27 April 2024

Annotated Game #271: Play what you know - or at least what your opponent does not

The first round of the next tournament I played featured a poor strategic choice on my part. I hadn't properly prepared the opening (a Caro-Kann Two Knights) so was afraid to enter into my own repertoire line. Instead, I chose to play the main line - having no real experience in it - and handed my opponent a big lead in development, positional plus and an early attack. My deficient understanding in the line was bad, but really the strategic opening decision was even worse, choosing something that logically my opponent would have more experience in, rather than "risking" entering into my own repertoire sideline, which it was much less likely my opponent would know, even if my memory was also faulty.

Showing the value of not giving up early, analysis identified where I objectively got back in the game (and could have even achieved counterplay, with some active choices). However, my opponent did not give up her attack either, and eventually broke through. A well-deserved win on her part.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class B"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B11"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Dragon 3.2"] [PlyCount "43"] {[%evp 0,43,28,43,66,57,57,28,63,37,29,33,46,15,44,44,64,56,49,49,45,29,16,-4,21,34,70,77,75,32,35,-20,4,13,13,13,29,23,89,-9,67,147,1096,325,1234,1171]} 1. e4 c6 2. Nc3 d5 3. Nf3 Bg4 {out of my own personal book here, but I had not prepared for the Two Knights variation and did not trust my normal choice of line without that.} 4. h3 Bxf3 5. Qxf3 e6 6. exd5 exd5 $6 {the start of my troubles.} (6... cxd5 {I was overly concerned about Bb5+, but after ...Nc6 there is nothing for White.}) 7. d4 Be7 {rather slow and passive development.} (7... Qf6 $5) 8. Bd3 $16 {now White is significantly ahead in development.} Nf6 9. Be3 Nbd7 $6 {this is too slow, as White is already ready to launch an attack if she wants.} (9... O-O) (9... Na6 {would at least threaten to go to b4.}) 10. Ne2 {this is also rather slow, although the idea of bringing the knight around to the kingside is ultimately useful.} O-O (10... Qa5+ $5 {would be a bit more active.}) 11. g4 {now my opponent decides to get active, although it would have been even more effective the previous move.} g6 $2 {this was played to block the diagonal against the Bd3, but otherwise worsens Black's position, creating a target for the coming pawn storm.} (11... Qa5+ 12. c3 Bd6 $14 {is more active and prevents O-O-O.}) 12. O-O-O $18 {now White is very well developed and has the obvious plan of a kingside pawn storm, while I have no meaningful counterplay.} Ne8 {after this White can just roll through.} (12... Nb6 $5 {at least trying to get another piece active, eyeing c4.}) 13. h4 Nd6 14. Bh6 $6 {this just slows things down for White, but was what I was expecting.} (14. h5) 14... Re8 15. g5 $6 $14 {at this point I felt that I had roughly equalized and Dragon 3.2 agrees. Locking in the Bh6 goes completely against what White needs to do on the kingside, contradicting the idea behind the pawn storm.} Rc8 $6 {this is too optimistic, I should have continued focusing on immediate defense.} (15... Bf8) 16. Rdg1 Ne4 $6 {I thought the interference on the diagonal would be more effective that it turned out to be. White avoids the trap of taking the knight and resumes her pawn storm.} (16... c5 $1 {would be consistent with the previous move.} 17. h5 c4 $11 {hitting the bishop just in time.}) 17. h5 (17. Bxe4 dxe4 18. Qxe4 $2 (18. Qh3 $14) 18... Bxg5+ 19. Bxg5 Rxe4 20. Bxd8 Rxd8 $17) 17... Nf8 $2 {poorly calculated on the defense. Protecting h7 is not enough.} (17... Bf8) 18. hxg6 fxg6 19. Nf4 $2 {now I can take on g5 with either piece, and choose the wrong one.} (19. Qg2 $18 {is best per the engine, but not so easy to find.}) (19. Bxe4 {maintains an edge, although is not necessarily decisive.} dxe4 20. Qh3 $16) 19... Nxg5 $4 (19... Bxg5 $1 $11 20. Bxg5 Nxg5 21. Qg2 Rc7 {and now if} 22. Qxg5 Re1+ $1 {a deflection tactic aimed at the Qg5, which I missed.} 23. Kd2 Qxg5 24. Rxg5 Rxh1 $19) 20. Qg4 $18 {The Ng5 is indefensible and now pinned against g6, with the threat of Bxf8 followed by taking on g6 to break through.} Nf7 21. Bxf8 Bxf8 22. Bxg6 1-0


  1. For me, the Caro-Kann is a rare bird, and as such I never really knew what to play against it.

    I tried many routes, based on the Advance variation, however, I usually found that Caro-Kann players were booked up and I would fail on most occasions.

    The Two Knights was suggested to me and this seemed promising, although yet again, Caro-Kann players seems to know it well.

    The repertoire I've been following for the past few years, has the 'Nighthawk' (e6) as the suggested line, with the note that for Club players the Caro-Kann is not seen that often, so don't spend much time on it, just play sensible and solid moves to reach a middlegame. However, that didn't really suit me and I dropped that as well.

    In fact since my return to OTB post-Covid ( and that's August 2022 for me ) I have played against it only twice in 90 games ( and both have been in the last 6 months ), so yes, I can agree it is rare to see from my perspective and level.

    These days, I adopted the Goldman variation ( 2.Nc3, 3. Qf3 which has some similarities to your game after move 5 ) and this has proved successfull so far with a win and a draw. ( depressingly for me, the draw was actually a win, as pointed out by a 15-year old spectator during the post-match analysis ).

    I'm sure there are issues with this variation as well, however the theory is minimal, and I suspect most Caro-Kann players expect the Two Knights after seeing 2.Nc3, so a small psychological plus with Qf3 .

    1. It was actually vague memories of how tricky the 3. Qf3 line can be in my repertoire that pushed me towards the main line here, although it's not the same thing of course as the Two Knights. Goes to show my muddled state of mind.

      It's always interesting to see the regional variations in OTB experiences. For example, in my last two tournaments I've sat next to other people playing the Caro-Kann, and probably during the tournament before that as well, so it's not just me.

      White should never get blown off the board early in the Caro-Kann, so as long as you know how to play your chosen variation, you should do well enough. The Two Knights (and the Goldman, which I hadn't seen named before) I think are fine choices in that respect.


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