The Scotch Gambit

What is a gambit?

A gambit is generally recognized chess term that refers to any chess opening in which one side sacrifices material (usually a pawn) in order to achieve an advantageous position.

Playing gambit openings is often recommended to those who have only started discovering the beauty of our ancient game. The reasons for that are as follows:

  • By playing gambits beginners overcome the fear of giving up the material more easily
  • By playing gambits beginners learn that tactical play/calculation is essential skill in chess
  • By playing gambits beginners use their imagination and creativity as they learn to play with initiative
  • By playing gambits beginners learn to appreciate the strength of good defense in chess as they often end up in worse position after a more experienced opponent defuses their early attack

Chess opening theory has developed numerous gambits throughout the chess history. It has to be emphasized that most gambits are not considered correct; chess opening theory has found effective defensive lines that effectively refute them.

However, there are many gambits that are still very much playable. Among those gambits, the Scotch Gambit is the one that certainly deserves some recognition.

Opening moves of the Scotch Gambit

The Scotch Gambit arises after the following opening moves (NOTE: we will use the short form of the notation throughout this article)

1 e4 e5

2 Nf3 Nc6

3 d4 exd4

4 Bc4

The diagram position is the starting position of the Scotch Gambit.  On the fourth move, White doesn’t capture the pawn on d4. He sacrifices it instead in order to gain time for rapid development of his pieces.

If Black doesn’t know how to respond to the Scotch Gambit, he can quickly find himself in serious trouble. As the old saying goes, “If White plays a bad move in the opening, he loses the advantage. If Black does the same, he loses the game.”

In the remainder of this article, we will demonstrate some attacking ideas for White in the Scotch Gambit and ways for Black to meet White’s threats.

Ideas and traps of the Scotch Gambit

The main point of the 4 Bc4 move is pointing the bishop toward the f7 pawn. White’s attacking ideas are mostly associated with the attack on that square.

An important move related to this plan is the move c3, with which White sacrifices another pawn with the aim of opening the diagonals and squares for his pieces.

Let’s consider a basic example that shows how quickly things can go wrong for Black.

1 e4 e5

2 Nf3 Nc6

3 d4 exd4

4 Bc4 h6?

Black prevents the knight jump on g5, but there are better ways of dealing with that move. The move h6 loses valuable time and also takes the h6 square away from the Black knight (we will see later why this is important in some lines of the Scotch Gambit).

5 0-0 Be7

6 c3! dxc3?

Black should really avoid taking the second pawn, as now White has a forced mate at his disposal:

7 Qd5! 

Black suffers a catastrophe on f7:

7… d6

8 Qxf7+ Kd7

9 Be6 mate

It is true that Black has played horribly in this game, but this example shows how quickly you can win a game if your opponent isn’t familiar with the gambit.

Let us look at another example, in which Black doesn’t violate the basic opening principles with the time losing 4… h6?, but still plays greedily enough:

1 e4 e5

2 Nf3 Nc6

3 d4 exd4

4 Bc4 Be7

5 c3 dxc3?

This move should almost always be avoided

6 Qd5! 

The same theme was already seen in the previous example. However, due to the fact that the h6 square is empty, Black doesn’t lose immediately:

6… Nh6

Black covers f7 for the moment.

7 Bxh6!

Renewing the threat of Qxf7+

7 … 0-0!

8 Bxg7!

The best move. 8 Bc1, preserving the piece, leads to trouble after 8… Nb4. This is the best proof that creativity and imagination are required in such a position.

Remember, when playing gambits, everything is about the initiative.

8 … Kxg7

9 Nxc3

And although the material is equal, White has a massive advantage, due to the following:

  • He has more space in the center (space advantage)
  • He already has four pieces in dominant positions, while Black has only two (development advantage)
  • Black’s king is exposed (king safety)

Defense against the Scotch Gambit

Naturally, any experienced player won’t fall for the traps mentioned above. Therefore, if you are planning to employ the Scotch Gambit in your own games, you need to know which better responses are available to Black.

There are three main responses to the Scotch Gambit for Black. All three transpose to a different opening, depending on Black’s choice on the fourth move

  • Transposition to Italian Game

The Scotch Gambit can transpose to Italian Game (also known as Giuoco Piano) after the sequence:

1 e4 e5

2 Nf3 Nc6

3 d4 exd4

4 Bc4 Bc5

5 c3 Nf6 

  • Transposition to Two Knights Defence

The Scotch Gambit can transpose to a line of theTwo Knights Defence after the sequence:

1 e4 e5

2 Nf3 Nc6

3 d4 exd4

4 Bc4 Nf6

5 e5 d5!?

  • Transposition to Philidor Defence

The Scotch Gambit can transpose to a line of the Philidor Defence after the sequence:

1 e4 e5

2 Nf3 Nc6

3 d4 exd4

4 Bc4 d6

5 Nxd4

Therefore, in order to play the Scotch Gambit successfully, a player probably needs to have something prepared for all three lines mentioned above.

With this, we will finish up this article regarding the Scotch Gambit. We hope you will manage to use it here and there and catch your opponents off the guard.

Good luck!

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