A chess opening known since the 15th century but not taken seriously until the mid-19th century is the Scandinavian Defence. It is characterised by an active and aggressive style of play and brings the queen into play early. After 1. e5 d4, the white pawn captures d4 and is then captured by the queen. The queen then moves to a5 and both players develop their pawns regularly.
An early exchange of queens is possible and can even give Black an advantage. Due to the offensive style of play with the queen in the first moves, however, the Scandinavian Opening was very unpopular for a long time, as the risk involved deviated strongly from the usual opening theory and the resulting recommendations. This view has since changed, which is why the opening is now also played at grandmaster level - albeit more as a kind of surprise attack due to the slight disadvantage for Black.
The Scandinavian Defence was popularised by Adolf Anderssen in 1858 in a match against Paul Morphy and was chosen by Esteban Canal in 1934 as the opening of the Immortal Peruvian Game. Viswanathan Anand also chose the Scandinavian Defence when he played Garri Kasparov in the 1995 World Championship, but lost the game.
Strengths of the Scandinavian Defence
The increased popularity of this opening is due to a number of advantages that can help Black to victory:
- Active Play:
Sacrificing Black's pawn (1.e4 d5 2.exd5...) opens up the game early and allows active play for Black. For example, Black can bring his queen and both bishops into play early.
- Asymmetric Structures:
The opening leads to asymmetric positions and strongly influences the pawn formations of both players. This opens up opportunities for creativity and tactical combinations not found in classical opening patterns.
- Fighting Spirit:
The Scandinavian Defence is famous for its fighting character. Black attacks the centre early and can, for example, try to bind the white knight on c3 with the queen. This can result in many dynamic game positions in which both players try to gain the initiative.
- Surprise Effect:
The Scandinavian Defence is well-known, but not played that often. This means that many opponents may not be so well prepared for it. The opponent could thus be led into unknown territory and taken out of his comfort zone.
Within the Scandinavian Defence there are many different variations and move sequences. Depending on the style of play, different courses of play can thus be aimed for.
Weaknesses of the Scandinavian Defence
Although the Scandinavian Defence shows strengths, there are also some potential weaknesses:
- Loss of the Centre:
The move 1...d5 allows White to capture directly with his pawn. Black thus temporarily gives up the centre, allowing White to take a strong central position and exert more control over the board.
- Development Delay:
By capturing the pawn on d5 by White, Black loses tempo in recapturing the pawn. Often by capturing and then retreating with the queen or a double move with the knight.
- Susceptibility to Mistakes:
The Scandinavian Defence is difficult to play, especially for beginners. It neglects the development of the chess pieces and focuses on aggressive play. However, this requires a lot of practice and a strong understanding of the possible courses of play.
- Increased Risk:
In some game variations, the pawn is recaptured with the queen and the latter is then moved further to a5 or d6 from the counterattack. This creates an attacking option with her for the white player to focus on.
Possible Courses of the Scandinavian Defence
Due to the offensive style of play, the Scandinavian Defence passes into various game variations early on:
Counterattack with the Queen and Dodge to a5.
1.e4 d5 2.exd5 ♕xd5 3.♘c3 ♕a5 4.d4 c6 5.♗d2 ♘f6 6.♗d3...
After Black has captured the pawn in the centre with the queen, he moves it to d5 in order to avoid the attack of the knight and at the same time to tie it to the king. White can weaken this captivation with his bishop and even threaten the queen with a withdrawal of the knight. However, the black queen has safe chess squares, c7 and d8, to which she can retreat. If, on the other hand, White decides not to retreat the knight, Black could even counter with his own bishop on b4. No matter what happens, Black always benefits from a stable pawn structure, while the white pawns on the queenside are blocked by his own chess pieces. This variation is the main variation of the Scandinavian Defence and should first be analysed and internalised in order to get a feeling for the opening and the aggressive style of play.
Counterattack with the Queen and Retreat
1.e4 d5 2.exd5 ♕xd5 3.♘c3 ♕d8 4.d4 ♘f6 5.♘f3...
As an alternative to the open positioning of the queen, it is also possible to retreat to the starting position. At first glance, this move represents a high loss of tempo and also seems to fundamentally violate common chess theory - especially the opening rules. But in this situation the disadvantage for Black is mitigated by the fact that White can no longer support an advance with his pawns on the d-file with an e-pawn. So if White wants to profit from the retreat of the black queen and conquer and secure the centre, he would also have to accept a loss of tempo. The game therefore concentrates from this point on the development of the chess pieces. Here, for example, Black has the often-played option of building up a fianchetto on the kingside.
1.e4 d5 2.exd5 ♕xd5 3.♘c3 ♕d6 4.d4 ♘f6 5.♘f3...
The Gubsinky-Melts Variation is a very popular course of the Scandinavian Defence. Black does not retreat his queen to d8, but stops in front of his pawn chain and keeps it actively on the chessboard. White will try here to exert an attack on Black's queenside and the centre via his knights. To prevent this, Black should repel the knight with c6 and can then aim for a fianchetto on g7, for example. White will support the central knight with his bishops on f4 and thus ensure that the conflict takes place in the centre of the chessboard. Even if the position seems balanced after a few moves, Black should be careful not to fall behind with castling.
The Scandinavian Defence occupies a small special position among the openings. Although it has some minor weaknesses, it is still played occasionally at higher levels. This makes it an opening that every player should have heard of. Because of its risks, however, beginners should initially refrain from playing the Scandinavian Defence. The moves are very risky and present the player with great challenges in positional play. For advanced players, however, it is quite suitable and can unsettle even stronger opponents.
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