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  1. #1
    Monster of the deep Kevin Bonham's Avatar
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    3.Nf3 vs Scandinavian - harmless or just underexplored?

    3.Nf3 was mentioned on a thread posted by an inexperienced player and I discussed it a bit then. Thought I'd give this one of my eccentric little pets a thread of its own.

    1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5 3.Nf3

    ...is supposed to allow black to equalise easily and be inferior to the far more popular 3.Nc3, but why?

    3...Bg4 is supposed to be the problem, but after 4.Be2 White is ready to castle on the kingside, while black will need to castle queenside, and neither LSB is doing anything all that productive for the time being. And all other things being equal, if there is opposite-sides castling it is the side castling queenside that often takes the greater risk.

    NCO gives the following line as equal, which is all the time of day it gives to 3.Nf3:

    1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5 3.Nf3 Bg4 4.Be2 Nc6 5.0-0 0-0-0 6.h3 Bxf3 7.Bxf3 Qd7 8.c3 Ne5 9.d4 Nxf3+ 10.Qxf3 Nf6

    That line is from the game Short-Salov, 1997, which as it happens was won by white (although I don't dispute that after move 10 white should not have been too optimistic).

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    But is 8.c3 really white's best move here anyway? Since black has two squares to effect the recovery of the minor exchange on (the knight can go to d4 or e5 before taking on f3) what about getting the QB out cleanly and quickly via 8.d3 ? That should at least make it difficult for Black to exchange on f3 in any kind of hurry without white getting a decent position - bishop and queen well placed, some chance of play against black queenside, black QB is still at home - surely that's good for a +/=, at least at 2000-hack level?

    Obviously 3.Nc3 is the best recommendation for an inexperienced player simply because there is plenty of theory for them to follow. But (irrespective of its surprise value which is often good for a plus if Black is not prepared for it) is 3.Nf3 really so totally harmless, and if so, why?

  2. #2
    CC Grandmaster Capablanca-Fan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kevin Bonham
    That line is from the game Short-Salov, 1997, which as it happens was won by white (although I don't dispute that after move 10 white should not have been too optimistic).

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    But is 8.c3 really white's best move here anyway? Since black has two squares to effect the recovery of the minor exchange on (the knight can go to d4 or e5 before taking on f3) what about getting the QB out cleanly and quickly via 8.d3 ? That should at least make it difficult for Black to exchange on f3 in any kind of hurry without white getting a decent position - bishop and queen well placed, some chance of play against black queenside, black QB is still at home - surely that's good for a +/=, at least at 2000-hack level?
    Maybe Black would play 8... Nd4 and just leave it there, then build up in the centre. It will be hard to chase it away with c3, and it would leave White worse off than in the game.

    Quote Originally Posted by Kevin Bonham
    Obviously 3.Nc3 is the best recommendation for an inexperienced player simply because there is plenty of theory for them to follow. But (irrespective of its surprise value which is often good for a plus if Black is not prepared for it) is 3.Nf3 really so totally harmless, and if so, why?
    Black would prefer to play ... Bg4 and Qd7 than have to play ... Qa5, c6, Qc7.
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  3. #3
    Monster of the deep Kevin Bonham's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jono
    Maybe Black would play 8... Nd4 and just leave it there, then build up in the centre. It will be hard to chase it away with c3, and it would leave White worse off than in the game.
    Sure. But White may not require c3. Indeed having put the other bishop on e3 quickly, White may find an opportune moment to exchange that bishop for the Nd4 - the point being that white's light square bishop could be more dangerous than its dark square counterpart. And Black probably won't be wanting to recapture on d4 with the pawn if this occurs, since in that case c3 can be strong.

    Black would prefer to play ... Bg4 and Qd7 than have to play ... Qa5, c6, Qc7.
    Indeed, but is it worth giving up a minor exchange for (which the NCO line recommends) unless you're certain you can get it back cleanly? And ...Qa5 (against 3.Nc3) isn't compulsory anyway. The common feature of all lines is that at some point black uses a move relocating the queen.

    Maybe equalising vs 3.Nf3 is all extremely simple to the average super-GM, hence the move being so rarely seen at the top level, but to me it isn't quite so clear.

    (I've actually played it three times in rated games for one win and two draws, which is not so bad given that one of the draws was against a stronger opponent and the other two opponents weren't so far below me. But none of these games say much about its strength or weakness since it is quite easy to pick both sides' opening play to pieces in all of them, as is not unusual at my level!)

  4. #4
    Monster of the deep Kevin Bonham's Avatar
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    Reading Houska's "Starting Out: The Scandinavian" which has some quite detailed coverage of 3.Nf3 but doesn't actually answer my questions above.

    It does cover 5.h3 Bxf3 but now black has a viable queen check, which is not the case if white has castled.

    It also covers 5.0-0 0-0-0 6.d3 which it says is passive because black just plays ...e5 and ...Nf6 followed by ...e4. But I think there is a move order issue here. After 6.d3 e5 7.h3 Bf5 8.Nc3 Qd7 is fine for black. But if 6.h3 Bf5 7.Nc3 Qd7 (importantly ...Qh5 is not possible) 8.Bb5 (importantly the d pawn has not moved so this is possible) white has a clear advantage. The point is that playing d3 is better delayed until black has traded off the bishop putting white's bishop on an active square rather than risking it being stuck on a passive square, and playing h3 first forces this.

    So I was rather surprised that a book dealing with the line in detail did not explain how black addresses the line I suggest, in which the ...e5, ...e4 idea just doesn't work at all.

    Houska's book mainly covers 5.d4 which she gives an ! to, 5....0-0-0 and now

    (i) 6.c4 Qf5 7.Be3 Bxf3 8.Bxf3 Nxd4 9.Bxd4 Qe6+ 10.Be2 Qe4; this seems to me to be just a dodgy gambit line for white as I can't see how white's position is worth a whole pawn let alone more.

    (ii) 6.Be3 e5 7.c4 Qa5+ 8.Bd2 Bb4 9.d5 Bxf3 etc. This is quite sharp but I can't see that white is actually better here.
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  5. #5
    Monster of the deep Kevin Bonham's Avatar
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    At a quick flick through 192 pp of Plaskett's "The Scandinavian Defence" I couldn't find my little pet mentioned at all!
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  6. #6
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    I guess in most cases, it will lead to the same positions via different move order.
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  7. #7
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    I don't think any opening is harmless. It can be valid to avoid the main line with a less sharp move. What happens after the opening is more important.
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