Scandinavian Defense

In the Scandinavian Defense (also known as Center-Counter Defense), 1. e4 is replied by a daring 1…d5 by black in order to obtain central control instantly, and the capture of the d5-pawn (2. exd5) is often replied by 2…Qxd5 (Main Line), which almost provokes white to play 3. Nc3, attacking the queen, and letting white develop a piece with a tempo.

Scandinavian Defense

Its “rebellious” spirit against the opening principles, like developing the queen very early or moving the same piece twice, might make it sound like a modern invention or even a post-modern opening. However, early recordings of the Scandinavian Defense being played date back to the 15th century, thus making it one of the oldest chess openings to be recorded. The opening experienced a revival in popularity due to the efforts of Scandinavian masters in the late 19th century, hence the name Scandinavian Defense.

Winning percentages on both sides

Results Rate
Victory for White 38.9%
Draw 25%
Victory for Black 36.1%

Main Ideas

The Scandinavian Defense is mainly chosen due to its easy-to-learn nature without much theory that allows players to focus on playing simple chess with sensible moves.
In this opening, Black tries to consolidate control in the center with the very direct 1…d5 reply. If white does not capture on d5, then it means black gets away by striking into the center. If white plays 2. exd5, then black gets a semi-open d-file and the black queen enjoys a high degree of mobility across the 5th rank (from a5 to h5 after Nf3) and on the d-file from d5 to d8.
Furthermore, if white plays 3. d4, then black’s long-term goal will be to push c5 (or e5 sometimes) at the right time to challenge white’s only remaining central pawn.

2. ... Qxd5 3. d4

The main ideas behind the Scandinavian Defense for black could be summarized as follows:

1) Strike in the center with a counterattack, usually with c5 or e5.

2) Exchange White’s central e- and d-pawns in a favorable way.

3) Open the c- and d-files.

4) Use rooks to put pressure on these semi-open files.

On the other hand, white has some sort of space advantage thanks to the d4-pawn. White’s main plan in this opening is to create an attack (usually on the kingside) with an energetic play. White wants to break black’s Caro-Kann-like solid pawn structure by pushing f4-f5.

Scandinavian Defense Theory

By far, 2.exd5 is the most played reply. Neither 2.Nc3 nor 2.e5 show the fighting spirit that white needs to prove the unsoundness of the Scandinavian Defense.
After 2.exd5, there are four branches that need particular attention: The first decision black is between 2.Qxd5 and Modern Defense with 2…Nf6.
If Black chooses 2…Qxd5, after the natural 3.Nc3, Black needs to decide where to retreat to the black queen.
The two most popular moves by a bigger margin are 3…Qa5 and 3…Qd6. Occasionally, 3..Qd8 is also played.

Main Line (Mieses-Kotrč Variation) with 3…Qa5

Scandinavian Defense - Main Line
Queen is relatively safe on a5 and can switch to the other side of the board with the Qh5 move in some cases. A timely c6 is a common way to deal with possible threats against the black queen. She can then retreat to c7 or d8. So the most classical way the game continues after 3…Qa5 is: 4. d4 Nf6 (Mieses-Kotrč Variation) 5. Nf3 c6 6. Bc4 Bf5 (important to develop the bishop before playing e6) 7. Bd2 e6:

8. Nd5 is not scary for black as the queen can simply retreat to d8. White can also continue with 8. Qe2 or simply 8. 0-0. 8. Qe2 leaves the possibility of a long-side castle open for white (e.g. after 8…Nbd7). While the c2 pawn might seem like it is hanging after 8. Qe2, it is a poisonous pawn and dangerous to take. After 8…Bxc2 white gets a huge initiative with 9.Rc1 followed by 10. d5 resulting in a highly tactical battle in favor of white.

Instead of 5…c6, Black might also choose the logical 5…Bg4, pinning the knight on f3. If white tries to deal with the pin with 6.Be2 then black can get away with the active 6…Nc6, without being afraid of 7.d5, because now black can castle longside, pinning the queen with 7…0-0-0:

6…e6 is also possible, e.g.: 7.0-0 Be7 8.Bd2 c6 9.Re1 0-0 and we reach the position shown earlier in the article:

However, White can chase the bishop with 6. h3 Bh5 7. g4 Bg6 8. Ne5 and get an active play. Therefore, developing the bishop on f5 instead of g4 is generally preferred on the top level. Whether you develop Bg4 or Bf5, more or less, the structure stays the same with e6/c6 and the plan of a central breakthrough supported by rooks remains.

Gubinsky-Melts Defense with 3…Qd6

Scandinavian Defense Gubinsky-Melts Defense

The structure with the 3…Qd6 resembles the one with the 3…Qa5, so I won’t go into too much detail.

White can choose a setup that effectively targets the black queen on d6 via the g3-Bf4 plan. An example of such a variation is:

1. e4 d5 2. exd5 Qxd5 3. Nc3 Qd6 4. d4 Nf6 5. Nf3 c6 6. g3 Bf5 7. Bg2 e6 8. O-O Be7 9. Bf4

Instead of 5…c6, black can therefore choose 5..a6 making Qb6 sometimes possible after Bf4, but also keeping the option of Nc6 and Bg4 to put further pressure on d4. Additionally, black can also castle long like so:

1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5 3. Nc3 Qd6 4. d4 Nf6 5. Nf3 a6 6.g3 Bg4 7.Bg2 Nc6 8.0-0 0-0-0 9.Be3 e5:

Modern Defense with 2…Nf6

Scandinavian Defense Modern Defense

What does black gain by delaying the recapture of d5? Black claims that it can capture d5 with the knight later on as well, without having to waste time with 2…Qxd5 and allow developing 3.Nc3 with tempo. So what happens if White simply tries to hold on to material with 3.c4 c6 4. dxc6 Nxc6?

Black has sacrificed a pawn but gotten lots of compensation in activity and development. With e5 next on the agenda, black will get a firm grip on the dark color complex of the center (d4-e5). Similarly, a strategy like 3.Nc3 Nxd5 4. Nxd5 Qxd5 will only result in a better version of the main line with the black queen being strongly centralized.

Black is also not afraid of 3.Bb5 and can simply reply with 3…Bd7. 4.Bxd7 Qxd7 is simply desirable for black, while if the white bishop retreats to e2 with 4.Be2, black has no obvious weakness after 4…Nxd5.

White’s best strategy against 2…Nf6 revolves around disturbing the knight with c4 and trying to establish control in the center along with d4: 3.Nf3 Nxd4 4. c4 is one way to do it. But 4.d4 is considered the best move for white. After 3…Nxd5 4.c4 Nf6 (or 4…Nb6) white is slightly better:

Black can seek tactical options to strike immediately with ideas like 5.Nc3 e5, after which the game gets complicated and requires careful study.

Common Traps


In the line 1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Nf6 3. Bb5 Bd7 we’ve seen earlier, white might try the following: 4. Bc4 Bg4 5.Nf3 Nxd5 6.Nc3 and now 6…Nxc3 is a blunder because of 7.Bxf7! Kxf7 8.Ng5+ and White picks up the bishop’s back with a material advantage:


In the main line, if Black neglects kingside development further as the following: 1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5 3.Nc3 Qa5 4.d4 Nf6 5.Bc4 c6 6.Qe2 Bf5 7.Bd2 and now, if Black ignores the discovery threats of White and plays the natural looking 7…Nbd7??, 8.Nb5 is simply winning the game or material after 8…Qd8 9.Nd6# or 8…Qb6 9.Nd6 followed by 10.Nxf7 and 11.Nxh8.

Pros and Cons of choosing the Scandinavian Defense

Pros Cons
Can steer the game into favorable positions Limited pawn structure options compared to other openings
Flexible opening against various white setups Can be difficult to defend against certain variations
Can put pressure on Black’s position Allows White to control the center early
Can limit White’s attacking options Can lead to a cramped position for Black


It is completely up to black to force white to enter Scandinavian Defense territory after only 1.e4. The opening is fairly simple with a few key variations, making it easy to learn. So this variation becomes an attractive choice for players of all levels who want to have a fairly natural game with counter-attack chances as black without entering into a heavy theoretical battle. I hope this article has given you solid insight that will make you feel more confident in your next game in Scandinavian Defense!

Written by
Deniz Tasdelen, National Master
National Master with over 20 years of experience. He has participated in many prestigious tournaments, including the European and World Youth Chess Championships.
Ask Question


Is the Scandinavian a good defense?

Yes, the Scandinavian Defense is a solid and reliable choice. It leads to an open game and allows Black to fight for equality early on.

What is the idea of the Scandinavian Defense?

The Scandinavian Defense involves challenging White’s center immediately with 1…d5. It aims to simplify the position and quickly develop Black’s pieces, especially the queen and bishops.

Is Scandinavian good for beginners?

Absolutely, the Scandinavian is beginner-friendly. It has straightforward plans and is less theory-heavy compared to other openings, making it easier for beginners to learn and apply.

Is Scandinavian Defense aggressive?

The Scandinavian Defense can be both aggressive and solid, depending on how it’s played. While it’s fundamentally sound, it allows for aggressive counterplay, especially in the variations where Black develops the queen early.

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