The Modern Caro-Kann Antidote to 3.Nc3

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In this post, I will share with you an interesting idea against the Caro-Kann, which was first played in a Grandmaster game in 2017 (and once before that in 2014), but is now a quite trendy answer to the old main line of the Caro-Kann, with 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4

The main line against this goes as follows:

This is still a reliable line for Black, and scores a lot of draws in recent GM games. However, it requires Black to have good preparation, and a strong memory, and some players wanted a more practical and less explored option. 

Enter the following game, from the 2017 US Women's Championship:

When I first saw this 9...h5 idea, I could not believe that it would work - surely, this is just a weakening of the Black king? 

However, it was obvious in the game that the usual plan of castling queenside as White, and playing for a kingside attack, would not work - as the h5-pawn stops White opening the position! 

It turns out that Black is already better in the above game after 14...b5, as White is stuck with a bad bishop on f4 against Black's knight, and with the queenside pawns blockaded, White is unable to use her majority. 

What if White tries to avoid this ...b5 move by playing c4, and only then playing on the kingside? Here too, Black is able to find good counterplay on the queenside, while keeping White at bay on the kingside, like in this game:

True, it was probably better for White to play 15.c5, but then after 15...Bb8, it is not easy for White to break through. The d5 break is double-edged at best, while g4 is again locked down with ...Bd5 and ...h4.

Here is another game, where White tried to castle queenside - again, without success:

Although White handled the opening better than in the stem GM game, Black still comfortably equalised out of the opening, and soon gained the advantage when White made the ill-fated decision to exchange off Black's bishop pair with Bh7-f5. 

You might well be thinking that 'only Grandmasters can get away with moves like ...h5'. However, in the following game, a 2200+ player got blown away by a player in the 1700s who knew the scheme and played a flawless game:

The following recent game, from this year's US Junior Championship, is another game that shows that White's king is not necessarily safe on the kingside, if White thinks he can quietly build up his central position: 

One concern you may have, when playing this system as Black, is that White will simply trade all the pieces off, and win the pawn endgame with his extra pawn on the queenside. However, the following game shows that we don't necessarily have to fear trades, so long as there is at least one set of pieces each:

So, where should White look for an opening advantage? The following recent game doesn't necessarily give a lot of hope - had Black played 14...Bf4 instead, he would have maintained full equality.

If White puts the bishop on d2 instead, so that ...Nd7-b6-d5 does not come with tempo, then the following game seems a fully adequate answer for Black:

This is possibly why some strong players switched to 6.Bc4 Bd6 7.Qe2 instead, but it doesn't bother me. Black can either play a very solid endgame, like in the game below;

Or, if Black wants to keep more winning chances, he can keep a fighting position with Howell's 7...Be7:

What did you learn from this blog post? 

Why do you think the ...h5 idea works so well for Black?

Do you remember the plans for Black against both queenside and kingside castling?

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