Understanding the Caro Kann Defense

1.e4 c6

The Caro-Kann Defense is strategically simple. Black will advance the d pawn to d5 on the second move, confronting the White pawn at e-4. Unlike the French Defense, the Caro-Kann does not force the Black's bishop to sit idly at c8. Instead, it has an open road to the kingside, and is usually developed there quite early in the game.

Even though players often castle on opposite wings, the Caro-Kann can not usually be defeated by direct attacks. The Black position can usually absorb what ever White throws at it, and complex endgame play is typical.

The result of the game may depend on the relative SKILL IN ENDGAME PLAY. So if you want to win games with the usual run-of-the-mill patzers at FICS who frequently have little skill in the Endgame, here is just the ticket for any one who wants to study up on Endgame theory.

This unpretentious defense has gained greater favor in recent years, placing it among the most respected defenses to 1.e4. The plan of 1c6 and 2d5 seems strange at first. Black advances only slowly in the center, often lags in development and makes no aggressive movements. It is no wonder that the defense, know since the sixteenth century, was little understood until the 1890s, when H. Caro of Berlin and M. Kann of Vienna, first analyzed it seriously. Many famous players have since then made use of the opening, but its greatest exponents have been three World Champions of the twentieth century: Capablanca, at the beginning of the century, Botvinnik in the middle years and Karpov at the end.

The positive attributes of the Caro-Kann are that Black succeeds in developing all of his pieces without creating weaknesses or making other positional concessions (such as the locked-in Queen's Bishop the French Defense accepts. On the minus side, (yes, most openings have a minus side) White is granted more freedom of movement, White's challenge is to make use of his extra mobility before Black completely frees his position

The main lines of this opening are 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4. Nxe4, though the Advance Variation (3.e5) and Panov Attack (3.exd4 cxd5 4.c4) are very popular alternatives at both amateur and professional level of play.

Caro Kann Defense Main line

After 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Black has a choice of four different systems. The Classical Variation with 4Bf5 dominated the opening until the late 1980s, when World Champion Anatoly Karpov turned 4Nd7, now known at the Karpov Variation, into the main line. The system with 4Nf6 are not seen in top level play because of the damage White can inflect on the pawn structure with 5.Nxf6+ . When Black recaptures with the e-pawn, the Tartakower Variation, White has a permanent structural advantage thanks to the Queenside pawn majority, though with careful play Black can often grovel a draw. The Bronstein-Larsen Variation, 5gxf6, is more ambitious, but the permanent structural damage to the kingside forces the Black king to evacuate to the Queenside, and the opening remains suspect among professionals.

Let's look at a game between Mihail Tal and Mikhail Botvinnik and watch two giant world champions battle it out with Botvinnik choosing his favorite weapon against 1.e4, the Caro-Kann. In this game Tal, White decides on move 3 to play Nc3 The Classical Variation.

Tal - Botvinnik

In the Scandinavian and French Defenses, Black attacks the e4-pawn with his d5-pawn. The drawback to the Scandinavian is that the Queen is brought out too quickly, whereas in the French Defense, black suffers from a cramped c8-Bishop. The Caro-Kann Defense intends to attack the ef-pawn with out these disadvantages.

Caro-Kann Basic

The Classical Caro-Kann
The Classical Caro-Kann is one of the most solid defenses available to Black. In fact, it has been generally so successful that it became known as a drawing variation. This is misleading however, because although the Caro-Kann does not usually feature combinational pyrotechnics in the middle game, it does lead to rich and complex endgames, often with Knights and one or two major pieces for each side, with a large complement of pawns.

The nature of the pawn structure limits the advantage of a bishop pair, so White must find a strategy that permanently secures an advantage in space. This is usually accomplished by harassing the Black bishop on the kingside, advancing the h-pawn to h5 and then exchanging bishops at d3. White can then aim to maneuver a knight to e5, and if Black exchanges at that square, then the twin pawns at e5 and h5 can severely cramp the kingside. In the endgame, however, these pawns can become vulnerable. The dynamic balance between Middlegame space and endgame structural weakness is the characteristic positional feature of the opening.

Classical Variation

The Classical Karpov Variation
This is the Flip-Flohr-Petrosian-Smyslov-Karpov Variation! That gives some idea of the appeal of this quiet move to positional players. Black uses this awkwardly placed Knight to prepare Ng8-f6, when a White capture will not cause Black to double the Kingside pawns. This variation has supplanted 4Bf5 in tournament play, which is somewhat baffling since the 4Bf5 play is a very strong defense. The 4Nd7 system is a solid defense, but basically is a counterpunching one, a lot of patience is required to execute the plans available to Black.

The Classical Karpov Variation

The Exchange Variation

If as White you want to play a more open game then the Exchange Variaton then is what to chose.

Exchange Var Rubinstein Variation

The Panov Attack when introduced led to widespread interest that was explored deeply in the 1930's. The Panov remains one of the most principled reactions to the Caro Kann, but Black is considered to have sufficient defensive resources to hold his own.

Caro Kann Defense Accelerated Panov Attack

The Exchange Variation, Panov Attack

There are now three branches to the Panov. The most common position arise after 5e6, but that is largely due to the transposition possibilities leading into the Panov from such diverse openings as the Nimzo-Indian, Tarrasch, English etc. The fianchetto defense with 5g6 is a popular alternative, usually leading to complex endgames. For a Middlegame fight, however, 5Nc6 remains the leading choice.

Exchange Variation Panov Botvinnik Attack

The Advance Variation

The Advanced Variation gains space but commits White to an inflexible pawn formation. Black almost always replies 3Bf5, so that the light squares can be sealed with e6. a later e5 will try to undermine White's pawn center. White can choose from among several plans. Simple development, with Nf3, Be2 and kingside castling, leads to a quiet game with a lot of maneuvering.

At the other extreme we have the variation which rose to prominence in the hands of John van der Wiel of the Netherlands, (Of no relation to Herr William Ludwig Von Bang en Burger Clus Clang en Banger van der Wiel.) a top theoretician who has contributed new ideas in many different openings. In the early 1980's this approach, with 4.Nc3 and 5.g4, was all the rage, and it still has an enthusiastic following.

Advance Variation Flank Attack

We can now look at our four possibilities to consider: 4.g4, 4.Nc3, 4.h4 and 4.Nf3. and will examine each of these in the following examples in more detail.

1. Advance Variation Flank Attack w/4.g4

Advance Variation Flank Attack w/4.g4

2. Advance Variation Flank Attack w/4.Nc3

Advance Variation Flank Attack w/4.Nc3

3. Advance Variation Flank Attack w/4.h4

Advance Variation Flank Attack w/4.h4

4. Advance Variation Flank Attack w/4.Nf3

Advance Variation Flank Attack w/4.Nf3

The Fantasy Variation

The Fantasy Variation was used at the turn of the century by Maroczy, and although it has never gotten much respect its results would merit, it remains very much a viable system for White. It is also known as the Maroczy Variation.

Fantasy Variation