In balanced, solid positions it’s often difficult to figure out the right plan. If you try to attack without some sort of advantage to hold onto, your attack will almost always fail because your opponent will easily match your strength on the board and as you retreat, you will have wasted time which will give your opponent a long-term advantage in the game. This is a problem that many players on the white side of the main line Caro-Kann face because of how solid the Caro-Kann usually is, even in the hands of an unskilled player. To combat this, there are other variations that white can try that offer a less closed structure and more attacking chances. Here we’re going to look at the attacking themes in one of these variations.
To begin the Caro-Kann Defense we have the opening moves 1. e4 c6, 2. d4 d5. Black prepared his d7-d5 push so that if white takes on d5 he can take back with his c-pawn and maintain a pawn center. The typical main line continues with Nc3 here, but instead white can play a variation known as the Panov-Botvinnik Attack which is going to be our focus. To go into this line, white plays 3. exd5 cxd5, 4. c4 Nf6. Notice that now white has completely opened the game up, and will need to play along typical isolated-queen’s-pawn guidelines. This will lead to structures that aren’t so rigid, and offer much more space to develop pieces and prepare for an attack. Play generally continues with something like 5. Nc3 e6, 6. Nf3 Be7, 7. Be2 0-0, 8. 0-0 a6, 9. Bg5 dxc4, 10. Bxc4 b5, 11. Bb3 Bb7. White will use his queen and light-squared bishop to attack along the b1-h7. He might also place a knight on e5 or g5, and open up on the f-file with a pawn push from f2 to f4 to f5 and threaten to exchange with the e6-pawn.
The Panov-Botvinnik Attack can also play out in a much different fashion if black doesn’t allow the isolated-queen’s-pawn structure. For example, we have 1. e4 c6, 2. d4 d5, 3. exd5 cxd5, 4. c4 e6, 5. Nc3 Nf6, 6. Nf3 Be7, 7. Bd3 0-0, 8. cxd5 exd5, 9. 0-0 Bg4. This game, while still much more open than the main lines of the Caro-Kann, leads to a chess game that is more balanced because of the symmetrical pawn structure. White takes on no structural weaknesses in exchange for giving black a little bit more mobility. White still has the better attacking chances because of his more active pieces. For example, white will usually put a queen on c2, bishops on d3 and g5, a knight on e5, and put his rooks on open files. Even though black has a bit more mobility than in the previous line we looked at, white still has a decent advantage.
The exchange of center pawns found in the various Panov-Botvinnik lines opens up the game and makes it much harder for black to establish such an incredibly solid position as he does in the main lines. For active white 1. e4 players who prefer to have open positions with attacking chances, the main lines of the Caro-Kann are aggravating to play against, and the Panov-Botvinnik lines will be much more fun to play.