The Caro-Kann is a reliable and highly respected answer to White's most popular opening move, 1 e4. It has the seal of approval of numerous leading Grandmasters including Vishy Anand, Evgeny Bareev and Alexey Dreev, as well as former World Champion Anatoly Karpov, who has utilized it with great success throughout his illustrious career. One of the attractions of the Caro-Kann is that it suits a variety of different styles; it can lead to wild tactical battles as well as quiet, positional play.
In this book, International Master Jovanka Houska presents the reader with a concise and trustworthy repertoire within the Caro-Kann, providing a solution against all of White's main options, and efficient methods to deal with tricky sidelines. Houska examines the important tactical and strategic plans for both sides, arming the reader with enough information to begin playing the Caro-Kann with confidence in his or her own games.
My own experience with the Caro-Kann began when I was a child. My father, a club player, decided it was about time I started playing something mainstream so he introduced me to the opening. In his own inimitable style he elatedly said: 'After 1 e4, play 1...c6 - it's a win!' However, it was, I must come clean, the Caro-Kann with little Houska twists: some actually very good ideas; others well, a little unique...
After showing me the moves 2 d4 d5 3 exd5, he paused. Unable to contain the excitement in his voice, he animatedly stated: 'And now Black should play the very strong 3..Qd5!' A few years later, I tried to persuade him that maybe it wasn't such a good thing to give the centre away so easily, but my father could not be swayed and continued on his mission to convince everyone to play this idea (even top grandmasters were not immune from such advice!). So after a while, I laid the Caro to rest, consigning it as a relic of the past, and began investigating other openings. However, my interest was reawakened in my late teens when I needed something simple but logical that could give me reasonable winning chances.
History of the Opening
It was two German players, Horatio Caro and Marcus Kann, who introduced this defence during the second half of the nineteenth century. At the time, chess was very much in its 'Romantic' stage; a time when it was rude not to accept sacrifices, and gambits were all the rage. Unsurprisingly, the Caro-Kann did not find too many adherents but as the concepts of positional chess developed, people began appreciating the qualities of the opening: Black gets easy development of the pieces, clear plans with a solid pawn structure, and safe but active play. Today, the Caro has a grand heritage with many great players, including world champions - Botvinnik, Petrosian and most significantly Anatoly Karpov - using it with great success. Modern advocates of the Caro include distinguished grandmasters such as Dautov, Dreev, and Riazantsev, to name just a few. I fully advocate following the games of these players and shamelessly copying what they play! After all, why not play the opening like a top grandmaster?!
Aims of the Caro-Kann
In the past, the Caro-Kann has been much maligned for being dry and boring, or simply a drawish opening. However, the fundamental aim of the opening is to achieve full development and then begin active play to challenge White's space advantage. There are many sides to the Caro and one should not lose sight that at times it can be very sharp as well as positional.
The whole premise of 1...c6 is very much based on the logic that is also behind the French Defence; with the first move Black gets ready to support the ...d7-d5 pawn advance. The advantage of 1...c6 is that Black does not block the light-squared bishop on c8, but there is also a disadvantage in that the important move ...c5 is not available to Black in most lines, at least not immediately. The centre is usually filled with too much tension for Black to be able to spend two tempi achieving ...c5, and Black must usually wait until he is fully developed before he can afford to expend another tempo in pushing the c6-pawn one square further. There is one exception to this and that is in the Advance Variation (Chapters 7-8), the justification being that White has already eased the high tension in the centre by advancing the e-pawn.
As I stated earlier, Black's main aim is to complete development before beginning any active operations (although of course there are some exceptions). However, when playing the opening, it is very useful to keep in mind the following six factors. Some of them are clearly self-explanatory; others, I will explain how they should be applied to the Caro-Kann directly.
The centre is a very important feature of most openings and the Caro-Kann is no different. The nature of the centre is flexible and dependent on the variation chosen by White: at times it can be full of high tension, as in the Panov; relatively static, as in the Exchange Variation; or dynamic, as in an isolated queen's pawn (IQP) position. Black should always value the importance of the centre - especially the four centre squares e4, e5, d4 and d5 - as it is such an important part of the game.
Again this is dependent on which variation is played, but as a very general point Black should be looking to contest the central files, paying special attention to the pawn breaks ...c5 and ...e5, which place pressure on the central square d4.
This one is pretty simple: keep the pieces as active as possible!
Generally speaking Black has a good structure with pawns usually occupying light squares, the only disadvantage being that to begin with Black's structure does not control much space. One point to understand is that if Black exchanges his light-squared bishop for a knight, he should very much play on the dark squares and use the pawns as a light-square blockade.
Strong and Weak Squares
As a very rough guide, Black's weakest point is the e5-square, as this is often utilized by a white knight to commence an attack. A strong square for Black, if the pawn has been exchanged, is the d5-square; if the d5-pawn remains then the c4-and e4-squares are potential strengths.
This actually consists of more than the basic rule of getting your king castled as soon as possible. In fact, this concept is especially significant in cases where parties have castled on opposite sides. Here both White and Black should be acutely aware that in terms of defence prevention is always better than cure.
The Modern Approach to the Caro-Kann
Since the introduction of computers, Black openings in general have taken some serious poundings and the Caro-Kann is no exception. It has traditionally been perceived as a relatively simple if a little passive system with Black only needing to know the underlying ideas. However, with the increasing amount of theory the situation has become much more complicated. White players, no longer content with simply playing a position as it is, have adopted two aggressive approaches: the first is to try to completely blast Black off the board; the second, to try to force Black to 'grovel' for the draw in a chanceless position. Unfortunately, it has become more and more necessary for players to have a deeper knowledge of the theory, so I would suggest that readers make a real effort to understand the moves and ideas in the sharp lines (Advance, Panov) and the Classical main lines, whilst simply learning some basic principles for the lines which are known to be less dangerous for Black. In the latter case, having a positional understanding will count for much more than simply memorizing variations.
My approach to the Book
I have very much tried to write this book exactly how I like books to be written - with plenty of explanation of ideas and basic principles, along with some new theory! On the whole I have tended to avoid lines where I feel Black only has the chance of playing for 'two results' (a loss or a draw) and instead chosen lines with 'three results' on offer. Sometimes this has led to me, following in my dad's footsteps, adding little Houska twists. I have also steered away from very complicated positions where Black is material up but his king is stranded in the centre; in my experience those positions are nerve-wracking to play and most of them should be deeply studied - not something everyone has time to do. I have used two computer engines to assist me in my analysis - the calm Rybka 2.1 and the over-excitable Fritz 9.
I would like to give my thanks to Everyman Chess Publications, and in particular to Grandmaster John Emms for helping me immeasurably, giving his advice and providing me with a volume of material that I could not have done without.
Finally, to all Caro players out there: Good Luck!
009 1 Main Line: Introduction and 11 Bf4
038 2 Main Line: 11 Bd2
052 3 Main Line: 6 Bc4 and Early Deviations
071 4 Panov-Botvinnik Attack: Introduction and 6 Nf3
097 5 Panov-Botvinnik Attack: 6 Bg5
106 6 Exchange Variation
120 7 Advance Variation with 3...c5: Introduction
132 8 Advance Variation: 3...c5 4 dxc5
152 9 Fantasy Variation
157 10 Panov's Little Brother: 2 c4
170 11 Two Knights Variation
187 12 King's Indian Attack
198 13 Unusual Lines and the Plain Bizarre
206 Index of Variations