Caro-Kann & Najdorf

Caro-Kann & Najdorf

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Eniamar asked:

Finally, I leave with a question, since this may be the last chance I get to ask it of you:

I am a sicilian player, and I am deeply in love with the Najdorf. After 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6, I often see white choose the line that follows 6. Bg5 e6 7. f4

This is quite aggressive and not very subtle, and my database lists the most common replies as Be7, Qb6, and Nbd7.

Personally, I like to play Qc7 to side-step some of the deeper opening theory with Be7 and Qb6, and I don't generate enough activity after Nbd7.

Can you enlighten me as to why the reasonable seeming Qc7 is not so popular?

Dear Eniamar,

     To begin with, in our last article in the Ideas Behind the Openings column we have covered one of my (Arun's) games where I have played the Qc7 move., though the article was written on a different theme, we hope the first game would give you some idea about this system.

We would like to show some more games in this Qc7 line for the readers to get a quick understanding of the system.




After 7…Qc7 White has two main lines here, 8.Qf3 and 8.Bxf6. 8.Qf3 has the greater number of games while 8.Bxf6 was chosen by more strong players.

The reason 7…Qc7 is not so popular is that the other main lines like 7...Nbd7, 7...Be7 and the poisoned pawn variation etc. have much more concrete variations and top players find new ideas in those variations to put pressure on white.

If you take a close look at Qc7, Bxf6 the position often resembles Rauzer attack type of positions and black players could directly play the Rauzer rather than playing the Najdorf. The Qc7 variation is often used by players if they really need to push for a win since there are no forcing draws unlike the main lines which have plenty of drawish ideas for white.

Remember the last game of Anand-Kramnik match, when Kramnik needed a win he chose the Qc7 variation, but it was the mighty Vishy on the opposite side who still had ideas to play a safe game and even started pushing for a win without any risk.


From Chess4001:

Hi, Mr. Silman. After reading your latest blog on the Caro-kann, I am extremely fascinated. A couple players recommended the Caro-kann for me (because I'm a positional player) but when I tried to play it myself, I find myself clueless in strategy and quotes. Caro-kann players say that black will have an excellent pawn structure at the endgame, but I'm still a little confused; I'm wondering if you can explain a thing or two basic pieces of info about the Caro-kann that could help me out here. Thanks!

Dear Chess4001,

        Yes, your friends are right. If you are a positional player, the Caro-Kann will definitely suit you well. You will be able to handle Caro-Kann well when you understand the characteristics of the opening.

White can counter the Caro-Kann with four main lines.

1. Classical System: 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 and Black has three choices Bf5, Nd7 and Nf6

2. Advance System: 3.e5 and Black has two choices Bf5 and c5

3. Panov-Botvinnik System: 3.exd5 cxd5 4.c4 Nf6

4. Fantasy or Tartakower Variation: 3.f3

1. Classical System

The following game by Karpov is an excellent example to show how Black can capitalize on his pawn structure in the endgame.


Maintaining a good pawn structure is one of the key points of the Caro-Kann system. If you want to play the Caro-Kann, calculating ability is not as important as having good technical skills.

In this game, Karpov used the Queen and Knight combination against Queen and Bishop and came out successful. Typically, queen with knight is better than queen with bishop and rook with bishop is stronger than rook with knight. Of course every rule has exceptions and that is what makes the game much more interesting. These are some of the basic rules which a player has to know when he wants to play solid openings like the Caro-Kann. 

2. Advance System

In the advance variation of the Caro-Kann Defence black’s main problem will be completing his development. Since white has committed to e5 he generally does not worry about the pawn structures and tries to crack black's position. Hence, black’s idea is to complete his development and watch out for the weaknesses created by white. At the right moment he has to get the c6-c5 or f7-f6 break and attack the central pawns.



In this game black completed his development by playing Ne7-Nc8-a6-Na7-Nb5. We would have learned to complete the development in the opening as soon as possible as a beginner. But here, the position is closed and black has all the time to complete his development.

3. Panov-Botvinnik System

This system often brings about the IQP(Isolated Queen Pawn) structure. Black strives hard to gain control over the d5-square and to exchange pieces. White needs to avoid exchanges of pieces and put pressure on black by attacking the king. We recommend to the readers the excellent “Winning Pawn Structures” book by Alexander Baburin. The author has covered several ideas for white with the IQP. Here is an example to show the readers what happens to white if he starts exchanging pieces without showing aggression.



The isolated d-pawn soon became a weakness and it is not easy to play for White. 

4. Fantasy or Tartakower Variation

Often played by players who want to avoid long theoretical lines and still want to maintain complications. White intends to castle queenside and wants to attack on the kingside and has already committed f3 preparing g4-h4. Black has several choices here such as 3… e6, 3… g6 3… dxe4 and 3… Qb6. All the mentioned choices are good and give black a very solid position.

Our own International Master David Pruess has demonstrated some fantastic attacking skills in this variation against Grandmaster Daniel Friedman. 


Hopefully this has given our readers a very good idea about the Caro-Kann defense as a whole. 

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