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The Tal Caro-Kann: Surprise Weapon or Strong Move?

The Tal Variation of the Caro-Kann is 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 Bf5 4.h4!?

It's an uncommon line, but not as rare as might be thought. A lot of Caro-Kann players seem to be of the opinion that:

 - 4.h4 is too commital and allows Black to plan with greater confidence.

 - 4.h4 only works when the Black player hasn't seen the move before.

I've played a few games with it now, and I heartily disagree! It depends on the next move from White in my opinion; after 4...h5 which is Black's best choice, then:

 - 5.Bg5 is the surprise weapon!

This was a line I tried for a bit, until as I said IM pfren mentioned the Shirov-Anand game and Anand's 7...Qa6! I looked at that game and had to agree that White didn't exactly have anything after that. So before that I thought it was a good move, now it is a surprise weapon. But; it isn't the main line!

 - 5.c4 is the main line and NOT a surprise weapon, but a genuine try for an advantage (I believe a good one!). Many players believe again that this doesn't promise White anything, but I like what I see here.

To back this case up, I've annotated a game where GM Short scores a crushing win against the solid GM L.E.Johannessen.

White got a great position in that game and Black couldn't find any counterplay at all - a really clean win! Thanks for reading.



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