Openings

Scotch Game

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4

The Scotch Game is a centuries-old 1.e4 opening for White and one of the best alternatives to the Ruy Lopez. A good opening for beginners, the Scotch is also an excellent weapon for players of every strength level. One of its most prominent adopters was GM Garry Kasparov. Other elite players like GMs Vladimir Kramnik, Levon Aronian, and Magnus Carlsen also have the Scotch as part of their arsenal.


Starting Position

The Scotch Game begins after the moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4. White strikes on the center immediately, forcing Black to give up their central e5-pawn. With this move, White virtually guarantees a space advantage. They also avoid the heavy theory of the Ruy Lopez, which is especially advantageous for beginners.

Scotch Game Chess Opening.
The starting position of the Scotch Opening.

The downside to White's third move lies in the fact that it releases the central tension too early. White will also need to invest another tempo if they want to recapture the pawn after Black takes on d4.

Pros

  • White virtually guarantees himself a space advantage
  • Black is unable to maintain the e5 point.
  • It avoids the well-analyzed Ruy Lopez.

Cons

  • It releases the tension very early.
  • Recapturing the d4 pawn will require a second move by the white knight.
  • The e4 pawn can later come under attack.

Variations

The Scotch Game doesn't have as much theory as other 1.e4 openings like the Ruy Lopez. However, it's still a good idea for players to familiarize themselves with its most popular variations before playing it.

Schmidt Variation

The Schmidt Variation was GM Anatoly Karpov's main option against the Scotch. It occurs after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6. From here, the game can take positional or tactical depending on the moves the players choose. In this line, Kasparov introduced the idea of exchanging knights on c6 and following it up with the e4-e5 push, creating an imbalanced and rich position.

Classical Variation

The Classical Variation starts after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4 Bc5. Black immediately puts pressure on White's central knight, forcing their opponent to invest a tempo to either protect the knight or add another defender to it.

Scotch Gambit

The Scotch Gambit happens after the moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 Bc4. White ignores the black pawn on d4 to focus on development. Players who want to try this line must be tactically sharp and prepared to focus on activity rather than material to be successful.

Goring Gambit

The Goring Gambit is an aggressive option for White in the Scotch Gambit. After the moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.c3, White gambits a pawn to quickly develop the b1-knight.

White can even offer a second pawn with 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.c3 dxc3 5.Bc4, entering the Double Pawn Sacrifice Variation. Accepting the second pawn is extremely dangerous for Black. White would develop yet another piece and have serious attacking opportunities against the black king.

Malaniuk Variation

The Malaniuk Variation happens after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4 Bb4+. Black checks the white king to provoke the c2-c3 push since the alternative 5.Nc3 is not ideal for White. The c3-pawn robs the b1-knight's best developing square, making the white pieces' full and active development harder to achieve.

Best Scoring Lines For White In The Scotch Game

The Scotch Game is a sound way for White to play a 1.e4 e5 opening and avoid the heavy theory of the Ruy Lopez. Below you can see the best-scoring variations for White in the Scotch Game.


Schmidt Variation With 5.Nxc6

The fifth move introduced by Kasparov in his 1990 match defending the title against Karpov helped to popularize the Scotch again. As explained before, White plays 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nxc6, and after 5...bxc6 White pushes the e-pawn. The resulting position leads to a sharp game, with White winning 36% of games, drawing 33%, and losing 31%.

Classical Variation With 5.Nxc6

If Black goes for the Classical Variation, White should respond with 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4 Bc5 5.Nxc6. White wins 37% of games in this position, draws 38%, and loses 25%. After the knight capture, Black can go for 6...bxc6 or the Intermezzo Variation with 6...Qf6, both of which are fine for White.

Goring Gambit

If you're an attacking player who doesn't mind playing down in material, the Goring Gambit can be an exciting option for you. After 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.c3 White wins 44% of games, draws 26%, and loses 32%. Although not common in master-level play, this variation scores very well among club players.

Scotch Game Chess Opening.

Best Scoring Lines For Black In The Scotch Game

When facing the Scotch, Black must take the d-pawn on the third move. After that, Black has a few reliable options to choose from. Below you can see the best-scoring lines for Black.

Malaniuk Variation

The Malaniuk Variation is one of the less-explored but highest-scoring lines for Black. After 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4 Bb4+ Black wins 34% of games, draws 32%, and loses 34%. This line is even more successful among amateurs, with Black outscoring White.

Scotch Opening Chess Opening.

Scotch Gambit, Dubois Réti Defense

If White goes for the Scotch Gambit, Black's most successful line is the Dubois Réti Defense, which occurs after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Bc4 Nf6. Black wins 37% in this line, draws 31%, and loses 33%, outscoring White. Amateurs share the same success in this variation, winning more often than losing.

Goring Gambit Declined

Against the ambitious White player who goes for the Goring Gambit, Black can simply decline the pawn and play 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.c3 d5. Black wins 32%, draws 32%, and loses 36% of games in this line.

History Of The Scotch Game

The Scotch Game was recorded for the first time by the Italian chess master Ercole del Rio in his 1750 treatise "On the game of Chess, practical Observations by an anonymous Modenese Author." However, the opening got his name for the famous 1824 match between the chess clubs of London and Edinburgh. Three of the games featured the opening, with the Scots winning two of them and drawing the other.

Scotch Game Chess Opening
The first record of the Scotch Game appears in the fifth chapter (to the right) of Ercole del Rio's chess 1750 treatise.

The opening enjoyed vast popularity during the 19th century but fell in decline during the 20th century, as many players considered it lacked strategical depth. However, Kasparov revived the Scotch after playing it in three consecutive World Championship matches in 1990, 1993, and 1995. Today, elite players make use of this opening regularly, including Carlsen.

Famous Games

City of Edinburgh vs. London Chess Club, 1824

Siegbert Tarrasch vs. Berthold Lasker, 1882

Garry Kasparov vs. Anatoly Karpov, 1990

Wesley So vs. Magnus Carlsen, 2017


Conclusion

You now know what the Scotch Game is, how to play it, its best-scoring lines for White and Black, and more! Head over to our Master Games page to study the opening and learn even more about it.

Lesson
Learn To Play The Scotch Game: Introduction

Learn To Play The Scotch Game: Introduction

The Scotch is a fun and solid way to open a chess game. Learn the basics of this king's pawn opening in this first lesson, including the main ideas for both White and Black.
11 min
5 Challenges
Notable Game

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