"Weapons against the Caro Kann" - A review

by Christian Hoethe
12/5/2023 – The Caro Kann Defence is a much-played opening today, with which Black often makes life difficult for White after 1.e4. In his ChessBase course "Weapons against the Caro-Kann, 1 and 2", English GM Daniel Fernandez shows how White can successfully combat this defence. Christian Höthe took a look at the course.

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Fritztrainer "Weapons against the Caro Kann, Vol. 1 and 2"

Five years have passed since Grandmaster Daniel Fernandez, who plays for England, published "The modernised Caro Kann - A complete Repertoire against 1. e4", a 416-page, quite impressive repertoire for Black with Thinkers Publishing. Five years in which a lot has happened in opening theory.

For his two new ChessBase courses "Weapons against the Caro Kann, Volumes 1 and 2", he changes the perspective and recommends a repertoire for White against the Caro Kann. In the introduction, we learn why: as Fernandez explains, new developments have emerged, especially in some of the minor variations, which can be quite dangerous for Black.

Fernandez organises the variations as follows:

In a total playing time of over 4 hours, volume 1 deals with the Panov Attack (3.exd5 cxd5 4.c4) and the Two Knights Variation (2.Nc3 d5 3.Nf3), both of which have been played relatively rarely in recent times.

It was extremely interesting to compare the recommendations of GM Fernandez with those of IM Zwirs in his "The flexible Panov" course, because there is very little overlap and a lot of creative advice for White! In the Panov, Fernandez deals particularly intensively with the lines 5.Nc3 g6 6.Qb3 Bg7 7.cxd5 0-0 8.Be2!? and 4...Nf6 5.Nc3 e6 6.Nf3 Be7 7.cxd5 Nxd5 8.Bd3.

The centrepiece of the first volume is undoubtedly the Two Knights Variation. Fernandez explains in a short but revealing video why he has distanced himself from his original book recommendation 1.e4 c6 2.Nc3 d5 3.Nf3 Nf6?! although 4.e5 Nfd7 (instead of 4. ...Ne4), which leads to a French structure, should probably remain playable. The centrepiece is the modern line that arises after 3...dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nf6 5.Qe2 Nxe4 6.Qxe4. Here Fernandez takes a close look at the moves 6...Be6, 6...Qa5, 6. ...Qd5 and 6. ...Nd7.

Of course, Fernandez does not overlook the solid move 3...Bg4 and shows how White should play for an advantage after 4.h3 Bxf3 5.Qxf3 e6 6.g3. At this point I found it remarkable how he intends to counter the tricky 4. ...Bh5!? because the old refutation attempts after 5.exd5 cxd5 6. Bb5+ Nc6 7.g4 Bg6 8.Ne5 Rc8 9.h4 f6 or 8.d4 e6 9.De2 Bb4 10.Ne5 Nge7 11.h4 Rc8 12.h5 Be4 13.f3 O-O! never really convinced me from White's point of view.

Volume 2 comes with even more input against the Caro Kann, as the video running time of almost 5 hours proves.

The content ranges from the now very common Exchange Variation 3.exd5 cxd5 with 4.Bd3 and 4.Nf3!? to the Fantasy Variation 3.f3!? to 3.d3, which might quickly lead to an endgame. In the latter line in particular, it becomes clear how great the influence of engines on modern opening theory really is, as this line was only played sporadically and with rather favourable results for Black before 2019!

In the Exchange Variation with 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 cxd5 4.Nf3 GM Fernandez carefully discusses the following lines and clearly shows which path White should take and why: 4...a6, 4...Nc6 5.Bb5 Qa5+ or 5. ...Nf6 6.0-0 e6 7.Ne5 and of course 4. ...Nf6 5.Ne5 Nc6 6.Bb5 Bd7 7.Nxd7 Qxd7.

The "regular" Exchange Variation with 3.exd5 cxd5 4.Bd3 is of course also given its place. Here, the English Grandmaster focuses on 4...Nf6 5.c3 Bg4 or 5. ...Nf6 6.h3 e5 and 6. ...g6 as well as 5. ...Qc7.

As in his book, GM Fernandez always manages to find something new in even the most familiar lines, to recommend interesting deviations from the beaten track, and to advance opening theory in the long term. Daniel Fernandez comes across to the reader in a consistently likeable way and speaks clear, very understandable English.

Conclusion: both volumes of "Weapons against the Caro Kann" contain a wealth of new ideas and developments for White that will make it difficult for your future opponents to dream of equalising early!

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Christian Hoethe was born in 1975, is father of two daughters and one son, lives in Brunswick, Germany, and learned chess relatively late, at the age of 13, from his father. At his peak he reached an Elo of 2247. He plays for the German club SC Wolfsburg where he also teaches once a month.