc5 is the more interesting try.

In many cases, the taking or not taking on c6 by White is a theoretical issue. I will provide an example:

Final Stop: ??

To conclude, the position after 7. .. Bd7 by Black leads to positional play. In the most usual continuation, Black gets the Bishop pair, but White has good prospects of maintaining a blockade on c5 and trying to create chances on the kingside with f4-f5, e5 supports the attack. In this case, the skill of the chess player starts to show. To survive in the final stop and happily get a win, I guess one just has to know how to play chess.

Torture Puzzle No. 1

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A series of calculation exercises.

The “Torture Puzzle” series is designed to discuss different puzzles which I have encountered on standard mode and found more difficult than others. “Torture Puzzles” presented in the blog give an insight to the flaws in my own thinking process as well as give an opportunity for the reader to have a go finding the solution. The positions can be considered calculation and visualization exercises!

First, the position is given without any analysis. NB! The reader should then stop and try to solve the puzzle. Afterwards the analysis is presented. Good luck with the puzzle!

This puzzle was rated 2021 on

White to move and win!

Do not continue any further if you don’t want to see the solution yet!

So apparently there was a lot of trouble for me to get this one right. As this is the first post on the topic, I will provide the reader an insight to the process of how I solve puzzles when there is no time limit.

Here are the things what I am used to go through in order:

  • a) Count pieces (if there are many on the board);
  • b) Evaluate first the King safety of the opponent, then my own.
  • c) Start scanning for tactical motifs which could be on the board.
  • d) Choose candidate moves.
  • e) Start the calculation. Now I usually go with the move I feel is the most natural. If I don’t find the solution, I will go to the next one. If I have gone through all the candidate moves and still don’t have a solution, I will search for extra candidate moves and start the process of calculation all over. I go through the moves again and again until I find the solution. Very important here is to find good moves for the opponent too! If a variation is promising, it is very important to go over it a critical manner, trying to find good moves especially for the opponent.
  • f) Make the move. Now often it could be that I get tired and just go with my intuition, but I try to avoid it. In this one though, I unfortunately went with my intuition.

Further analysis is given on the interactive chessboard:

I hope you enjoyed!

Thoughts on Dynamic Chess

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The term ‘dynamic chess’ is often used in characterizing a specific way of playing. It can be applicable to many phenomena: certain players, eras in chess history, schools of chess etc. Dynamic chess or play is also used to describe the nature of a certain position, be it in the opening, middlegame or even in the endgame … and undoubtedly there are good reasons why to use the description of ‘dynamic chess’ in all the aforementioned cases. However, this kind of terminological ambivalence might cause some trouble too, especially for the player who would like to incorporate the conception of dynamic chess into his studies.

One possible way to start exploring the concept of ‘dynamic chess’ is by having a look into chess history. Now this might fall far from the practical aspects of learning how to play good and interesting chess, but getting to know how chess was used to play certainly doesn’t hurt. It could even prove to be the opposite – the chess player’s psychological processes are certainly not only driven by accumulation of theoretical knowledge. Exploring the chess played in past and acquainting oneself with historical players could be a great asset in developing motivation. The idea of having role models is very common in chess because it adds an essential human factor to the otherwise strictly logical game. Also, one of the most approved methods of improving in chess is by mentorism, and chess history gives a vast selection of mentors to choose from!

In regards to dynamic chess in historical context, there are two eras which could be regarded as having an emphasis on dynamics. The first would be the era or romantic chess in the 19th century and the second era would be the post-war (WWII) period (e.g. 50’s and 60’s) in chess. These two eras were, of course, very different by nature.

In the 19th century, chess was yet to evolve into a sport, methodological approach to chess was non-existent and overall it could be said that chess was not as serious as it became later. People played for money in coffee shops … enjoying themselves without having to bother with 400 pages of theory in the Open Sicilian – the good times. And all of this could be seen reflecting in the chess played during those times – the chess played during those times was very combinational and the concept of prophylaxis and defence was not often used. During those times, many gambits in 1. e4 e5 were developed and some of the best attacking examples were produced (though it is often a misconception that no positional chess was played; see for example Harrwitz – Morphy 1958 (2)). However, it is not established that dynamic chess and romantic chess could be seen as similar. Romantic chess was very specific and for modern theoreticians, the popular openings during those times were fundamentally unsound. However, for the amateur who strives to improve, one could learn a lot from the chess played in the 19th century. While the openings might have been suspect, the fundamentally sound ideas of initiative, piece development and attacking were more or less in their pure form during those times. And this leads us to the connection between romantic chess and dynamic chess: to play dynamically means to be able to grasp the concepts of initiative, fast development and attacking.

While initiative, fast development and attacking largely constitute the practical aspects of dynamic play, the question of how to put the aforementioned elements into play in the correct way remains. The romantic era in chess came to an end when the theory of positional chess started to develop. Nimzowitsch, Lasker and Steinitz, to name a few, all had their saying on opening principles. In the early 20th century, chess theory evolved in a way which made it possible to methodically retain play for both sides in many. The existing openings were improved and many new openings (e.g. by the hypermodernists) were developed. Besides the emergence of complex defensive conceptions, prophylaxis etc., the evolution of chess theory naturally had a saying in how and when to attack.

Before continuing, it is probably important to provide the reader a definition of ‘dynamic play’. In his book “How to Play Dynamic Chess”, Valery Beim (2004: 7) gives the following guideline to understand dynamics in chess: “Dynamics should above all be understood as the capacity of pieces and pawns to move around the board.” This definition applies to all phases of the game, though mainly openings will be discussed.

The by-product of the development of chess theory in the first half of the 20th century were some dogmas which got a fair amount of critique in the post-war era. Issai Rozenfeld writes (1962: 12) that “modern” opening theory is characterized by trying to get the initiative already starting from the first moves – to lead the game into complex, combinational waters.
Rozenfeld explains further (ibid., 12):

“It is not by chance that some very sharp openings, such as the Sozin in the Sicilian have become popular. In many openings players tend to pick systems which give the opponent spatial or developmental advantage, but give in exchange some sort of compensation. This makes play sharp and gives more chances to play for a win. Nowadays the art of defence and positional shuffling of pieces is on such a high level that it takes more than just calm, precautious and passive play to get an edge against an opponent of equal strength. Therefore, the main characteristic of modern opening play is fighting for initiative in every possible way. However, sharp play has one interesting peculiarity. Namely, it usually takes sharp play by oneself to efficiently combat opponent’s sharp play. Calm play is rarely enough to counter sharp moves by your opponent. Therefore, grandmaster Tolush was right – chess is not a game for cowards. [. . .] It is important to remember that active counterplay is often the best defence.”

It is also very interesting to note how Rozenfeld explains the concept of development in the 60’s in comparison to the “classical positional play” played in the interwar era. Rozenfeld writes the following (ibid., 13):

“According to the principles of classical positional play, all pieces must be developed first and only after that it is possible to start with active operations. Up until that moment however, one must consolidate the position and develop pieces to better squares. Nowadays things are different. In modern theory it is often the case that mobilization of pieces takes place during the development of an attack. Moreover, the attack is often started in very early stages of the game.”

To illustrate the aforementioned ideas, the following examples are given by Rozenfeld in his (co-authored with Iivo Nei) book “Opening Theory” (Rozenfeld 1962: 12 – 18):

Attacking early in the Anglo-Grünfeld Defence:

Fighting for initiative in the Three Knights Defence:

Considering 5. Nd5! in the Three Knights Defence illustrates the fact that it is not advisable to play on a positional autopilot. For every position, it is wise to first of all spot the peculiarities and only then think of a concrete reply, be it positional or aggressive.

Rozenfeld provides us (1962: 15) with an example of concrete play by Alekine in Alekhine – Böök, Margate 1938 in a Queen’s Gambit Accepted. In this case, dynamical possibilities prove to be more important than material:

Another interesting thing to notice about dynamic opening play is approach to pawn structures. Pawns are the least mobile pieces on the board. The infrastructure of piece placement is defined by the placement of pawns. Therefore, it is very important to treat your pawns correctly – especially in phases of the game where piece development is important. In regards to dynamic play, positionally unorthodox approaches to pawn structures may provide interesting prospects in piece activity.

In the Caro-Kann Bronstein-Larsen Variation Black neglects its pawn structure to gain an open file:

In the following example provided by Issai Rozenfeld (1962: 10) in the Philidor Defence, Black creates isolated doubled pawns to achieve central presence and provide interesting paths for its pieces to move along:

To conclude, let’s return to the question on how to incorporate the conception of dynamic chess into studying. So far we have mainly discussed openings, but dynamics play certainly an important role in all the phases of the game. Unfortunately, the concept of dynamics in practical play is definitely not an easy idea to grasp, especially as there is no certain way to measure dynamics. Especially when the play is very concrete. But thinking about dynamics is certainly not useless. In the phases of the game, where strategic decision-making is necessary, thinking about dynamics is certainly a good way to evaluate the position. After all, it is necessary to make way into the opponent’s camp one way or another and checkmating is definitely a “dynamic operation”. Increasing the dynamic and attacking possibilities of a position certainly needs precision and might lead to unfavourable positions if executed incorrectly, but the option of doing so is certainly worth considering. It is suitable to end these thoughts quoting Issai Rozenfeld (1962: 15): “Many contemporary masters play by the following principle: being uncomfortable is fine, given that the opponent is also uncomfortable. This way of playing has better prospects than playing in a comfortable way, but allowing the opponent to be comfortable too.” … And manipulating with the dynamics of a position can certainly make things uncomfortable – or interesting – for both sides.