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If I remember well, Kasparov once said that, besides the Ruy Lopez, the Scotch Game is the only serious attempt for White to get an early advantage in the opening after 1.e4 e5. Is that true?

The Scotch Game begins with:

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4

I'm only a discrete player, and my opening repertoire with White for open games includes Italian Game/2-Knights, 4-Knights ... and King's Gambit, just for fun. :)

I've tried the Scotch Game but perhaps I didn't understand the logic and the strategy behind its main lines, since I managed to win only against beginners that played 3... exd4 4.Nxd4 Nxd4 5.Qxd4.

So, what kind of "advantage" can the Scotch Game provide? And how can White take it in its main lines? And why is it that openings like the Italian or the 4-Knights do not provide any "serious attempt to get an advantage?"

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As black, I play usually the Steinitz variation 3. ... Qh4!?, which gives me good play if white clings to e4. –  Landei Jun 6 '12 at 9:48
Steinitz is one of the variations I hate most facing when I try the Scotch with White (don't really like early Queen attacks... especially if they are sound!), but my results are not that bad - at least, not bad as in the Mieses or the Scotch 4-Knights. :) –  shuuchan Jun 6 '12 at 10:18
After variation above, according to en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Chess_Opening_Theory/1._e4/1...e5/2._Nf3/…, ...some good players believe that black nearly equalize in this line. So it doesn't surprise me you don't have an clear winning path. –  Tony Ennis Jun 6 '12 at 12:13
@Landrei, you meant 4...Qh4!?, right? 3...Qh4?? is met with 4. Nxh4 :). –  Akavall Jun 6 '12 at 17:52
@Akavall: Oh, that't why I always lose... I bring out the Queen one move too early! :-P –  Landei Jun 7 '12 at 7:21

3 Answers 3

up vote 10 down vote accepted

I like your question a lot. Though I don't play either side of any 1. e4 e5 openings, it got me thinking about the motivations behind playing the Scotch Game. Though you were clearly happy with the answer you accepted, I'm adding another answer because I don't personally understand how that one addresses the question as you asked it, and I think some further thoughts might be useful for others who come upon the question. So here's an alternative way of looking at things.

To answer your question, yes, against a peer, the Scotch Game really does offer chances of obtaining an opening advantage; Kasparov's record using it against his peers, including Karpov, is a case in point (even though, yes, he is Kasparov and we are not). The Scotch Game will not lead to an opening advantage against equal play by your opponent, but that is no different than with any opening. For example, that is just as true for the Scotch Gambit which Tony's answer recommends as an alternative. (And, incidentally, if the opponent declines the Scotch Gambit, you can just end up in the Italian Game anyway. If we're dismissing out of hand the "standard positional play" in the Scotch Game as offering no hope for an advantage, as expressed in Tony's answer, then I don't know why we wouldn't do the same for the Italian Game. No reason has been given for dismissing either.)

Regarding Kasparov's assertion that only the Ruy Lopez and the Scotch Game are "serious" attempts at obtaining an opening advantage for white after 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6, it is safe to say that he was speaking in terms of what he considered to be a serious attempt where he lived, i.e. the very highest echelon of the chess world. I am of course completely unqualified to confirm or dispute Kasparov's opinion on that matter; judging from the frequency of which openings appear after those moves, it does seem that that is the consensus among top players.

In any case, while I won't compare or contrast the Scotch Game with those "lesser" alternatives, I will try to give you a bit of an answer to your question as to what kind of an advantage white can seek in the Scotch Game. As stated above, I don't typically play either side of this opening, and even if I did, I'm not a strong enough player to really be trusted. So I decided to look up John Emms' introductory book Starting Out: The Scotch Game; the thoughts below come from the beginning of that book, and all opinions expressed here are those of Emms, not myself. (If you find any of this explanation enlightening, then consider it a good advertisement for the rest of his book.)

After 3. d4 exd4, white has induced black to give up the center, and we have this pawn structure:

[FEN "4k3/pppp1ppp/8/8/4P3/8/PPP2PPP/4K3 w - - 0 1"]

This structure is already inherently better for white, with greater control of the center and more space for the pieces. Since black typically wants to avoid 4... Nxd4 5. Qxd4, which centralizes white's queen in a nice way, white often ends up exchanging the knights himself with Nxc6, when black has two choices for recapturing. If ...dxc6 is played, then we have the following pawn structure, which is also typical of the Exchange Variation of the Ruy Lopez.

[FEN "4k3/ppp2ppp/2p5/8/4P3/8/PPP2PPP/4K3 w - - 0 1"]

Here white's structural superiority offers a significant advantage in the long-term. For instance, most king-and-pawn endings in this structure are wins for white, because of the ability to create a passer on the kingside, while black cannot do so on the queenside. Everything's not as simple as that, of course, as black can develop pretty painlessly and so has good short-term prospects; but white's structural advantage is the basis for his optimism.

If black instead recaptures via ...bxc6, then her central control is improved, and ideas of playing ...d5 are in the air. White often pushes with e5, and we have this structure:

[FEN "4k3/p1pp1ppp/2p5/4P3/8/8/PPP2PPP/4K3 w - - 0 1"]

Now white has even more space, and the e5 pawn cramps black's position. Black will try to free her position with a ...d6 or ...f6 pawn break, and white will try to prevent this, or make it as disadvantageous as possible.

In none of these scenarios does white obtain an advantage by force (though again, that's just chess for you), but we see that white has structural pluses which offer hopes for an advantage (especially in the long-term) in the Scotch Game. Here's a review of both Emms' book and a similar one by Gary Lane; if you want more guidance on this opening, that review, at least, is positive about both books.

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Whoa! This is exactly what I was looking for! I prefer openings that give early tactical chances or initiative, and I liked Tony's suggestion about Scotch Gamibt, that's why I accepted that answer. But what have you explained is really the point I was trying to understand. And of course I'll give a look to the books you mentioned. :) Thank you. –  shuuchan Jun 7 '12 at 6:52

To answer your question, no, against a peer, the Scotch Defense will not give you an opening advantage. 3. d4 followed by standard positional play by white doesn't seem to do the trick.

However, the Scotch Gambit is more daring. If accepted, it yields an asymmetrical advantage of time versus material. If you're tactically sharp you may score some points with it. If declined, the game can transpose into a number of well known positions. GMs don't often play it often, but we're not GMs.

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I like gambits, especially in blitz play. Beside King's Gambit, which I play kinda often, I tried Evans and Danish Gambit too, and they can be really dangerous against unprepared players. And very fun to play with White. :) I'll try also this Scotch gambit then. –  shuuchan Jun 6 '12 at 12:56

I know this is a 2 year old post now, which I've visited a few times before now but now I couldn't resist posting my comment. The Scotch has been my favourite White opening for the last 3-4 years. I really like it and it helps me that top players(including Kasparov play it..not that I am anywhere near that standard!!).

It can give an opening advantage, but of course, this is not guaranteed! In order to get an opening advantage with it you will need to be an expert in it's many variations eg (Ghulam Khassim,Classical,Mieses,Steinitz,Malanuik,and several others and also the Scotch gambit as noted in earlier posts!). As a chess beginner the opening is very easy to learn and get to after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 exd4 etc. However (with the exception of the Ghulam Khassim..eg Nxd4 Qxd4 which is relatively very simplistic ) all possible variations are sharp and the Scotch opening generally is not too difficult for black to play reasonable moves against and get equality at the least.

There are many ideas for White to grasp when playing the Scotch in the many variations it has. Not least is the open game nature that 3.d4 invites very early. White needs to be able then to play sharp positions well to get an advantage in the Scotch and this may not suit a beginner so much as the Italian game or a 1.d4 system opening (such as the Colle). Also black can avoid the Scotch and play other openings after 1.e4 (eg Sicilian, French, Alekhines, Philidors, CaroKann, Pirc, Scandinavian etc etc..the joys of playing 1.e4!). The earlier post about typical Scotch pawn formations is very important to remember when getting toward the end game.

Finally I may add some black players are hoping after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 for the more common openings of a Ruy Lopez(Spanish) or Guicco Piano (Italian game) and they may not know much about the Scotch!

Anyway, I hope you settled with the Scotch opening and that you enjoy your Scotch games as much as I enjoy playing the Scotch opening and which I am still learning to improve after using it for around 3/4 years now!

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