Smerdon’s Scandinavian

David Smerdon

Reviewer: John Donaldson
Everyman Chess
492 pages

Everyman Chess ( is known for publishing excellent instructional works for amateur players and its three latest books continue this tradition. It’s move by move format, in which it uses a question and answer format to engage the reader, shows to good advantage in games collection on World Champions Anatoly Karpov (by Irish International Master Sam Collins, 288 pages) and Wilhelm Steinitz  (by Scottish International Master Craig Pritchett, 288 pages). The first offers 46 carefully annotated games and the second 35 with both authors emphasizing explanatory prose over concrete variations. Both of these books, which retail for $27.95 and are also available in a variety of electronic formats, offer good value and are appropriate for players ranging from 1600 to 2400.

Recommending opening books for amateur players is a tricky business. On the one hand there is no question that the number of opening books sold to club players (1200-2200) dwarfs those on the middle and endgame. Unfortunately those who most need to improve their basic skills in these aspects of the game are memorizing opening texts in the mistaken belief that this is the path to mastery.

Not only do amateur players spend too much time studying theory, they often chose the wrong openings going from one extreme (King’s Indian Attack) to another (Najdorf Sicilian and Kings Indian). The former guarantees safely getting through the opening, but the resulting closed positions are hardily appropriate for learning basic opening principles and developing tactical skills. The latter openings are among the very best of the best, but are demanding and far from the ability of club players. Playing the main lines from an early age makes sense for talented juniors with plenty of ambition, but for mortals there is much to be said for meeting the Sicilian with the Smith Morra as opposed to 3.d4.

All this makes Australian Grandmaster David Smerdon’s new book Smerdon’s Scandinavian a welcome development. This massive tome is devoted to the position reached after 1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Nf6 with the bulk of it covering 3.d4 Bg4 as well as sidelines 3.Bb5+ (both 3…Bd7 and 3…Nbd7 are offered) and 3.c4 which can be met by independent play with 3…e6 – the Icelandic Gambit or the Panov-Botvinnik via 3…c6 4.c4 cxd5 5.Nc3. Sidelines like 2.Nc3 d4! and 2.d4?! dxe4 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.d4 (Blackmar-Diemer) are also examined.

For a longtime the Scandinavian was considered in the category of “junk openings” but that changed with Anand’s use of it in his 1995 World Championship match with Kasparov. That was with 2….Qxd5 which can often lead to Caro-Kann type positions. The line Smerdon advocates, 2…Nf6 3.d4 Bg4, leads to sharper, more open positions with plenty of piece play emphasizing quick development — just the sort of opening that club players need. Often Black castles queenside after White has castled kingside, leading to sharp attacking play.

Smerdon’s Scandinavian is the rare opening book that is appropriate for amateur players. Although this is a theoretical work it is arranged around 27 well-annotated model games with plenty of explanatory prose.

Highly Recommended.