A drawish opening is one where the game is prone to be ending up as a draw. Most chess players consider drawish openings as boring. But strategically speaking, some games are better drawn than lost.

In keeping with the same spirit and the fact that your opponent may want to start with a drawish opening, you must know what a drawish opening is and how to counter it to get the most favorable result.

Let’s explore Caro Kann, an opening that’s considered more drawish (or boring) compared to other openings.

What is Caro Kann Opening?

Caro Kann is the 4th most popular reply against 1.e4. The first 3 are Sicilian Defense, King’s Pawn Opening, and French defense. Precisely put, in Caro Kann, Black’s main aim is to play safe and attack when white makes any mistake.

Many top players play Caro Kann. This opening has a lot of drawish tendencies. Black doesn’t make any overt threats in this opening, and their plans are shrouded in mystery. Black first tries to develop all his pieces, castle according to the position, and then Black tries to take a center break.

Usually, every opening is dependent on pawn structures. Caro Kann is no exception. The pawn structure plays a very crucial role in Caro Kann. After opening, usually, both players will have seven pawns.

It is challenging to break this type of pawn structure. You have to take some risk to break the opponent’s pawn structure. This is the reason why Caro Kann is very drawish in nature.

In some other variations, the black and white castle on different sides. This makes their position very unbalanced and unclear. In the classical variation of Caro Kann, white castles on the queenside.

White uses their pawns and rooks for the attack, while Black holds the position with their solid pawn structure, and then eventually, black tries to find some counterattack.

Why do top players prefer the drawish Caro Kann Opening?

Caro Kann opening is played by many top players and world champions such as GM Magnus Carlsen, GM Viswanathan Anand, GM Anatoly Karpov, GM Alexy Dreev, GM David Navara.

If the grandmasters are playing from the Black against an opponent of a similar or higher caliber, they are more than happy to accept a draw because white will always have the first-move advantage. Against a formidable opponent starting with white, many grandmasters prefer Caro Kann because of its drawish tendencies.

Another reason top players prefer Caro Kann because it requires less opening preparation than Sicilian defense or King’s pawn opening. Also, opening with a “boring” drawish move like Caro Kann gets white overconfident at times.

White may want to play for a win, ignoring several small counterattack moves that Black has already started plotting in place.

What are your choices against Caro Kann?

If you are playing white and discover that your opponent is resorting to Caro Kann, the first step is not to get fooled by the “innocent” overture for a draw. Look out for traps and secure your positions as fast as you can.

These are white’s four main choices against Caro Kann:

  1. Advance Variation (3.e5)
  2. Classical Variation (3.Nc3)
  3. Exchange Variation (3.e×d5)
  4. Two Knights Variation (2.Nc3 d5 3.Nf3)

1. Advance Variation

Advance variation is the most popular variation in Caro Kann’s defense. White threatens direct attack, and Black has to be very careful in this variation. After 3.e5, the most popular choice is Bf5 or c5. This variation is intense and requires a lot of advanced preparation from both sides.

2. Classical Variation

Classical variation is very drawish. Black can choose where he wants to castle in the mainline. There are many sidelines that black players should know because accurate play is required. If Black knows the theory well, then the position will be equal and drawish.

3. Exchange Variation

This variation is solid and straightforward. Black don’t get any chances for attack or counterattack. Generally, white plays this line when he wants to draw, or he wants a safe game. Lower rated players play this variation against higher rated players to score a draw and get some rating points.

4. Two Knights Variation

This is not much popular, but it will become popular in the future. The main plan of white is to avoid 2.d4 and develop his pieces first. Black also gets a very comfortable position in the opening and always tries to push for a win.

Important Sidelines in Caro Kann

  • Fantasy Variation (3.f3)
  • Caro Kann Breyer Variation (2.d3)

1. Fantasy Variation

In this variation, white tries to keep his center pawns. If Black knows the theory perfectly, then it is effortless to play against this variation. Recently in the FIDE candidates tournament 2021, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave played this variation against Kiril Alekseenko. You can find the game link in the best games section.

2. Caro Kann Breyer Variation

This variation converts to King’s Indian Attack or Reti Opening. White opens his bishop through g2 and plays on h1-a8 diagonal. This opening also gives black a very comfortable position.

Tips to win games in Caro Kann defense

Can you win in a drawish opening like Caro Kann? Yes, you can! Here are some tips for doing so:

  1. Exchange your pieces and simplify the position.
  2. Revise all the openings before the start of the game- playing them in your head will help in actually playing them on board later.
  3. Follow the latest opening trends and games in Caro-Kann. A good Chess Community will guide you towards discussions on Caro Kann and ways to overcome them.
  4. Check out online courses, read books to get more understanding about drawish openings.
  5. Analyze all your games in Caro Kann thoroughly and understand your mistakes. GameAnalysis is a convenient tool to improve your game for the future.

Statistical data that backs Caro Kann

Caro Kann is the 4th most popular opening against 1.e4. There are a total of 78174 games (till May 2021) played in Caro Cann defense. We can see that white has a 53% probability of winning the game, and Black has a 47% probability of winning the game.

This shows that Caro Kann is playable and can be your primary weapon against 1.e4. The following table will give you an analysis of data after 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5.

Moves No. of games Result
3.e5 19597 56%
3.Nc3 16809 52%
3.e×d5 13128 51%
3.Nd2 9845 54%
3.f3 1745 54%

 

We can see that the advance variation gives 56% of results to the white side. Hence it is essential to prepare against advance variation first.

History of Caro-Kann

Horatio Caro was a British chess master who analyzed 1….c6 in his own magazine Bruderschaft in 1886. After that, he has also analyzed this variation on many occasions.

Marcus Kann was an Austrian amateur player who won against Jacques Mieses in 17 moves by playing 1st move c6 in 1885. Von Bardeleben used the term Caro-Kann for the first time in 1890.

Champions and best games in Caro Kann

Caro Kann is played regularly by many world-class grandmasters. Following is the list where we can see top players who are playing Caro Kann.

  • Aron Nimzowitsch
  • Jose Raul Capablanca
  • Mikhail Botvinik
  • Anatoly Karpov
  • Viswanathan Anand
  • Peter Leko

Here are some of the best games in caro kann

How to study and prepare for the Caro-Kann Defense?

There are hundreds of books and courses which are available in Caro-Kann defense. Also, various YouTubers have explained Caro Kann defense for free.

Before studying Caro Kann defense, please check if this opening is suitable for you. If you like positional play and planning, then start the preparation for Caro Kann Defense.
The best way to decide if you are ok playing them is to play lots of games.

The best way is to hire a personal coach or join any academy to learn openings. A good mentor can expedite your learning process, which will otherwise take a lot of time to understand opening plans, traps, tricks if you do it yourself.

Following are some free resources that you can use to learn Caro-Kann Defense:

Is Caro-Kann a good choice for beginners?

Of Course, yes!

Caro Kann is an opening that you can play for a lifetime. This opening is safe for beginners as you will not lose immediately if you have prepared well.

Another advantage is you can always prepare for a similar approach in French Defense. Both these strategies are almost similar in terms of understanding the game.

Best variation to play against Caro-Kann

As we have seen, there are three main variations, i.e., Advance Variation, Classical Variation, Exchange Variation. All these variations are slightly favoring white if they have prepared well. Apart from this, there are side variations such as the Two Knights variation and Fantasy Variation.

If you are a beginner, then I will recommend that you prepare for classical variation. It’s a timeless strategy and will hold you sound until you become a world champion.

For rapid and blitz games, I will recommend studying Fantasy Variation and Two Knight Variation. These are the variations which people do not study in-depth, and hence they will spend their time to find good moves.

Conclusion

Caro-Kann is one of the oldest openings, and it still is extremely popular and played by many grandmasters. If you like closed positions, then you should definitely prepare for Caro-Kann. Caro Kann is also one of the safest openings against 1.e4.

Although Caro Kann is gaining popularity consistently because of its robust pawn structure and various counterattack strategies, I am sure it will become more popular than French defense in upcoming years.

All our articles are reviewed and edited by GM Marian Petrov, a top level GM coach, theorist, mentor and and former Bulgarian champion, as well as winner of many open tournaments around the world.

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