When I received this book my first thoughts were "Crikey! Does anybody play the Caro-Kann anymore!?" The feeling was so strong that I decided I could only satisfy myself one way or the other by doing some research. After firing up my computer and opening ChessBase 9, I set about some analysis of the databases. The main database contains 2.6 million games but the quality is somewhat doubtful as many junior and internet games are included. Mark Crowther's "The Week in Chess" is more reliable but in order to get a cross section, I used the period 1997-2006 for sampling, the first seven years being from the main database and the last three from TWIC.
This was the result of searches:-
What does this reveal? Well, it answered my first question - the Caro-Kann is still played! Basically it would seem that the same proportion of Caro-Kanns have been played over the sample period, but there has been a steady decline in the percentage of Panov Attacks.
Perhaps a little history will give some perspective. The Caro-Kann first came into prominence when played by the Viennese M. Kann and the Berlin master, Horation Caro in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It was then employed by Reti, Nimzovitch, Tartakover, and above all by Capablanca. Following this example Flohr, Petrosian, Szabo followed suit and in more modern times Anatoy Karpov was it's chief practitioner. The Panov Attack was developed by the Russian master Vasily Panov during who's findings were published in 1930. He was essentially an aggressive player and it was possible that he was seeking an antidote to the rather slow but sound Caro-Kann. Botvinnik picked up the baton and he played it in his match against Flohr in 1933. He refined the attack until in some circles it became known as the Panov-Botvinnik Attack.
Although there other books devoted to the Panov Attack this publication by Batsford must be close to if not the top authority on the system The extent of Karpov's participation in the preparation of the book is not known but the fact that his name is connected with the volume lends a considerable credibility to the contents. At the top of his powers he was a recognised authority on the black side of the Caro and must have met many attempts to unsettle him with the Panov Attack.
What does the book have to offer? Here are the chapters :-
1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.ed cd 4.c4 Nf6 5.Nc3 Nc6 6.Nf3
1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.ed cd 4.c4 Nf6 5.Nc3 Nc6 6.Bg5
1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.ed cd 4.c4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6!?
1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.ed cd 4.c4 Nf6 5.Nc3 e6 6.Nf3 Nc6
1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.ed cd 4.c4 Nf6 5.Nc3 e6 6.Nf3 Bb4
1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.ed cd 4.c4 Nf6 5.Nc3 e6 6.Nf3 Be7
1.e4 c6 2.c4
The first three chapters deal with systems where Black refrains from ....e6 and the next three with the main line. The Steiner System included in the Appendix can transpose to openings other than the Panov but mostly this is its eventual outcome. Many books on openings throw a lot of analyses at the reader without any adequate explanation, but that is not the case with this publication. There is an abundance of relevant text but here I have a minor criticism - the problem that commonly arises in translations from Russian that are not modified. Thus we get a comment "Better is ..... Nc6 ............. " instead of "...... Nf6 is better". To illustrate the good and the bad here is a typical example.
"In the first game of the Botvinnik - Flohr match was played 10Bxf6?! and after 10 ....ef 11.Qxd3 Bd6 12.Nge2 0-0 13.0-0 Re8 Black fortunately avoided danger But only up to the 9th game of the match .......
By playing 10.Nf3!, White is not distracted by trifles, but calmly completes the mobilisation of his forces. It is important that he retains the possibility of castling both on the short and the long sides - White can vary his plan depending on the situation.
Whichever pawn - h, g or e - makes a move, it looks like there will be trouble from which there is no escape: ......." Analysis is then offered that supports this statement.
Here we see a particularly pertinent statement but expressed in a most cumbersome manner. Just a little thought by the translator would have avoided this problem.
A very good feature of the book is that at the end of each chapter an index of variations is given together with the page on which it occurs. This makes for easy reference and is a format that can be recommended to other publications where one has to sift through the text to find the particular variation one is seeking. Of the authors, Karpov needs no introduction but Mikhail Podgaets is not a familiar name in the West. He is apparently an International Master, trainer and theoretician who is noted for his expertise on the Caro-Kann. No doubt he made a major contribution to the book as a whole. In addition to the contents given above, there is an authoritative Foreword and 12 Illustrative Games, one of which is given as an attachment HERE
The book is in Batsford's Club Players/Openings series and is a paperback of 244 double column pages in 234mm x 156mm size. The recommended price is £15.99.
Setting aside the minor criticism above, there is no doubt that this will become a major source of reference for players of the Caro-Kann and for that matter, for players who, as White, have been bamboozled or frustrated by the reply 1.....c6 to their 1.e4.