Scotch Gambit: The Complete Guide

Let me introduce you to my favorite chess opening: The Scotch Gambit.

What is the Scotch Gambit?

The Scotch Gambit is an opening that allows white to take the initiative quickly and create an open game.

The Scotch Gambit appears after the move order 1. e4 e5 2. Sf3 Sc6 4. d4 exd4 5. Bc4.

scotch gambit main position

This opening takes its name from one of its first appearances. The Edinburgh Chess Club used the Scotch Gambit during a correspondence match with the London Chess Club in the early 1800s.

The Scotch Gambit is a completely sound gambit that’s been played by top grandmasters such as Grischuk, Carlsen or Radjabov. It often transitions into the Two Knights Defense or the Giuoco Piano.

All variations where black keeps the extra pawn in the Scotch Gambit are favorable for white.

At the same time, it’s full of opening traps that black can fall into if he’s not careful.

Key Ideas in the Scotch Gambit

  • White plays d4 to open up files in the center and create an open and tactical game
  • White temporarily gives up the d4 pawn and strives for fast development instead

Common moves in the Scotch Gambit are:

  • c3, to provoke dxc3 and open the d-file
  • e5, to kick the knight on f6 away, grab more space in the center, and potentially open the e-file

In the following, I’ll show you some of the main lines and ideas of the Scotch Gambit. For a deeper look at the opening, I recommend this book.

Opening Traps in the Sotch Gambit

The following trap, a variation called the Haxo Gambit, has won me dozen of games:

Black plays 5. … Bc5. This is a logical move that you’ll face often because it protects the d4 pawn and develops a piece. It’s playable, but it’s a not a good move for black.

haxo gambit

White can respond with the powerful 6. c3!

scotch gambit haxo gambit variation

If black doesn’t capture the pawn now, it’ll leave white with a strong center after cxd4.

But if black takes the pawn, white can sacrifice the bishop with Bxf7!

scotch gambit trap

This move wins a pawn back and exposes the black king! After black captures the bishop with Kxf7, white follows up with Dd5+ and forks the king and bishop.

After that, the pawn on c3 will fall as well, unless black wants to capture on b2 and give white a massive lead in development after Bxb2 in addition to the weak black king.

White achieves material equality and the black king is weak.

Let’s look at a second trap, which comes out of a variation that’s called the london defense variation.

It appears after black plays 5. … Bb4+:

scotch gambit london defense

On first glance, this might look dangerous for white. But again, white can reply with 6. c3!

After 7. … dxc3, white simply castles away from the discovered check with 8. 0-0.

scotch double gambit

Now white gambits a second pawn in exchange for rapid development. In fact, after cxb2 and Bxb2, white achieved an improved version of the Danish Gambit and has the advantage.

scotch gambit chess activity

Stockfish evaluates this position with +0.3 – a position where you’re two pawns down and the evaluation is still in your favor is always fun to play!

Main Line of the Scotch Gambit

The main line of the Scotch Gambit is 5. … Nf6.

scotch gambit main line

White continues to be aggressive and attack the knight with 6. e5. Black has to know the counter punch 6. … d5.

Neither capturing the d5 pawn en passant or capturing the knight on f6 is good for white. Therefore, white plays the move 7. Bb5 to get the bishop out of danger and to pin the knight on c6.

scotch gambit main continuation

After 7. … Ne4 8. Nxe4 Bd7 9. Bxc6 bxc6 10. 0-0, white has regained the pawn and created an unbalanced position with chances for both sites.

scotch gambit chess opening

White’s plan from this position will be to play f3 and f4, to support the pawn on e5 and gain space on the king side. White will also try to gain control of the square c5 with moves like Be3, Nd2, Nb3 and a potential queen maneuver Qf3-Qc3.

Black, on the other hand, will try to bully the white pieces by pushing the c- and e-pawns with c5, e4 and c4.

Is the Scotch Gambit a Good Opening?

The Scotch Gambit is a fantastic opening for club players and a good opening for chess professionals.

What I like about the Scotch Gambit is the fact that it’s an aggressive opening that gambles a pawn in a few variations, but at the same time, it’s an opening that can be played against master players with confidence.

This gambit is solid, which is not something that can be said for most gambits. Most other gambits fall under the category tricks only, and can only be played against weak players.

I recommend the Scotch Gambit to any chess player who’s looking for open and interesting positions.

If you’re interested in more openings, read our article about the Scandinavian Defense.

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If you want to dive deep into the Scotch Gambit, get the book “The Scotch Gambit: An Energetic and Aggressive System for White”. You can check the current price here.


What’s the move order of the Scotch Gambit?

The Scotch Gambit is an opening that can be played after 1. e4 e5. The next moves are 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 exd4 4. Bc4

Do grandmasters play the Scotch Gambit?

Grandmasters like Vachier Lagrave, Hikaru Nakamura or Magnus Carlsen have played the Scotch Gambit in tournament games.