Scandinavian Defense

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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)

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