Fashionable Caro-Kann

Review: The Fashionable Caro Kann Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, by Vidit Gujrathi

Chessbase 2017

By Davide Nastasio

India is becoming the new chess Mecca! This is simply a fact.  There are a lot of young players, quite smart, quite motivated, and whenever they go around the world they win tournament after tournament and smash the competition. I try to be aware of possible future trends, and I believe India will bring chess to a new level, a level the Russians never achieved, and could have never imagined.


India chess king


That said, once I saw these 2 DVDs with an opening repertoire for Black against 1.e4, I was interested, but doubtful.  Around 2015, when I was playing 1.e4 as White, I reviewed and learned to play against the Caro-Kann with a DVD made by Bologan.  Click here to read that review in Georgia Chess News, or here to read it in Chessbase.

His advice of using the advance variation made me win some games at positional level, nearly magically I could say, because at a certain point Black would just run out of moves and White would win thanks to slowly constricting Black, like a python would do with its prey. As Black, I stopped using the Caro-Kann, because I lost some games playing it, quite badly.   At the time, I didn’t understand that the real reason was my lack of preparation. I moved on to the French, but the French didn’t satisfy me because often the games were torturous, in which White would attack all the time, and once white ran out of steam, he would lose or draw. Then I switched to the Scandinavian, thanks to Tiviakov. The Scandinavian was a mix between the Caro-Kann and the French, but at least the light-square bishop was out! However, after a year of using the Scandinavian, the troubles began….   I don’t know if openings have an expiration date, but there seems to be a pattern in my chess career: every 1-2 years I need to change repertoire.

However, before getting the DVDs I checked some games played by an Indian GM, whose correct name if someone is doing the search in Chessbase Megabase 2017 is Vidit Santosh Gujrathi.

One of the games Vidit won using the Caro-Kann was against one of the most creative players, famous for his bizarre opening novelties, and for winning the Gold Medal at the 2016 Olympiad as best first board: Baduur Jobava!



Vidit is clearly a strong player, so we shouldn’t just give credit to the choice of opening, but also to his strength.  While I was researching games for this article, I noticed a huge amount of big names lose against him. This can benefit us, because through the games he has annotated and the explanations given in the videos we know we are learning from one of the best in the world. In fact, while his FIDE rating for standard games is just a dozen points under 2700, for Rapid he is above with a 2718!

In Volume 1, Vidit, after reviewing the literature, has decided to avoid his usual line: 1.e4,c6; 2.d4,d5; 3.Nc3,dxe4; 4.Nxe4,Bf5; 5.Ng3,Bg6, 6.h4,h6; 7.Nf3,Nd7;




for teaching us a relatively unknown, and not well analyzed 7…e6; which he thinks could give us great success in our tournament games!




While listening to the introduction of the DVD, I began to pay attention because I wanted to be ready to absorb the material promptly and be able to use it in my games.  In this sense, I did a search of the above position with 7…e6; and thanks to the idea of “learning from the Classics,” well explained in Sagar Shah’s DVD, found the following game played by Vera Menchik, the first women’s world champion.



Vera Menchik, 1933



I went on quickly watching the games I found in Megabase 2017, so that I began to have an idea of what Vidit would present as ideas and maneuvers.  In Volume 1, Vidit explains the Panov attack in the Caro-Kann, which has been the theoretical battle ground of many world championship games, and top games in general, also if not considered a main line.




An example can be seen in the following game coming from the FIDE World Championship of 1998:



After viewing this Anand-Karpov game, one shouldn’t think only of the Caro-Kann as an opening, but more on learning how to handle the Isolated Queen Pawn (IQP) structure, because it can be reached by transpositioning from many different openings.  Hence, if one is interested in growing as a player, the DVD by Mikhalchishin is essential.




Then we have this nice miniature from the Indian Championship played by Vidit against the Panov Attack.



Another sideline which has gained some favor thanks to some books and videos being published is 1.e4,c6; 2.d4,d5; 3.f3,




For example, one great Indian player, nowadays likely nearly forgotten, played successfully against this line:



GM Malik Mir Sultan Khan



Another problem Black players can face using the Caro-Kann is White’s use of the King’s Indian Attack (from now on abbreviated as KIA). Vidit uses two video clips to explain how to neutralize the KIA based on the following lines:
1.e4,c6; 2.d3,d5; 3.Nd2,e5; 4.Ngf3,Bd6; 5.d4,exd4; 6.exd5,cxd5;




1.e4,c6; 2.d3,d5; 3.Nd2,e5; 4.Ngf3,Bd6; 5.g3,Nf6; 6.Bg2,0-0; 7.0-0,Re8; 8.Re1,Nbd7;




The KIA is a system more than just an opening where one has to memorize the moves, more than just an opening that needs special attention, because knowing or ignoring particular middlegame themes can win or lose the game quite easily.

Volume 2 is dedicated only to the Advance Variation! Those who think books are better than DVDs, here can be proven wrong, since Vidit uses nearly 4 hours to explain the intricacies of the advance variation. At the same time, there is a model games database with 52 games, mainly from the greatest names in chess history: Karpov, Anand, Dreev, and even many of Vidit’s games. These games illustrate clearly how Black needs to fight and they reinforce the points made in the videos, which we must remember when playing our own games.
Against the advance variation, Vidit’s recommendation is 3…,Bf5;




When introducing each possible answer White can play, Vidit explains the reasons why he played a certain move.




For example, against 4.h4 Vidit recommends 4…h5, because he feels it is one of the most solid answers Black can give. In fact, Vidit played such a move in the World Blitz Championship winning the game!



Against the main line of the Advance Variation, which we have after the moves: 1.e4,c6; 2.d4,d5; 3.e5,Bf5; 4.Nf3,e6; 5.Be2, he recommends 5…c5; another line he has played many times:




Below is a game won by Vidit against one of The Club of the 2800!!  As we can see, in order to win it is essential to have good knowledge of rook-and-pawn endgames.



Vidit also explains less used lines with detailed analysis in his videos like the one after the moves 1.e4,c6; 2.d4,d5; 3.e5;Bf5; 4.Nc3,




I mentioned briefly Bologan’s DVD on the Advance Variation as an answer to the Caro-Kann.




Bologan is a world-class teacher, in fact he enumerates 20 main strategical ideas one must know in order to play the Advance Variation. If one is serious about learning the Caro-Kann as Black, then I warmly suggest that one buy and study Bologan’s DVD, not because Vidit’s DVDs are not good, but because we MUST know White’s ideas, and even play it against a computer (from both sides, yes you need to play against the Caro-Kann as White!) to really learn the opening.  Unfortunately many players just care to understand their side of the opening, and that is likely less than 50% of the preparation and study one should do!

Vidit elucidates that the Caro-Kann can be quite good for learning strategic ideas connected to the middle game, hence making us better players. Yes, this is a new take on how to learn chess. We are often told we should learn the endgames, but the opening can also be a great chess teaching tool, if used correctly.  It is not mere rote memorization, but through the understanding of recurring chess themes which do happen in all major openings that we improve in our games.

Vidit mentions an interesting story about Fischer. Obviously we are speaking of a very young Fischer, in 1959. Fischer was badly beaten by Keres and Petrosian who used the Caro-Kann against him. As we all know, Tal generally would play the Sicilian against 1.e4, but as you can see in the video, he takes the c pawn in his hand, moves it one square, smiles, and then releases it on c5. Fischer’s face says it all!


Fischer vs. Tal, 1959


This is one of the defeats against the great Keres. Some players don’t like to see losses by their heroes, but imagine, “Fischer” was taught chess by the best on the planet, and in that time it was clearly difficult to have a world-class GM like Keres playing against someone from the US.



Now, the Caro-Kann is not the opening you learn overnight and play at the next tournament. It requires time to be studied, because it is not a system, and definitely needs time to be practiced to discover the main tactics that White has at his disposal. Memorization is also part of it, because some lines nowadays, especially at top level, begin after 15-17 moves.
Volume 1 is made up of 20 videos, and 6 videos of test positions. In volume 1 we have a database with 50 model games, and a database of theoretical analysis based on 12 of the variations presented in the video clips.

The two DVDs have a running time of more than 8 hours. This means one can have a general understanding of the main ideas and the latest trends thanks to Vidit’s work.  But as I noticed in my research over Vidit, the Caro-Kann is just one of his weapons.  Today we all need a repertoire which is more universal and which keeps our opponents out of balance, because they will not know what we will use against them!

At the end of the review, I generally put the pros and cons, because we are all human, we never make something perfect.  After all, that is the beauty of humankind: we can always improve, and create better products.

While I don’t have any criticism of the content and the choices made by GM Vidit, I think the presentation could be better. I’m spoiled by seeing GM Williams’ videos, and he is clearly a top performer. But why is GM Williams above the competition when performing in front of a camera and delivering chess content?  Because he has practiced a lot!  GM Williams even opened his own Youtube channel to create free videos of his games, commenting on them, or streaming some of his blitz games. He also appeared in endless chess shows. In any case, if Vidit is really serious about delivering more of his chess wisdom to us amateurs (which I truly hope so, because I think he really knows the topic, and he really gives away good material) he needs to open his own Youtube channel and practice making videos to improve his presentation and the ideas he wants to convey.  Like they say: practice makes perfect!

And what about the pros? Well, there are many. Vidit covers some lines also from White’s side, showing how important it is to understand an opening from both sides, and not only from our side. Vidit clearly did his homework and research basing his work on material written for White against the Caro-Kann; I truly admired that.  Now, I’m not saying the 8 hours of videos cover everything.  That would be silly.  But the reference material with the DVD indeed does! And I prefer the DVDs by Vidit over a book, because he covers the material we must know for playing the Caro-Kann in a tournament.

Last but not least, I do believe Vidit gave away some important stuff that I believe could be used by chess professionals to surprise their opponents in case they don’t often play the Caro-Kann, which means GMs and IMs should buy these two DVDs too!



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