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Everything Openings #2: Practicality and the Caro-Kann
Photo courtesy of Christianity Today. (Not religious, just the most relevant thumbnail I found.)

Everything Openings #2: Practicality and the Caro-Kann

Oct 21, 2017, 9:02 PM 9

    Hello and welcome to Everything Openings #2! Though the general topic is the same, this post could not be more different from last week's. Whereas last week we were treated to a violent opening bomb, this week carries a less savage but even more important lesson.

    The topic du jour: practicality, an extremely unique and interesting part of our beloved game. Practicality, after all, is what separates chess from other sports, where playing hard from start to finish is the only way to go.

    But practicality is about more than making draws. It's about familiarity. It's about helping your opponents to make the first mistake. It's about the practical evaluation of positions as well as the objective one. Practicality is not just a drawing weapon. It is a potent winning one too.

    Let me tell you a story.


    Again, back to April 2016. I had (sort of) settled on a Black repertoire consisting of the Nimzo/Queen's Indian, the French and e6 Sicilians six months ago, but while I liked the Nimzo too much to consider anything else, my choices against 1. e4 were constantly in flux as side weapons came and went, particularly the Caro-Kann which I had dabbled in for improvement purposes.

    Through most to all of this month, though, it didn't feel quite right, as if my repertoire didn't really suit me at all. I decided I needed to talk to my coach, who will remain anonymous here for now. The transcript speaks for itself:

    Me: All four main responses have been in my repertoire at some point.

    Coach: I personally like them in this order: Sicilian, Caro, French, 1... e5.

    Me: I'm not so sure which ones I like. For the Sicilian I generally play 2... Nc6, because it's somewhat sharp, and the Sveshnikov positions seem easier for Black to play. With 2... e6, I've had some trouble finding a plan, and 2... d6 is what Silman calls "too much opening".

    Coach: Ya, though it could be argued that the Sicilians all taken together are too much for White! At least with Black you can specialize with one or two.

    Me: It could. My problem with 1... e5 is that in the Ruy for example, there are so many typical maneuvers. I end up "in book" for too long and unable to use all of my time.

    Coach: If you can play the black side of the Ruy well, you should definitely play it and try to fix your time usage rather than change openings

    Me: I finally settled on a repertoire in August of last year, but as Black against 1. e4, it's been in constant flux as I try to find which openings I do well with.

    Coach: My general rule is to give anything I try one year. Then at the end if I did lousy with it, it becomes a backup only for special occasions.

    Me: The problem is I've only played seriously for one year.

    Coach: Ok. That's a good excuse.

    Me: And right now, 1... c5, 1... c6, 1... e5 and 1.... e6 are all on "trial mode".

    Coach: My recommendation: 1... c6 to start. Generally easiest to play and all sorts of people have nothing against it, so they just take on d5 and play with no plan whatsoever.

    And that's where the relevant chitchat ends. Now, the problem with the Exchange CK? It's like the various 1. d4 systems: you should be happy as Black, but you feel uncomfortable, because you're still Black. Here's an OTB rapid game from November of that year that illustrates my point:

    Even though I could have played much better here, it took me a surprisingly long time to find a good, reliable line versus the Exchange, and the fact that in this game Black never had any winning chances is terribly annoying.

    The main lines weren't easy either, as I constantly got creamed by Ne5 plans, not only in this 90 30 game, but in dozens of blitz games, on and off the site, and after this disaster I ditched the 4... Bf5 line.

    The next day, I talked with my coach about switching to a different variation. The 4... Nf6 lines weren't my favourite thing ever, the Korchnoi because it seemed to me that although Black was fine, White had all of the play, and the Bronstein-Larsen because I couldn't find anything convincing against the simple 6. Nf3 Bg4 7. Be2.

    Minutes after, I looked into 4... Nd7 and really, truly liked what I was seeing. Not only did the cursed Ne5 plans seem rarer than in the Classical, but as I found out later, quite literally everybody plays the harmless 5. Nf3 here instead of the critical 5. Ng5!?, and even then, I should be fine if I know some stuff.

    Several games in the variation followed, both online and OTB. In all of them, I played ... Bg4, exchanged on f3, and enjoyed a comfortable position. Here's one, a short draw from a last-round OTB rapid game almost exactly a year ago, where I employed this plan, achieved a fairly comfortable position, and split the point quickly. Yet I made a few small mistakes in the opening, and as a result, White could have had more play than I wanted.

   That brings us to the present. In about 15 games played with this line, I have never once faced the critical 5. Ng5, and I've been able to play this same plan in every single game, obtaining a satisfactory position every time.
    A variation most White players never look at and a simple opening plan. The 4... Nd7 line had both of these, and that made it an extremely effective practical weapon. Whereas with the Classical due to White's simple play I often made the first mistake of the game between move 15 and move 20 and gave White lasting pressure, in this line it's just a game, except that I have a plan and White doesn't, and that counts for a lot in amateur chess.
    Although I switched to the Breyer a couple of months ago, the 4... Nd7 Caro has its charms, and it could very well end up as my main defense to 1. e4.

Thanks for stopping by and reading this post! First, though, I have some important news: Everything Openings, like all other posts, will now be released only once per week on Saturdays. At first I thought these posts were going to be shorter than usual, making for a perfect "filler" series, but it turns out I simply have too much to say - a wonderful problem to have!
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