Fighting Against the Caro Kann Defense with 4.h4!?

Fighting Against the Caro Kann Defense with 4.h4!?

Caro Kann Defense is well known for being a solid defense against white’s 1.e4. For many years, it had a reputation of being a passive opening, suitable for a player who is happily playing for a draw. Nothing more distant from the truth! How to fight against it with 4.h4?!

Caro Kann Defense: Introduction

Nowadays, the number of strong Grandmasters employing the Caro Kann at all levels is very high, and with good results. It seems that in those sharp attacks that white can develop against this opening, black also has their own chances to fight for the win. On the other hand, if white plays too conservative, then black would equalize fairly easily.

The latest trend against the Caro Kann (more of a concept than just one variation) is that white should play ”for space” with 3.e5. In recent years, this move has gotten a lot of attention and many ideas have been tried, for example, the ”Short system” with 4.Nf3 and 5.Be2, 4.Be3 was also very popular at some point, and even 4.Nbd2 followed by 5.Nb3.


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All these systems had in common that they don’t pursue a direct, violent attack against black; they just control black’s most important freeing moves (c6-c5, f7-f6) and try to keep a slight edge due to having more space. Needless to say that this is easier said than done and in practice black has shown more than enough resources to meet every system mentioned before.


In this article we will discuss a system based on the same principle of keeping the spatial advantage, starting with the move 4.h4!?


Black’s main response has always been 4…h5, although the reader must be aware that 4…h6 and 4…Qb6 are other less principled options that white should know as well. The move 4…h5 puts an end to white’s plans of advancing the kingside pawns. However, black concedes the g5 square in return. In the opening system we present in this article white is not too ambitious, and he is gladly settling for a very slight plus by continuing with 5.Bd3.


He trades his “good bishop”, but this doesn’t matter much here; the black bishop on f5 is also a very strong piece. In general terms, white’s aiming for French type of structures without bishops on either side which he can benefit from his lasting space superiority. One of the main ideas here is to open the C file by playing c4, and in some cases, even grabbing more space by c5-b4-a4, etc.

Caro Kann Defense: Middlegames arising from this variation

In the next examples, we have a deeper look at the middlegames arising from this variation. We hope they can serve you to get familiarized with the resulting positions.

This is a model game in which white obtained a very good position out of the opening. Black was soon left with only one pawn rupture and it weakened his position considerably.

The next example is another recent game by a very strong player. In this game white’s center is attacked early. In this case, it’s important to consider releasing the tension with 12.dxc5. Even after the disappearance of the white pawn on d4 white keeps a nice edge.

In the next game black did not answer 7.Bg5 with 7…Qb6, but with 7…Be7 instead. It seems that even after the trade of bishops black still has some problems to solve with the position of his king.

4.h4!? – Conclusion

As we have mentioned before, this opening system is not too ambitious. But, we believe it is suitable for the player who does not want to play the main theoretical lines and still plays interesting positions with chances for an advantage.

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Updated 12.22.2023