Is there a book, or an article, which examines the relationship between these two openings? The Caro-Kann exchange (non-Panov) is 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 cxd5, and the Queen's Gambit exchange is 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.cxd5 exd5.

The positions are identical except for who is on move. I know that the Caro-Kann exchange is not considered critical, and I know that the Queen's Gambit exchange (via that particular move order, i.e. without 3.Nc3 Nf6) is also not considered critical.

But does anybody know of a serious discussion of these two openings, which on the surface seem nearly identical?

4 Answers 4


Soltis' Pawn Structure Chess is a good book which treats all the common pawn structures that arise from popular openings. Its focus truly is on the pawn structures themselves and typical plans associated with them, rather than on the particular opening move-orders by which they arise. And the structure described in your question is treated in section "C. The Orthodox Exchange Formation," located in the chapter devoted to the Queen's Gambit family of structures. Soltis writes:

Kmoch named [this formation] after the exchange systems (cxd5 / ... exd5) in the orthodox (read "normal") variation of the Q.G.D. It also occurs with colors reversed in the Caro-Kann (1 e4 c6 2 d4 d5 3 exd5 cxd5 4 c3 and ... e6) and some rarer openings.

The Kmoch reference here is to the book Pawn Power in Chess, which also gives a short account of this structure, in the form of annotations to the game R.Byrne-Eliskases (1952). Kmoch has further discussion of this structure in his chapter on pawns and rooks; see pp. 100-103 of the Dover edition.

  • OP, I just noticed your rating from your user profile. If I'd noticed that before answering, I might not have mentioned these sources, as their levels of treatment might not qualify as "serious discussion" in your eyes. Whether or not that's so, I will leave this answer for the benefit of others in any case.
    – ETD
    Oct 18, 2012 at 20:00

I think that this question really highlights the value of the initiative and the white pieces. In the Exchange QGD, the position is nearly equal according to theory, while in the Caro Kann, the position is nearly equal according to theory ...complicated.

I don't know of any books that compare the two simply because the Panov is still available. It can get incredibly crazy in so many lines when white takes on an IQP. On the other hand, black almost never willingly accepts an IQP in the QGD because he or she is down a full tempo (the Tarrasch is a different story).

My System does touch on some of the ideas of these positions (i.e. locked center with d4 and d5), but much of the theory (Carlsbad position, ideas in the minority attack lines, etc.) was developed more recently.

In terms of general ideas of the position (which would be a good starting point for trying to decide if the extra tempo makes a big difference), Kasparov's videos do a pretty good job of showing how the two sides fight with concrete ideas.

  • 1
    Regarding "black almost never willingly accepts an IQP in the QGD" - isn't the Tarrasch (which you mention) exactly this? Oct 29, 2012 at 23:40
  • @ChristophervonKrogh the biggest difference between the Tarrasch and other "standard" QGD positions is that black doesn't commit the dark squared bishop. In the Tarrasch, the bishop stays on f8 as long as possible, while in the QGD, it moves to e7 or b4 quickly in order to allow black to castle. The Tarrasch has a specific tactical basis - my comment about black eschewing IQP's is more the general case - without a concrete line, black fares poorly due to the time disadvantage.
    – Andrew
    Nov 8, 2012 at 4:28

I heard a master talk about exactly this yesterday. The essential differences he highlighted were regarding minority attacks and using the open files. In the exchange Caro, black has a central majority and a strong minority attack on the a and b files. White tries to gain counterplay against the black in the form of a strong kingside attack. In the queens gambit exchange, it is then white who has the minority attack on the a and b files, and white hopes to win the black c pawn.

The master went much more into depth discussing certain bishop trades as well, but these were the main points I took from his lesson.


The Exchange Caro-Kann isn't considered critical because of one equalizing line:

[fen ""]

1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 cxd5 4.Bd3 Nf6 5.Bf4 Nc6 6.c3 Bg4 7.Qb3 Qd7 8.Nd2 e6 9.Ngf3 Bxf3 10.Nxf3 Bd6!

and if


[fen "r3k2r/pp1q1ppp/2nbpn2/3p4/3P1B2/1QPB1N2/PP3PPP/R3K2R w - - 0 11"]

1.Bxd6 Qxd6 2.Qxb7 Rb8 3.Qa6 O-O 4.O-O Rb6

And the queen doesn't have a good square as 14.Qa3 Qxa3 leads to an equal game. If white doesn't take on b7 on move 12 (which is usual) then white has the kingside attack but black is left without a bad piece and chances are equal.

I don't play the Queen's Gambit exchange lines (there's a line that is pretty slow where white plays Nf3 and a minority attack, and also an aggressive like where white plays Ne2, f3, and eventually e4 which was considered pretty dangerous last I knew) but there black often struggles because he has a difficult time finding a good square for that light square bishop. See John Nunn's 'Understanding Chess Move by Move' for a fantastic discussion on this - I'm remembering this vaguely ten years after reading the book. These might not be considered the 'most critical' but I think that Grand Masters still play this opening looking for good results, though perhaps not as often as the most mainline openings.

Fischer played that Exchange vs the Caro a few times but this was before someone - I don't remember who - found that Bd6 move. White has a perfectly good general plan in that line but it doesn't give any pressure based on a single clever reply.

I think the main point is that it's hard to know what will really happen in an opening until you see specific moves and plans and play over many games. 'Critical' openings are based on specifics which have been found during the last 150 years of competition between top players, and can be hard to predict based on the third move position.

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