Scholastic Chess: Opening Bits
Josip Asik is a FIDE master and Editor-in-Chief of the American Chess Magazine
TRAPPING YOUR PREY IN THE CARO-KANN
Have you been told not to move the same piece twice in the opening? Add to that the warning that under no circumstances should you bring your queen out too early. In the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer, the young hero is torn between listening to the chess hustler who wants him to be aggressive with the queen and the coach who tells him to develop his other pieces first.
The coach that wants you to prepare for the long intense battle is right; however, you have to admit the joy you feel with a quick win that you may have “hustled” over the board. When you walk through the playing hall with that great smile, while all the other players are enviously wondering how lucky you have been to score a point in 15 minutes!
Of course, you will not achieve the win with 2.Qh5 – or at least the chances are very weak. Let's recall the favorite opening of every beginner: 1.e4 e5 2.Qh5 Nc6 3.Bc4 g6 4.Qf3 Nf6 5.Qb3 Qe7 where Black is the one ahead in development. If you are clever, however, you may trap your opponent as a hunter and huntress trap their prey.
In this game, the huntress (the queen) is the star as she moves four times in a row to snare her victim. Any good hunter knows you have to use deception and a lure to catch the animal with the springing of the trap and have to get to the prey before they wriggle free. In our chess game, White realizes his opponent is fan of the popular Capablanca Variation of the Caro-Kann and sets a trap by making something different look familiar.
1.e4 c6 2.Nf3 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Bf5 The bishop on f5 is the signature move of the Capablanca Variation. However, the position is not the same! It just looks like that. White is playing a game of deception. The Capablanca Variation actually arises from 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Bf5. These two positions are similar. The unaware opponent could easily miss spotting the difference.
In the “true” Capablanca position the white pawn is already on d4, and the king's knight is far away from the center, still in his initial position. The change is in White’s second move – 2.Nf3 instead of 2.d4. Black may even think it’s just a transposition into the regular line.
Our trap is possible because standard opening lines have a valuable role in saving time to assess and calculate the position every single time. Some moves, especially in known openings, are often played mechanically without second thoughts. “I know my opening line. I play it all the time.” – I’m sure you’ve heard a player brag about that at least once. In this game, Black hurries to fulfill his standard opening moves, looking further away to the middlegame.
2. THE FUNNEL ‒ LURING THE PREY IN
5.Ng3 Bg6 6.h4 h6 Black doesn’t realize it, but he’s being lured into this funnel toward the trap. If he had recognized the trap, he would have taken the lost tempo and played 5...Bg4. However, his play seems perfectly natural since the moves he’s playing go along just like the moves in the 2.d4 Capa line. He doesn’t suspect a thing! He is blissfully unaware as he mechanically plays the moves he always plays. The waking up is just around the corner...
3. SPRING THE TRAP!
7.Ne5! In German, the knight is known as the “springer,” so our trap is sprung by the right piece! There is a good chance that Black suddenly realizes that something is strange in the position. It's not the pawn on h5 that is pushing the bishop into his favorite shelter on h7, which is usual, but the knight! Then again, he might wonder, what’s the difference? After all, from Black’s viewpoint, everything looks quite safe. While he could now accept the exchange of his g6-bishop for the white knight with 7...Qd6, it's against the main idea of the Capablanca Variation. The bishop should be on h7, only to exchange for the white bishop when it goes to d3. Black is playing on “automatic”.
4. THE HUNTRESS APPEARS TO GATHER IN THE PREY
Now we are back to some things we talked about in the beginning. The threat is simple: mate on f7. The effects of the deception are still strong, and Black is as yet unaware that he has big problems. He sees that closing in his bishop with 8...g6 is unpleasant, but still believes that the defense is solid. That’s why Caro-Kann players play the defense – to be safe and solid. So, he might assume that White is losing a tempo with such an early queen move. She will obviously have to retreat.
8...g6 If 8...Qd5 then 9.Bc4 is fatal.
The queen makes a second mate threat, and Black develops his knight to defend. He is struggling to get free from this trap. Unfortunately, the White huntress is very clever and won't lose her prey.
9...Nf6 10.Qb3 The third move in a row by the queen. That just can’t be, can it!? But it is! The pawn on b7 is now a target as well.
10...e6 Relatively better is 10...Qd5. White now takes on b7 and allows the check: 11.Qxb7 Qxe5+ 12.Be2 and the rook is lost anyway. Now, if Black chooses to close his eyes on the material loss and run away by castling, that would lead to mate: 12...Bg7 13.Qc8#; or 12...Nfd7 13.Qc8#
It’s happened before, and will no doubt happen again. Trying to trap the black queen doesn’t quite work: 12...Qa5 13.Qxa8 Qc7 14.Ba6; or 12...e6 13.a4 Nd5 14.Qxa8 Qc7 15.a5 Bg7 16.a6 and the black queen will go to b7.
11.Qxb7 The fourth move in a row by the white queen! Although the hustler mentioned above may be right in this variation, try not to use it as a role model outside of this specific line. It is true what they say: do not play with the same piece in the opening more than once unless there is a good reason why you should or have to!
11...Nbd7 12.Nxc6 Qc8 13.Ba6 Nb6 14.Qxc8+ Nxc8 15.Bb7 and White is winning.
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