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I find the French more aggressive, as black gets easy queenside play with pieces and generally a pawn avalanche. However, my friend debates that the Caro is better than the French because the Caro allows a queenside expansion as well, but "you get to play with all your pieces" (referring, of course, to the bad light squared bishop in the French). We both realize that the French bishop can be traded off in many lines with maneuvers like b6, Ba6, where either white trades the bishop, or has a difficult time castling kingside/coordinating kingside pieces. But its not always possible, and even avid French players will admit that its difficult to activate the slacker on c8. What would be a good argument to counter my friend's argument? Are there any other arguments (from an objective perspective, preferably) to support playing the French or the Caro Kann?

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up vote 4 down vote accepted

I can think of a couple counter arguments against what your friend says:

1) Sure in the Caro-Kann you can easily develop your Bishop outside the pawn chain, but there are several variations where the Bishop ends up being a target when developed to f5. The most prominent example is in the advance Caro-Kann:

[fen ""]
1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 Bf5 4. Nc3 e6 5. g4 
  1. The fact that the pawn is on c6 means the b8 knight is deprived of its best square to pressure the base of the pawn chain on d4. Essentially you are trading your traditional bad bishop for a bad knight. You can't have everything!

  2. Because black played c6 first, a further c5 to pressure the center if not well timed is a loss of tempi compared to the french where you play c5 in one go. This means that in a lot of lines, black must do a lot of prep work before he can afford to play c5, meaning there is also less pressure against white's center. This allows white a lot more leeway as to how he wants to organize his forces. Compare this to the french advance where you quickly play moves like c5, Nc6, Qb6 to pressure the center. Those moves certainly aren't possible to play as quickly in the Caro-Kann. Furthermore, if black opens the center too quickly in the Caro-Kann, he may wish his bishop were back inside the pawn chain to guard against annoying checks on the a4-e8 diagonal!

Ultimately, a debate over whether or not the Caro-Kann is better than the French is fruitless. They are both good openings of equal strength, and your choice to play one over the other is a purely stylistic choice.

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Another variation in which "naturally" developing the bishop to f5 is grossly incorrect is 1. e4 c6 2. Nf3 d5 3. exd5 cxd5 4. Ne5 Bf5? 5. Bb5+ – user76 Jan 10 '13 at 17:56
A very nice counterargument! I wasn't necessarily going for a debate, but just wanted more information about the pros and cons of both openings. Of course they are both excellent openings, as the best chess players today still employ it. But I'm new to serious chess, and just wanted more insight on these openings. – chubbycantorset Jan 11 '13 at 0:10
i think nc3 is slow. why not h4,g4 instead of nc3,g4? black plays e6 anyways. – Saeed Amiri May 16 '15 at 19:04
The quick h4, g4 approaches were the first approaches that white took originally, but then people realized that black will insert an annoying Be4 in when his bishop is getting kicked around which forces a loosening f3 from white. Nc3 is therefore an improvement on the h4 g4 ideas so that black does not have the Be4 resource, and he plays h4 g4 after. – flicflac May 18 '15 at 20:01
black have to play h5 after h4, so white never plays g5 in both scenarios . your suggestion is just slow. e.g after e6, g4,be4, nf3. white is perfectly fine and black gain nothing in opening. at this moment white can play nc3 or better move nd2. if you want answer me mention my name with @ otherwise just do as what u did. – Saeed Amiri May 18 '15 at 22:18

It comes down to pure taste. I've been playing the Caro for over 20 years now and would never even consider the French, exactly because of this bishop - and because I've played a lot of very nice attacking games against the French with White.

The other reason why I personally dislike the French is White's boring option of 1.e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3.exd5 exd5 4.Bd3 followed by 5.Nf3. (I have to admit I employed this in a few tournament games myself, because a draw was all I needed for my desired overall outcome.) This takes the fun out of any game, at least if Black is a somewhat serious player.

Having said all this, on top I'd like to quote my old coach: "French is an opening for World Champions." What he meant by this is that you must really watch out, because you have to defend against big onrushes in a lot of variations - with a blocked center, the hidden bishop and without "the Black king's best friend" (the knight on f6). It's often a long battle until you can look for advantage on the queenside, because you have to fight for survival on the kingside. Not to my liking, but others feel differently.

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