Grandmaster Repertoire 7 — The Caro-Kann

Lars Schandorff

Reviewer: Jeremy Silman
Quality Chess
250 pages

For me, anytime a new book on the Caro-Kann appears it is cause for celebration. Of course, that initial “feast” mentality more often than not turns into a famine state of mind. Why? Because most books on this opening fail to live up to expectations. Fortunately, I can finally let out a cheer since grandmaster Schandorff’s book actually surpassed whatever expectations I might have harbored.

The first thing that must be understood is that Grandmaster Repertoire 7: The Caro-Kann is a repertoire book. Thus, don’t expect coverage of all possible lines! Instead, Schandorff puts together a very sound Caro-Kann repertoire that offers a mix of solid variations that also give reasonable chances to take the full point.

The contents:

Key to symbols used & Bibliography 6 
Introduction 7 The Classical Variation 1 Introduction 9 2 Early Deviations 13 3 6.Bc4 21 4 6.h4 31 5 11.Bd2 37 6 11.Bf4 53 7 12.Bd2 59 8 The Main Line 14.c4 65 The Advance Variation 9 Introduction and Minor Lines 85 10 c4-Lines 95 11 Positional Lines 103 12 Short Variation 113 13 Shirov Variation 137 Panov Variation 14 Intro & Early Deviations 149 15 The Endgame Line 157 16 The Sharp 6.Bg5 171 Minor Systems 17 Pseudo-Panov 181 18 Exchange Variation 197 19 Fantasy Variation 207 20 Two Knights Variation 215 21 2.d3 225 22 Rare Lines 235 Index of Illustrative Games 246 
Index of Variations 251

This repertoire nixes 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nf6 (I won many games with this in my youth) and 4……Nbd7 (Karpov’s favorite) in favor of the Classical Variation (1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Bf5), though here he tends to avoid the old main lines based on Black castling queenside for the sharper (but very sound and recently very popular) kingside castling.

His section on the Advance Variation is excellent (71 pages!), and (after 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5) he avoids the unclear 3……c5!? for the more popular 3……Bf5, taking us on a deep, rewarding journey through all of white’s main options and black’s best replies to them. In fact, this section really stands out, though I did notice one regrettable omission: 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 Bf5 4.h4 h5 (he mentions 4……Qb6!? as being a reasonable alternative but fails to mention 4……h6!?, which has been used by players like Ivanchuk and Leko. Nevertheless, 4……h5 is black’s most popular move and, as I said earlier, he generally sticks with one specific line for Black. However, on occasion he’ll give us a taste of a new or attractive looking alternative) and now he leaps into a deep study of 5.c4 (the main line), neglecting the rare 5.Bg5 completely. Though this has only been played 18 times in my database (often by strong players), white’s score is an outrageous 16 wins, 2 draws, 0 losses! Clearly, 5.Bg5 is extremely dangerous! Here’s a typical example: M.Perunovic (2580) – B.Lalith (2480), 11th Dubai Open 2009 up to black’s 11th move: 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 Bf5 4.h4 h5 5.Bg5 Qb6 6.Bd3 Bxd3 7.Qxd3 Qxb2 8.e6 Qxa1 9.Qb3 Qxd4 10.Qxb7 fxe6 11.Be3 Qa4 12.Qxa8 Qa5+ 13.Nd2 Qd8 14.Ngf3 Nf6 15.0-0 g6 16.Rb1 Nbd7 17.Qxc6 Bg7 18.Ng5, 1-0. Caro-Kann fans that are aware of the perils of coming face to face with 5.Bg5 would have appreciated a way to get though this without losing one’s head.

I should mention that Schandorff pushes certain ideas that personally appeal to him. For example, he’s fallen in love with the maneuver …Ng8-e7-c8 followed by …Be7 in various lines of the Advance Variation. By offering this kind of thing, he imprints the reader’s brain with plans and setups which will ultimately enrich the Caro-Kann fans understanding of the opening as a whole. And example of this occurs after 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 Bf5 4.Be3 e6 5.Nd2 Nd7 6.Nb3 Ne7 (here it comes!) 7.Be2 Nc8!? (followed by …Be7 and …0-0 with a comfortable position for Black). His comment: “Once you see this idea you can’t get it out of your head. It will take a trained psychotherapist to delete it.” He’s right! Like a song that keeps repeating in your mind, the …Ng8-e7-c8 maneuver keeps playing itself out over and over in my mind’s eye.

His recipe vs. the Panov Botvinnik is the time tested and ultra sound 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 cxd5 4.c4 Nf6 5.Nc3 Nc6 6.Nf3 Bg4 7.cxd5 Nxd5 8.Qb3 Bxf3 9.gxf3 e6 10.Qxb7 Nxd4 11.Bb5+ Nxb5 12.Qc6+ Ke7 13.Qxb5 Qd7 14.Nxd5+ Qxd5 and now he extensively analyzes both 15.Qxd5 exd5 and 15.Bg5+ f6 16.Qxd5 exd5 17.Be3 Ke6. All this is still as rock solid as ever for Black. However, he points out an alternative idea that I never saw before: 13……Nxc3 14.bxc3 Rb8! (14……Qd7 15.Rb1 Rd8 16.Be3 is known to favor White) 15.Qc5+ Ke8 16.Qxa7 Bd6. Here Schandorff writes: “A fantastic concept. Black has sacrificed a pawn and lost the right to castle, but it turns out that even though the white king can still castle it cannot find perfect safety. The few games played so far suggest that Black has fine compensation.” He then presents several examples that appear to verify this. When all is said and done, it’s clear that the old 13…Qd7 gives White absolutely nothing, while 13……Nxc3 14.bxc3 Rb8 can be viewed as an extremely interesting winning attempt.

Since 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 cxd5 4.c4 Nf6 5.Nc3 Nc6 6.Nf3 doesn’t offer White anything, 6.Bg5 becomes very important, though Schandorff shows that Black is once again fine after 6……dxc4 7.Nf3 h6 8.Bxf6 exf6, 7.d5 Ne5 8.Qd4 h6!, and 7.Bxc4 h6 8.Bh4 Qxd4 9.Qxd4 Nxd4 10.0-0-0 e5 (here White has a big lead in development, but Black enjoys an extra pawn – his detailed analysis proves that Black can easily hold his own.

Schandorff covers everything White can throw at Black, offering typical plans, deep analysis, a seemingly endless cascade of theoretical novelties, and sharp witty prose (which makes the reading of this opening book a real delight!). If you are looking for a way to defuse 1.e4, the Caro-Kann might be the answer to your prayers (you have to respect an opening that is regularly used by both Anand and Topalov!). And, if you decide that you want to take up this vibrant positional system, Grandmaster Repertoire 7: The Caro-Kann is a must buy.

Very highly recommended – another triumph for Quality Chess and, without a doubt, the best book on the Caro-Kann out there.