02 March 2013

Annotated Game #85: Why the Caro-Kann Classical is good vs. lower-rated players

This second-round tournament game helped me bounce back well from the previous defeat (Annotated Game #84) and shows some of the strengths of using the Caro-Kann Classical as an opening weapon.  Despite its well-deserved reputation for solidity, its ideas are complex enough that it offers Black a chance to create imbalances and even get a strong attack going against inaccurate play from White.

When the defense is used against lower-rated opponents, it often occurs that White possesses little knowledge or has few concrete ideas about how to play against it.  Black is unlikely to gain an advantage out of the opening, but if White simply drifts along without a clear plan, Black's counterplay can develop quickly.  This game is an excellent illustration of this, as White allows Black to equalize early on, then never really seems to develop a plan of his own.  The one concrete idea he plays on moves 23-24 simply leads to better play for Black.  By move 31 Black is ready to attack and seven moves later White is mated.

While there were a number of instructive improvements for both sides along the way, the overall development of the game shows how Black can effectively neutralize White's opening play, improve his position, then quickly go over to the attack when an opportunity is given.  This is especially dangerous against lower-rated players who lack the experience or understanding of White's more complex ideas.  Black's position is both simpler to play and has latent attacking resources that the patient player can reveal later in the middlegame.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class D"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B18"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Fritz/Houdini"] [PlyCount "76"] {B18: Classical Caro-Kann: 4...Bf5 sidelines} 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Bf5 5. Ng3 Bg6 6. Nf3 Nf6 {a move-order trick that has been shown before. Now 7. h4 can be met by ...Nh5!?} 7. Ne5 {this seems premature and only scores 46 percent for White in the database.} Nbd7 {the obvious developing move, also challenging the Ne5.} 8. Nxg6 hxg6 {by this point Black has already achieved comfortable equality.} 9. Bc4 {the main alternative would be Bd3. Here's a nice game between GMs Maurice Ashley and Viktor Kortchnoi, showing how to handle this as Black.} (9. Bd3 Qc7 10. Qf3 e6 11. Be3 c5 12. dxc5 Bxc5 13. Bxc5 Nxc5 14. Bb5+ Ke7 15. O-O-O Rh4 16. Be2 Rc8 17. Kb1 b5 18. Qe3 b4 19. Rd2 Nce4 20. Nxe4 Nxe4 21. Rd4 Qxc2+ 22. Ka1 Nd2 23. b3 Nxb3+ 24. axb3 Rc5 {0-1 (24) Ashley,M (2460)-Kortschnoj,V (2635) San Francisco 1995 CBM 046 [Blatny,P]}) 9... Nb6 {this is an obvious amateur-type move. It's not likely that b6 is the best place for the knight, however. In this type of Caro-Kann structure, the Nd7 often has a role in supporting the ...c5 or ...e5 pawn breaks, for example. The White bishop would also be no worse off if it retreated to b3.} (9... e6 { is more consistent with the needs of the position. Here's an instructive game.} 10. c3 Bd6 11. Qf3 Qc7 12. Bd2 c5 13. dxc5 Qxc5 14. Bb3 Bxg3 15. Qxg3 Ne4 16. Qe3 Nxd2 17. Qxc5 Nf3+ 18. Ke2 Nxc5 19. Kxf3 O-O-O 20. Ke2 Nd3 21. Rab1 Rh5 22. Rhd1 Nc5 23. Rxd8+ Kxd8 24. Rd1+ Kc7 25. h3 Nxb3 26. axb3 Rb5 27. b4 a5 28. Rd4 axb4 29. cxb4 e5 30. Rc4+ Kd6 31. Ke3 f5 32. g3 Rb6 33. h4 Rc6 34. Rxc6+ Kxc6 35. Kd3 b5 36. b3 Kd5 37. Ke3 Ke6 38. Kf3 Kf6 39. Ke3 g5 40. hxg5+ Kxg5 41. f3 Kf6 42. Kd3 Ke6 43. Ke3 Kd5 44. Kd3 e4+ 45. Ke3 exf3 46. Kxf3 g5 47. Ke3 Ke5 48. Kf3 Kd4 49. Ke2 Kc3 50. Ke3 Kxb4 51. Kd4 Kxb3 52. Ke5 f4 53. gxf4 gxf4 54. Kxf4 Kc3 {0-1 (54) Kozera,A-Rudolf,M (2419) Warsaw 2007}) 10. Be2 e6 11. c3 { the d-pawn lacks protection and this addresses the issue immediately, also allowing Qb3. It's a rather slow approach to development, however.} Bd6 12. Qd3 {it's not clear what the queen is doing here, so this seems just to further slow White's piece development.} Qc7 {in addition to building up the B+Q battery, this now allows for Black to castle queenside.} 13. Bg5 {a standard-looking developing move, but without much punch to it.} Nbd5 {all of Black's minor pieces are now well placed.} 14. Nf1 {White meanwhile is backing up his own pieces. This was unnecessary.} (14. c4 $6 {kicking the knight would simply help Black.} Nf4 {forking g2 and d3} 15. Bxf4 Bxf4 {and Black is going to be able to castle queenside, while White's king has no safe zone.}) (14. Ne4 $5 {would work, as Black cannot take the h2 pawn due to the follow-up g3 push, trapping the bishop.}) 14... Nf4 (14... Bxh2 $2 {would be great except for} 15. g3) 15. Bxf4 Bxf4 {Black inhibits 0-0-0} 16. g3 Bh6 17. Ne3 O-O-O {this works out well in the game, although which side to castle on for Black is something of a toss-up.} 18. Nc4 Nd7 {immediately developing the h8 rook would be more accurate.} 19. Qe4 {White continues to pass up the opportunity to castle, which will cause him problems.} Rhe8 20. f4 {this permanently weakens the kingside and banishes any thought of O-O.} g5 {immediately disrupting White's pawn structure.} 21. Rf1 (21. fxg5 Bxg5 {is objectively best, but would have again complicated queenside castling, which my opponent apparently has as an eventual goal.}) 21... gxf4 22. gxf4 f6 $6 $11 {here I focused on the plan of ripping open the e-file with the ...e5 pawn advance, but this is far too slow. White in response should simply castle immediately, which takes the sting out of Black's idea.} (22... Nf6 {instead eventually wins the f4 pawn, as pointed out by both Fritz and Houdini.} 23. Qe5 Nd5 24. Qxc7+ Kxc7 $17 {and the f4 pawn cannot be protected further.}) 23. Qg2 $2 (23. O-O-O $11) 23... Bxf4 $17 24. Qxg7 {while material is still even, simply taking a look at the difference in king safety is enough to show Black's advantage. White's queen has also put itself in a precarious position.} Bxh2 $6 {like White, I'm thinking too materialistically. Preventing castling was much more valuable than the stray pawn.} (24... Bg5 $5 {is Fritz's suggestion, protecting f6 again and starting to box in the Qg7.}) (24... Kb8 {is Houdini's preference. This is one of those quiet moves which facilitates a future attack. In this case it removes the king from the h3-c8 diagonal, avoids future worries about protecting d6 from a knight invasion, and allows a rook to go to c8.}) 25. O-O-O $15 Bf4+ 26. Kb1 Rg8 {a premature threat.} 27. Qe7 (27. Qf7 $11 {is more flexible.}) 27... b5 { while this may not be objectively best, I like the fact that I was playing actively and looking to make threats, rather than play obvious moves.} 28. Nd2 Rde8 29. Qa3 {this places the queen away from the action and limits her movement.} Rg2 {Black finds the way to immediately take advantage of White's vulnerability on the 2nd rank.} 30. Rfe1 Kb8 $11 (30... Bd6 $5 31. Qa6+ Kd8 $15 {is what the engines prefer, but appears more dangerous to human eyes.}) (30... Bxd2 31. Rxd2 Nb6 $15 {is an improved version of the idea from the game, as the White knight is no longer available to go to b3 and then threaten to penetrate Black's king position.}) 31. Nf1 $2 {this simply moves a key piece away from the action.} (31. Nb3) 31... Nb6 {Black readies to go on the attack.} 32. Bd3 (32. Qb3 e5 $17) 32... e5 {this was my primary attacking idea in all variations.} (32... a5 {is spotted by the engines. The pawn move was not obvious to me, although the deflection theme (removing the b2 defender) should be a good place from which to start thinking about tactics.} 33. Qxa5 Rxb2+ { and now} 34. Kxb2 (34. Ka1 Na4 35. Qxc7+ Kxc7) 34... Nc4+ 35. Bxc4 Qxa5 { ; this was a useful exercise in looking for hidden tactical patterns and themes.}) 33. Be4 $2 {gives up the c4 square to the knight without a fight.} ( 33. Ne3 {is the best defense.} Bxe3 34. Rxe3 Rh8 35. dxe5 fxe5 $15) 33... Nc4 $19 34. Qc5 $4 {the final mistake, not that it matters anymore, says Fritz. The White queen had a defensive role and abandoning this allows Black's queen to penetrate and deal the final blow.} (34. Qa6 Rxb2+ $19) 34... Rxb2+ 35. Ka1 Qa5 36. a3 Qxc3 37. Rd2 Rxd2+ 38. Kb1 Qb2# 0-1

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