25 April 2022

Video completed: How to Beat the Caro-Kann Hillbilly Attack

Every so often, there will be a fad in an opening sideline (usually for White) based on how easy it is to use to beat an unprepared opponent. (See for example "Introducing the Caro-Kane Variation"). Typically it will show up in blitz and rapid play on the major chess sites (Chess.com, lichess.org, etc.) and be enthusiastically flogged until it becomes too popular and therefore well known. Then most players move on to the next most popularized opening variation.

As a (former) chess purist, I would be horrified at these types of sidelines and consider the whole thing to be useless or beneath me to study. Now that I'm a stronger player, I have a different attitude, believing that delving into opening play - including tricky sidelines - in fact deepens your level of mastery. My memory I would say is about average, but I do better at remembering a course of play in the opening, once I understand what is going on and can integrate its concepts into my overall comprehension. Usually this involves multiple rounds of study/play, but even if "live" practice is not available, a deeper level of self-study normally pays off.

Another recent example of this, also in the Caro-Kann - a frustratingly solid defense for White players who like to sacrifice and attack all the time - is the so-called Hillbilly Attack. The Chess.com video "How to Beat the Caro-Kann Hillbilly Attack" is an entertaining but also serious look at the White ideas, in this case using the "Some Dumb Trucker" defense, named after the Chess.com member who came up with it. As done with the "Caro-Kane" variation, I've incorporated it into my opening repertoire database and present it below as a PGN excerpt, with some of my own commentary. It is also well worth looking at the above-linked video, for the original ideas and explanations.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Caro-Kann"] [Black "2. Bc4 (Hillbilly Attack)"] [Result "*"] [ECO "B10"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Dragon by Komodo 2.6.1"] [PlyCount "18"] 1. e4 c6 2. Bc4 {this can often appear on the board when White has not studied the Caro-Kann and wants to treat it like a double king pawn opening by attacking f7.} d5 {this essentially puts an end to any of White's plans for an advantage and shuts down the diagonal. However, White can try to be tricky...} 3. Bb3 {the Hillbilly Attack. Exchanging on d5 is best according to the engine, but offers White zero prospects of an attack.} a5 {the Some Dumb Trucker defense. Slightly lower-ranked than the exchange on e4 by the engine, but easier to play for Black, who immediately starts making counter-threats against the Bb3. Note that the a2-g8 diagonal remains blocked for the moment.} (3... dxe4 {is the "main line" and best ranked by the engine, but gives White a more open game and can be trickier for Black to play.}) 4. a4 {White has to respond to the threat to trap the bishop with ...a4. Like all pawn moves, however, it leaves weaknesses behind it. Black can use this later on.} (4. exd5 {the engines rank this best. However, Black can continue with counterplay against the bishop.} a4 5. Bc4 cxd5 6. Bb5+ {this position now looks like what White would have reached if he had simply exchanged on d5 in the first place, except for Black's advanced a-pawn.} Bd7 7. Bxd7+ (7. Be2 e5 $17) 7... Qxd7 $15 {and Black has no problems, also being slightly more developed.}) 4... dxe4 { Black now takes the pawn and can hang onto it with fewer issues, as we will see.} 5. Qh5 {the move White has been looking to play.} g6 6. Qh4 {looking to retake on e4. Black now develops with activity, taking that into account.} Na6 {this looks weird, but the knight cannot be stopped from going to c5 to exchange the Bb3, which is the plan.} 7. Nc3 $6 {this is considered inferior by the engines, but avoids the simplification that inevitably happens if the pawn is immediately recaptured.} (7. Qxe4 Nc5 {this effectively baits White, who might well try to grab the rook on h8.} 8. Qc4 (8. Qe5 {White probably thinks they are doing quite well now...} Nxb3 9. Qxh8 Nxa1 10. Qxg8 {visually this might look attractive for White, as material is even and the queen is rampaging on the kingside, while Black's knight is on the less-sensitive queenside. However...} Nxc2+ 11. Ke2 {otherwise ...Qd3 is very strong.} Nd4+ $19 {is probably the easiest continuation, threatening ...Nb3 and ...Qd5. White's queen is out of play and Black's pieces will be able to get out and attack White's exposed king.}) 8... Nxb3 9. Qxb3 Bg7 (9... Nh6 {is recommended in the video, with the difference that after Qc3 Black needs to play ...f6. This is fine, but the bishop development avoids the pawn awkwardness.} 10. Nf3 Bg7 11. O-O Nf5) 10. Nf3 Nh6 $17 {leaving the long diagonal open for the bishop and preparing to go to f5.}) 7... Nc5 {continuing with the plan.} 8. Nxe4 (8. f3 {a typical gambit idea that packs little punch here, with the light-square bishop off the board.} Nxb3 {sticking with the plan.} 9. cxb3 exf3 10. Nxf3 Nh6 $19 {note the theme of this knight development, aiming for f5. After this and ...Bg7, Black has no problems and will dominate the center, while White's king will be weak.}) (8. Bc4 {preserving the bishop is logical and in fact preferred by the engines. However, Black now has the option of ... Bf5 to protect the e-pawn, as well as playing similarly to other lines with ... Nh6.} Bf5 9. g4 {is not a problem, as White's pawn blocks his queen from e4 and Black is happy to exchange off White's Bc4.} Be6 $19) 8... Nxb3 9. cxb3 Nh6 $19 {and we have the thematic ...Nf5 and ...Bg7 coming up, with ...Qd5 and ... Qd3 also possibilities. White is essentially busted.} *

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