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Scotch Four Knights Game: ECO C47

The Knight is knowledge how to fight
against his Princes enimies,
He neuer makes his walke outright,
But leaps and skips, in wilie wise,
To take by sleight a traitrous foe,
Might slilie seek their ouerthrowe.
    - Nicholas Breton (1542-1626), The Chesse Play

Introduction

The Scotch Four Knights Game derives its name from the Scotch Game (1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4), although it rarely occurs from that move order. This is one of the more intuitive openings derived from solid opening moves and ideas and is the sort of opening even neophytes to chess play without knowing the name. It leads to an open game with lots of tactical possibilities, but does not require the refined attacking skills of its more dangerous child.

The Scotch Four Knights is generally placed in the category of openings that new players enjoy, along with such notables as the Ruy Lopez, the Bishop's Opening, and the Vienna Game to name a few. Unfortunately, there is often scarce coverage of some of these in recent years owing to such factors as lack of popularity in high-level play and the increasing rarity of double king's pawn openings. Even most books aimed at new players these days fail to adequately cover the open games, assuming that a new player would feel comfortable in tricky unbalanced positions and thereby missing the forest for the trees.

Note: Since this is an opening often used by newer chess players, I have endeavored to make this writeup as clear as possible so that it has utility to the greatest number of possible players. If anything seems totally incomprehensible or simply could be further clarified, please let me know and I'll do what I can to elaborate on it. As always, all annotation is mine.

Definition

The Scotch Four Knights Game is typically reached by the following moves:

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. d4

As you can see in Diagram 1, all of the knights are developed and white immediately moves to blow open the center by threatening black's d5 pawn. From here, black must accept an open center or risk a difficult and perhaps losing position.


                         Diagram 1: After 4. d4
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |BR |   |BB |BQ |BK |BB |   |BR | 8
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |BP |BP |BP |BP |   |BP |BP |BP | 7
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |   |   |BN |   |   |BN |   |   | 6
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |   |   |   |   |BP |   |   |   | 5
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |   |   |   |WP |WP |   |   |   | 4
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |   |   |WN |   |   |WN |   |   | 3
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |WP |WP |WP |   |   |WP |WP |WP | 2
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |WR |   |WB |WQ |WK |WB |   |WR | 1
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                      A    B   C   D   E   F   G   H
                        

Main Lines

  • 4. ... exd4 5. Nxd4

    This is the main line and is seen in 90% of Scotch Four Knights Games. Black accepts the offered pawn and white immediately recaptures while threatening to take the knight on c6. The usual rule of "don't move a piece twice in the opening" is not violated here because black moved his e-pawn twice so white has not lost a tempo. The game normally continues with 5. ... Bb4 6. Nxc6 bxc6 7. Bd3 d5 8. exd5 cxd5 9. O-O O-O (see Diagram 2) now the center is wide open and most pieces are developed on both sides. White still has a center pawn, which is currently only contested by the errant knight on c3 who is likely to fall to the bishop in short order. From here, normal opening moves such as developing the dark square bishop to g5 will finish development and the game continues with equal chances for both sides.

    
                            Diagram 2: After 9. ... O-O
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |BR |   |BB |BQ |   |BR |BK |   | 8
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |BP |   |BP |   |   |BP |BP |BP | 7
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |   |   |   |   |   |BN |   |   | 6
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |   |   |   |BP |   |   |   |   | 5
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |   |BB |   |   |   |   |   |   | 4
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |   |   |WN |WB |   |   |   |   | 3
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |WP |WP |WP |   |   |WP |WP |WP | 2
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |WR |   |WB |WQ |   |WR |WK |   | 1
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                          A    B   C   D   E   F   G   H
                            
    

  • 4. ... Bb4 5. Nxe4

    This is a more varied response--although much more rare than the main line--with a few possibilities for black. After Nxe4 black will usually either take the e4 pawn with his knight or move his queen to e7. So we'll take a look at both of these lines.

    • 5. ... Nxe4 6. Qg4 Nxc3 7. Qxg7 Rf8 8. a3 Ba5

      Here (see Diagram 3 white ends up slightly better with less pawn islands and the beginnings of a kingside attack. It's still a very sharp position, though, and if white doesn't play perfectly, the advantage could easily swing to black. As you can see it's something of a precarious balancing act with the active pieces on both sides with plenty of chances to fall over. Normal continuations involve the immediate swapping of most pieces to go into the endgame.

      
                               Diagram 3: After 8. ... Ba5
                           +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                           |BR |   |BB |BQ |BK |BR |   |   | 8
                           +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                           |BP |BP |BP |BP |   |BP |WQ |BP | 7
                           +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                           |   |   |BN |   |   |   |   |   | 6
                           +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                           |BB |   |   |   |WN |   |   |   | 5
                           +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                           |   |   |   |WP |   |   |   |   | 4
                           +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                           |WP |   |BN |   |   |   |   |   | 3
                           +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                           |   |WP |WP |   |   |WP |WP |WP | 2
                           +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                           |WR |   |WB |   |WK |WB |   |WR | 1
                           +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                            A    B   C   D   E   F   G   H
                              
      

    • 5. ... Qe7 6. Nxc6 Qxe4+ 7. Qe2

      This (see Diagram 4) looks to be a stronger--at least more active and aggressive--continuation for black. Black moves his queen into active play which is subsequently headed off by the white queen pinning it on the e-file with plans of trading the dark square bishop for the knight on c3 and capturing the c6 knight with the d-pawn, thereby heading toward an uncertain endgame with fairly equal chances.

      
                               Diagram 4: After 7. Qe2
                           +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                           |BR |   |BB |BQ |BK |BB |   |BR | 8
                           +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                           |BP |BP |BP |BP |   |BP |BP |BP | 7
                           +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                           |   |   |BN |   |   |BN |   |   | 6
                           +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                           |   |   |   |   |BP |   |   |   | 5
                           +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                           |   |   |   |WP |WP |   |   |   | 4
                           +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                           |   |   |WN |   |   |WN |   |   | 3
                           +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                           |WP |WP |WP |   |   |WP |WP |WP | 2
                           +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                           |WR |   |WB |WQ |WK |WB |   |WR | 1
                           +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                            A    B   C   D   E   F   G   H
                              
      

In Closing

As you can see, the Scotch Four Knights Game is a fairly straightforward opening without a lot of lines resulting in a very open game with a lot of piece swapping. It's what is referred to as an "endgame opening" in that there is very little of what might be defined as a middlegame since many pieces are swapped out right away and both sides often barrel toward the endgame with haste.

It's a good opening to be aware of, as it's not entirely uncommon, and perhaps more importantly it is very light on theory since most of the lines involve common sense moves, and this will allow you to dodge more theoretical openings and move right into the meatier parts of chess.


Resources:
ChessBase 8.0 used to cull game statistics.

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