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In the Scotch, normally Black takes the d4 pawn. When Black doesn't, White is advised to take up more space in the center and play a slower, closed game, if I understand right.

In this sequence, Black responds by 4... Nd4. However, the engine's next recommendation surprises me -- rather than 5. Nxd4, the engine prefers 5. Nfd2, which at first glance seems to block in White's dark-squared bishop (in addition to giving up on the free pawn). The preference is pretty strong (2.56 vs 1.77, Stockfish at depth=32). I can't calculate this one out, any ideas?

[Event "?"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "?"]
[Round "?"]
[White "?"]
[Black "?"]
[Result "?"]
[Title "?"]
[FEN ""]
[StartPly "15"]
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 Bd6 4. d5 Nd4 
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  • 1
    Is Stockfish's preference for the unintuitive Nfd2? It is hard then to save the BN from c3 and a4.
    – Philip Roe
    Commented Apr 3 at 0:28

1 Answer 1

14

Black's knight is almost trapped - it's got literally nowhere to go after 5. c3. By avoiding the trade, therefore, White forces Black into contortions to avoid losing a piece:

  • 1...a6 2. a4! leaves the knight as trapped as before
  • After 1...f5 White ignores Black's sortie and plays 2. c3, winning the knight
  • That leaves 1...c6 as the only move that doesn't lose the piece - but then check out what happens to Black's pieces after 2. c3 Nb5 3. a4 Nc7 (this knight is really sad) 4. Nc4. Black's pieces are underdeveloped, congested, and have no future, giving White a powerful development advantage.

Stockfish evidently thinks White's dynamic advantage in the last line is worth more than a pawn (most experts would probably agree as well). But, at least for this human, there's nothing wrong with going for the pawn-up position after Nxd4. Black gets the development advantage, but White's position is still not bad, and having extra material is very comforting.

1
  • And there is the human reason too. It is easier to calculate if you can mostly restrict yourself to staying ahead in material while having a reasonable position. Computers can calculate even if there is only one correct move every turn, but humans cannot... Stockfish's evaluation is tailored for Stockfish's capabilities, not human capabilities.
    – user21820
    Commented Apr 4 at 2:21

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