Is the Modern Scotch an under-rated opening?

by Priyadarshan Banjan
10/3/2016 – Evgeny Tomashevsky was playing the Modern Scotch with black in the first round of the 2012 Tal Memorial. He lost the game to Teimour Radjabov. Fast forward to 2016 – Tomashevsky playing the Modern Scotch with black, once again, this time against Nepomniachtchi. He loses again! We investigate both the games in this article, with analysis by Teimour Radjabov and Alejandro Ramirez. And we show you a DVD that presents the white strategies in detail and also outlines a dynamic way for Black to counter the latest trends.

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Is the Modern Scotch an under-rated opening?

Priyadarshan Banjan - ChessBase India

You may have heard of the Modern Scotch Opening. The Scotch has its genesis in the swashbuckling games of the old masters. A simple Google search will reveal you that this opening was first played in a correspondence match between Edinburgh and London, back in in 1824 (!). If all the king pawn openings were characters and made to stand in a line, Scotch is like the youngest kid of the lot, with big brother Ruy Lopez standing tall.

Even the Giuoco Piano is more popular than this aggressive opening, which in recent times has evolved into an alternative to the Spanish. Most top players avoided playing the Scotch because they thought that it is extremely attacking but has shaky positional foundations.

Not 3.Bb5, not 3.Bc4, but 3.d4! The Modern Scotch

Why should you play the Scotch?

GM Parimarjan Negi is known for being the second-youngest grandmaster in chess history, sandwiched between the 2016 world-title contenders Sergey Karjakin and Magnus Carlsen. He was on the fast-track to become an elite grandmaster before he found other interesting things to do in life. He is currently studying in Stanford, but you must pay attention when he speaks about chess. What does he think about this opening?

Negi: Although it has some tricky, fun moves with early exchanges of pieces, the king pulled to the centre, and an unusual, unique structure, the Scotch actually offers White a sound positional basis around which to build up the game, while Black is left without many alternatives. It might suit particularly players who do not like symmetry lines like the Petroff, for example.

Maybe, this is why you should play the Scotch? Following up on the advice of his long-term trainer, Nigel Short, Negi discovered that studying ‘the Scotch’ offers a better understanding of more general facets of modern chess theory.

Kasparov gives birth to the Modern Scotch

The Scotch was an opening for the romantics. It was a popular choice of hackers who liked attacking and destroying clueless opponents. Then, with the advent of the positional chess school, the opening almost died. Kasparov came to its rescue and brought it into prominence by defeating Karpov in the Game 16 of the 1990 World Championship Match.

The opening saw a resurgence when Magnus Carlsen took it up to defeat Etienne Bacrot at the Nanjing tournament in 2010. Then, in the 2012 Tal Memorial, Teimour Radjabov used the Modern Scotch to defeat Evgeny Tomashevsky. And that is the crux of our article...

Tal Memorial 2012

GM Evgeny Tomashevsky (2731) of Russia [Photo: Eteri Kublashvili]

Circa 2012, in the first round of the Tal Memorial, Tomashevsky was starting with the black pieces against Teimour Radjabov. The Azerbaijani chose to open with the Modern Scotch.

[Event "Moscow Tal Memorial 7th"] [Site "Moscow"] [Date "2012.06.08"] [Round "1"] [White "Radjabov, Teimour"] [Black "Tomashevsky, Evgeny"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C45"] [WhiteElo "2784"] [BlackElo "2738"] [Annotator "Radjabov,T"] [PlyCount "61"] [EventDate "2012.06.08"] [EventType "tourn"] [EventRounds "9"] [EventCountry "RUS"] [EventCategory "22"] [SourceTitle "CBM 149"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "2012.07.17"] {The first round of the Tal Memorial. After an exciting blitz the day before, everybody was ready to show that the classical part of the game, classical chess is no less entertaining.} 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 exd4 4. Nxd4 Bc5 5. Nb3 Bb6 6. Nc3 d6 7. Qe2 {This strange-looking move is quite understandable, White wants to develop his c1-bishop to e3, so the queen goes to e2 to support it and avoid doubling of pawns.} Nge7 8. Be3 O-O 9. O-O-O f5 {The most natural, Black is challenging White's central e4-pawn, undermining White's plans for central domination.} 10. exf5 Bxf5 (10... Nxf5 $5) 11. h3 $5 {Trying to play g4 without ruining the structure.} ({As the immediate} 11. g4 {would run into} Bxe3+ 12. fxe3 Be6 $5 {when Black achieves an outpost for the knight on e5 and probably an equal game.}) 11... Bd7 $5 {Anticipating g4 and thus opening the f-file for the rook which is helpful in case of g4 let's say, as Black will be able to have something like...} 12. Qd2 $5 {One more strange move, but I didnt want to take on b6 and open a line at the same time as the bishop on f1 is asking for air.} ({...} 12. g4 Ng6 $5 13. Nd5 Kh8 {and even though White is maybe a little better, but I am not sure about White's pure intentions in the centre, meanwhile Black will start to harass the pawns on g4 and f2 with ... Qh4.}) 12... Bxe3 13. Qxe3 Kh8 (13... Qe8 $5 {I thought it's the best move, as now Black waits for Bc4+ meanwhile preparing ...Qf7 attacking f2 with tempo and ...Rae8 to follow.} 14. f4 $5 (14. g4 $5) (14. Bc4+ $6 Kh8 15. Rhe1 Qg6 { attacking on g2 and I am not sure Qg3 is that good.}) 14... Qf7 15. g3 Nf5 16. Qf2 Rae8 17. Nd5 $36) 14. Bd3 (14. f4 $5 Nf5 15. Qf3 Qh4 16. g4 Qg3 17. Qxg3 Nxg3 18. Rg1 Nxf1 19. Rgxf1 Rf7 $14) 14... Qe8 15. f4 (15. f3 {This strange looking move is the computer's first line, let's see further:} Qf7 16. Rhe1 Rae8 17. Kb1 Nd5 {and I don't understand why White should be better?!}) 15... Qf7 (15... Nf5 16. Qd2 Ng3 17. Rhe1 Qf7 18. Re3 Qxf4 19. Nd5 Qg5 20. Nxc7 Rad8 21. Nb5 $14) 16. Rhf1 Rae8 17. Qd2 Nb4 18. Be4 {White's plan is clear g4-f5. Black has to take measures against it} Bc6 (18... a5 $5 19. Kb1 (19. a3 a4 20. Nd4 Ned5 21. axb4 Nxc3 22. Qxc3 Rxe4 23. f5 Rfe8 24. Kb1 {with a fighting middlegame}) 19... a4 20. Nc1 $5) 19. Rde1 $6 (19. Kb1 $5 {deserved serious attention, the position with 2 pieces for the rook looks better for White and the rest is probably pressing.} Bxe4 20. Nxe4 Ned5 21. Ng5 Qg6 22. Rfe1 $1 Nxc2 (22... Rxe1 23. Rxe1 Nxf4 24. Qxb4 Qxg5 25. Qxb7 Qg3 26. Rd1 $14) 23. Rxe8 Rxe8 24. Qxc2 Qxc2+ 25. Kxc2 Ne3+ 26. Kd2 Nxd1 27. Kxd1 $14) 19... Bxe4 (19... Nbd5 $1 {Certainly best, Black attacks f4-c3 and prepares ...Nf6 for an appropriate moment.} 20. Nd1 $13) 20. Nxe4 Qc4 {It looks tempting, but in fact doesnt achieve its goal, now Black's pieces will start their retreat.} 21. a3 Nbc6 22. Qc3 Qd5 $2 (22... Qxc3 $1 23. Nxc3 Kg8 24. g4 $14) (22... Qb5 23. Qf3 $14) 23. Nbd2 $1 {Now Black is suffering, White has regrouped his knights and g4-f5 is in the air, with no counterplay on the queenside, Black is doomed to a passive defence.} Nf5 (23... Ng6 24. g3 $16) 24. g4 Nfd4 25. Qd3 $1 b5 (25... Qa2 26. Nb3 $1 $16) 26. Kb1 {Unnecessary prophylaxis, Nc3 was much better.} (26. Nc3 $1 $16 {was already much better for White! I thought attack is more important here, but in fact it just wins a pawn.} Qg2 27. Nxb5 Nxb5 28. Qxb5 $18) 26... b4 27. a4 $1 (27. Ng5 $5) 27... h6 28. Nb3 (28. Nf3 $1 {Smoother!} a5 29. f5 { and the knight is trapped on d4 as in the game.}) 28... Re7 $4 (28... Re6 $1 { was the only move! But still Black is doing very badly. The idea is that now, if White plays like in the game, with Ned2 Black has} 29. Re3 $1 (29. Ned2 Rxf4 $1 {Here in the game Rxe7 would win, but now, after say Rxe6} 30. Rxe6 $2 (30. Rxf4 $1 {is still much better...} Rxe1+ 31. Ka2 $16) 30... Rxf1+ 31. Nxf1 Qxe6 32. Nxd4 Nxd4 33. Qxd4 Qe1+ $11 {which makes the whole difference!}) 29... Kg8 30. h4 Rfe8 (30... a5 31. g5 Rf5 32. Nbd2 $1 $18 (32. Ng3 Nxb3 33. Nxf5 Nd2+ 34. Kc1 Qxd3 35. cxd3 Rxe3 36. Kxd2 $16)) 31. Rfe1) 29. Ned2 $1 $18 {Ends the battle roughly.} Rxe1+ 30. Rxe1 g5 31. f5 {Black is helpless vs Re4-Nxd4.} 1-0

Tal Memorial 2016

Ian Nepomniachtchi (right, with Sergei Shipov) decided to copy Radjabov! [Photo: Eteri Kublashvili]

Who would have thought that history could repeat itself? This time, it was the first round of the 2016 Tal Memorial. Tomashevsky lost again to the Modern Scotch, this time against GM Ian Nepomniachtchi!

Nepomniachtchi-Tomashevsky (Analysis by Alejandro Ramirez)

[Event "10th Tal Mem 2016"] [Site "Moscow RUS"] [Date "2016.09.26"] [Round "?"] [White "Nepomniachtchi, I."] [Black "Tomashevsky, E."] [Result "1-0"] [WhiteElo "2740"] [BlackElo "2731"] [PlyCount "45"] [EventDate "2016.??.??"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 exd4 4. Nxd4 {Nepo has been using the Scotch lately, including two victories against Chinese players in Danzhou and being held to a draw by Brunello in the Olympiad. It must not have come as a surprise to Tomashevsky.} Nf6 5. Nxc6 bxc6 6. e5 Qe7 7. Qe2 Nd5 8. c4 Ba6 {Even though this was played almost exclusively for some time, the move 8...Nb6 has become more popular in recent years. Both should be perfectly playable for black.} 9. b3 g6 10. f4 (10. g3 {is the other idea in the position and leads to entirely different lines.}) 10... Bg7 $2 {Is this a mistake? It is the most popular move, as it has been played over 200 times, and by a couple strong players. The computers hate this move, and it has a very bad score on the database (61% for White). Not only that, but all the top grandmasters choose something else (Kasparov chose f6, while Jakovenko chose g5). Perhaps it is this early that we can point out where things started to go wrong for Tomashevsky.} 11. Qf2 Nf6 (11... Nb6 12. Ba3 Qe6 13. Nd2 $6 d6 14. O-O-O O-O 15. Ne4 dxe5 $1 {Gave Black compensation for the exchange (though he eventually lost) in Macieja-Kryvoruchko, 2012. That being said, White can improve on Nd2?!}) 12. Ba3 (12. Be2 {also looks quite annoying for black.}) 12... d6 $6 (12... Ng4 $1 {is probably Black's best, as in Shabalov-Granda Zuniga from 2005.}) 13. Nc3 { Already Black has huge problems. The threat of 0-0-0 with pressure on d6 is not easy to handle.} O-O (13... Qe6 14. Be2 dxe5 15. O-O {looks extremely risky. Black's king is completely stuck in the center.}) 14. O-O-O Ne8 15. g3 { simple chess is strong. Notice that due to the pin on a3-e7, there is no way that Black can break the bind in the center. The simple threat of Bg2 is hard to parry already. Black doesn't have the luxury of playing c5 either.} Bb7 ( 15... c5 16. Bg2 Rb8 17. Rhe1 {and e5 is still untouchable.}) (15... Qe6 16. Bg2 Bb7 17. Rhe1 {is miserable.}) 16. Bg2 f6 17. exd6 $1 Nxd6 (17... cxd6 18. Rhe1 Qd8 19. f5 $18 {is surprisingly less disastrous than the game.}) 18. c5 { The knight has no good squares to go to.} Nf5 (18... Nb5 19. Nxb5 {is winning due to the pin.}) (18... Nf7 19. Rhe1 {immediately traps the queen.}) (18... Ne8 19. Rhe1 Qf7 20. Bf1 {is the same as the game.}) 19. Rhe1 Qf7 20. Bf1 { The game is over. There is no way to prevent Bc4 - not only is it a pin, but it just traps the queen on that square!} Rfd8 21. Rxd8+ Rxd8 22. Bc4 Rd5 23. Qe2 {Black loses the exchange and his position is still bad. Absolutely demolition.} 1-0

The Modern Scotch Opening
by Parimarjan Negi

  1. The Scotch has long been associated with exciting play, although people often doubt it’s positional base.

  2. But the opening has evolved from the swashbuckling games of the 19th century to become a sound, but aggressive, alternative to the evergreen Spanish.

  3. In his first Fritz Trainer DVD, Parimarjan Negi looks at the latest revolution in Scotch theory that has completely changed white’s plans, and once again brought back the interest of the world’s elite.

Order the Modern Scotch
by Parimarjan Negi in the ChessBase Shop

Negi presents not only the white strategies in detail but also outlines a dynamic way for Black to counter this latest trend.

If you want a strong opening to play against 1.e5 e5, then this DVD is undoubtedly for you. It will avoid the well-known theoretical lines of the Ruy Lopez and the Giuoco Piano. More importantly, you will get an opening where you are better prepared than your opponent!


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Priyadarshan Banjan is a 23-year-old club player from India. He works as an editor for ChessBase News and ChessBase India. He is a chess fanatic and an avid fan of Vishy Anand. He also maintains a blog on a variety of topics.
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