The Scandanavian: the Dynamic 3…Qd6

scando

Finally, the wait is over. I bought the “Scandinavian Defense: the Dynamic 3…Qd6” by Michael Melts about a month ago, and yesterday it showed up in my mailbox. Of course, it was the Dutch GM Tiviakov who made this line truly fashionable, playing it at the highest level of chess with astonishingly good results- HOWEVER- I think it must be said that this has as much to do with Tiviakov’s incredible talent than any intrinsic playability of this line of the scando. As one of the finest fighting chess player’s on earth, Tiviakov likely could have played 1…Nh6 with similar results. In any case, I had to try this line out for myself and what better way than to start with an in depth manual written by a correspondence master with a wealth of material on the subject.

The format of the book is essentially a game collection, with an extraordinary amount of detailed parenthetical analysis. Simply playing through the games quickly, however, gives a good enough cursory understanding of the opening to employ it immediately, especially if you are familiar with the pawn structure and the basic piece placement schemes. The pawn structure is similar to that of the Caro-Kann, or French defense in some lines, with pawns on c6 and e6 pinching the central square d5. Perhaps one of the most interesting parts of the book, is how Michael Melts continuously compares the positions arising out of this line of the Scandinavian to other more mainstream defenses, in order to clearly demonstrate how playable 3…Qd6 is since it leads to similar positions as other reputable defenses, such as the Caro-Kann and the French. For example, on page 87, Melts expounds upon the following position, taken from a Scandinavian 3…Qd6 game in which Kasparov played:

Here, Melts asks us to “compare this position with that of the French Defense, Rubinstein Variation, after 1. e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Bd7. Since 1990 the line 4…Bd7 began to be played by many well-known masters. Black’s plan is to exchange off the light-squared bishop via c6, and then the pawn advance c7-c6 will give black a Caro-Kann setup without the bad-bishop. This line is very solid (it was nicknamed the Fort Knox variation), but it is passive. 5Nf3 Bc6 6. Bd3 Nbd7 7.Qe2 Ngf6 8. 0-0 Nxe4 9. Bxe4 Bxe4 10. Qxe4 c6” which gives us the following diagram:

It is obvious that the two diagrams are nearly identical, however in the first one the queen is more active and it is Black’s turn to move. Melts concludes this aside with “I think if Black can play this position (referring to the second one- the french-) with White to move, he should certainly be able to play the previous position with probably greater success! For example, after 11…Qd5 Black can begin active play for the central squares.” He then follows this analysis up with six brief, unannotated GM games in this variation, all but one of which ending in a draw.

Another note on this theme of similarity in pawn structures. In Lars Bo Hansen’s fine book, “How Chess Games are Won and Lost,” he gives us a peak at how he first constructed his own repertoire by looking at common pawn structures first, and then picking openings which created pawn structures he liked. He tells us “my favorite pawn structure is the one that John Watson calls ‘light square restraint structure,’ in which black has pawns on e6 and c6 vs a white pawn on d4 (and either a c pawn or e pawn). I have aimed for this pawn structure with both colors, as I like it’s fundamental nature. There is a lot of play for both sides and the pawn structure may evolve into a number of other structures later in the game. It is what Kotov called a “dynamic structure”…The “light square restraint structure’ can be reached through a number of openings, and thus this structure laid the foundation for the expansion of my opening repertoire. In my early career, I often reached it through a simple variation of the french defense.” Lars Bo Hansen then goes on to give the following game in which he plays the black side of the French Rubinstein Fort Knox!

To me, other than the obvious tactical blow, the interesting theme in this game is how white placed his rooks perfectly to prevent the freeing pawn push c6-c5, which normally liberates black’s position in this kind of pawn structure, and is a common break in the fort knox, as well as many caro kann and french lines. Normally, If white can prevent this pawn break, then he can prepare to crash through blacks position by pushing d5 at the right moment. However, as Lars Bo Hansen points out, in the Fort Knox, black can also break with e5! Once white has placed his rooks perfectly on c1 and d1 to prevent the freeing c5 pawn push, black immediately strikes in the center with e5! Fantastic positional play, freeing black’s position and perhaps even taking the initiative. I give this aside in the french Fort Knox to highlight its similarities to the Scando and hopefully show that there may be something to the 3…Qd6 Scandinavian based on its belonging to the same pawn structure family as the caro-kann and the french, that perhaps, these ideas might be universally applicable in these positions, and should be considered from both sides.

Overall, what I like about the Scandinavian with 3…Qd6 is that it is so stupendously simple to play. When I first began playing competitively a year ago, I actually played the exact variation of the French to which Michael Melts compares this line in the scando, the so called Fort Knox French Rubinstein. I played that variation because it was so simple that the ideas played themselves, and my long term positional maneuvering plans ensured that deep into the middle game I had ideas for how to keep my camp secure while remaining vigilant for opportunities (in fact, my first ever tournament win was in a Fort Knox French, and it was a miniature.) Ultimately, I dropped the fort knox for the exact reason Melts points out- it is terribly passive, and a strong player often left me groveling for a draw until I cracked under the pressure and created a weakness for him to bite on. The Scandinavian 3…Qd6 (which FICS categorizes as the “schiller” but which I think history will call the “Tiviakov”) allows for fast and simple piece placement, in addition the rock solid Caro-Kann pawn structure.

One quick idea in this variation is to play Nf6, then a6, b5, Bb7 and then build presure in the center after gaining time on the queen side. That plan is most often employed when white has developed his bishop to c4, so that the b5 pawn thrust will gain a tempo. The plan which i prefer though, is with Nf6, c6, Bf5, Nbd7, Be7, and then castling on the same side that white does. This is generally a good idea in the Scandinavian so that white cannot castle on opposite sides and immediately unleash a pawn storm on your king. It is also crucial to avoid tactics involving Bf4 and Nb5, as well as preventing white from creating a strong pawn break with d5.

Here is a link to Tiviakov’s games in this variation, which I find inspiring if not terribly instructive:

And the following two games are games that I played this afternoon on FICS as black, one in the French Fort Knox (for old times sake) and one in the Scandinavian 3…Qd6.