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I used to be a Caro-Kann player and had great results in it against all lines except the exchange variation. I had a horrible score there and I wish to remedy that.

What are some good middlegame plans for black in the exchange Caro-Kann?

I am aware of the Carlsbad structure (was an exchange Queen's Gambit Declined player,but there I always used the f3-e4 central pawn push as the gameplan) but it just seems like black's queenside play is too slow.

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There is one important difference between Queen Gambit Exchange and Caro-Kann Exchange - while structure is same (with colours reversed), white has in QGE a few tempos more than black has in C-K. So kingside play for white in C-K is much more effective than it is for black in QGE.

So in C-K you have a choice between two approaches:

  1. Classical lines beginning with 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. exd5 cxd5 4. Bd3 Nc6 5. c3 Nf6 6. Bf4 Bg4;
  2. More modern approaches, for example starting from 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. exd5 cxd5 4. Bd3 Nc6 5. c3 Qc7.

1. Classical approach

There black is planning to eventually go for minority attack. However, white will get some serious initiative on the kingside, so black first has to survive. Rule of thumb is: minority attack is serious option for black if two pairs of minor pieces were exchanged. So be careful on the kingside (Bxh7 sac is very common), exchange pieces and then start working on the queenside.

These lines are a bit stodgy, since white has long-term advantage due to having better light-squared bishop or bishop pair (if black decided to play Bxf3). However if you know them well they are reliably drawish.

I think best option for black in this complex is 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. exd5 cxd5 4. Bd3 Nc6 5. c3 Nf6 6. Bf4 Bg4 7. Qb3 Qd7 8. Nd2 e6 9. Ngf3 Bxf3 10. Nxf3 Bd6 11. Bxd6 Qxd6, where white has only slight advantage due to good light-squared bishop. Note that white can try Qxb7, but black has very good compensation for the pawn.

2. Modern approach

There black is planning to go for e5 break, hopping for good IQP positions. Sometimes he prepares it with f6 first, but this is usually too slow and weakening. If white knows his stuff he may get quite an advantage. So playing e5 straight away is better.

Another common option is to go for g6 first and prepare e5 later, or maybe go for Bf5 with idea of opening up g-file for attack on the kingside.

The line I like facing the least with white pieces is 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. exd5 cxd5 4. Bd3 Nc6 5. c3 Qc7. Black now prevented Bf4. Now best for white is to go for a tad disappointing 6. h3, since if he decides to prepare Bf4 he quickly lands in trouble, for example after very natural: 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. exd5 cxd5 4. Bd3 Nc6 5. c3 Qc7 6. Ne2?! Bg4 7. f3?! Bd7 8. Bf4 e5!, where black is a bit better.

Further reading

About these lines and development of theory in C-K there are two very good surveys on Perlen vom Bodensee's website:

  1. How to tackle the Caro Kann Exchange: an urgent recommendation (Opening Survey)
  2. Winning after 17 moves against Aronian: an expansion on our Caro Kann survey, forced by fabulous Fabi
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  • Your resources were very helpful but I think I will go down the Sicilian rabbit hole Commented Mar 5 at 13:33
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As Black, you can either play for ...f6 and ...e5 in the exchange Caro-Kann, or you can play for a minority attack with the a- and b-pawns. You can check out Chess structures: a grandmaster guide by Mauricio Flores Rios. He has a chapter on this Carlsbad structure, albeit that he assumes White has to play for the f3 and e4 break or choose the minority attack.

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  • Could you give any resources in books, games etc for the f6-e5 idea? I don't have any knowledge of that plan for black, as white, yes I have often used it but not as black Commented Mar 3 at 17:32
  • The plans are identical for White and Black if they both play the same structure. The book I mentioned surely has example games and ideas for that setup and plan.
    – Tommiie
    Commented Mar 3 at 19:04

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