Korchnoi’s Killer Caro-Kann

Safe and solid are the words you hear most when people discuss the Caro-Kann Defense in chess. Killer Caro-Kann might come as a surprise, but there’s a lot of truth in it.

Power Up Your Caro Kann in 10 Minutes

If you want to play middlegames with chances for both sides, then the Korchnoi variation of the Caro-Kann Defense is tailor-made for you. The best part is that when things start going wrong for White, his position usually unravels very quickly.

Think there’s no such thing as maximum winning chances with minimal theory? 

All it takes is a few minutes for you to learn that in this instance you can have your cake and eat it too! Here is IM Robert Ris explaining why 4…Nf6 and 5…exf6 is a great choice for Black.

The Benefits of Doubled F-pawns in the Caro-Kann Defense

One of the first things we learn in chess is that controlling the center is very important. We also learn early on, usually the hard way, how dangerous it can be if White plays Ng5.

After 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nf6 5.Nxf6

5…exf6 opens the e-file and controls both the e5 and g5 square!

The starting position of the Caro-Kann Defense
The starting position of the Caro-Kann Defense Korchnoi Variation

Don’t think of this capture as weakening your pawns, but see it as adding another defender to your king. Instead of three pawns in front of your king, you have four pawns!

In the killer Korchnoi Variation, Black gets control of two crucial squares, play on an open e-file, lines of attack for his bishops on e6 and d6 supported by the queen on d7 or c7, plus a knight that can join the attack with …Nf8-g6-h4. You really can’t expect more from any opening in chess!

The Black pieces often get developed to the same squares no matter what approach White plays, which means less theory for you to study. 

Only a good bishop can be sacrificed

An excellent tactical blow for Black in the Caro-Kann Defense Korchnoi Variation is a bishop sacrifice with …Bxh3! …Qxh3 and …Ng6-h4 follow in what is often a winning attack.

Don’t think that playing the Caro-Kann Defense in chess has to be a safety-first approach. As you can see the Killer Korchnoi variation of the Caro-Kann Defense offers great winning chances.

White Retreats the Knight

When faced by 4…Nf6! many White players will be suspicious about why Black is inviting the doubling of his f-pawns. They have every reason to be wary, but the retreat 5.Ng3 invites 5…h5.

1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nf6 5.Ng3 h5

Caro Korchnoi 5...h5
Caro-Kann Defense Korchnoi Variation 5…h5

This sets a trap that many club players are likely to fall for since it is challenging to spot the two crucial moves for Black. Here is the trap Black sets:

6.Bg5 h4 7.Bxf6 hxg3 8.Be5 and now Black wins with 8…Rxh2 9.Rxh2 Qa5+ 10.c3 Qxe5! 11.dxe5 gxh2 when Black will promote the pawn and be a bishop up.

Did you see …Rxh2 and …Qxe5? What makes this trap so deadly is White has no way of avoiding capturing the rook and queen without being down by a large amount of material.

A better way for White to play against 5…h4 is 6.h4, which invites 6…Bg4 7.N1e2e6, or 6.Bc4 h4 7.N3e2 Bf5. Black is doing well in both of these lines, as the next two games show.

Andre, Wolfgang – Franke, Johannes, 1/2-1/2, BL2-West 8889, 1988

Caro-Kann Defense Korchnoi Variation Mainline

 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nf6 5.Nxf6 exf6 6.c3

Caro-Kann Defense Korchnoi Variation Mainline with 6.c3
Caro-Kann Defense Korchnoi Variation Mainline with 6.c3

White wants to attack the h7 pawn with Bd3 and Qc2 but must defend the d4-pawn before developing the bishop to d3. The move 6.c3 protects the pawn and clears the c2-square for the queen.

6…Bd6 7.Bd3 0-0 8.Qc2 Re8 9.Ne2

Caro Korchnoi Mainline 9.Ne2
Caro Korchnoi Mainline 9.Ne2

Blocking the check with the knight is the most popular choice for White. 9.Be3 is also possible when White will usually castle queenside.

Black can meet 9.Be3 with 9…h5 and gets good attacking chances against the White king. You are sure to enjoy an exciting game with opposite-side castling.

The next game was played between two evenly matched players, both rated over 2600.

Saric – Jobava, 0-1, World Blitz 2017

White Plays for the Endgame

This is White’s unambitious attempt to ensure he won’t lose. The Caro-Kann Defense in chess has such a good reputation it is hardly surprising White will try for the slimmest advantage.

1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nf6 5.Nxf6 exf6 6.Bc4

Caro-Kann Korchnoi Variation 6.Bc4
Caro-Kann Korchnoi Variation 6.Bc4

After weakening the Black pawn structure, it makes sense for White to exchange queens and play for an endgame. Black can play for a quick draw with 6…Qe7+ or play the fighting 6…Bd6!

When you play 6…Bd6! be prepared to drop the bishop back to e7 after 7.Qe2+

7.Qe2+ Be7 8.Nf3 0-0 9.0-0 Bd6

Caro Korchnoi 9...Bd6
Caro Korchnoi 9…Bd6

Despite White’s best efforts to simplify into an advantageous endgame, Black can hold his own in the endgame after 6…Qe7+ or play for a win with 6…Bd6, as GM David Howell did in the next game.

Turner – Howell, 0-1, 4NCL 2018-19, 2019

Final Thoughts

The killer Korchnoi variation of the Caro-Kann Defense in chess allows Black every chance to play for a win. Playing through some games will help you learn the most common piece placement for Black and the tactics.

Two of the most important moves to remember are …h5 and …Nf8. From the f8-square, the knight does a great job defending h7 and can block an attack on h7 by going to g6.

Centralize the rest of your pieces, connect the rooks with …Qd7 or …Qc7, and then launch an attack against the White king. What could be better for any chess player with the Black pieces?

Act Now! For a Limited Time get 50% Off! VECO Vol. 8 The Caro-Kann Defense covers the Caro-Kann Defense from both sides with instruction from IM Ekaterina Atalik, IM Robert Ris, and GM Damian Lemos. You can get over 3 hours of opening instruction for under $20!

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