4

In the Caro-Kann where white plays 3.Nd2, it seems like the d2 knight is misplaced: it's on a worse square than c3, and it blocks the c1 bishop. Black playing 3...dxe4 relieves white of both these problems (along with allowing white to play Bc4). However, 3...dxe4 is by far the most popular move, probably partly because black has probably "booked up" on this line.

[FEN ""]
1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2

Question: Is it worthwhile delaying or avoiding 3...dxe4 to exploit the poor position on the d2 knight?

Judging from LiChess's master games, some players have tried 3...g6 followed by 4...Bg7. For example, some master games follow the following lines (e.g. Smirin vs. Bologan, 1994, 1/2-1/2):

[FEN ""]
1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nd2 g6 4. Ngf3 Bg7
5. c3 Nd7 6. Bd3 dxe4 7. Nxe4 Ngf6 8. Nxf6+ Nxf6
9. O-O O-O
5

Here, g6, transposing to a Modern defense, Gurgenidze variation, isn't quite as good as it is against 3. Nc3. The problem with is that c3, supporting the d4 pawn, is still a possibility after 3. Nd2, vs 3. Nc3. 1. In other words, the slightly poor position of the knight is more than offset by being able to setup a strong pawn chain

According to the chess.com opening explorer, looking at master games only, black scores 26% with g6 against Nd2 (41% for white, 33% draws), as opposed to 30% against Nc3 (39% for white, 31% draws). While black scores about 2% better than the main dxe4, white scores about 5% better against g6.

1) Joe Gallagher, Starting out: The Caro-Kann.

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  • Your percentages after 3.Nc3 g6 add to 110%... I suspect a typo. – Evargalo Jan 21 '19 at 17:03
  • 1
    @Evargalo you are correct. I've fixed it. – Herb Wolfe Jan 22 '19 at 3:10
3

The whole idea behind the caro-kann is to safely push ...d5 and challenge White's e4-pawn. While you can play something like ...g6, it goes against the main principle of the opening.

In the French, a move Black often plays instead of ...dxe4 is ...Nf6. That doesn't work so well here since after 3...Nf6 4.e5 Nd7, the d-file has been closed up and the d2-knight could calmly move to f3. In the French Black usually goes for a ...c5 push soon, but here that's a waste of a tempo (due to the c-pawn already being on c6).

3...dxe4 is the most popular move mainly because it's objectively the best. The reason so many players are booked up on it is due to it being the best and most popular. If you'd like to not take on e4 so early, look into the French. It's a similar opening but gives more options to not liquidate immediately.

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2

I'm no expert in the Caro-Kann but one of the reasons to play it is to obtain a French defense like position but with your light squared bishop outside of the pawn-chain. The trade-off is you are taking 2 moves to play c5 as opposed to 1.

In this position black cannot develop his light squared bishop and he certainly doesn't want to transpose into a french being a tempo down.

Also in the French white does play Nd2 in certain variations as well. It allows him to play c3 to preserve his pawn structure and he is planning to play Ndf3 to support his d4 pawn.

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