The Safest Scandinavian by Vassilios Kotronias
The book is one of the latest additions to my chess library, as well as one of the most impressive ones.
The target audience of the book is class players with limited time for opening preparation, but however this does not mean the book is short on analytical work. Quite the contrary it is full of well analysed lines, and the expected high quality Grandmaster view on things is present throughout the book.
The opening choice is made because of several reasons: First, the resulting positions in virtually all major lines is similar, and has to do with the handling of the typical Caro Formation. The late Bent Larsen had claimed (tongue in cheek, as usual) that the Scandinavian is “an improved Caro”, which of course is debatable. But there is no denying that white’s only chance for an advantage is entering those Caro formations (everything else is just toothless), while a Caro player has to deal with the Panov, the advance variation (almost the main line currently), the two knights variation and a few interesting oddities. Actually in a couple of sidelines Black can replace his usual Caro fortress for the sake of a very active setup with …Nc6, …Bg4 and a quick …0-0-0, putting direct pressure to white’s center (and d4 in particular), and Vassilis deals with these lines in exemplary fashion.
Please notice that this is not another openings book where a titled player advocates something outside his repertoire: while Vassilis initially tried to bust the Scandinavian from white’s perspective, he was convinced in advance that Tiviakov’s main approach against 1.e4 was entirely sound, and started playing the Scandinavian as Black. And of course, the content is very different than the one in Smerdon’s Scandinavian (another very good book, by the way): While Smerdon advocates very sharp, borderline sound lines, where Black risks a lot, Kotronias has focused on simplicity, solidity and objective soundness.
Surprisingly enough, his choice against the reckless Blackmar-Diemer gambit (1.e4 d5 2.d4?!) is the same as Smerdon’s, for more or less the same reasons: Black picks a line where he does not attempt to refute the gambit, but in return he gets an easy to handle position, with plenty of play left on the board (actually their suggestions deviate already at move six, and I find both Smerdon’s 6…Nxc3 and Kotronias’ 6…Nd6 quite convincing, and offering Black the most comfortable side of an equal position.
The book focuses exclusively on Tiviakov’s pet line 3…Qd6, where two more older book exist (by Melts and Sergey Kasparov, respectively). The pioneer Melts book tries to deal with “everything”, is chaotic in nature, and leaves a lot to be desired. The Kasparov book is quite consistent, but rather shallow regarding actual opening analyses- it’s more of a collection of annotated games, and advices. The Kotronias book, in comparison, is thorough, easy to read and understand, and while it’s aimed at class players it can be also used as reference by players of the 2200+ league.
The author’s original ideas are mainly to be found in two of the recent and most threatening white attempts, namely (3.Nc3 Qd6 4.d4 Nf6 5.Nf3 c6) 6.h3!? and 6.Ne5 Nbd7 7.f4!? His suggestions are not very well approved by the silicon brains, but quite honestly, I would trust Vassilis’ chess instinct over the world’s strongest engine running on a 48-core beast anytime! Chess is much, much more than calculating tactical lines in super speed, and neglecting several chess fundamentals for the sake of a certain centipawn greediness… or at least, my 3-year experience in serious correspondence chess has taught me so. In any case, his ideas were thoroughly checked with an engine, and the silicon brains after a few moves contradicted with their initial evaluations.
To sum up, Vassilis has managed to form a complete Black repertoire against 1.e4 which is suitable for players of any strength in just 220 pages, which is a remarkable achievement in itself. Sadly enough, the book is intended to be one of his last, since the author has already declared his intention to end his chess writer’s career very soon.
Would I recommend it? Well… while initially I was extremely sceptical about the value of an opening’s book at the computer era, especially for class players, this one is so well written and laid-out, that it has to gain my very warm recommendation!
This is the first, and (unfortunately) next to last book by Kotronias authored and published by Semko Semkov and the Bulgarian publisher “Chess Stars”, and it comes at a very attractive layout, and price. A new (and last) one titled "Attacking the flexible Sicilians" will be published in a couple of weeks.