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Scandinavian Defense: ECO B01

"I don't know what I am going to play, so how can she know what I am going to play?"
- GM Arthur Bisguier (1929 - ?)

Introduction

Perhaps you've heard the old chess maxim "Don't bring your queen out too early" or maybe you saw Searching for Bobby Fischer and heard Ben Kingsley as Bruce Pandolfini chanting that mantra to a young Josh Waitzkin throughout the movie. Well, I want you to forget all about that and suspend your disbelief, because I'm going to show you that it's perfectly acceptable to bring your queen out as early as the second move.

The Scandinavian Defense, once known as the Center-Counter Game, is an excellent answer for black to 1. e4. While it seems to be getting a little heavy on theory of late (from seeing a lot of Grandmaster play), it is far easier to learn than anything playable in the Sicilian lines, or most other replies to 1. e4 and often leads to very interesting and unbalanced positions with chances for both sides.

Note: This writeup is intended not intended as an exhaustive treatment of this opening, as that would take many, many books. It's a survey of a few primary lines and their respective ideas so that one can make an educated decision as to whether to pursue further study of the Scandinavian. All annotation herein is mine.

Definition

The defining moves of the Scandinavian Defense are:

1. e4 d5


                         Diagram 1: After 1. ... d5
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |BR |BN |BB |BQ |BK |BB |BN |BR | 8
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+                     
                     |BP |BP |BP |   |BP |BP |BP |BP | 7
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   | 6
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |   |   |   |BP |   |   |   |   | 5
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |   |   |   |   |WP |   |   |   | 4
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   | 3
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |WP |WP |WP |WP |   |WP |WP |WP | 2
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                     |WR |WN |WB |WQ |WK |WB |WN |WR | 1
                     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                      A    B   C   D   E   F   G   H
                        

Black immediately challenges white's foray into the center with this aggressive move. In this writeup we'll take a look at white's normal reply, 2. exd51. Now black has two choices: 2. ... Qxd5 or 2. ... Nf6. In my experience, Nf6 defeats the entire purpose of playing d5 to begin with; while it saves the tempo lost from the queen-chasing Nc3, it seems far too passive a follow-up to the aggressive first move and tends to lead to transpositions into other openings.

Lines with 2. ... Qxd5

  • 3. Nc3 Qa5 4. d4

    This is currently considered the main line in the Scandinavian Defense. The main line continues with 4. ... Nf6 5. Nf3 c6 (further preventing the advance of white's d-pawn and giving the queen a back doo--out of which to run--if necessary) 6. Bc4 Bf5 7. Bd2 e6 (see Diagram 2). As you can see at this point, white's main plan in this line is to increase pressure on d5. Fortunately, black can meet much of it, but the queen sitting uneasily on a5 leaves up to two further tempi to be lost if white plays perfectly. This line is still quite playable for black, though, so don't be afraid of it unless you are playing Garry Kasparov2.

  • 
                             Diagram 2: After 7. ... e6
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |BR |BN |   |   |BK |BB |   |BR | 8
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |BP |BP |   |   |   |BP |BP |BP | 7
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |   |   |BP |   |BP |BN |   |   | 6
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |BQ |   |   |   |   |BB |   |   | 5
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |   |   |WB |WP |   |   |   |   | 4
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |   |   |WN |   |   |WN |   |   | 3
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |WP |WP |WP |WB |   |WP |WP |WP | 2
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |WR |   |   |WQ |WK |   |   |WR | 1
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                          A    B   C   D   E   F   G   H
                            
    
    

  • 3. Nc3 Qd6

    This line is relatively new and short on theory, although a book was recently published on the subject3. The obvious advantage is that the queen remains in a far more active position which also covers the d-file directly. This line normally continues with 4. d4 Nf6 5. Nf3 a6 (see Diagram 3. This is a prophylactic move preventing the advance of the knight on c3 and the f1 bishop. It also helps leave the nice c6 square open for black's b8 knight, as well as preventing the potentially fatal knight pin on Nf6 with white using Bb5 and d5.). I think this is black's strongest reply to Nc3, but only time will tell if future analysis will prevent a bust.

  •                          Diagram 3: After 5. ... a6
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |BR |BN |BB |   |BK |BB |   |BR | 8
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |   |BP |BP |   |BP |BP |BP |BP | 7
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |BP |   |   |BQ |   |BN |   |   | 6
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   | 5
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |   |   |   |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
                            
    

  • 3. Nc3 Qd8

    While this line has obvious weaknesses, not the least of which is wasting a lot of opening time, I'm including it in this writeup due to the fact that it's quite playable at amateur level. If you're not comfortable with your queen standing around waiting to retreat somewhere, you might give this line a whirl. Normal continuations are similar to the previous lines. 4. Nf3 Nf6 5. d4 (see Diagram 4) with white hoping to take you to task on your tempo-burning early in the opening by playing normal developing moves.

  •                          Diagram 4: After 5. ... d4
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |BR |BN |BB |BQ |BK |BB |   |BR | 8
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |BP |BP |BP |   |BP |BP |BP |BP | 7
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |   |   |   |   |   |BN |   |   | 6
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   | 5
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |   |   |   |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
                            
    

Lines with 2. ... Nf6

  • 3. d4

    This is the main line in the 2. ... Nf6 Scandinavian. By moving the pawn to d4, white asserts itself in the center, without wasting time worrying about supporting the pawn on d5. The normal continuation is 3. ... Nxd5 4. Nf3 g6 (See Diagram 5. Preparing for a kingside fianchetto and castle). White can also reply to the pawn capture with the more aggressive 4. c4 (see Diagram 6), which drives the black knight to b6 and broadens white's pawn center.

  •                          Diagram 5: After 4. ... g6
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |BR |BN |BB |BQ |BK |BB |   |BR | 8
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |BP |BP |BP |   |BP |BP |   |BP | 7
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |   |   |   |   |   |   |BP |   | 6
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |   |   |   |BN |   |   |   |   | 5
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |   |   |   |WP |   |   |   |   | 4
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |   |   |   |   |   |WN |   |   | 3
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |WP |WP |WP |   |   |WP |WP |WP | 2
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |WR |WN |WB |WQ |WK |WB |   |WR | 1
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                          A    B   C   D   E   F   G   H
                            
    

                               Diagram 6: After 4. c4
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |BR |BN |BB |BQ |BK |BB |BN |BR | 8
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |BP |BP |BP |   |BP |BP |BP |BP | 7
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   | 6
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |   |   |   |BN |   |   |   |   | 5
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |   |   |WP |WP |   |   |   |   | 4
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   | 3
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |WP |WP |   |   |   |WP |WP |WP | 2
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |WR |WN |WB |WQ |WK |WB |WN |WR | 1
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                          A    B   C   D   E   F   G   H
                            
    

  • 3. c4

    The move c4 defends the lonely pawn on d5 and sets up for a more interesting continuation (for both sides) than in the main line. This line normally continues with 3. ... c6 4. d4 cxd5 5. Nc3 (see Diagram 7) with a highly volatile center and potential for sharp tactical play for both sides.

                             Diagram 7: After 5. Nc3
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |BR |BN |BB |BQ |BK |BB |   |BR | 8
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |BP |BP |   |   |BP |BP |BP |BP | 7
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |   |   |   |   |   |BN |   |   | 6
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |   |   |   |BP |   |   |   |   | 5
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |   |   |WP |WP |   |   |   |   | 4
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |   |   |WN |   |   |   |   |   | 3
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |WP |WP |   |   |   |WP |WP |WP | 2
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                         |WR |   |WB |WQ |WK |WB |WN |WR | 1
                         +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
                          A    B   C   D   E   F   G   H
                            
    

In closing

As you can see, the move 1. ... d5 is flexible, aggressive, and highly playable. If you wish to study this opening further there are a some books out on the topic, though many are out-of-print. I expect given the high amount of play it has seen over the last few years, the quantity of analysis books should increase soon. Although all you really need is a good (read: large and high-quality) chess database with plenty of games to be able to quickly check out various lines and see how you should play and what mistakes you shouldn't make.


1 Any other reply would almost certainly transpose into another opening line, which is outside the scope of this writeup.

2 Kasparov's score against this line as of 2003 was 11.5/12 according to ChessBase. This really should not be discouraging though, since his scores against most openings and people are very high.

3 Scandinavian Defense: The Dynamic 3. ... Qd6 by Michael Melts. ISBN: 1888690119. I have not read this book, nor even flipped through it, and therefore cannot recommend it. Like any thematic opening book, take a good look at its contents before you buy it.


Resources:
ChessBase 8.0 used for gathering line statistics.

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