The Center Counter Game or Scandinavian Defense dates from the 15th century. It and the French Defense are the oldest asymmetrical King-pawn openings. "A History of Chess", by H. J. Murray (1913) reports that the Center Counter was first documented in a manuscript by the Spanish author, Luis Ramires Lucena around 1435. This Center Counter Game is one of the earliest recorded games.
Over the centuries, the Center Counter was often critisized because of the (usually) early exposure of black's Queen and associated loss of time in the opening phase of the game. As a result, to this day, the defense is often condemned by analysts, and is taboo to many players. However, there exists no clear refute to black's best play. Therefore, its claim as a regular opening is recognized by strong players. For example, this Center Counter opening gave black the win against a world champion, and this game gave black good chances in a world championship match.
The Center Counter is an immediate attempt by black to aggressively cross white's opening plans. Black dictates the opening line of play from the start. Therefore, white's opening preparation along other lines is wasted. White must dance to black's tune. Thus, black often scores a psychological mini-victory in the opening by playing the Center Counter.
The "take no prisoners" aggressive, semi-open, and asymmetrical lines of the Center Counter opening offer few drawing chances for either side. Let's explore the main line of play according to current theory.
The moves (Main Line) 1. e4 d5 are the only moves necessary to claim the Center Counter opening. Attempts by white to transpose into other openings such as the French via 2. e5 c5 3. Nf3 Nc6 4. Bb5 Bd7 threatening Nxe5, or 2. Nc3 d4 give black no problems.
The sharpest and most common reply to 1. e4 d5 is 2. exd5. Note here that white has moved his king-pawn twice; thus briefly losing the first-move opening advantage. Black's best is then probably 2... Qxd5. However, black might try 2... Nf6 making the Center Counter a true gambit. However, black has not found an entirely adequate response in this line to 3. c4 or 3. Bb5+. Still, the gambit creates many opportunities for white to go wrong in sharp play. See Ang.
The choice of whether it is better to play 2... Qxd5 or 2... Nf6 was and continues to be a source of endless debate in the Center Counter. Every few decades, a new innovation breaths life into one variation or the other only to be refuted by another innovation, and so on. There appears to be no consensus throughout history. Then as always, the player with the most knowledge of the opening lines will prevail.
For now, the Center Counter main line of play is 1. e4 d5 2. exd5 Qxd5 3. Nc3 Qa5. (The line 3. d4 e5! gives black no troubles.) Black achieves a position where his Queen on a5 avoids attack and still influences the center. Black must play c6 eventually in most lines to support the center, guard b5, and provide a back door escape for the queen, should it come under attack.
Black can play 3... Qd8?! instead of 3... Qa5. The move 3... Qd8?! undevelops a piece with no obvious refute. Therefore, this line of play has become known as the Bankers variation because it often ends in a guaranteed draw. The shock value of such a move can and often does give black excellent play. However, such a bold insult to one of the most fundamental and logical opening principles must be refuted. The most common plan for white against 3... Qd8?! is to castle opposite of black and launch an attack with superior opening development. For example, let's see how Fischer dealt with 3... Qd8?!. Here is another example of how desparate it can get for black if he is not alert.
After this and subsequent moves, if white withholds d4, then black must be prepared for a gambit b4. Black does this by holding back the development of his queen's bishop to avoid the consequences of b4 Qxb4 Rb1 Qd6 Rxb7. If offered, black must accept the gambit pawn after which a6 is preferable to c6 for the control of b5.
The heavily analyzed Anderssen Counter Gambit (1. e4 d5 2. exd5 Qxd5 3. Nc3 Qa5 4. d4 e5) offers white and black many opportunities to go wrong. See example games Dahl and Kostic. However, black gets the worst of the Anderssen Counter Gambit with this complex game. Therefore, this aggressive counter attack is not considered entirely sound.
The main line of the Center Counter remains 1. e4 d5 2. exd5 Qxd5 3. Nc3 Qa5 4. d4 Nf6 5. Nf3. Now 5... Bg4 allows 6. h3 Bh5 7. g4 preparing a full scale king side assault. If black attempts to castle long, then white can launch a pawn storm there gaining tempos on black's queen. Tricky business, but better for white in most lines. See games Rogers, and notional for examples of this line of play. Therefore, 5... Bf5 is better for black. This move begins what is known as the Mieses variation of the Center Counter Defense.
White's best strategy in the Mieses variation is to break the center open with an eventual d5 and have at black's king. Black's strategy is to counter white's center ambitions, complete development, and exploit the partially open d-file. Therefore, 6. Bc4 e6 continues the battle for the center. Black has no trouble with 6. Ne5 c6 7. g4 Be6 8. Nc4 (8. Bc4? Nxg4 9. Bxe6 Nxe5 10. Bb3 Ng6 -/+) 8... Qc7.
The strategic battle for the center continues with 7. Bd2 c6. White hopes to get in a center-opening d5. Black resists. Black is better after 7. Ne5 c6 8. Qe2 Ne4! (8. Bd2 Qb6! 9. Qe2 Qxd4 10. O-O-O Nbd7 11. g4 Nxe5 12. gxf5 Nxc4 13. Be3 Qg4 14. f3 Qxf5 15. Qxc4 Qxf3 16. Rhe1 Be7 -/+) Black is equal after 7. O-O c6 8. Re1 Bb4 9. Bd2 (9. Ne5 O-O).
The main line, 8. Qe2 Bb4 continues the fight for the center. Black has no trouble with either 8. Ne5 Nbd7, or 8. O-O Bb4 9. Re1 O-O 10. a3 Bxc3 11. Bxc3 Qc7 12. Nh4 Bg6 13. Nxg6 hxg6 14. b4 Nbd7 15. Qf3 b5 16. Bb3 Nb6 with chances for both sides (Terry - Taylor, APCT 1981). White can try 8. Ne4 Qc7 9. Nxf6 gxf6 10. c3 Nd7 with stale play and roughly equal chances. In the main line, black cannot afford to grab a pawn by 8... Bxc2? because 9. d5! cracks black open like a nut.
This leads to three lines of play in modern theory. They are:
As you can see from all this, the Center Counter Opening is deeply analyzed along many lines of play. While rare, the Center Counter Opening has even been played in reverse with some effect by white.
The Center Counter Opening offers black an opportunity to enter the middle game with as much opportunity as white. Then as always it is up to the players to find winning plans.
The following games illustrate several middle game plans resulting from the Center Counter Opening, and other interesting lines.
Play the opening like a book, the middlegame like a magician, and the endgame like a machine.