Grandmaster Secrets – The Caro-Kann

Written by GM Peter Wells, book review

A friend asked me to bring him this book from Greece, and so I did, but it somehow ended up in my possession again. The last time I played Caro-Kann was in junior tournaments, when my “brilliant” plan was to go with 3…dxe4 4. Nxe4 Nf6 5. Nxf6 gxf6(!) and then harass the opposing castle along the semi-open g-file. As soon as other kids started rebuffing my attacks, I lost the interest in this opening and switched to French defence.

I hugely enjoy books with large blocks of text explanations, and GM Peter Wells surely provided lots of it. Even if I told myself that learning a new opening from the scratch is not worth the needed time and energy, I was all the same curious as to what can be said about such a seemingly simple opening.

Peter Wells

GM Peter Wells (photo by Helen Milligan)

In the Introduction – The Nature of the Caro-Kann, GM Wells immediately tackles on the common descriptions of the opening – ‘solid’, ‘passive’, ‘drawish’. He starts by saying that – “the prospect of obtaining a sound position from which it is simply possible to ‘play chess’ is an important part of this opening’s appeal”. Further, he argues that most of the theoretical material in the book, most notably chapters on the Advance Variation, presents plenty of sharp, double-edged positions where Black obtains a solid base to play for a win.

Finally, the evolution of the modern chess, when more and more players are seeking to exploit the dynamic potential in any given position, has helped raising the profile of previously under-estimated openings, including the Chebanenko Slav and Caro-Kann.

The book is titled “Grandmaster Secrets: The Caro-Kann”, but it is actually organized as other editions from the Gambit’s successful “Chess Explained” series, although in larger 172-page format. This means 25 recent games, played by Grandmasters, are thoroughly annotated, with special attention given to theoretical explanations and analysis, and divided into appropriate chapters:

1. Main Line with 4…Bf5

2. Main Line with 4…Nd7

3. Main Line with 4…Nf6

4. Advance Variation: Sharp Lines and Black’s Early Alternatives

5. Advance Variation: Short System and Other Modern Treatments

6. Panov-Botvinnik Attack and 2.c4

7. Miscellaneous Systems for White

I will just briefly reflect on the first chapter. In the lead up, Peter Wells explains why is 4…Bf5 a “leveling” system and how White most likely has to push his pawn to h5 and trade Bishops on d3 if he wants to fight for the opening advantage. The first game, K.Georgiev – Nisipeanu, features the move order 1 e4 c6 2 d4 d5 3 Nc3 dxe4 4 Nxe4 Bf5 5 Ng3 Bg6 6 h4 h6 7 Nf3 Nd7 8 h5 Bh7 9 Bd3 Bxd3 10 Qxd3 e6 11 Bf4 Qa5+ 12 Bd2 Qc7, where Black is also preparing to castle queenside. The play will most likely proceed to a typical ending, for which the author splendidly explains all the fine detail, like when to exchange and when to keep the Queens or the Rooks. The pros and cons of other, earlier exchanges, are also elaborated, as well as all the nuances behind White’s Ne4 and Ne5 jumps.

The second game, Haba – Gyimesi, deals with the much sharper position where Black castles short and allows White Bishop to remain on f4. In addition to guiding us how to fend off White’s dangerous attack, GM Wells touches upon the recently popularised “disruptive” options for Black, namely 11. Bf4 Bb4+!? and 11. Bf4 Qa5+ 12. Bd2 Bb4!? Final bonus to this game are the subtle points that turn the immediate 11. Bd2 into an unsatisfactory option.

This, and much more, awaits you in the complete guide written by an acclaimed theoretician. Peter Wells will tickle your imagination and encourage you to expand your horizons. After reading this book, you will be armed with knowledge and boosted in confidence to take up the Caro-Kann irrespectively of opponent’s name or rating. Enjoy the journey.

Goran Urosevic

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