The Scandinavian Defense is a common beginner chess opening, allowing black to immediately challenge White’s center and activate his queen. After the move 1. e4, Black does not make the preparatory …c6 or …e6 moves of the Caro-Kann or French Defense, but immediately goes for 1… d5.
It is a surprisingly popular beginner chess opening as Black is aiming at attacking possibilities and little opening theory.
Moreover, the Scandinavian allows Black to get his desired position without anti-Scandinavian variations (such as against the Open Sicilian, which can be avoided in many ways).
With clear-cut plans and just a few variations to study, the Scandinavian seems a good option. So, how to play against it?
First of all, the Scandinavian Defense is only rarely used at higher levels, and for good reason. Although you still see elite Grandmasters like Alexey Dreev and Viswanathan Anand playing it as a surprise weapon from time to time, White is able to generate very dangerous threats very early in the opening if they play very actively and with a clear plan in mind.
One general idea is to develop pieces that threaten Black’s queen that has ventured out into the open, and work to get a knight into e5.
In this article we’ll be examining the main line of the Scandinavian Defense with 1. e4 d5 2. exd5 Qxd5 3. Nc3 Qa5. There are other principal continuations that Black can employ, however, the ideas presented in this article should overlap and transpose very well with different move orders by Black.
Jamming Black With An Early Ne5 Is Critical
Let’s take a closer look at some concrete variations against one of the most frequently-played beginner chess openings:
Black’s main idea in the Scandinavian Defense is that he will rapidly liquidate White’s e4-pawn and then maintain counterplay due to the active placement of his queen. One of the best ideas for White is to try to take advantage of Black’s alleged strong queen by harassing it, developing the White pieces with tempo.
White does not have to play Bd2 immediately, but White can take a somewhat round-about approach by playing a multi-purpose move like Ne5. Jamming Black with an early Ne5, results in uncomfortable development, as Black is no longer able to smoothly play …Bg4.
If Black tries to exchange the knight on e5 with …Nbd7, White is able to smoothly maneuver the knight to Nc4, hitting the Black queen with tempo.
If Black tries to continue developing normally with an early …Bf5, we recommend the following basic set-up for White to start creating pressure and threats as fast as possible in the opening.
Accurately Attacking the Scandinavian Defense
Ilya Smirin plays the opening very well in the below example, immediately putting pressure on Black with 7. g4!?, 8. Ne5, and 10. h4!?. Facing such aggressive play in the opening, Black responds indecisively and obtains a nearly lost position after only 14 moves.
Smirin’s play in this game is a perfect example of how to destroy the Scandinavian Defense with active play and rapid threats. After 14. d5! White rips open the center by taking advantage of Black’s exposed queen on a5.
Black attempts to hold on, however after 19. Bh3+ and 20. Nd5! White wins a decisive amount of material and the game.
What If Black Exchanges White’s f3 Knight?
In the example below, Judit Polgar perfectly demonstrates how to crack the Scandinavian Defense. As opposed to the above game with Ilya Smirin, Polgar’s opponent does not retreat the bishop to h5 but rather exchanges the potentially dangerous White knight with 6…Bxf3.
Polgar develops with a straightforward plan, calmly placing pressure on Black’s queen with 8. Bd2 and immediately castling queenside to begin attacking operations in the center and kingside.
Polgar’s plan works excellently, as she is able to instantly overwhelm black with 10. g4!? and 11. h4! – accurately taking advantage of Black’s lack of development due to so many Queen moves early in the opening.
After 15. g6, Black is strategically lost and Polgar proceeds to finish the game with a precise attack.
Conclusion – Beating Beginner Chess Openings – The Scandinavian Defense
The Scandinavian Defense is one of the most popular beginner chess openings. However, it has a major problem: the Black queen gets exposed and White is going to gain time developing his minor pieces with tempo.
So, if White plays aggressively he can quickly have a lead in development.
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