Sometimes, chess players have a hard time deciding what to play against White’s 1.e4 because of all the theory that exists. 1…e5 has been played over and over again for generations. Nothing new under the sun there. Playing 1…e6 (the French Defense) is a solid line, but again, there is so much theory on it that it can be overwhelming for beginners. 1…Nf6 (Alekhine’s Defense) is a hypermodern opening and the lines and variations can become complicated in a hurry. 1…c5 (the Sicilian Defense) is the most popular reply, and therefore not much use against a stronger player who knows Sicilian theory well.
The author advises you to try 1…c6 (known as the Caro-Kann Defense). That first move has many strong and easy-to-understand reasons behind it, and it is difficult to fall into traps or a horrible position quickly when playing it. You won’t often encounter a fan of the Caro-Kann, because it isn’t quite as sharp or as exciting to play as the Sicilian or Alekhine’s Defense, for instance. However, it is a very solid chess opening that makes it difficult for White to gain a decisive edge early on.
The move 1…c6 prepares for an immediate 2…d5, almost no matter what White plays. The main line is 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5, whereby Black challenges White’s center in a very real way. At this early stage of the chess game, White must already make a decision. Does the player push the pawn forward to e5, creating a static center? Does he take the pawn with his own? Does he counter the threat by playing his knight to c3? Or maybe bishop to d3? All of these choices are viable options, and whichever one White decides on will really affect the rest of the game. So, at move two, we are already making White put his thinking cap on. That can be very good.
The move also stops bothersome pins such as bishop to f5, which will prevent a knight on c6 from moving because a player cannot move into check, as per the rules of chess. That puts yet another decision in White’s hands: Where does he put that bishop when he develops it? Natural choices are limited to e2 and d3, although of course he can always fianchetto it, playing g3 and bishop g2 at some point.
Another strong point of 1…c6 is that if White makes the exchanges in the center (1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. exd5 cxd5), black has a very useful open c-file which he can use for his rooks and queen. Sicilian players often get the same open c-file, but through a different series of opening moves. Black also has a powerful stake claimed in the center squares as well with his strong d-pawn.
Because this article is simply a broad overview of the Caro-Kann Defense, we won’t go into further variations, or every possible move and its correct reply. Just use the general concepts learned here and play a few games with it. You may be surprised at the “natural” feel of the defense. Often times, the player with the white chess pieces will find himself on the defending end of things.