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.