After 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 dxe4 4. Nxe4, the most popular move (main line) is 4...Bf5. But former world champion Anatoly Karpov seems to like 4...Nd7. Since Karpov's style is "solidly positional, taking no risks but reacting mercilessly to any tiny errors made by his opponents," I am wondering if 4...Nd7 is generally considered more solid and less risky than 4...Bf5, at least by Karpov.

I am hoping that Anatoly Karpov can answer or comment on this question, but it does not seem realistic.

  • IMHO Caro-Kann is risky opening in general - as you give up a lot of space to white and my percentage even in blitz on lichess is about 80%(78-83 in different variations - and here your assumptions might be some what correct - only 78% against 4...Nd7) with white ... and I'm loosing 1-2% and those are just blunders made in blitz - not problems in opening
    – Drako
    Commented Apr 9, 2020 at 12:30

3 Answers 3


Regarding your question, as far as I remember, both lines hold.

  • Bf5 gave White a lot of options to fight for an advantage. It got revamped with the help of the computers, Black seeking to generate more active counter-play by castling short instead of long, but I had no courage to try those positions out as they were too wild for my taste.

  • Nd7 was regarded as more solid, giving White less attacking options, but also requires more enterprising play from Black.

Sadly, user q.undertow is right. There is no safe line in the Caro-Kann.

Allow me to explain why:

Since it's creation, it was considered inferior to French defense, masters arguing that 1...c6 is too slow, Black not fighting energetically enough for the center. This fact gives White enough time to put pressure on Black. This will always be the case with Caro, Black argues that he will be able to withstand the pressure and cash in White's over-extension in the endgame.

In some lines, White plays outrageous moves, almost "all-in"-ing, forcing Black to invest reasonable risk, in order not to lose. These positions are ugly for the eye of the beholder, but that does not matter. What matters is that objectively, the positions are sound and not inferior for Black.

Before the endgame, comes middlegame. Relinquishing initiative to White, Black will have to defend some serious threats and nobody in the old days knew just how far can White go with his aggression. They tried to play positionally, relying on general principles, but this approach gave only a small plus for White, so he turned to "all-in"-ing, backed by computer analysis. These new moves broke every principle they could, but still remained viable, forcing Black to reply in equal manner in order not to get crushed, generating mind-boggling positions.

Sadly, it is White who steers the game, so if he wants to, he can drag you into sharp positions. Positional lines hold for Black (last time I checked) so you should have no problems there as their plans are not difficult to grasp.

If you do get dragged in the complications, book yourself up, you won't be able to save yourself with calculation and general principles. From my experience, it was harder to play as Black, more stress, easier to make a mistake, less options to generate counter-play...


IMO it is an overstatement to say that Karpov took no risks. Just to give one example which is curiously on topic, in one of his Caro games he played an early .. Ke8-e7 !? in order to connect his Rh8 to his Queen, and got an advantage that way. I would call his style "positional dynamic" or something like that.

Perhaps the larger point is that in chess you simply can't win without taking at least some minimal risk. And I'm hoping that winning (sometimes) is your goal, rather than always drawing.

And there's a risk to systems like .. Bf5 too, though of a different kind: that of being stuck in a minimally worse position with no counterplay. Playing that sort of position against a master is no fun at all.

  • Your claim that you cannot win without taking risk makes no sense. If you are better than your opponent, you can win majority of games without taking any risk, the same way that Stockfish 11 can win you without taking any risks. It is just a matter of relative accuracy. If you want to talk about trying to win by luck against a stronger opponent, that is a totally different matter unrelated to the current question about "solid positional play".
    – user21820
    Commented Apr 9, 2020 at 7:21
  • In the game, chessgames.com/perl/chessgame?gid=1066717, 11...Ke7 is the best move and is the least risky move.
    – Mike Jones
    Commented Apr 9, 2020 at 8:26
  • @user21820, as far as Karpov is concerned, in most of his career, he is almost always better than his opponent (unless his opponent is Garry Kasparov). So he wins majority of games without taking any risk. Correct?
    – Zuriel
    Commented Apr 9, 2020 at 12:17
  • Surely winning is my goal and I would love to win like Karpov. I will never reach anything close to his level but l enjoy learning from his style and his games. I love the idea of winning with taking minimal risks possible.
    – Zuriel
    Commented Apr 9, 2020 at 12:27
  • @Zuriel: That is my point. That is one good reason for him not to take risks unless he is losing.
    – user21820
    Commented Apr 9, 2020 at 17:33

From Fundamental Chess Openings (FCO) by Paul van der Sterren:

"Theory of this opening system (which sadly lacks any widely accepted name) has been enriched with a huge number of sharp and original variations"

Here he is referring to the Karpov variation (which now has a widely accepted name!).

So it's definitely not slow and solid necessarily- white can drag you into an attack still.

If you want a slow and solid variation, may I recommend the following variation: 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Nf6 5. Nxf6 exf6

FCO says of this: "It is solid and fairly simple strategically, but it must be admitted that Black is making a positional sacrifice of some sort. In exchange for obtaining open files, free development for all his pieces and a safe place for his king (supposing that Black castles kingside) Black accepts a doubling of pawns which may eventually boil down to a virtual pawn sacrifice. For if White manages to obtain a passed pawn on the queenside, Black will have nothing to show for it on the kingside. This line is clearly a matter of taste"

I play this from the black side regularly and agree with the assessment above.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.