Why playing the Caro-Kann?
Caro-Kann is an opening with some extraordinary features:
1. Overall Quality
Caro-Kann is part of many a 2700-player’s repertoire. Personally, I don’t know any line which gives White a substantial advantage. This is really a tough nut to crack for the 1.e4-players!
We know that Alphazero considers/considerd the Berlin Defence as the best answer to 1.e4. A chess friend recently told me, that the Caro-Kann was a close competitor for this position, as can be seen in the protocols. I didn’t check this information, but it appears plausible to me.
The Caro-Kann stands on the solid ground of the classical chess principles. To start with, Black directly fights for the center. While it is true that he will give up his stronghold d5 after 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4, this doesn’t mean that he will lack central control. The squares d5 and f5 are covered by pawns, while the pieces will deal with the squares e5, e4 and c5. White’s d-pawn is under pressure along the file and might be attacked by the pawn-breaks c6-c5 or e6-e5, while a pawn on c4 can be challenged by b7-b5, when appropriate.
By eliminating the mighty pawn e4, Black’s minor pieces, first and foremost the notoriously problematic queen’s bishop, will be liberated and easily find good destinations for their deployment. This is demonstrated by the diagram below, which displays one of the tabiyas of the main line.
1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Bf5 5.Ng3 Bg6 6.h4 h6 7.Nf3 Nd7 8.h5 Bh7 9.Bd3 Bxd3 10.Qxd3 e6 11.Bf4 Qa5+ 12.Bd2 Bb4 13.c3 Be7 14.c4 Qc7 15.0-0-0 Ngf6
From the weakness perspective, which is normally my first approach for scanning a position, Black is doing extraordinarily well. His structure is very compact.
White can choose between different set-ups, when fighting the Caro-Kann. But whatever he does, he won’t be able to impose very difficult structures upon you as it may happen in the Sicilian. That’s why this opening is suitable even for players with only one or two years of chess experience.
Overall, Caro-Kann is a pattern opening and doesn’t consist of many forced lines. You don’t need to be blessed with a photographic memory. If you compare the Caro-Kann with 1..e5, another solid choice, you will see that the body of theory is considerably smaller.
Imagine, your intention is to play a solid line of the Closed Spanish, such as the Breyer Variation. In how many games will you reach your target position after 9..Nb8?
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Lb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.c3 0-0 9.h3 Nb8
White has many alternatives along the way, like the Scotch Game, the Evans Gambit, the Ruy Lopez Exchange Variation and so on, while in the Caro-Kann it is already game on after 1..c6. You are directly where you want to be.
4. Winning Potential
There is this notion of the Caro-Kann being solid, but boring or drawish. While it is true that the Caro-Kann has less of a punch than the Sicilian, this doesn’t mean that you cannot beat inferior opponents with it. Most lines lead to demanding structures with imbalances, automatically providing you with an idea, where to push your advantage and how to win the game. Most probably, you will succeed by capitalizing on your opponent’s weaknesses, as White often takes a lot of liberties with his pawn moves.
In the modern main lines of the Capablanca Variation (4..Bf5), which feature positions with opposite-side castling, we can regularly witness impressive attacking games won by the black protagonists.
Everyone, who is versed in playing sharp Sicilian lines knows that this is effective in the majority of cases. However, there is a group of players against which you might want to look for a different approach. These are the fearless attackers, good in calculating lines and often equipped with the latest theory. In this case, the Caro-Kann would be an excellent alternative. If you pick your lines cleverly, you will succeed in staying away from situations, where your king is in the center of the attention.
Also, from a general perspective it is a good idea to play more than one opening. If you have the feeling that your opponents are generally well prepared against you (this depends on your playing level), you might want to become a more versatile player. Now, your opponents can only devote half of their preparation time to each respective opening of yours.
An intersection of the versatility and simplicity/robustness aspects is the possibility to play the Caro-Kann unprepared, for instance in the first round of an open tournament or if your are facing an unexpected opponent in a team match. By contrast, if you play theory-heavy high-tech Sicilians, you better bring the lines in your short-term memory before the game, which is only possible, if you exactly know which line to expect.
6. Stealth Factor
Let’s introduce two new terms into chess language. With stealth factor I mean the positional complexity of the position. Obviously, by engaging in the Caro-Kann Master Class, you will be an expert in this opening, having a knowledge advantage over your opponents most of the time. Such an advantage is not worth so much, if the position is simple, allowing your opponent to apply common chess logic to navigate. However, if the position is strategically demanding and your potential advantage camouflaged by optical illusions, you will be able to draw the maximum benefit from your thorough preparation. A good example for the stealth factor are Hedgehog positions, where the uninitiated easily underestimates Black’s potential. The Caro-Kann is less complicated, but leaves also room for obscurity. The moment I really caught fire was, when I continuously stumbled over positions, where the engine gave =+, where I would have initially guessed equality and -/+ where I only assumed a slight advantage for Black. The following is a good example.
In the game Novak-Molkanov, Klatovy 2018 White played a couple of apparently normal, but inaccurate moves. At first glance, the position looks roughly equal, with White having a spatial advantage. However, after the standard pawn break 16..c5 Black already stood clearly better (ca. -1.0 pawn units)! As it turns out, White’s position is vastly overextended. He suffers from weak pawns on h5, c4 and f2 as well as from his exposed king. This overextension disease is White’s main problem in the main line, but it is unknown to non-experts. You can call it a fundamental positional trap. The good thing is that all Black had to do to achieve this clear advantage was to play solid moves. He didn’t have to sacrifice material or submit his king to danger. All he did was unrolling boring routine moves.
7. Static slope
Many opening positions see a match-up between one side having a static advantage and the other side having a dynamic advantage. In the Caro-Kann main line White has a temporary space advantage and, along with it, potential attacking chances on the kingside, which equates to having the dynamic advantage. On the other hand, his position is potentially over-extended, which can be exploited mid- to long-term. The player with the dynamic advantage is standing on the static slope. If he fails to use his dynamic assets to bring about positive changes, his static disadvantage will become more obvious with every move that goes by. He is sliding down the slippery static slope.
Personally, I find it more easy to play with the static advantage, as it plays itself whereas the dynamic advantage sometimes calls for drastic measures such as sacrificing material. Click here and here for model games emphasizing the stealth factor and the static slope.
I analyzed the Caro-Kann in the context of teaching it to some of my students. Now, I want to take it to another level. As writing a book is not attractive due to the conditions offered by the publishers, I decided to introduce a new format. The offer will have the following features:
Extent: a minimum of 300 analyses will exist within 6 months after the project has started. Beside that, databases of winning ideas for Black/White and of typical motives will be created for the main line. One with Black’s winning ideas (I detected 16 so far) already exists.
In the first stage, the repertoire is being completed. In the second stage, the databases with the strategic model games are being finalized. In the third stage, alternative lines will be presented.
Quality: The ambition is to offer the best non-private repertoire on the Caro-Kann, once the work is completed. The specific format allows for keeping the material up-to-date.
Format: pgn/cbv complemented by verbal comments
Update period: 3 years
Every subscriber will receive regular updates for a period of 3 years. Taking into account the already excellent quality of today’s engines, every student of my master class will hold a versatile and rock solid repertoire in his hands for the rest of his life and, in relation to his general playing strength, can consider himself a true master of the Caro-Kann.
Circulation: Exclusive, very small
Interactivity: Questions, reports on mistakes, missing lines or attacks on the Caro-Kann by other publications will be processed through updates.
Getting started: Right now, I have 150 analyses available, which already cover the most important lines and are of varying quality. Before I enter in this project, I need a couple of early subscribers, which receive special conditions:
- Update period of 6 years
- 5 online lessons (worth EUR 250 in total)
- The material can be shared with two trustworthy persons
Following the project: Entering this project at an early stages also makes sense, because the repertoire is basically operable. If you prefer to wait for a more mature state, please follow this site, as the progress will be reported here.
Why extensive opening training?
The opening and the middlegame have to be considered as one unit. Just focusing on the opening by learning the first 10 or 12 moves by heart doesn’t do the job. This will leave you in a special situation against a potentially well-prepared opponent, where you have no clue. You are better off playing 1.a3 and both of you will be on a level playing field.
Learning openings properly doesn’t require to learn too many lines or very long lines by heart. It rather means to study the logic of the position, so that you can navigate by your understanding of the specific laws, when being out of book.
Opening logic contains typical pawn structures, strategic and tactical motives as well as the most important winning ideas for both parties. The long analyses will help you to observe how the positions typically unfold, where the pieces belong and what plans and structures exist in the middlegame.
What is the consequence?
Instead of (possibly) struggling in the opening phase against young theory monsters or seasoned experts, you will be the one who is sitting in the driver’s seat. It starts already before move 1. Your good preparation makes you look forward to the game and sit down at the board with a lot of confidence and positive energy. You play the opening moves quickly and your body language intimidates your opponent. As you are better prepared, you will often gain an advantage on the clock. When your opponent finally deviates from theory, you will be able to exploit his mistakes through your profound knowledge of the opening logic. You are in full control of the game thanks to your hard and systematic work.
Other tools are problematic. Learning with book and board just takes too much time as learning strongly relies on repetition. A video is superficial and only good for the introduction of fundamental plans. Both tools have the big disadvantage of being static. They cannot be altered, refined or augmented. Only a living, dynamic format can guarantee efficient learning. If possible, most of your training should rely on pgns/ChessBase data. The advantages are compelling:
- flexible, can be altered
- can be augmented, you can add comments, lines, master games or your own games
- can be viewed quickly, important for repetitions
- can be checked and further developed by an engine
There is not too much high quality pgn- material on the market for obvious reasons. It is important to understand this, when evaluating the price.
As an early subscriber, you are allowed to share the material with two trustworthy persons (see above), which brings the price down to an average of EUR 333.
I am aware of the fact that many players don’t need such a high-quality product. Others don’t want to pay so much money for chess or simply cannot afford it. Obviously, this is no product for the mass market. My target group are ambitious players, who can afford it and are aware of time management. For this group, the offer can be very attractive. The price of the Master Class equals 20 hours of online training (EUR 50 per hour), where 20 – 30 analyses can be conveyed. This offer, however, contains at least 300 analyzes in the long run plus strategic model games.
Also, if you consider, that this offer could stop you from worrying about what to play against 1.e4 (appearing in more than 50% of your games with Black) for the rest of your life, it could make a lot of sense. Many players couldn’t find a satisfactory solution here for long periods of time and might still be in the middle of a construction place. If you think of all these hours wasted on dead-ends, the price is put into perspective. Much of its evaluation depends on how you value your own time.