Openings for Tactical Players: Caro-Kann Defence

Openings for Tactical Players: Caro-Kann Defence‎

GM Gserper
37 | Tactics

It is difficult to find an opening which is misunderstood by more chess players than the Caro-Kann Defence! Former World Champion Anatoly Karpov once remarked,  "I always had a very sad impression of this opening due to its desperate passivity."  To be fair, he continued "...but I really learned this opening much later in my career, while preparing for my candidate's match vs. Spassky in 1974. Still, it didn't change my opinion about the opening and my choice of the Caro-Kann in the game vs. Spassky could be explained by a certain match strategy."  Karpov wrote this comment in a book of his selected games published in the late 1970s. Apparently some 20 years later he learned something new about the Caro-Kann since it became a backbone of his Black opening repertoire. One variation in the Caro-Kann was even named after him (The Smyslov / Karpov Variation where Black plays 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nd7 ).

Indeed, the majority of the lines in the Caro-Kann are very solid (and not necessarily passive). Yet, there is a line where Black attempts to seize the initiative right out of the opening. I am talking about so-called Bronstein-Larsen Variation which appears on the board after 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nf6 5. Nxf6 gxf6!?  Here is how Wikipedia describes this variation: "Black has voluntarily opted for an inferior pawn structure and a practical necessity of castling queen side, while gaining dynamic compensation in the form of the open g-file for the rook and unusually active play for the Caro-Kann."  Sounds like exactly the line tactical players should look for! And the next wild game of Bronstein just proves the point!





In the game above White tried to refute Black's set up right away (an impossible task!) and his overaggressive play backfired.  But even if White plays conservatively and just develops his pieces and castles there is still risk.  The following game is a text book example of using the open 'g' file for creating a mating attack.
Of course it makes sense for White to develop his Bc1 to f4 and then to g3 covering the dangerous open 'g' file.  In this case Black 'h7' pawn gets a target for the attack as was seen in the next game.
There is another distinctive feature of this variation of Caro-Kann. In any other line if White makes a mistake he usually just loses his opening advantage.  Meanwhile, in the Bronstein-Larsen Variation positions are usually so sharp that a tiny mistake can lead to a catastrophe.  A very young future-GM Josh Friedel fell a victim of one such land mine:
In conclusion, let me repeat my usual advice/disclaimer.   In this article I didn't try to prove that Black is winning in all the variations or that this line is the best in the Caro-Kann. My goal was just to explain the main ideas, to demonstrate typical attacking patterns and to share the spirit of this particular variation. I hope you replayed the whole games and not just the positions shown on the diagrams (Remember that you can always replay a whole game from the first move if you click "Solution" and then "Move list"). If you liked what you saw so far, then it is a good starting point for your own investigation of the opening. I can tell you one thing for sure: if you decide to give this variation a try, I can guarantee you an interesting game and a lot of excitement.
Good luck!
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