Finnish Defense & Tournament Prep
Mr. Dahl wrote:
I’d like to ask about a certain Scandinavian Main Line variation I came up with. It is 1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5 3.Nc3 Qa5 4.d4 c6 5.Bd2 Qc7 (me and my friends playfully call this the Finnish Variation). Is it sound for Black? I’ve been using this variation quite a lot in the past ten years or so, but never asked a professional opinion about it.
My standard is below 2000. I have had lots of good results against those with low ratings, while stronger opponents often find a cure vs. my Scandinavian. But hey, if I get mostly wins as Black on my level, is it that bad? Still I’m not fully convinced it’s quite a sound version for Black, and this is why I’m contacting you.
I think I came up with this variation a long time ago, after hearing that Danish Grandmaster Bent Larsen played 4…c6.
My most common continuations are: if White plays his Knight to f3, I play …Bg4 and often I end up opening the h-file for a kingside attack – for example 6.Nf3 Bg4 7.h3 Bh5 (or …Bf5, which I nowadays prefer) 8.g4 Bg6 9.Ne5 e6 10.Nxg6 hxg6 and there’s that open h-file.
The …e6 move I use a lot in this Scandinavian in order to develop my black Bishop to d6 where it cooperates with the Queen on c7. That is especially the case when white castles kingside and I queenside. Another common line to break the white’s defense is a pawn storm coming from g- and h-files (more rarely from f-file).
So I think the Scandinavian offers surprise possibilities, but is it worth a closer look? Any additional information concerning the Scandinavian Defense (besides my main question) is highly appreciated.
Dear Mr. Dahl,
1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5 3.Nc3 Qa5 4.d4 c6 is a common enough move. In that case, 5.Nf3 (3658 games in the database!) and 5.Bc4 (1921 games) are the main replies. Your 5.Bd2, which makes perfect sense, is number three on the list with 468 games.
This move has been played 150 times, though nobody higher than 2267 has ever used it. Stronger players prefer 5…Bf5 and 5…Nf6.
When I saw 5…Qc7 I was reminded of another odd line that Andrew Martin dubbed “The Patzer Variation”: 1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5 3.Nc3 Qe5+?
You might be wondering what this beginner looking move has to do with your far more reasonable 3…Qa5 4.d4 c6 5.Bd2 Qc7. In my view, both strive to reach a safe Caro-Kann formation. For example, in the Patzer Variation we might see 1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5 3.Nc3 Qe5+ 4.Be2 c6 5.Nf3 Qc7 6.d4 Bf5 and Black hopes to complete development by …e6, …Nbd7, …Ngf6, …Be7 or …Bd6, and castles on one side or the other (sadly, after 7.0-0 e6 8.d5!! black’s in serious trouble).
While it’s true that 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Bf5 5.Nc3 Qc7 6.Nf3 e6 7.Be2 reaches the same basic position as that in the Patzer Variation (in both cases, White hasn’t placed his pieces on their most threatening squares), the Patzer position is two whole tempi behind the Caro order (and this makes the Patzer Variation unsound).
Kasparov chose 6.Bd3 in a simultaneous exhibition (vs. R.Kruse, New York, 2000), depriving black’s light-square Bishop use of f5: 6…Nf6 7.Nge2 Bg4 (A.Colovic (2459) – L.Rodriguez, San Sebastian 2006 saw Black try 7…e6. He got brutalized: 8.Ng3 a6 9.Qe2 Be7 10.0-0-0 0-0 11.Nce4 Nbd7 12.Ng5 Re8 13.h4 b5 [13...c5! would have kept him in the game] 14.Nh5 c5 15.Rh3 cxd4 16.Nxh7 Nxh7 17.Bxh7+ Kxh7 18.Nxg7 Rh8 19.Nxe6 Qe5 20.Qd3+ f5 21.Re1 Qf6 22.Nc7 Nc5 23.Qe2 Bd6 24.Qh5+ Kg7 25.Ne8+ Rxe8 26.Rxe8 Qf7 27.Qh8+, 1-0.) 8.h3 Bh5 9.f4 e6 10.g4 Bg6 11.f5 exf5 12.gxf5 Bh5 13.Bg5 Nbd7 14.Qd2 0-0-0 15.0-0-0 Re8 16.Rdf1 Bxe2 17.Nxe2 Bd6 18.Nc3 Qb6 19.Qf2 h6 20.Bd2 Qc7 21.Rhg1 Rhg8 22.a3 Nb6 23.Qf3 Nbd5 24.Nd1 Bh2 25.Rg2 Bd6 26.c4 Ne7 27.c5 Bxc5 28.dxc5, 1-0. Typical of a simul – Black (who was, of course, worse in the opening) was actually okay later in the game but got outplayed down the stretch.
Your recommended move. 6…Nf6 is much better, playing for that safe Caro-Kann I mentioned earlier. The key there is to swap off your light-squared Bishop for the f3-Knight, catch up on development, and hope that white’s two Bishops (and central space) can’t do you any harm. For example: 6…Nf6 7.Bd3 Bg4 8.h3 Bxf3 9.Qxf3 e6 10.0-0 (More testing is 10.0-0-0 Bd6 11.g4) 10…Nbd7 11.Rfe1 Bd6 and Black has a satisfactory position (you would love to eventually swap the dark-squared Bishops and then strive to prove that your Knight is better than his remaining Bishop).
7…Bf5 will lead to the same position after 8.g4 Bg6.
8.g4 Bg6 and now, instead of your 9.Ne5, White can play the much stronger 9.h4! when black’s already in serious trouble: 9…h5 (the incredibly ugly 9…f6 might be black’s best shot) 10.Ne5 Bh7 11.Qf3 (11.Bf4 and 11.g5 are also extremely strong) 11…f6 (11…e6 12.g5 Bf5 13.g6!) 12.Bc4! and nobody would want to play black’s side here.
Though better than the Patzer Variation, I don’t think 5…Qc7 is particularly good. Your idea of attacking white’s King is a common one in amateur chess, but it’s simply not realistic. However, if you find it’s effective against the people you play, and if you enjoy using this system (which you obviously do), then by all means continue doing so until the thrill is gone.
If you want to make it work at a slightly higher level, then try the ideas that I’ve mapped out (using concepts from the Caro-Kann in your Scandinavian). This, done right, gives you a solid and only slightly inferior position – fully playable and very conducive to outplaying many people.
Mr. Ongdaska wrote:
What is the best way to prepare for a tournament? I am going to participate in an open tournament that usually has expert and master players. But, I would like to prepare for this tournament so I can put up a fight against these players. I don’t care if I lose to them, but I don’t want to lose by simple tactics.
Dear Mr. Ongdaska,
There is no generic “best way.” Instead, you should cater a study program towards your particular needs. This means that the perfect study program for one person might be totally inappropriate for you. Thus, be honest about your flaws and weaknesses, and then do your best to fix them.
For example, if I was going to return to chess for one strong, special event, I would do the following personal analysis:
* I used to be a very good calculator, but now I can’t calculate at all.
* I used to have an almost eidetic memory, but now I’m lucky to remember where I live.
* I’m overweight and in terrible physical condition.
* Women used to flock to me when I was young and good-looking. This caused a non-stop distraction. Now they take one look in my direction and faint in horror (amazingly, their pets do the same thing).
* My openings are vintage 1995.
This is how these things would translate into a personalized study program:
I would love to learn the latest theoretical lines, but I would forget everything I studied within a few hours time. This means that playing the Najdorf as Black would be a suicidal choice. Instead, I’d take up the Petroff Defense against 1.e4 and retain the Slav as Black since it’s what I did when I retired (and it’s still as good as ever).
As White I’d switch to 1.Nf3 and go for concept lines over chaotic/tactical ones.
To accomplish the assimilation of this stuff, I would mix a few good books with the rapid study of tens of thousands of database games.
I’m confident in this phase of the game, especially since I would be thoroughly familiar with all typical structures and piece configurations that arise from the chosen opening systems. This takes me back to my database opening studies.
No need. I’ve always played endgames at a high level (I’ve blown my share too, but overall I was pretty effective in that phase of the game), and I don’t think my technique has taken a hit over the years.
Red Alert! I would spend a lot of time stripping the rust off my brain. Lots and lots of calculation exercises until I was a lean, mean, calculating machine.
Put … the … cheesecake … down!
Now pick it up (but keep mouth tightly closed)
Put … it … down … again!
Repeat 1,000 times a day until I’m buff and ripped.
Since many women injure themselves when they faint, I can avoid lawsuits by wearing a mask.
Mr. Ongdaska, as you can see, this was a personal creation, and you need to do the same thing. If you don’t know what your weaknesses are, hire a chess teacher to fill in the blanks. Once you know what needs to be fixed, fix it.
Please keep in mind that you need to be practical in relation to goals and time. This means that you can’t insist on making grandmaster after two months prep. Since you’re going to be facing experts and masters (a range of 2000 to 2399), do your best to prepare for players at that level; if you have 2000 level endgame skills, don’t bother with more endgame. If you feel your openings generally hold up against this group, don’t waste further time on that area (until that event is over). If tactics are your main downfall (which you hinted was the case), then do a massive ‘tactics only’ training camp – this will not only improve your tactics, but also your confidence.