On Chess Improvement
July 19th, 2012

A Smothered Mate in the Caro-Kann Advance Variation

You’ll be glad to know that my thought process work is coming along well, and I’m enjoying my current all-time high rating of 1437 on ICC (still 100 points shy of my short-term goal, but I’m getting there). But that’s not what I want to talk about today, rather a “trap” in a sideline of the Caro-Kann Advance variation which I never noticed before, and which, had my opponent been aware, would have cost me a game today.

1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 Bf5 are the normal book moves here.

CaroSmother

White now plays the relatively rare 4. Bd3 and Black is happy to remove White’s good bishop with 4… Bxd3 after which White makes a questionable recapture with 5. cxd3? and Black has more or less already equalized at this point.

CaroSmother2

The game continued 5… e6 6. Nf3 Nd7 7. O-O Ne7 8. Bg5 and now Black has to be a little careful. All of Black’s play until now has consisted of good, solid development moves, but with this pin and the boxed-in king, White has some opportunities.

CaroSmother3

8… c5? looks like the ‘obvious’ break move in this sort of position, clearing the c6 square for the Ne7 so that the bishop is opened. But here it’s wrong. Since the Ne7 can’t move anyway due to the pin against Black’s queen, it delays the opening of the king for a precious tempo. Correct was 8… Qb6, which eliminates the pin and gives the king a little space with tempo against the b2 pawn. Next comes 9… Nf59… Qxb2 or maybe 9… c5 (not the strongest in this position), but Black doesn’t have any problems, in any case.

After 9. Nc3!, Black has to delay his plans. For instance, Black cannot play the tempting 9… cxd4??

CaroSmother5White to play and win!

10. Nb5! threatens a smothered mate with 11. Nd6#.

CaroSmother6

White will lose at least a knight with 10… Nxe5 to avoid the mate. 10… Qb6 is now useless as well, since after 11. Nd6+ Kd8 12. Nxf7+ Kc7 13. Nxh8 White has a decisive material advantage.

So instead of 9… dxc4, Black has to buckle down and play 9… a6 and fight a little harder to regain equality (Black can also play 9… Qa5 [...Qb8 or ...Qc8 are possible, but not really great]). Anything else loses on the spot!

My opponent was, luckily, not aware, and even crappier at tactics than I am, so the rest of the game was, relatively, a massacre. But this is a good situation to look out for when playing this variation. I was surprised to find 5 games in the ChessBase Mega Database in which 2000+ ELO players got themselves into this situation (the prize goes to D Bosnjak [2314]).

The game with variations below…

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