C44 - The Scotch Game
Before reading this, please take a few minutes to read my blog about my opening study: http://www.chess.com/blog/kleelof/my-opening-study
White aims to dominate the centre by exchanging his d-pawn for Black's e-pawn. Black usually plays 3...exd4, as he has no good way to maintain his pawn on e5 (this same position can be reached by transposition from the Centre Game 1.e4 e5 2.d4 exd4 3.Nf3 Nc6). After 3...d6, White is better after 4.dxe5 dxe5 5.Qxd8+ Kxd8 6.Bc4, or he may simply play 4.Bb5, when 4...exd4 5.Nxd4 Bd7 transposes to the Steinitz Defense in the Ruy Lopez.
3...Nxd4 is possible, though rarely played today by strong players. It was popular in the 19th century, and receives five columns of analysis in Freeborough and Ranken's opening manual Chess Openings Ancient and Modern (3rd ed. 1896 p. 53). It is often described today as a strategic error, since after 4.Nxd4 exd4 5.Qxd4 (5.Bc4 is the Napoleon Gambit) White's queen stands on a central square, and is not developed too early since it cannot be chased away very effectively (5...c5? is a seriously weakening move that blocks Black's king's bishop). Nonetheless, the Encyclopaedia of Chess Openings (volume 3, 3rd edition 1997, p. 251 n.28, referring to p. 252 line 1) concludes that Black equalises with 5...Ne7 6.Bc4 Nc6 7.Qd5 Qf6 8.0-0 Ne5 9.Be2 c6 10.Qb3 Ng6 11.f4 Bc5+ 12.Kh1 d6. Similarly, Harald Keilhack concludes in Knight on the Left: 1.Nc3 (p. 21) that although ...Nxd4 is a "non-line" these days, if Black continues perfectly it is not clear that White gets even a small advantage. Keilhack analyses 5.Qxd4 d6 6.Nc3 Nf6 7.Bc4 Be7 8.0-0 0-0 9.Bg5 c6 10.a4 Qa5 11.Bh4 and now after 11...Qe5 or 11...Be6, "White has at most this indescribable nothingness which is the advantage of the first move." (Id. p. 25) The Encyclopaedia of Chess Openings also concludes that Black equalises after the alternative 4.Nxe5 Ne6 5.Bc4 Nf6 6.Nc3 Be7 7.0-0 0-0 8.Be3 d6 8.Nd3 Nxe4 10.Nxe4 d5 (p. 251 n.28).
After the usual 3...exd4, White can respond with the main line 4.Nxd4 or can play a gambit by offering Black one or two pawns in exchange for rapid development.
My take -
This seems like a good opening for beginners. It leads to an open position which means lots of tactical possibilities.
From what I can tell, the basic plans for both sides are simple:
White will often work to force black to push his q-side pawns. Then white will work to enter blacks position from there.
Black will try to maintain a static pawn structure for as long as possible. Then, if he can get white focused on the q-side, he will initiate an attack down the center or on the king side.
For both sides, there seems to be much more piece play than pawn play.