The Caro-kann is arguably the most solid choice for black. Black comfortably completes the opening and enjoys a good middlegame as both white and black have chances to explore. This is the first part of the Caro-kann opening series where we will discuss the Caro-kann advanced variation in depth.
Why Choose Caro-kann:
As I said earlier it is one of the most solid options for black but I personally like Caro-Kann a lot because it attacks the e4 players psychologically. The e4 players usually like attacking games while Caro-kann shifts the game to the positional arena where e4 players psychologically struggle.
The caro-kann typically starts when white plays e4 and black responds with c6. This response of black is called caro-kann. White grabs the center with d4 and black immediately strikes the center with d5. There are many possible moves for white each of them are variation of caro-kann. The advanced variation is one where white plays e5 grabbing more space in the center.
Caro-kann allows the light square bishop to get activated shortly, and the black uses this to play Bf5. Black's idea is to play e6 in the next move to close the center. Notice most of the pawns are on the light square which is why keeping the light square bishop outside this pawn chain is good. We can even exchange this bishop and we will have good light square control.
At the beginner level most of the time you will face Bd3. It's good for black to exchange this light square bishop as after e6 black will have good central control on the light square bishop and dark square bishop will be open as well. So the bishop takes the bishop and the queen takes the bishop.
Now black closes the center with e6.
If you notice, all the pawns in the center are on light squares controlling light squares beautifully.
Black now wants to play c5 to challenge the center which is why white can play Be3, c3, Nf3, Nc3 or even h4. Let's check the variation of bishop first. So white plays Be3 and black plays Qb6. One good idea is Qa5 check and after c3 play Qa6 offering an exchange of queen where black's knight will develop exchanging the queen. But obviously white won't accept this which is why I like Qb6 as it adds one attacking piece to d4 and also attacks b2 and the next move we will play c5.
White plays Nc3. Taking on b2 will only attract Rook B1 and the queen will have to give up B file which is why black plays c5. White can capture the pawn but again it will allow the dark square bishop to develop and black will be ready to castle, hence white should keep the tension and play Nf3 and black adds another attacker to d4 by playing Nc6. Now White can castle or capture the pawn. If white castle then one good idea is to play c4 attacking the queen and making b4 available for dark square bishop pinning the knight to the king, Both moves are almost equal. let' say white chooses to exchange the pawns by dxc5 Bxc5 Bxc5 Qxc5.
On the next move, white castles and black develop the knight on e7 preparing to castle kingside. So 11. O-O 11.. Nge7 12. Rfe1 12.. O-O. Both side completes the opening and has equal position.
Also, notice that black has a semi-open c file for the rook and the pawn on e5 can be a target also black doesn't have any weakness.
As per Scriptchess's Database which is not the biggest, Nf3 is most popular in this position so let's check this variation. After 4. Nf3, black completes the planned pawn pyramid by playing e6. Now if white offers an exchange of Bishop by playing Bd3 then we allow white to capture the bishop by playing Ne7 hoping to complete the exchange with Nf5. Another move that white can play is Be2 (called Short Variation named after GM Nigel Short). Be2 has been played most of the time so let's check that.
5. Be2 5.. c5
Black strikes the center and questions white, what will you do. If white captures the pawn on c5 then it'll allow black to develop its bishop by recapturing the pawn on c5, which is why it's not that great move. White instead plays Be3 supporting d4 and we go in a similar line as discussed earlier by playing Qb6.
6. Be3 Qb6 7. Nc3 Nc6 8. dxc5 Bxc5 9. Bxc5 Qxc5 10. Nb5
This is an interesting position. White is threatening to fork the rook and king with Nc7+ and also to fork the king and bishop by Nd6+. Losing the bishop will also break the nice pawn chain black has built. Hence in this position black should give up the castle right and play Kf8 later black will play g6 to hide the king on g7 and play knight to h6 and connect the rook to join on a semi-open c file.
So. 10.. Kf8 11. Nbd4 Qb4+ 12. c3 Qxb2 13. O-O Bg6 14.Nxc6 bxc6 15. c4 Ne7. 16. Re1 Bc2 17. Qd2 Rb8
Black has to find a way to free up the h8 rook before white builds any concrete plan. So far the game is equal
This is 2nd most popular variation and also very interesting, you will see why, So after white's Nc3, black completes the center pyramid with e6, and white straight away attacks the black Bishop with g4. The pawn is supported by the queen so the black bishop goes back to g6, other moves for white instead of g4 is to play calm Nf3, or Be3 but g4 straight away gives the initiative to grab huge space on the king's side, and probably that's why it is most played variation. So the variation continues like the below
4. Nc3 e6 5 g4 Bg6 6. Nge2 c5 7. h4 h6 8. Be3
Now probably you can see this position falls under our known territory. The best move as per engine here is Nc6 but I like to go for Qb6. One reason is that it doesn't do any damage to black's position and it's the same move whenever white goes to Be3 so it's easy to remember, no matter what variation white plays. So black plays Qb6 and white continues with its king side expansion with f4
8.. Qb6 9. f4 Nc6 10. f5 exf5 11. Nxd5 Qd8 12. Bg2 fxg4 13. e6 Nge7 14 Nf4 Qc2 15. h5 cxd4
After white's h5 it's important to know that we should not be saving bishop instead, capture the center pawn with cxd4, the reason is, after 15.. Bh7 16. exf7 Kxf7 17 O-O, all pieces of white join the attack on the vulnerable black king. Also after 15.. cxd4 16. hxg6, black should castle and not fall for cxd3 as 18. exf7 or gxf7 will be mate.
16. hxg6 O-O-O 17. Bd2 fxg6 18. O-O
Both black and White have castled opposite sides, black is a piece down but white's king is wide open, The engine judges this position as slightly favoring white but it won't be easy for white to play here. If white doesn't want to castle short and instead chooses to play something else then also, white will take many moves to castle long, and black in the meantime can maneuver its pieces towards white's queen side.
h4 is known as Tal variation. h4 threatens to trap the light square bishop, with g4 h5 f3. It's important to understand the value of h5 for black instead of h6, h6 saves the bishop but allows g4 so instead h5 is accepted as a better option. The rest of the moves in this line depend on what white plays in response. Just remember the game plan for black is to build the central pyramid, strike the center with c5, and start increasing pressure on d4.
This concludes part 1 of Caro-kann the advance variation.