Scandinavian Defense

  • Last updated on 9/4/15, 7:28 AM.

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The Scandinavian Defense (also known as the Center Counter) is the chess opening characterized by the first moves 1.e4 d5. Although played by quite a few grandmasters over the years, the Scandinavian is rarely played at the highest levels of chess. Although the Scandinavian is not played much by grandmasters, it is generally considered to be an opening that is easy to learn and worth trying out for beginners and club level players. 

Main variations

After 1. e4 d5, white usually continues with 2. exd5 when there is a major split between two choices for black. After 2... Qxd5, white usually continues 3. Nc3 when there is again a split between the popular 3... Qa5 and 3... Qd6 and some minor alternatives such as 3... Qe5+ and 3... Qd8.

The variation 3... Qa5 is considered the classical main line. It has enjoyed steady popularity at club level throughout the years, but it has not been played by grandmasters a lot. One famous example of this variation being used in top level chess is the game Kasparov vs. Anand in their match in 1995, in which Anand managed to get a good position out of the opening as black but still lost.

The other variation, 3... Qd6, has enjoyed a big increase in popularity lately. Not only are club players attracted to its dynamic and refreshing nature, but also some grandmasters such as GM Sergei Tiviakov play this variation regularly. Even former World Champion GM Vladimir Kramnik tried this variation at the 2009 World Blitz Championship, where he used it in 14 of his 21 black games, scoring 4 wins, 3 draws and 7 losses.

Instead of 2... Qxd5, black has also played 2... Nf6, also known as the Marshall Gambit. Black intends to capture on d5 with the knight instead of the queen. Some common subvariations are 3. c4 c6 4. d4 cxd5 (transposing to the Panov-Botvinnik attack of the Caro-Kann), 3. c4 e6?! (known as the Icelandic Gambit), 3. Nc3 (transposing to a variation of the Alekhine's Defense), 3. d4 Bg4?! (the Portuguese variation), and 3. d4 Nxd5 is generally considered to be the main line.

Some statistics

After 1. e4, the move 1... d5 is the 8th most played move in the Master Games database. Out of the nearly 600,000 games beginning with 1. e4, only 2% of the games (almost 13,000 games) continues with 1... d5. In those games, white has scored roughly 43% wins, 30% draws and 27% losses.

After 1... d5, nearly all of the games in the database saw white playing 2. exd5. Then 57% of the games continued 2... Qxd5, and about 43% of all black players chose 2... Nf6. In the games with 2... Qxd5, nearly all of the white players played 3. Nc3. After this 70% of the black players chose 3... Qa5, while 22% chose to play 3... Qd6.


Since the Scandinavian is not as popular as openings like the Sicilian Defense, not many books and DVDs on the Scandinavian have appeared over the years. However, since the theory of the Scandinavian does not develop so quickly, older works on the Scandinavian may still be useful, since most of the theoretic assessments still hold. 

Below is a list with the books published on the Scandinavian by the most renowned chess book publishers, such as Everyman Chess, Gambit Chess, ChessBase and Russell Enterprises.

  • Starting Out: The Scandinavian by Jovanka Houska (2009, 320p)
  • The Scandinavian: The Dynamic 3... Qd6 by Michael Melts (2001, 214p)
  • The Scandinavian: The Dynamic 3... Qd6 (2nd ed.) by Michael Melts (2009, 301p)
  • The Scandinavian (2nd ed.) by John Emms (2004, 160p)
  • The Scandinavian - The Easy Way by Andrew Martin (2004, DVD)
  • The Scandinavian - The Easy Way (2nd ed.) by Andrew Martin (2009, DVD)
  • The Scandinavian Defence by James Plaskett (2005, 192p)
  • The Essential Center Counter by Andrew Martin (2004, 141p)
  • Play the Scandinavian by Christian Bauer (2010, 304p)
  • The Modern Scandinavian by Matthias Wahls, et al. (2011, 384p)
  • The Scandinavian: Move by Move by Cyrus Lakdawala (2013, 400p)
  • The 3...Qd8 Scandinavian: Simple and Strong by Daniel Lowinger (2013, 176p)
  • Understanding the Scandinavian by Sergey Kasparov (2015, 176p)
  • Smerdon's Scandinavian by David Smerdon, (2015, 496p)


  • 9 years ago · Quote · #1


    i also use this defense but with 3....Nf6.Hope you can post an article with this variation.
  • 9 years ago · Quote · #2


    Are you sure?  3. Nc3 threatens the queen, which is why black's three most common moves are 3...Qa5/Qd7/Qd8.  Perhaps you mean 2...Nf6, the Marshall's Gambit?  I'll add more to this when I get the chance, just wanted to put something up on it.

  • 9 years ago · Quote · #3


    My bad..i should say 2...Nf6.

  • 9 years ago · Quote · #4


    These days the 3... Qd6 also seems to gain in popularity. Our national champion, GM Tiviakov still regularly uses the 3... Qa5 but especially the 3... Qd6 Scandinavian. Also, if you buy Melts´ book about the 3... Qd6 Scandinavian and read his convincing introduction and final note, you´ll start to wonder why you´ve never tried it before (Statistics support 3... Qd6 above other Scandinavians, but also rational thinking suggests that the queen is better placed on d6 anyway).


    One of the reasons why I like the Scandinavian so much is that it´s a universal defense against 1. e4, and it immediately decides the opening. If, for example, you aim at a Dragon Sicilian and play 1... c5, you´ll also find yourself playing Alapins, Grand Prixs, Closed Sicilians, Morra Gambits, Rossolimos and maybe even Wing Gambits, and nearly all of the above anti-sicilians are decent enough for white to play. But after 1. e4 d5 white practically has no choice but to go into the Scandinavian with 2. exd5, since 2. e5? c5 gives black a good version of the Caro-Kann/French, and after 2. Nc3 dxe4 3. Nxe4 black has also saved a tempo compared to the French or Caro-Kann where black takes on e4 (or he can go back to the Scandinavian main lines with 3... Qd5?!)

  • 9 years ago · Quote · #5


    ITS OK!

  • 9 years ago · Quote · #6


    What about 1. e4 d5 2. e5?

    I have read that this is a mistake but haven't really been able to capitalize on it when my opponents try it.

  • 9 years ago · Quote · #7


    1. e4 d5 2. e5 is playable, but it is consider mistake because of 2. ... Bf5 planning e6 and c5 with a good position for Black.
  • 9 years ago · Quote · #8


  • 9 years ago · Quote · #9


    i agree with phobetor... try to counter the white !! it's nice to play !! make sure u able to control 'middle game'
  • 9 years ago · Quote · #10


    thanks very much
  • 9 years ago · Quote · #11


    leaves black very open not much of a defence .... very easy to fall foul as black

  • 9 years ago · Quote · #12


    the pawn structure is like caro kann...this opening is solid


  • 9 years ago · Quote · #13


    I like playing teh Scandinavian defense, Da5 looks better in all variants, although I would like to practice Dd6 , GM Tiviakov plays it nowadays...



    Lima Peru

  • 9 years ago · Quote · #14


    One of the many annoying things that a 1.e4 player must be ready for.  Maybe this is why so many Gm's play 1.d4?  because play is pretty standard here, probably not as much theory to learn..but I still like 1.e4 as my most common first move.

  • 9 years ago · Quote · #15


    not bad...;p
  • 9 years ago · Quote · #16


    i hav tried Scandanavian and failed miserably, i played 2... a5

    i asked my Captain and said dont play unless u r going against a weak opponent...

    PS. can some1 plz tell me how u defend Giaco (how do u spell that??) Piano Frown i messed up when some1 played it against me...

  • 9 years ago · Quote · #17


    Ok the scandanavian is by far my favourite opening so I will show you some of the variations I have come across.

     Look at the move list for all the variations. I tried to cover all the situations you will proberly see if decide to start playing the scandanavian. 

  • 9 years ago · Quote · #18


    thanks Lord!!

    i will try it and from what i see, it is a great improvement to 2... Qxd5

    EDIT: found a minor mistake with ur move sequence... wat if white plays 3. c4 protecting his pawn...
  • 9 years ago · Quote · #19


    I think there are some more mistakes in Lord's variations. Except for covering only a few and not-so-good white tries, you don't give the best moves for black.

    - 1. e4 d5 2. d3? dxe4 3. Nc3 exd3 4. Bxd3 is perfectly playable for black and probably winning. He has an extra pawn for little compensation. I'd take black there any time.

    - 1. e4 d5 2. exd5 Nf6 3. Nf3 Qxd5?! 4. Nc3 Qh5? doesn't look optimal either. The idea of 2... Nf6 is to keep the position dynamic and take on d5 with the knight.

    - 1. e4 d5 2. exd5 Nf6 3. d4 is perfectly fine and also played by most good players. It's considered the main line in the 2... Nf6 Scandinavian and considered best for white (or 3. c4 c6 4. d4 transposing to a Caro Kann).

    - 1. e4 d5 2. exd5 Qxd5 is very solid for black and I think considered better at the highest level (and seen more often) than 2... Nf6. Then after 3. Nc3 there's 3... Qa5, the old main line which is very solid (which by the way usually continues 4. Nf3/d4 c6, not 4... Nc6), there's 3... Qd6 which is relatively new and "Modern" and played by players like Rogers, Tiviakov, and I saw Nisipeanu play it once with success against Topalov. And then there's some original and less explored ideas like 3... Qe5+?! and 3... Qd8?!. 

  • 9 years ago · Quote · #20


    "- 1. e4 d5 2. exd5 Nf6 3. Nf3 Qxd5?! 4. Nc3 Qh5? doesn't look optimal either. The idea of 2... Nf6 is to keep the position dynamic and take on d5 with the knight."

    Now I disagree on you with this one. It is a very good opening and I have played it at high club level successfully. In fact it is one of my chess couch's favourite openings. The principle is to get the bishop to g6 then after white plays o-o and h6 then a bishop sacrifice opens up the king's side.

    I know a lot of the white moves in this are a bit iffy to say the least, but they are all things that people have played against me.

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