I am trying to revive an old line in the Scandinavian defense. Among the many lines I am analyzing, there is one position that looks promising.

I will leave out the lines / opening moves, to keep the post short, so here is the position I am interested in:

[Title "Black to move"]
[StartFlipped "0"]
[fen "rn2kb1r/ppp1pppp/8/q7/3PN3/8/PPP2PPP/R1BQ1RK1 b kq - 0 1"]

I am currently analyzing 1...e6, but my question is following: Can Black survive the opening with equal chances ?

Please back up your answers with concrete analysis.

Refrain from a "Let me Fritz / StockFish / Ryubka/ Houdini / ... this for you" approach. I have an engine and can do this myself. I need an answer that is clear and illustrates its point with concrete moves.

I am well aware that the question is hard and requires a lot of work, so I will understand if there will be no answers in the near future. Still, I will always be interested in this position (even after 10 years have passed or more), so if you have a solution, please feel free to post it if you like.

  • Highly unlikely. White has a castled king, strong central pawn, strong knight on e4, zero weaknesses! Black has a weakness on b7 and potentially c7, no piece developed apart from queen, king stuck in the center. Clearly White should be better in all lines. – Wes Jul 29 '14 at 20:47
  • @Wes: I would like to see the proof... In the top diagram it is Black's move, so he is not underdeveloped! White is 1 tempo up as always in chess. The only real concession Black had to made was White's extra move d4 which is very dangerous indeed. I have tried 1...e6 but after 2.Qf3 Nc6 3.Ng5! Qf5 I disliked the doubled pawns even though engine claims position to be equal or slightly better for White. I have tried ...Nd8 but White repeats moves with Ne4 which I wish to avoid... – AlwaysLearningNewStuff Jul 29 '14 at 23:34
  • @AlwaysLearningNewStuff I just saw this post, looks rather interesting, because there are a couple of ideas that can we worked out, but for a coherent plan I will need more time, I will get back to you as soon as I have some concrete lines. – Phonon Aug 5 '14 at 12:25
  • @Phonon: Thank you... I really appreciate your help. To help you save some time, I suggest you to try unusual ...h6 first. I was also looking for e6 + Nc6!? but White plays Qf3 + Ng5! and forces ...Nd8. After that he repeats the position 3 times starting with Ne4 so I tend to neglect this approach, but it may be the best option and I will probably have to accept a draw... Thanks again! – AlwaysLearningNewStuff Aug 5 '14 at 13:20
  • @AlwaysLearningNewStuff no worries, alright I'll keep your suggestion in mind (although black is already behind in development so I'd rather not go for a move like h6 but I'll consider it), thanks. – Phonon Aug 5 '14 at 13:31

I actually used to play the Scandinavian a lot in blitz a couple of years ago, then got bored with my line and never used it again. The starting position in your diagram is actually one of the typical positions one reaches in this opening, although with slight variations, (like same position with e6, c6 already played etc.)

Since you said you've been working on e6 on your own, I figured I should spend time figuring out other lines. I have a lot of experience in Catalan like openings, so the main line I am going to suggest is slightly inspired by that.

Main line that I suggest is ...g6. For a couple of reasons:

  1. This position can be transposed into a semi-Catalan because black has kept all the pawns on the 7th rank still, which allows for a very robust-slow type of development with a passive activation of pieces. Hence the fianchetto.
  2. Although e6 may look very natural, and does cover a number of things, it doesn't create any prospect for the bishop as it will have to stay on e7 and not contribute much. Whereas a fianchetto'ed bishop on g7, for one thing avoids any exchange any time soon, and very importantly covers a crucial diagonal in the position, because as long as there's pressure on d4, c4 cannot be played easily by white, and queen may be temporarily restrained to defending d4 (e.g. in quick Qf3 lines d4 becomes very vulnerable) and we keep an eye on b2. Finally a possible expansion with c5 or e5 becomes plausible with Bg7.
  3. Another strong element in our position which we should definitely leverage, is the queen, being already very active and not necessarily too exposed. Its main use in this position should be defensive (and of course space control) until black has securely finished development. So in the lines I will suggest, the queen will often end up defending here and there, but why not? After all the point is to make this position work in a sensible way.

Let's see some lines:

[Title "..g6 2.Re1"]
[StartFlipped "0"]
[fen "rn2kb1r/ppp1pppp/8/q7/3PN3/8/PPP2PPP/R1BQ1RK1 b kq - 0 1"]

1... g6 2.Re1 Bg7 3.Bf4 O-O 4.c3 Nd7 5.b4 Qd5 6.Bxc7 Rfc8 7.Bf4 Nf6 8.f3 a5

With a very playable active position for black, if anyone's winning here, it's black. B6-g1 diagonal is very weak, the b4-c3-d4 structure is very shaky and will cost white either some pawns or loss of activity if he goes for a complete defensive plan. Black has no worries and all the pieces are active, perfect so far!

Second g6 continuation:

[Title "..g6 ...Bg5 instead of Bf4"]
[StartFlipped "0"]
[fen "rn2kb1r/ppp1pppp/8/q7/3PN3/8/PPP2PPP/R1BQ1RK1 b kq - 0 1"]

1... g6 2.Re1 Bg7 3.Bg5 h6 4.Bh4 g5 5.Bg3 Nd7 6.Qe2 O-O-O

Again black ends up with a solid structure and possible attacks all around: a king-side attack on white is the most natural plan from here. But a simple plan like exchanging knights and going for a better end-game works as well since our pawn advances haven't exhausted their possibilities yet (all on 7th rank) and the queen can immediately start putting pressure on white's queen-side and gain tempo for whatever other plan we may have.

Third line with g6:

[Title "..g6 2.Qf3 very crudely by white"]
[StartFlipped "0"]
[fen "rn2kb1r/ppp1pppp/8/q7/3PN3/8/PPP2PPP/R1BQ1RK1 b kq - 0 1"]

1... g6 2.Qf3 Nc6 3.Ng5 Qf5 4.Qxf5 gxf5 5.c3 e6 6.Re1 h6 7.Nf3 O-O-O

A perfectly fine endgame for black, covering both g5 and e5 squares, an open line already available to us (g-file), no real worry in the position. Again an example leveraging the queen activity for defensive purposes.

4th line: (the only real dodgy line, but manageable)

[Title "..g6 2.Qf3...Nc5 instead of Ng5"]
[StartFlipped "0"]
[fen "rn2kb1r/ppp1pppp/8/q7/3PN3/8/PPP2PPP/R1BQ1RK1 b kq - 0 1"]

1... g6 2.Qf3 Nc6 3.Nc5 Nxd4 4.Qxb7 Rd8 5.Na6 Bg7 6.Nxc7+ Kf8 7.Be3 Bf6

Sure we lost a pawn in the process, but instead once Kg7 happens, our plan is pretty clear: Use the open files b-c for the rooks, make white lose tempo with mis-placed knight (almost trapped) on c7, gain tempo on his exposed queen, and finally we have 2 fine minor pieces on f6 and d4! Very playable.

5th line:

[Title "..g6 2.c4"]
[StartFlipped "0"]
[fen "rn2kb1r/ppp1pppp/8/q7/3PN3/8/PPP2PPP/R1BQ1RK1 b kq - 0 1"]

1... g6 2.c4 Bg7 3.Bg5 O-O 4.Re1 Re8 5.b3 Nd7

Perfect position, 0 weaknesses, completed development, everything ready to plan any further attacks.

6th and last line with g6, the toughest for black:

[Title "..g6 2.Nc5 again crudely by white"]
[StartFlipped "0"]
[fen "rn2kb1r/ppp1pppp/8/q7/3PN3/8/PPP2PPP/R1BQ1RK1 b kq - 0 1"]

1... g6 2.Nc5 Qb6 3.Re1 Na6 4.Nxa6 Qxa6 5.Bf4 O-O-O 6.Qf3 Rd7 7.c3 Bg7

I spent a lot of time to find a refutation to Nc5 and Qb6 was the only one that really worked(I went through very scary lines to finally find this one, hope it was worth it). Again the final position, goes without saying, is perfect for black considering the starting point for us was "being behind in development". No weaknesses, and once we have h5 and Qb5 played, everything is ready to focus our coordination on white's king-side. (useful moves for us here: e6, Bf6, Rg8...h5 g5..).

These were all the lines for g6 continuations, and honestly I like them all and find them very playable (practical terms), yeah it's true that they don't lead to very exciting middle games but hey we started off with a Scandinavian after all!!

Second alternative I had in mind was Nd7:

[Title "..Nd7 2.Qf3 "]
[StartFlipped "0"]
[fen "rn2kb1r/ppp1pppp/8/q7/3PN3/8/PPP2PPP/R1BQ1RK1 b kq - 0 1"]

1... Nd7 2.Qf3 f6 3.Bd2 Qa6 4.a4 e5 5.dxe5 Nxe5 6.Qf5 Be7 7.Bc3 Ng6 8.Rfe1 O-O

No pawns lost, development completed and easily refuted white's crude Qf3 with an active plan involving f6 instead of the passive h6. May seem shaky at first but we are no tempo behind in our defense.

[Title "..Nd7 2.Re1 "]
[StartFlipped "0"]
[fen "rn2kb1r/ppp1pppp/8/q7/3PN3/8/PPP2PPP/R1BQ1RK1 b kq - 0 1"]

1... Nd7 2.Re1 Nf6 3.Bd2 Qf5 4.Nc5 O-O-O 5.Re5 Qg4

Very solid position, with a quick queen side castle and we've kept all our g6 and e6 ideas active and open.

[Title "..Nd7 2.b3 passive-slow option for white "]
[StartFlipped "0"]
[fen "rn2kb1r/ppp1pppp/8/q7/3PN3/8/PPP2PPP/R1BQ1RK1 b kq - 0 1"]

1... Nd7 2.b3 e6 3.Bb2 Be7 4.c4 O-O-O 5.Bc3 Qf5 6.Ng3 Qg6 7.Qf3 Kb8

An example of white taking it slowly and us finishing development rather straightforwardly. With loads of options still on the table.

Finally two e6 lines to finish off my reply:

[Title "..e6 2.Qf3 "]
[StartFlipped "0"]
[fen "rn2kb1r/ppp1pppp/8/q7/3PN3/8/PPP2PPP/R1BQ1RK1 b kq - 0 1"]

1... e6 2.Qf3 Qf5 3.Bf4 Nc6 4.Ng3 Qa5 5.c3 O-O-O 6.Be3 f6 7.Qg4 Qd5 8.Nh5 f5

Another good example showing how useful the queen is in this position when it comes to immediate defensive needs (i.e. replying to crude ideas by white)

Last line e6 again, probably the most basic continuation of them all:

[Title "..e6 2.Re1"]
[StartFlipped "0"]
[fen "rn2kb1r/ppp1pppp/8/q7/3PN3/8/PPP2PPP/R1BQ1RK1 b kq - 0 1"]

1... e6 2.Re1 Be7 3.c3 O-O 4.Bf4 Nd7

Absolutely fine for black. I hope you find these ideas helpful, I personally like all the outcomes resulting from g6, with a lot of options left in the position. Basically I tried to consistently show that although the starting position (you've given) looks rather worrisome for black, the active queen on a5 can still save the day whenever white gets over ambitious and plays for crude attacks, and if he doesn't then black gets to finish development and keep a perfect composure in his position. From this point on, we should just discuss the specific lines that you may find interesting, in the lines I've discussed so far.

Last note: I have no idea whether all these lines will hold against an engine or in long long correspondence chess, but then again we don't care about those formats here, the idea was to make one of the variants of Scandinavian work, an opening one doesn't play against an engine anyway! Don't hesitate asking any question that you may have.

EDIT: As pointed out by Wes, the 4th line suggested for ..g6 contained some inaccuracies, hereby I suggest some improvements:

[Title "7..Be5"]
[StartFlipped "0"]
[fen "rn2kb1r/ppp1pppp/8/q7/3PN3/8/PPP2PPP/R1BQ1RK1 b kq - 0 1"]

1... g6 2.Qf3 Nc6 3.Nc5 Nxd4 4.Qxb7 Rd8 5.Na6 Bg7 6.Nxc7+ Kf8 7.Be3 Be5 8.Bxd4 Bxd4 9.c3 Bf6 10.a4 Kg7 11.b4 Qf5 12.Rac1 Rd7 

Very active position for black, pressure on c3, rooks doubling soon, white knight in an awkward pin, queen limited to knight's defense...very playable

[Title "7..Be5 8.Rfd1 To Be Avoided by black"]
[StartFlipped "0"]
[fen "rn2kb1r/ppp1pppp/8/q7/3PN3/8/PPP2PPP/R1BQ1RK1 b kq - 0 1"]

1... g6 2.Qf3 Nc6 3.Nc5 Nxd4 4.Qxb7 Rd8 5.Na6 Bg7 6.Nxc7+ Kf8 7.Be3 Be5 8.Rfd1 Bxc7 9.Bxd4 Bxh2+ Kf1

Here is one line to be avoided by black (Bxc7 not possible) as Kf1 can be replied after taking on h2, otherwise if Kxh2, Rxd4 Rxd4..Qe5+ wins back rook and equal position. So after Rfd1 black is kinda stuck with his pieces, maybe some h-pawn move to free up room for the other rook (so g8 square remains available for the king if needed). But all this can be avoided by playing Qb6 after Na6, a complete transposition, as follows:

[Title "5..Qb6 Queen-king combo: Saving the day"]
[StartFlipped "0"]
[fen "rn2kb1r/ppp1pppp/8/q7/3PN3/8/PPP2PPP/R1BQ1RK1 b kq - 0 1"]

1... g6 2.Qf3 Nc6 3.Nc5 Nxd4 4.Qxb7 Rd8 5.Na6 Qb6 6.Nxc7+ Kd7 7.Qe4 Bg7 8.c3 f5 9.Qe1 Kxc7

And black is back in game, after having found the nice resource with Qb6 and Kd7 making use of the mis-placed knight. (note here Qxe7+ not possible as Rd7 wins a piece). If white exchanges queens on b6 then it's equilibrated again as c2 pawn falls:

[Title "Queen exchange line"]
[StartFlipped "0"]
[fen "rn2kb1r/ppp1pppp/8/q7/3PN3/8/PPP2PPP/R1BQ1RK1 b kq - 0 1"]

1... g6 2.Qf3 Nc6 3.Nc5 Nxd4 4.Qxb7 Rd8 5.Na6 Qb6 6.Nxc7+ Kd7 7.Qxb6 axb6 8.Nd5 Nxc2

One last variation (there are many others of course):

[Title "8.Nd5 line for white"]
[StartFlipped "0"]
[fen "rn2kb1r/ppp1pppp/8/q7/3PN3/8/PPP2PPP/R1BQ1RK1 b kq - 0 1"]

1... g6 2.Qf3 Nc6 3.Nc5 Nxd4 4.Qxb7 Rd8 5.Na6 Qb6 6.Nxc7+ Kd7 7.Qe4 Bg7 8.Nd5 Qe6 9.Qxe6+ fxe6 10.Nc3 Nxc2 11.Rb1 e5 

With the knight coming back to land on d4, very promising endgame.

  • +1 for ...g6 idea -> that one never even crossed my mind! Unfortunately, this is repertoire preparation so line must hold against engines and strongest GMs, because I seek fully playable opening ( with simple position and equal chances ). Your move ...g6 might "fit the bill" perfectly. I will start analyzing at once! Thank you. – AlwaysLearningNewStuff Aug 6 '14 at 14:13
  • Glad you've found the idea interesting, let me know if there's any line you'd like to discuss. (into its specifics, in depth) – Phonon Aug 6 '14 at 19:42
  • 1... g6 2. Qf3 Nc6 3. Nc5 Nxd4 4. Qxb7 Rd8 5. Na6 Bg7 6. Nxc7+ Kf8 7. Be3 Bf6 8. c3 and I don't see how Black can save the a7 pawn. Black has Ne2+ but after Kh1, white still grabs the a7 pawn. I don't see enough counterplay for Black in that line. – Wes Aug 6 '14 at 20:15
  • @Wes yes indeed, thanks for noticing this, I may have been too optimistic here. But I think earlier black can do much better, e.g.: 7...Be5 (instead of Bf6) gaining tempo with mating attack on h2 which refutes the immediate c3 by white. Alternatively, even earlier after 5.Na6 Qb6 is probably the more accurate reply, after bit of analysis, as it leads to a rather off looking line but playable, 6.Nxc7+ Kd7! Qe4 forced, Bg7 and game goes on. I'll add some of these line as EDIT to the post. Thanks again for pointing it out. – Phonon Aug 6 '14 at 20:35
  • 3
    @Wes yeah I know, in the edit I've added, it's on the one hand explained why Be5 may not work, and on the other hand a solution is suggested. Much better now I think. Thanks again for all feedbacks. – Phonon Aug 6 '14 at 21:11

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