16 August 2011

DVD completed - The ABC of the Caro-Kann

As part of my ongoing opening study, I just completed The ABC of the Caro-Kann by Andrew Martin, one of the Fritztrainer opening DVD series.  This was a second run-through of the DVD, which I first looked at in 2009; it originally came out in 2006.

Consistent with my current opening study methods, while working through the presentations, I focused more on key ideas in each of the variations, including tactical and strategic themes, along with following the typical play for Black (including into the endgame).  Martin's presentation is centered around key games, which he then diverges from when examining different sub-variations, typically with game fragments.  Occasionally he'll chop through a short sequence quickly, but he always provides useful commentary on key elements of positions where decisions need to be made.

As normally done with any openings material, this was compared with a critical eye against my current personal openings book (in database format).  The ChessBase DVD format made it easy to have the presentation open in one window while I had a reference game open in another, which allowed for halting the DVD and examining certain positions more in-depth, usually with the Houdini engine.  In the variations where I haven't followed Martin's recommendations, I examined them and either re-validated the lines or made some new adjustments, some based on the DVD and others based on the database/engine review.

Here's a summary of the results of the opening review, following the DVD structure:
  • Classical Caro-Kann main line: despite the fact that I made no changes to my openings book in this variation, this was one of the more valuable DVD sections for me.  Martin demonstrates a mastery of the various lines and concepts and has a full-game treatment of the 7..Nf6 variation that I play; see Annotated Game #1 for an example of this.  I was especially interested in his analysis of the White threats against Black's king position, which was detailed and left me more confident in Black's resources.
  • Classical Caro-Kann deviations: the most useful portions of this for me were the 6. Bc4 and 6. f4 games.  The former can be a bit dangerous if not treated properly, while I've never run across a treatment of 6. f4 anywhere else.  While I don't play exactly what he recommends against the former, the positional themes were well worth looking at.  The latter game convinced me that with standard thematic play, Black will get a good game.
  • Advance variation: this was the meat of the new material for me, as I have favored his recommended system (3..c5 instead of the more common Bf5) for some time now, but previously had played an alternative move in the main line.  I ended up switching to the variation with 4..Nc6, the only line presented by Martin, because I slightly preferred the resulting positions to the ones obtained with the alternative 4..e6, although there are a lot of similar characteristics.  One of the main factors was that e6 is not played immediately, giving Black more flexibility against some of White's move choices.
  • Two Knights variation: I play a non-standard response, which I'm sticking with, given the amount of theory needed to properly play this variation.  It's sometimes used at the Class level, but tends to be employed by players who know little about the Caro-Kann in general.  This is one of those cases where I'm willing to sacrifice some effectiveness over-the-board in exchange for a workable and much less time-consuming opening line.
  • King's Indian Attack: this opening approach really goes nowhere against the Caro-Kann, unlike against other Black opening setups (French Defense for example).  A good review of how well Black sits in it.
  • Exchange variation: Martin presents the well-researched 7..Qc8 variation, which I don't play, but it gave me a chance to examine this line again and modify my preferred line of play.
  • Panov-Botvinnik attack: I don't play 5..Nc6 so I skipped this section.  This variation in fact may be objectively best, but requires a larger amount of memorization relative to other approaches.
  • Odds and ends: The look at 3. Qf3 was useful, demonstrating an easy way to take away any White chances of an attack in the opening.  2. c4 is given a full-game treatment, rightly so, since it leads to different types of positions than usual.  I was disappointed that the Fantasy variation 3. f3 was not treated anywhere, since it is one where Black can get in trouble if he isn't reasonably well prepared.

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