Scotch game for Black: 4...Bc5, Part 1 , 5.Nxc6 bxc6.

Mar 12, 2018, 5:53 PM |

    I want to make this post an easy guide for novices. That is why I choose the least theoretical lines. That doesn't mean they are not sound. Of course they are sound but the novice that will employ them can be absolutely sure that he won't get involved in some kind of long theoretical battle where memorising engine lines is the primary. If you see a crazy move , chances are that it is exactly that: A crazy move. For those of you who want to get opening freaks out of theory , these are the lines you need to play. 

      So let's start:

                                                                                           Diagram 1



4...Bc5 is not a move difficult to understand.

Black develops his bishop in the best square ,  attacks the centralised knight and eyes the f2 square.

  Eyes the f2 square? Is somekind of unsound beginner attack on f2 going to follow?

Well , yes and and no. In many cases Black uses his queen to attack f2(...Qh4 and ...Qf6) are very common moves for Black in Scotch game) and create a pressure on white's centre and that simply denies white some options. 

   White's knight is under attack and he has to do something. The options are not too many. It's either exchange(5.Nxc6) , move(5.Nb3 , 5.Nf3 , 5.Nf5, 5.Nb5 )  or support (5.Be3 ,5.c3). Let's first examine the exchange:

                                                                                          Diagram 2


White has 5 ways to take that knight! Wait , did I say 5? Is this a typo?

    No , no typo , White indeed has 5 different ways to take the knight , 2 are obvious (5...dxc6 and 5...bxc6) and the other 3 hidden and will be soon revealed.

    5...dxc6 is clearly the less weakening for Black's pawn structure but allows white to enter  a Berlin-like position without surrendering his pair of bishops.

                                                                                          Diagram 3

This is not terrible but it's neither pleasant or comfortable or easy.

If Black wants to take on c6 with the d-pawn  he needs a trick.

    This surprising move attacks f2 and offers Black another 3 ways of recapturing the knight , the 2 prexisted ones but one move later(6...dxc6 , 6...bxc6) plus 6...Qxc6(and these are the 5 ways). White obviously must defend the checkmate threat on f2 and he must already do a concession as neither of his choices is clean from drawbacks.

    6.Qd2(the best and most common) and 6.Qe2 block a bishop and disrupt White's normal development while 6.Qf3 and the awful 6.Be3(by far the worst of these 4) create pawn structure weaknesses.

       The problem is that 6.Qd2 dxc6 leads to highly technical positions that are difficult to play.Here is an example:

                                                                                          Diagram 4


And the problem with 6.Qd2 Qxc6 is that it is hardly inspiring and also very difficult to play(not surprisingly the database results greatly favor white).

                                                                                         Diagram 5


    I can post many examples that can show how difficult these positions are but I think you get the point. If you like them , please feel free to ignore my suggestion(shame on you) and play them. I will pass.

    Seems that the only options left are 5...bxc6 and 5...Qf6 6.Qd2 bxc6.

5...bxc6 is a rare line that has beeen ignored from players and theoreticians for many decades and seems to attract a lot of attention lately.An impressive number of top players have employed it , among them , Kamsky , Caruana , Mamedyarov , Ding Liren , Eljanov and others , and there is an explosion of new ideas(a new move appears every month)! I am not sure who is responsible for this but seems that the line's popularity increased dramatically after the 2007 game Carlsen-Kamsky , where Kamsky equalised and drew the game easily.It would be unfair not to mention that the first strong GMs that used the line regularly was Alexander Graf(Nenashev back then) and Juraj Nikolac


3 are the reasons that make this line a good choice.

First , the absence of long theoretical lines second, the presence of a crystal-clear easy to understand logic in almost all the opening moves and third , the line is still  uncharted territory and leaves a lot of room for creativity and originality

    Before we see how to play it is important to understand first the basic concepts of the position.

3 are white's targets:


This is the main one.If well timed this pawn break can "single-handedly" destroy Black's position.


With the bishop on c5 and a pawn on d6 , the knight on f6 can be pinned with Bg5 and Black has to weaken his k-side to break the pin.


White often attacks that bishop with Na4 (or Be3) for several reasons. First , white can gain the pair of bishops , second ,once the bishop is eliminated , White can play f4 and support e5 and third , it is Black's most important piece(as you will have the chance to see later). 

  Black must develop without allowing White to pin Nf6 or advance e5. As for Bc5 , Black doesn't bother too much since after ...Bb6 and Nxb6 Black has the chance to fix his pawns with ...axb6 and he will be the one with the better pawn structure. Once Black secures that e5 is not a threat, he will have to create counterplay by attacking e4 with ...d5 or ...f5 or by attacking the semi open b-file or a-file. The exchange that usually favors Black is the exchange of white's light-squared bishop.That is why Black often plays ...Ng6-...Ne5(Bf1 is usually on d3) and white usually rereats his bishop to e2 , ptotecting it from the exchange.

     Overall 2 are Black's big headaches: e4-pawn  and white's light squared-bishop

                                                                                          Diagram 6


It is now quite obvious I think why White usually tries to get rid of Bc5. That bishop will become a monster if white doesn't exchange it or  restrict it.

                                                                                          Diagram 7



I think the above games highlight Black's opening and middlegame problems so let's see how Black must play.

The first critical decision he must make is the development square of his remaining knight.

...Nf6 is possible but it allows Bg5 which doesn't offer White a decisive advantage(probably not even an advantage) but demands some careful handling(for those interested , I will examine it in the next posts).

...Ne7 is the most safe.If White plays Bg5(and he usually does) , Black has the simple ...f6.

The advantage of ...Ne7 is that Black will be ready to play ...f5 at any point after castling and the knight can go to g6 and e5 forcing White to retreat the bishop that is usually on d3.

All the rest , more or less , play on their own:castling ,Bc8 on e6 to support d5 , Bc5 to b6 (when threatened with Na4) to avoid tripled pawns and eventually a central break(...d5 or ...f5) that will eliminate e4 pawn.

The Black queen usually goes on d7 but if Black plays ...f5 , he might want his queen in k-side so ...Qe8-...Qg6/Qh5 might be worth to consider.Let's see some examples:


                                                                                          Diagram 8  


                                                                                          Diagram 9


                                                                                          Diagram 10



                                                                                          Diagram 11



The above 4 examples show you where your pieces belong. As you realise , the same moves can be played against a number of different lines and fully cover you in almost 70% of the situations. Yes , there is always a 30% that needs some attention and of course don't forget that you need to think.Never assume that mechanical play can take you out of the opening unharmed. 

     Let's see what can white do that will get you into trouble if you are not precise.

One of the main drawbacks of Ne7 is that it allows Qh5 which if combined with Bd3 and e5 can often create a lethal mixture.

                                                                                          Diagram 12


                                                                                           Diagram 13

Another dangerous set up for Black is when white attempts to transfer his queen's knight on k-side. It first appeared in 2013 and it is still not clear what Black must do.
 Diagram 14
An interesting battle around e5 and quite a mess. Both games are inconclusive.
Can black avoid this tactical mess?
Since white's idea is to prevent Ne5 , Black must try to find a way to play it sooner.
Diagram 15
A move that you will encounter a lot is 6.Bc4. As a rule it is not a good idea for white to develop his bishop to c4 in Scotch game, the bishop is the target of several tactics there , and this line is not an exception. 6.Bc4 indeed allows Black many interesting options but for now we will stay faith to our system.
Diagram 16
Nothing difficult or that you don't know. You just need to remember that you might need to delay ...f6 or even not play it at all.
Now 2 tactics that have appeared a lot in tournaments.
 Diagram 17
Diagram 18
And a few more examples that show how players of all ratings play the line:
Diagram 19
Diagram 20
Diagram 21
Diagram 22

Diagram 23

Diagram 24
Diagram 25

Diagram 26

Diagram 27

This is it. I doubt that you will need more than 30 minutes and covers at least 1/3 of what you need to know.Diagrams 12 , 13 and 15 are the ones that you need to understand and memorise.All the rest need understanding only and there is nothing really difficult to remember and most of the moves are natural.
Part 2 will follow soon.