Complete Repertoire against Alekhine and Scandinavian
Zahar Efimenko prepared a database for White against the Alekhine Defence (1.e4 Nf6) and Scandinavian Defence (1.e4 d5).
Both are relatively rare but quite provocative openings in the sense that Black lures White into pushing his central pawns in the opening, only to attack and undermine them later. Such an approach is often dangerous in shorter time controls as Black gives up some space in the centre and then tries to launch a counter-attack while waiting for White's mistake as he is defending his central pawns.
Another similarity between the two is that in both cases Black puts a piece on d5 (a knight in the Alekhine and typically the queen in the Scandinavian Defence) as early as move 2. In some cases, there are even overlaps in the type of position that arises out of the opening, such as the Scandinavian gambit (2.exd5 Nf6) which can lead to an Alekhine-Defence type of position once Black recaptures on d5 with the knight.
The database, which consists of 15 chapters and 15 test positions, can naturally be divided into two parts.
The first eight chapters deal with the Alekhine Defence, while the last seven cover the Scandinavian. GM Efimenko generally recommends a sound positional approach against both Defences, yet he does not shy away from the double-edged recommendations if they are the principled or critical continuation in the position.
Part 1 - Alekhine Defence
The Alekhine Defence has never been considered as one of the first-rate openings, but it should not be underestimated, either. Black's idea is to provoke White into overextending his central pawns so that they could be attacked and undermined more easily later. Therefore, White should exercise caution when pushing the central pawns and make sure that they are always well-protected. If he manages to do that, he can usually count on an advantage out of the opening as he typically controls more space.
1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.d4 d6 4.Nf3
The repertoire against the Alekhine Defence that GM Efimenko suggests is based on the Modern Variation. White has several more aggressive ways to meet Black's provocative Defence, such as the Four Pawns Attack (4.c4 Nb6 5.f4) and Chase Variation (3.c4 Nb6 4.c5), as well as the Classical Variation (4.c4 Nb6 5.exd6). The advantage of 4.Nf3 over the previously mentioned variations is that it allows White to keep the space advantage in the centre without overextending his pawns. A notable upside of postponing the tempting c2-c4 move is that we can develop the bishop to this square in some variations, thereby putting pressure on the Black knight on d5 and keeping the d4-pawn solidly protected with c2-c3.
Chapter 1 - 1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.d4 d6 4.Nf3 Bg4
In the first chapter, the author covers the historically most popular move in this position 4...Bg4 which, however, is not as popular in modern times. Developing the bishop while creating a pin on Nf3 is very sensible indeed, but White has found reliable ways of getting a pleasant edge here. GM Efimenko suggests the flexible approach where we keep the central tension instead of capturing on d6. After the moves 5.Be2 e6 6.0-0 Be7 7.h3 Bh5 8.c4 Nb6 9.Nc3 0-0 10.Be3
At this point, we have also reached the tabiya of this variation. White completed the development of his pieces and strengthened the central pawns. Black has a variety of options, the most common one being 10...d5 Black tries to block the centre and here the author favours the following course of action: 11.c5 Bxf3 12.gxf3 Nc8 13.f4
Here White can typically exert pressure on both flanks by continuing Bd3, Kh2, Rg1, and b2-b4-b5, etc. Black's position is very solid yet passive and White should have the upper hand thanks to his space advantage.
Chapter 2 - 1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.d4 d6 4.Nf3 g6
In this chapter, the author deals with 4...g6 a move that has gained popularity for Black recently. The fianchetto of the king's bishop is an important strategy in Alekhine's Defence as a way to put pressure on White's pawn centre, similarly to another hypermodern opening, the Grunfeld Defence. Typically, the principled reaction to the fianchetto is 5.Bc4 as White activates the bishop with a tempo to a diagonal from which it will create pressure on the kingside. This is one of the advantages of keeping c2-c4 move in reserve, compared to the 4.c4 variation. In the main line that goes 5...Nb6 6.Bb3 Bg7 GM Efimenko prefers 7.Qe2 over the aggressive 7.Ng5 because the latter leads to a rather drawish endgame in his opinion. After 7...0-0 8.h3 Nc6 9.0-0 Black typically plays 9...Na5 to trade off the strong bishop. However, after 10.Nc3 Nxb3 11.axb3
White keeps an advantage mainly thanks to the well-supported e5-pawn which limits Black's options considerably.
Chapter 3 - 5 - 1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.d4 d6 4.Nf3 dxe5
As we have seen in the first two chapters, in the Alekhine Defence Black usually tries to keep the tension in the centre and attack it with his pieces. However, with this move, Black simplifies the situation in the centre. He accepts a slightly inferior position but gets a fairly easy piece development in return. This approach has become quite popular for Black recently.
After 5.Nxe5 Black has a couple of developing schemes. In Chapter 3, GM Efimenko covers the most popular one 5...c6
The line which is covered in this chapter is 6.Be2 Bf5 Black sometimes has problems with the development of his light-squared bishop in the Alekhine Defence, so this move is very sensible.
7.0-0. In response to 7...Nd7 White should avoid the exchange of knights by playing 8.Nf3. In these structures, Black often has problems with space, so it is best to keep more pieces on the board. The line continues 8...e6 9.c4 N5f6 10.Nc3.
At this point, Black has several playable options. Against the main line 10...Bd6 Efimenko recommends 11.Nh4 Bg6 12.c5!? an interesting novelty that he launched himself against IM M.Kopylov. White wants to determine the position of the Black bishop and seize space on the queenside at the same time. The plan is to follow up with the queenside pawns advance: b4-a4-b5. The weakening of d5-square is negligible as Black cannot utilize it as an outpost for his pieces and White typically gets at least a slight advantage out of the opening
In chapter 4 the author covers the alternatives on move 6 for Black: 6...Nd7 (6...g6) both connected to the fianchetto of the king's bishop.
Here, White can seize space in the centre with 7.c4 Nc7 8.Nf3 g6 9.0-0 Bg7 10.Nc3 0-0 and after the normal developing moves for both sides, it is important to play 11.Bf4! in order to prevent the ...e7-e5 break. As long as White keeps the e5-square under control and d4-pawn well-defended, he has an easier game in this variation.
Chapter 5 - 1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.d4 d6 4.Nf3 dxe5 5.Ne5 g6!?
This move has become popular in 2020, mostly thanks to Magnus Carlsen who has employed it successfully in several blitz games. After the principled 6.Bc4 Black should choose between the ambitious 6...Be6 and the most common 6...c6
6...Be6 has been the new trend as it was employed by no less than the World Champion himself. The main difference compared to the similar variation from the previous chapter is that Black does not spend time on the solidifying move ...c7-c6, but rather plans to push the c-pawn one square further to strike at the White centre. Now White needs to play precisely to keep the advantage: 7.0-0 Bg7 8.Re1 0-0 9.Nd2 this developing move, preferred by top GMs Grischuk and Dominguez, is the most precise. Now White should continue with 10.Nef3!
White does not want to exchange the knights as it would help Black gain more space for his pieces. It is important that the bishop on c4 is defended by Nd2 so that Black does not have ...Ne/c3 tactics. This position has not been met in many practical games, but with correct play, Black can obtain only a slightly worse but playable position.
Black's most common alternative on the 6th move is 6...c6
The main line continues with 7.0-0 Bg7 8.Re1 0-0 9.Bb3. Compared to 6...Be6, White has enough time to make this prophylactic move. As GM Efimenko explains, Black's best choice is to prepare the exchange of light-squared bishops with the maneuver 9...Be6 10.Nd2 Nd7 11.Nef3 Nc7 yet here 12.Ne4 followed by c2-c3 provides White with a pleasant space advantage since Black can hardly break in the centre with ...c5 or ...e5.
Chapter 6 - 1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.d4 d6 4.Nf3 Nc6!?
a tricky variation that allows Black to immediately begin the struggle for the central squares. In response, GM Efimenko suggests the double-edged continuation. The main line continues 5.c4 Nb6 6.e6!. The point behind this enterprising pawn sacrifice is to exploit a tactical drawback of the knight on c6 so that Black is forced to reply 6...fxe6. This creates significant weaknesses around his king and impedes his development, giving White an instant initiative in the opening. After 7.Nc3 g6 (the author analyzes 7...e5 as well) 8.h4 Bg7 9.Be3 when Black is virtually forced to return the pawn with 9...e5 10.d5 Nd4 11.Nxd4 exd4 12.Bxd4 Bxd4 13.Qxd4
GM Efimenko analyzes in detail this position and concludes that it leads to a game with only two possible results, in which Black's Defence is not easy at all due to the sidelined knight on b6 and the exposed king.
Chapter 7 - 1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.d4 d6 4.Nf3 c6
The move 4...c6 is a solid, but relatively rare and unambitious continuation that Black uses to solidify the centre and clear the c7-square for the knight in some lines. In response, he suggests that we show restraint and complete our development with the classical 5.Be2 Bg4 6.c4 Nb6. At this point, it is important to remember that the crucial move is 7.Nbd2 helping us neutralize Black's attack on the central pawns and allowing us to avoid unfavorable exchanges. The point is that after 7...dxe5 8.Ne5 Be2 9.Qe2 taking the central pawn is connected to great risks for Black in the view of his poor development, so it is best to be avoided. However, even after 9...Nbd7 White obtains a large advantage thanks to the important subtlety 10.b3!.
White does not need to rush with kingside castling because that would allow Black to obtain some counterplay via d4-square. Instead, we would like to put the bishop on b2 as soon as possible. GM Efimenko's further analysis shows that after this move Black is left with a passive position with no counterplay.
Chapter 8 - 1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.d4 d6 4.Nf3 Nb6
In the last chapter, the author analyzes some rare alternatives for Black on the 4th move as 4...Nb6 and 4...Bf5.
In the case of the former, GM Efimenko recommends a very interesting approach 5.a4!? a5 6.Nc3 and now in the case of the most common g6 he continues with the aggressive pawn play 7.h4.
While pushing rooks' pawns on both sides of the board at such an early opening stage is uncommon, it is principled as White fully controls the centre as he tries to undermine the knight on b6 and the pawn on g6. His analysis proves that Black is put under serious pressure in the opening in this variation.
Part 2 - Scandinavian Defence
Similar to the Alekhine Defence, the Scandinavian Defence is a somewhat provocative opening in which Black surrenders central control early, planning to counter-attack white pawn centre later. Another similarity to the Alekhine Defence is that Black develops a piece to d5-square on move 2, only in this case it is the queen (except in Chapter 15) as opposed to the knight in the Alekhine. After 2.exd5 Qxd5 3.Nc3 Black has three main queen retreats (3...Qa5, 3...Qd6, 3...Qd8) that will be examined in Chapters 9 through 14.
Chapter 9 - 1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5 3.Nc3 Qa5 4.Bc4
The queen is fairly safe from attacks on this square. White usually takes space in the centre with 4.d4 here, but the author suggests a less common, yet quite an interesting and possibly venomous alternative: 4.Bc4. That has been popularized by Grandmaster Nigel Short. The idea is to continue d2-d3 and put the bishop on d2, threatening to trap the Black queen. A similar plan is available to White in the main line with the pawn on d4, but the main difference is that here the d-pawn will not be exposed on d4. Thus, Black's typical counterplay connected to ...Bg4, ...Nc6 and ...0-0-0 is largely ineffective against White's slightly passive, but extremely solid central structure. After 4...Nf6 5.d3 Black has a wide choice of options, including developing the bishop to g4 and f5. However, the bishop often proves to be vulnerable to attacks on the kingside in this variation, as well as the queen on the queenside, so the critical variation according to Efimenko's analysis is 5...c6!? 6.Bd2 Qc7 7.Qe2!? the most flexible move. White activates the queen and prepares long castling, but still keeps an option of castling kingside, depending on Black's response.
Chapter 10 - 13 - 1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5 3.Nc3 Qd6
This queen's retreat is perhaps even more popular than 3...Qa5 since many strong players have played this way recently. The idea behind the move is the keep the queen on an active and less exposed square from where it keeps the pressure on the d4-pawn. In some cases, this pressure can be increased with ...Nc6, ...0-0-0.
Now the Bc4, d3 plan does not work that well as black queen is not exposed on a5, so the author recommends the classical: 4.d4 Nf6 5.Nf3.
We reach the 'tabiya' of this variation in which Black has many possible development directions. GM Efimenko analyzes four possibilities for Black in this position 5...a6, 5...g6, 5...Nc6, 5...Bg4.
Chapter 10 - 1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5 3.Nc3 Qd6 4.d4 Nf6 5.Nf3 a6
The move 5...a6 leads to sharp play as Black takes control of the b5-square and then typically completes queenside development with ...Bg4, ...Nc6, and ...0-0-0. Among many alternatives, 6.g3 has crystalized as the best one. Since Black plans to castle queenside, White develops the bishop to the long diagonal so that b7-square becomes vulnerable in some cases. Another important point behind g2-g3 is that we can win a tempo for development by attacking the queen with Bf4 in some cases. The most logical developing sequence is 6...Bg4 7.Bg2 Nc6 8.0-0 0-0-0 when Black puts maximum pressure on the exposed d4-pawn. As the author suggests, White solves this problem elegantly with 9.d5!
The point is that Black cannot really take the pawn on d5 as they would lose the important pawn on f7. The main line continues 9...Ne5 10.Bf4 Bxf3 11.Bxf3 Nxf3 12.Qxf3 e5 13.dxe6 Qxe6 when the position has simplified considerably. Black is hoping to exchange a couple of pieces and eventually equalize in a symmetrical pawn structure, but White can keep the initiative with 14.Bg5! when, at the very least, he will be able to damage the opponent's pawn structure on the kingside by exchanging on f6. In the endgame, this kind of a permanent structural defect becomes even more pronounced and White typically claims a slight but solid edge.
Chapter 11 - 1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5 3.Nc3 Qd6 4.d4 Nf6 5.Nf3 c6
5...c6 is a move that is in complete contrast with 5...a6, although it serves virtually the same goal - to take b5-square under control. Instead of developing the knight to c6, Black plays more solidly, but also keeps White's opening initiative to a minimum. White, again, has a host of reasonable developing schemes, but GM Efimenko has a preference for 6.Ne5 which has also been endorsed by many other strong players. It is generally not recommended to play twice with the knight in the opening, but in this case, it is justified as White prevents Black from developing the bishop to g4 or f5, while also preparing to use the exposed position of the Black queen with useful tempo moves like Nc4 and Bf4. The main line continues 6...Nbd7 7.Nc4 Qc7 8.Qf3 Nb6. The knight maneuvering in this variation of the Scandinavian Defence resembles that in one of the variations of the Slav Defence. With this move, Black simultaneously pursues the knight exchange and opens diagonal for his light-squared bishop. After 9.Bf4 Qd8 (9...Qd7 is an important alternative), White has a sequence of two strong centralizing moves: 10.Be5 Be6 11.Ne3.
The knight is placed well on e3- keeping an eye on the key d5-square, while the bishop on e5 exerts pressure on Black's position. White typically castles queenside and prepares the pawn storm on the kingside and the author considers that White's chances are to be preferred in the arising middlegame, as well as in the endgame with the bishop pair advantage.
Chapter 12 - 1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5 3.Nc3 Qd6 4.d4 Nf6 5.Nf3 Bg4
Black develops the bishop to an active square and creates the pin which could destabilize d4-pawn. Therefore, White needs to immediately force Black to determine its position by playing 6.h3 Bh5 7.g4!. White solves the problem of an unpleasant pin with this active move. It potentially incurs some weaknesses on the dark squares, but White holds the initiative with the subsequent Nf3-e5, so Black cannot take advantage of them. Moreover, this move prepares the extended fianchetto of the light-squared bishop. The main line continues 7...Bg6 Ne5 Nd7
As usual with the knight on e5, Black's best policy is to challenge it as quickly as possible. Otherwise, Black runs into problems with his light-squared bishop. White has several promising continuations now, but the author prefers 9.Nxg6 hxg6 10.Bg2 c6 11.g5! which leads to either a better endgame thanks to the bishop pair, or a middlegame where White holds a significant space advantage.
Chapter 13 - 1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5 3.Nc3 Qd6 4.d4 Nf6 5.Nf3 g6
The subject of this chapter is which has become fairly popular recently. A fianchetto is a reasonable option for Black in such positions as the bishop on g7 intends to put the pressure on the d4-pawn. Similarly to the Alekhine Defence, the author believes that the most principled response is 6.Bc4 limits the opponent's active options in the centre, while also supporting d4-d5 in some cases. After the standard 6...Bg7 7.0-0 0-0 8.h3, Black usually continues 8...a6 taking control over the b5-square and potentially preparing an extended fianchetto of the light-squared bishop with ...b7-b5. Thus, we should prevent it with 9.a4 when Black usually plays 9...Nc6 increasing the pressure on the central pawn and preparing ...Rd8. Here, the author makes a strong case for 10.b3! preparing to develop the bishop to an unusual diagonal a3-f8 in order to attack the exposed black queen and the pawn on e7. White keeps the initiative with this move, although knowledge of concrete variations is of big importance, as the author shows in the analysis.
Chapter 14 - 1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5 3.Nc3 Qd8
This has been played by many strong players, including Magnus Carlsen. Even though it seems unprincipled to 'undeveloped' the queen, this has proved to be a reasonable strategy for Black in practice. Black's idea is to get some version of 3...Qd6 in which the queen will not be exposed to attacks of white pieces. After 4.d4 Nf6 5.Nf3 Black has a wide choice of options again. The most solid one is 5...Bg4 when after 6.h3 Bxf3!? 7.Qxf3 c6 8.Be3 e6 Black gets an improved version of the similar position from the 3...Qd6 variation since the queen is better placed on d8 than on d6 as it does not block the dark-squared bishop. Consequently, after the natural development moves 9.Bd3 Nbd7 10.0-0-0 Black can play 10...Bb4 11.Ne2 he could play 11...Nd5 without worrying about the exchange.
At this point, GM Efimenko suggests a strong new idea for White which allows him to keep exerting pressure on Black's rather solid position.
Chapter 15 - 1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Nf6
In the final chapter, GM Efimenko covers the gambit options that Black has in the Scandinavian Defence. The best and most well-known one is 2...Nf6. He recommends the cautious positional approach 3.Bb5 Bd7 4.Be2 which typically leads to Alekhine Defence-like positions after 4...Nd5 5.d4 Bf5 6.Nf3 e6 7.0-0 Be7 8.a3 0-0 9.c4 Nb6 10.Nc3 Nc6 11.Be3 Bf6. At this point, White has an important choice to make and GM Efimenko suggests 12.b4!
As White takes space on the queenside and creates a safe position for the queen on b3. Black is solid and has very few weaknesses, but White's obvious space advantage should give him the upper hand as long as he can keep his strong pawn centre well-defended.
At the end of the database, you will find a test section with 15 interactive training positions. These positions are designed to challenge your knowledge and understanding of the theory.