Scandinavian Defense

Scandinavian Defense (Center Counter Defense) – Theory

The Scandinavian Defense, also referred to as the Center Counter Defense, is a chess opening that is rich in history and strategic depth.

It’s a choice that chess players of all levels can use to respond to the King’s Pawn Opening, and it often leads to dynamic positions that require deep understanding and strategic insight.

The Scandinavian Defense is characterized by its unique move order, has various interesting variations, and has been used in high-level play.

This article will look into these aspects and more.

Move Order

The Scandinavian Defense arises after the following moves: 1.e4 d5.

Scandinavian Defense
Scandinavian Defense – 1. e4 d5

This chess opening is a direct response to the King’s Pawn Opening, and it challenges White’s control of the center immediately.

Rather than the more common 1…e5 or 1…c5 responses to 1.e4, Black immediately seeks to exchange in the center of the board with 1…d5.

Theory, Strategy and Purpose

The fundamental theory behind the Scandinavian Defense is to contest White’s control of the center immediately.

Instead of mirroring White’s move or using a flank pawn, Black tries to control the center by immediately challenging White’s e4 pawn.

Following the initial pawn exchange, Black’s second move will typically be 2…Qxd5, bringing the queen into the game much earlier than is common in most openings.

The primary risk in the Scandinavian Defense strategy is the premature exposure of the Black queen, which can be targeted by White’s minor pieces.

Scandinavian Defense Variations

The Scandinavian Defense has several important variations that offer Black different types of counterplay.

The two main variations are the Classical Variation (2…Qxd5) and the Modern Variation (2…Nf6).

In the Classical Variation, Black chooses to recapture the pawn immediately with the queen.

This line can lead to a more exposed queen, but it also allows for quick development and control over the center.

In the Modern Variation, instead of capturing with the queen, Black plays 2…Nf6.

This approach aims to recapture the pawn with a minor piece, avoiding early queen exposure, and often leads to asymmetric pawn structures and a rich middlegame.

Top variations are as follows:

Modern Scandinavian

This occurs when Black plays 2…Nf6 instead of 2…Qxd5 after White captures the pawn at d5 (2.exd5).

Mieses-Kotrč Variation

The Mieses-Kotrč Variation goes:

1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5
Mieses-Kotrč Variation of the Scandinavian - 1. e4 d5 2. exd5 Qxd5
This is a common version that’s been played by Hikaru Nakamura, Magnus Carlsen, Gata Kamsky, and Alexander Grischuk in faster time controls.

Blackburne-Kloosterboer Gambit

A rare gambit where Black plays 2…c6 after 2.exd5.

The move is considered unsound and is seldom seen in master-level play.

Valencian Variation

This is a line where Black plays 3…Qd8 after 2…Qxd5 3.Nc3, retreating the queen to its original square.

Patzer Variation

This occurs when Black plays 3…Qe5+ after 2…Qxd5 3.Nc3, which is considered inferior for Black as it does not help with development and exposes the Queen to attack.

Modern Variation

In response to 2…Nf6, White plays 3.d4, seeking to develop quickly even if it means giving up the pawn on d5.

Marshall Retreat Variation

Named after Frank Marshall, this line involves Black playing 4…Nf6 after 2…Nf6 3.d4 Nxd5 4.c4, returning the knight to its original square.

Kiel Variation

In this line, Black plays 4…Nb4 after 2…Nf6 3.d4 Nxd5 4.c4, a speculative try that can lead to tricky play.

Portuguese Variation or Jadoul Variation

This is an aggressive line where Black plays 3…Bg4 after 2…Nf6 3.d4, sacrificing the pawn on d5 for quick development and active pieces.

Richter Variation

In this variation, Black plays 3…g6 after 2…Nf6 3.d4, a move that leads to fianchettoing of the bishop and a solid structure.

Scandinavian Gambit

This occurs when Black plays 3…c6 after 2…Nf6 3.c4, aiming to transpose the game into the Panov-Botvinnik Attack of the Caro-Kann Defense.

Ross Gambit

This is a line where Black plays 4…e5 after 2…Nf6 3.c4 c6 4.dxc6, which results in a reversed Danish Gambit type position.

Icelandic Gambit or Palme Gambit

This variation involves Black playing 3…e6 after 2…Nf6 3.c4, offering a pawn for rapid development and piece activity.

Alternatives to 2.exd5

The most common alternatives to 2.exd5 after 1.e4 d5 are:

  1. 2.Nc3: This move develops a knight and defends the e4 pawn without committing to an immediate pawn exchange. This often leads to the Dunst Opening after 2…d4 or 2…dxe4.
  2. 2.e5: This move, though less common, advances the pawn and aims to cramp Black’s position. Black could counter this with 2…c5, aiming for a structure similar to the French Defense.
  3. 2.d4: This move gambits the e4 pawn and aims to gain a strong central presence. If Black accepts the gambit with 2…dxe4, the game may transpose into the Blackmar-Diemer Gambit.
  4. 2.Nf3: Known as the Tennison Gambit, this move is not commonly seen in master-level play due to the significant risk associated with giving up the e4 pawn.

While there are several alternatives to 2.exd5, they are generally less common due to the consensus that 2.exd5 offers White the best chances for an advantage.

Each alternative carries its own risks and rewards, and the effectiveness can depend greatly on the style of play and the preparation of both players.

The Scandinavian Defense tends to limit White’s choices, forcing White to react to Black’s initial d5 thrust.

This is part of the reason why the Scandinavian Defense is popular at club levels, even though it’s less frequently seen in grandmaster play.


The Scandinavian Defense is one of the oldest recorded chess openings, with instances of it appearing in historical records as far back as the late 15th century.

Despite its early roots, it wasn’t until the 19th century that the Scandinavian Defense started to become a regular feature in top-level play.

Throughout the 20th century, it was used sporadically in high-level competitions, including World Championship matches.

The Scandinavian Defense has experienced a resurgence in popularity in recent years, with various grandmasters employing it with success.

Evaluation of the Scandinavian Defense

The Scandinavian Defense, 1. e4 d5, is generally evaluated at around +0.80 to +1.00 for white.

Theory & Continuation Lines of The Scandinavian Defense

Below we have some common theory and continuation lines from the Scandinavian Defense starting move order 1.e4 d5 that you would see at the highest level of play.

2. exd5 Qxd5 3. Nc3 Qd8 4. d4 Nf6 5. Nf3 e6 6. Bd3 Be7 7. O-O O-O 8. Ne5 Nbd7 9. Qe2 c5 10. dxc5 Qc7 11. Bf4 Qxc5 

2. exd5 Qxd5 3. Nc3 Qd8 4. d4 Nf6 5. Nf3 e6 6. Bc4 a6 7. a4 Be7 8. O-O O-O 9. Re1 Nc6 10. Ne4 Nxe4 11. Rxe4

2. exd5 Qxd5 3. Nc3 Qa5 4. d4 Nf6 5. Nf3 Bf5 6. Ne5 c6 7. Bc4 e6 8. g4 Bg6 9. h4 Nbd7 10. Nxd7 Nxd7 11. h5 Be4 12. O-O Bd5 13. Nxd5 cxd5 14. Bd3 Bd6 15. Qf3 h6 16. a4 

2. exd5 Qxd5 3. Nc3 Qd6 4. d4 Nf6 5. Nf3 g6 6. Nb5 Qb6 7. Bf4 Na6 8. a4 c6 9. a5 Qd8 10. Nc3 Nb4 

2. exd5 Qxd5 3. Nc3 Qa5 4. d4 Nf6 5. Nf3 Bf5 6. Ne5 c6 7. Bc4 e6 8. g4 Bg6 9. h4 Nbd7 10. Nxd7 Nxd7 11. h5 Be4 12. O-O Bd5 13. Nxd5 cxd5 14. Bd3 Bd6 15. Qf3 h6 16. Kg2 

2. exd5 Qxd5 3. Nc3 Qd6 4. d4 Nf6 5. Nf3 g6 6. Nb5 Qd8 7. Bf4 Na6 8. c4 c6 9. Nc3 Bg4 10. Be2 Bg7 11. O-O O-O 12. Re1 Nd7 

Whether It’s Good for Beginners or Intermediates

The Scandinavian Defense is a relatively straightforward opening that can be beneficial for both beginners and intermediate players.

For beginners, it offers a simple and direct way of contesting the center.

There’s less emphasis on extensive opening theory compared to other openings, and it helps to introduce important chess concepts, such as central control and piece development.

For intermediate players, the Scandinavian Defense provides opportunities to explore different pawn structures and dynamic positions that can arise from the various variations.

How To CRUSH Opponents with the Scandinavian Defense!

How Often It’s Played at the Grandmaster Level

While not as frequently employed as more mainstream openings like the Sicilian or the Spanish Game, the Scandinavian Defense does see play at the grandmaster level.

It’s often used as a surprise weapon to catch opponents off guard.

Some grandmasters, including former World Championship Candidate Bent Larsen and current top players like Sergey Tiviakov and Antoaneta Stefanova, are known for their use of the Scandinavian Defense.

Magnus Carlsen has often used the Scandinavian Defense in blitz games.

FAQs – Scandinavian Defense

1. What is the Scandinavian Defense?

The Scandinavian Defense, also known as the Center Counter Defense, is a chess opening characterized by the moves 1.e4 d5.

This opening is one of the oldest recorded chess openings, with instances dating back to the 15th century.

It is known for its ability to immediately challenge white’s control of the center.

2. How does the Scandinavian Defense start?

The Scandinavian Defense starts when black responds to white’s first move (1.e4) with 1…d5.

This move is aimed at immediately counterattacking the center and putting the pressure back on white.

Typically, the game then continues with 2.exd5 Qxd5, although there are several possible variations.

3. What are the key variations of the Scandinavian Defense?

There are several key variations in the Scandinavian Defense:

  • The Main Line: 1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5 3.Nc3 Qa5
  • The Modern Variation: 1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5 3.Nc3 Qd6
  • The Portuguese Variation: 1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5 3.Nc3 Qe6+
  • The Icelandic Gambit: 1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Nf6
  • The Marshall Variation: 1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Nf6 3.d4 Bg4

Each of these variations has its unique strategic goals and tactical opportunities.

4. What are the strategic ideas behind the Scandinavian Defense?

In the Scandinavian Defense, black’s main strategic idea is to challenge white’s initial control of the center.

Following the exchange of pawns on d5, black often develops the queen early (typically to a5 or d6) to put more pressure on the white position.

This early queen development can be both an advantage and a disadvantage, as it gives black some immediate activity, but can expose the queen to attack.

Additionally, black aims to complete development quickly, often fianchettoing the kingside bishop, and then look for opportunities to counterattack or exploit weaknesses in the white position.

5. Is the Scandinavian Defense a good choice for beginners?

The Scandinavian Defense can be a solid choice for beginners, as it has clear, straightforward strategic goals and requires less opening theory than some other defenses.

However, beginners should be cautious of developing the queen early, as this can lead to the queen becoming a target for attack.

As always, understanding the underlying principles of chess such as piece development, control of the center, and king safety is more important than memorizing specific opening lines.

6. How can White counter the Scandinavian Defense?

There are several ways white can respond to the Scandinavian Defense.

The most common response is 2.exd5, after which the game often continues with 2…Qxd5 3.Nc3, aiming to develop a knight with a tempo by attacking the black queen.

Another option is 2.Nc3, preparing to recapture on d5 with the knight instead of the pawn.

Overall, the best way to counter the Scandinavian Defense is to develop pieces quickly, control the center, and exploit opportunities to attack the black queen if it is developed early.


The Scandinavian Defense, a rich and unique response to 1.e4, offers players a direct way to contest the center.

With its clear move order, intriguing variations, and a long history, it holds appeal for players of various skill levels, from beginners to grandmasters.

While it may not be the most popular opening at the highest levels, its strategic depth and the opportunities it offers for dynamic play ensure its place in the fascinating world of chess.

Whether you’re a novice or an experienced player, the Scandinavian Defense is a chess opening that is worth exploring.


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