A Trap in the Caro-Kann

There’s a trap in the Caro-Kann which seems to be both very popular and very successful in online chess at the moment. It made an appearance over the board in the recent British Championship. This was Thomas Villiers (2170) v Ioanis Lentzos (2097)

1. e4 c6
2. Nf3 d5
3. d3!?

This looks harmless, but White has an idea in mind.

3.. dxe4
4. Ng5!? exd3
5. Bxd3

What would you play here? Most online players choose the move Black played in this game:

5.. Nf6?

Perhaps it’s what you’d play as well, especially in an online blitz game. It’s very natural, isn’t it? Play an obvious developing move and defend your h-pawn. But, embarrassingly, after only 5 moves Black has a lost position.

6. Nxf7! Kxf7
7. Bg6+! winning the queen.

Even a strong player, with plenty of time on the clock, fell for it in this game. White won a few moves later, as you’ll see below.

According to the stats on lichess.org, White scores round about 75% from the diagrammed position above. 5.. Nf6 is played in 58% of the games (14423 in the current lichess database), and the second most popular move, especially amongst lower rated players, is 5.. h6? (4091 games), which is even worse than Nf6. Even looking at games by players rated 2500+, Nf6 is still by far the most popular move.

It seems extraordinary to me that very strong players are falling for this. I’d imagine falling for it myself, but then I’m neither very strong nor a Caro player.

How should Black avoid it. Stockfish recommends 5.. Nd7 6. Nxh7 Ne5 (or Nc5) 7. Nxf8 Nxd3 8. Qxd3 Qxd3 9. cxd3 Kxf8, which looks slightly better for Black.

If you play the Caro-Kann you really need to be aware of this!

Should you play this with White? If you want to improve your rating, especially at online blitz or bullet, then I’m sure it will be worth a few points, at least until the trap becomes better known. If you want to improve your chess, though, as always you’re better off playing sensible moves rather than setting traps.

You may possibly have seen the idea before. If you play the Budapest against 1. d4, which I have done myself in the past, you may well be familiar with something like this:

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e5 3. dxe5 Ng4 4. Nf3 d6 5. exd6 Bxd6 6. h3?? (according to the lichess database at the time of writing, this move has been played 7786 times) 6.. Nxf2! 7. Kxf2 Bg3+!

which is the same thing with colours reversed.

Here’s the British Championship game in full.

Richard James

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Richard James

Author: Richard James

Richard James is a professional chess teacher and writer living in Twickenham, and working mostly with younger children and beginners. He was the co-founder of Richmond Junior Chess Club in 1975 and its director until 2005. He is the webmaster of chessKIDS academy (www.chesskids.org.uk or www.chesskids.me.uk) and, most recently, the author of Chess for Kids and The Right Way to Teach Chess to Kids, both published by Right Way Books. Richard has been a member of Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club since 1966. Richard is a published author and his books can be found at Amazon. Richard is currently promoting minichess (games and puzzles using subsets of chess) for younger children through his website www.minichess.uk, and writing coaching materials for children (and adults) who want to start playing serious competitive chess, through www.chessheroes.uk. View all posts by Richard James

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