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The transposition into a Carlsbad structure, familiar to the Exchange Caro-Kann (1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 cxd5) is a recurrent concern for the Neo-Londoner which is somehow mishandled by chess literature...
The problem, actually, is that this is not even a good exchange Caro-Kann (where White strives, with 4.Bd3 and possibly 5.h3!?, to prevent the opposing queen's bishop coming outside the pawn chain) as 4.Bf4 ("fourth in popularity after 4.c4, 4.Bd3 and 4.c3" ) is not even a "respected move"!

Download PGN of August '12 d-Pawn Specials games

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Neo-London System 2.Bf4 c5 3.e3, Carlsbad Structure [D00]/Exchange Caro-Kann with Bf4 [B13]

The move order we are concerned with is 1.d4 d5 2.Bf4 Nf6 3.e3 c5 4.c3 Nc6 5.Nd2 cxd4 6.exd4 (noting that 6.cxd4 does not look very appealing with the queen's knight on d2. In some cases though, with a late exchange on d4, this may be an option. White should then first take back on d4 with his king's knight so as to attack the f5-bishop and force the exchange ...Nc6xd4, c3xd4!? Afterwards he may have ideas of taking advantage of the weakened a4-e8 diagonal, the open c-file, including the possibility of Qb3.) when 6...Bf5 7.Qb3 Qc8 was played by analogy with the exchange Caro-Kann in game 1:

but 7...Qd7 8.Nf3 a6 is also interesting, and possibly even better.

Just a small modification to the move order (for instance by 4...cxd4 5.exd4 Nc6) and White gets the chance to enter the Caro-Kann Exchange main line by 6.Bd3! This improves his prospects slightly and game 2, I guess, presents all the theoretical knowledge the Neo-Londoner needs to be equipped with in this genuine transposition.

2...c5 3.e3 cxd4 4.exd4 Nc6 5.c3 Bf5! is the purest form of the Caro-Kann Exchange policy adapted to the Neo-London for Black.

By retaining some flexibility with his king's knight, it is Black who improves his prospects in all continuations this time, such as 6.Nf3 e6 7.Qb3 (...Bd6 has to be stopped otherwise the position is completely equal... This is the problem with this specific Neo-London order of moves where Black takes direct advantage of the early development of White's queen's bishop.) 7...Qd7 8.Nbd2 Nge7!?:

another 'Caro-Kannish' idea linked to the king's knight's development to e7, rather than f6, which Black came up with in game 3, planning ...Ng6, ...Bd6 with access to the f4 square while protecting his Bf5 against Nf3-h4.

8.Ne5 Nxe5 9.Bxe5 Ne7 10.Nd2 Nc6 11.Bg3 Bd6 is the main line, as shown in game 4. This position is completely equal, with preferable long term prospects for Black alone due to the possibility of conducting a minority attack.

In this case, as I have warned, he should proceed with care and not rush with his b-pawn at the risk of giving up control of the key c5-square. Indeed, "equal" does not mean drawn, especially when the weaker side has no plan...

However 8.Nbd2 f6! proved the most worrying for White in game 5 (and the reason why he tends to exchange the knights on e5 before Black gets this move in) even with the London diagonal open, for in return the opposing d5 pawn was protected against any further c3-c4.

After the immediate 6.Qb3?! Qd7 7.Nf3 the move 7...f6! again represents the most challenging idea against the White set-up, particularly as it aims to go against the London bishop with ...g7-g5, ...h7-h5, once more emphasizing the advantage of not having the knight on f6:

This gains a dangerous initiative on the kingside while the White queen is not doing anything on the queenside but preventing the dark-squared bishops exchange on d6. Actually, she would have been better placed on d1, for instance to counter this idea by allowing the exchange of the other colour bishops on d3!

The difference with the previous game was that in game 6 Black could play ...e7-e5 in one go... with its pros and cons.

No waffle or 'hiding behind one's little finger', this line may be equal but is easier and more pleasant for Black, while in addition being elementary to prepare!

Keeping the central tension by 3...Nc6 4.c3 Bf5!? (with the same ideas as in the previous games) is also a concern for the white move order, against which he reacted in the most precise way in game 7, by 5.Nd2! e6 6.Nf3 Bd6! 7.dxc5!? Bxc5 8.Nd4 as was already mentioned in the archives. However, 8...Nge7!? looks like a good way for Black to level the game:

On the other hand this is not the case with 4...Qb6 5.Qb3 c4?! 6.Qc2 Bf5? (The ChessBase suggestion of 6...e5!? 7.dxe5 Bf5 8.Qc1 g5 has not yet set a trend. Refer to the archives for the only game apparently played with it.) when 7.Qxf5! Qxb2 8.Qxd5 Qxa1 9.Qb5 0-0 10.Bxc4 e5 11.Bxe5! was my favourite, which brought White an easy win in game 8 - some 4 years back ChessPublishing already stood at the very cutting edge of London theory...

This game cannot be the wood that conceals the forest, however. It is not a question of safe or risky play; White should simply not play 3.e3 after 2...c5.

The conclusion is that White has to harden his play and redirect his analytical efforts towards other leads, and naturally the Morris gambit. This is what we will examine next time.

See you soon, Eric

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