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What are the main strategic and tactical ideas behind the so-called Short variation in Advance Caro-Kann? I mean this line:

[FEN ""]
1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 Bf5 4. Nf3 e6 5. Be2 

Isn't White's position a bit passive, and furthermore with Black's Bishop already developed in f5? Why do GMs play this line?

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Here are a few observations regarding the line:

  1. Replacing the 5th move with 5. Bd3 is a bad move. Black trades bad bishop for good with 5...Bxd3
  2. Unlike the Nunn-Shirov attack (1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 Bf5 4. Nc3 e6 5. g4), White aims to get his King to safety by castling before any fireworks begin. To facilitate this the Bishop has to make way. We've already ruled out moving to d3, a fianchetto would be terribly slow and highlight the weakness of the bishop being restricted by its own pawns, and lastly there are no other safe squares
  3. White knows that Black's pawn break ...c5 will use an extra tempo, and if it comes too soon then White's safe King and lead in development will favour the first player. Often Black will play an ...f6 break instead
  4. Regarding a ...c5 break, White has the option to reinforce the pawn with ...c3, compared to the Nunn-Shirov attack where a knight restricts that advance
  5. Again to restrict the ...c5 break, White will often develop the dark square bishop to e3 to overprotect d4. Black's minor pieces often settle on the following squares: ...Nb8-d7, ...Bf8-g7, ...Ng8-h6(!?)
  6. Black does not fear the bishop taking the h6 knight. The Bishop pair and semi open g-file provide ample compensation for the doubled h-pawns, which are not easy to attack. Often White will have to un-double these pawns for defensive purposes
  7. White often tries to gun down the light square bishop with the f3 knight, to win the 2 bishops. Black often plays ...h5 to gain king side space and give the light square bishop a flight square
  8. Extra: White also plays for the c4 break to dissolve the centre. Black often gives White an isolated Queen's pawn with ...dxc4, which often results in White loosing time with the recapture Bxc4. Thus ensues the dynamic contest of White's semi-open files and potential piece play in the middle game compared to Black's solid structure that will favour the second player in the endgame

If you want to know (a lot) more, then check out The Caro-Kann: Move by Move by Cyrus Lakdawala. Also, this chess.com link has a discussion on the line: http://www.chess.com/forum/view/chess-openings/advance-shirov-vs-advance-short-in-the-caro-kann

  • I see that White sometimes plays c2-c4 in this line, That's another rather obscure move to me... isn't the d4 pawn a serious weakness after ...dxc4 by Black? – A. N. Other Sep 21 '15 at 18:49
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    @A.N.Other Good research. The isolani imbalance is common across many variations of the Caro-Kann and shows a stark ideological battle. White may favour their position because of the semi-open lines and emphasises piece play. Black plays for a long term structural advantage into the endgame. Which is better? The verdict seems to be that the positions exhibit dynamic equality. I'll include this in the answer too – user1108 Sep 22 '15 at 8:08

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