In the main line of the Scotch Four Knights

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1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 Bb4 6.Nxc6 bxc6 7.Bd3

What's wrong with 7...Bxc3 ?

It seems this move is played very rarely, but, when I play White, I would not like to face it, because of the horrible pawn structure White gets, with isolated doubled pawns and another isolated pawn. For example, see the position after the normal moves 7...Bxc3 8.bxc3 d5 9.exd5 cxd5.

Of course I see that White gets the Bishops pair and an open b-file, and he can also play Ba3 preventing Black from castling. But is this enough to compensate for the bad pawns? Or is there something else that I don't see? What should be the plan for White after 7...Bxc3 ?

2 Answers 2


7...Bxc3 is not that horrible, but a bit passive: anyway, you could postpone that exchange until White castles, since he probably won't dare to avoid the doubled pawns with Bd2.

However, after 7...Bxc3 8.bxc3, I don't agree that 8...d5 is "the normal continuation" at all. After 9.ed5 cd5 10.Ba3, Black won't be able to castle and faces huge difficulties. When you surrender the bishop pair, you better place your central pawns on squares the opposite colour from your remaining bishop; also, you don't want to open the game too fast.

8...0-0 is logical, avoiding all that Ba3-nonsense. 9.e5 Re8 is not to be feared, and Black will develop solidly with ...d6, ...Re8, ...c5 and ...Bb7 (or ...Bd7-c6), trying to put pressure on e4, since he has no way of attacking the weakened pawns on the queenside (a2, c2, c3).

White's plan is more active. He can support his Pe4 and prepare a breakthrough with e4-e5. His plan may go 0-0, Bg5 (in case of ...h6, go back to h4, don't exchange), Qd2 (or Qf3-g3), Rae1, f4 and e5, opening files and diagonals. Alternatively, he may engineer e4-e5 without f2-f4, with support by the bishop from f4 or g3.

Note than the Bg5-Nf6-Qd8 pin is especially annoying since Black has no dark square bishop to break it, and damaging your king's shelter with ...g7-g5 or ...gf6 is not really what you want to do.

All in all, White has a small but clear advantage, and Black has a solid but passive position.


I think you got it basically right. White gets the bishop pair which in an open position like this, is a real advantage. Also black currently does not have any good squares for his pieces. Lastly, it is difficult for black to take advantage or to attack the doubled isolated pawn.

White's dark squared bishop could go to g5 where the pin of the knight is kind of annoying or to a3 where it might hinder black from castling.

Regarding your proposed continuation, I believe that after 7...Bxc3 8.bxc3 d5, white can play 9. e5 asking the knight where it wants to go. Also after black's d5 the a3-f8 diagonal gets weak and the bishop on a3 will be really strong.

  • +1. Remember that Pawns/squares are only weak if they can be attacked.
    – Philip Roe
    Jan 28, 2018 at 19:18
  • Thanks! This is very useful! After 7...Bxc3 8.bxc3 d5, I didn't want to play 9.e5 because in my database it scores better for Black. Black's good answers are 9...Ne4, and 9...Qe7. Especially 9...Qe7 puts me on bad mood, since I am using the Four Knights 5.Nc3 to avoid the complications in the main line, that includes exactly moves like e5, Qe7, Qe2.
    – LeibnizGW
    Jan 28, 2018 at 21:47

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