The Dunst: Attacking the Caro-Kann with an Early Queen Sortie

Usually, surprising sidelines tend to be objectively dubious, but the following is totally sound according to several sources (I’m keeping some of them under my hat.) The idea I have in mind is similar to the Caro-Kann “two-knights,” which occurs after 1.e4 c6 2.Nc3 d5 3.Nf3. Here, white holds back the d-pawn at least for a while and simply develops. This line was a favorite of Fischer’s, but it doesn’t cause black any immediate trouble and his plans are straight forward and in keeping with the themes of the Caro-Kann. However, after the move 3.Qf3!? instead of 3.Nf3, we have the following eye popping position, which may occur through several move orders but properly belongs to the 1.Nc3 Dunst opening more than any other.

I hope to show that this position is more than playable for white- it is sound- and moreover black has no clear path to equality. This may be reached through a number of different move orders, including the Scandinavian 1.e4 d5 2.Nc3 c6 3.Qf3, as well as through the Dunst via 1.Nc3 d5 2.e4 c6 3.Qf3. Here, there a number of moves that look playable for black. There are: d4, e6, Nf6, e5 and dxe4. Black is immediately confronted in the center and must decide on a plan early. This position will almost certainly be a surprise to your opponent, who will no doubt think that the queen sortie is incorrect and therefore try to “punish” you. The upside to this is getting out of book and playing chess. The queen sortie is perfectly sound and supported by some theory, and this idea was first pointed out to me by Asa Hoffman who uses it regularly. He said he got it from a book on 1.Nc3 by Keilhack, titled “Der Linksspringer.” Since then, I have seen it in a few different places, and even had a brief conversation with Yaacov Norowitz (who plays the caro-kann exclusively) about it. Norowitz seemed to think it wasn’t that frightening for black, but admitted that he had wrestled with how to meet it and decided upon the straightforward move 3…e5, but seemed a little uncertain still.


Objectively best is 3…dxe4, but before we get there you’re probably curious about what happens after the tempting push 3…d4 hitting the knight. The answer is that white ignores it with 4.Bc4, when the pressure of the f7 square is worth the knight and then some. My engine gives the following as best play in that line

The mainline for the variation with 3…d4 goes 4.Bc4 Nf6 5.e5 dxc3 6.exf6 cxd2+ 7.Bxd2 exf6 8.0-0-0 when white clearly has more than enough compensation for the pawn. The following game is also an instructive example for the line:


Now, white can hit the center with 4.d4, when 4…exd4 is still the best move. If black plays 4.Nf6, as in the following game, white should emerge with an advantage, as the following game fragments demonstrate:


As I mentioned before, this was the move that was favored by Norowitz during a brief kibitzing session. In my opinion, this seems like a perfectly logical response, yet again it isn’t as solid as the simple 3…dxe4.

This game shows a straightforward plan for white against this move. Simply push e5, play Qg3- prepare f4, and play for an attack.

THE MAIN LINE 3...dxe4 4.Nxe4

Finally, we get to the mainline. Here, black will likely play Nd7, Nf6, and challenge the white center with a pawn break. White can either play conservative from this point forward, holding onto his strong point d4, or white may gambit the d pawn for an aggressive initiative.

The following represents black's most testing attempt to refute white's gambit of the d pawn. If this swashbuckling chess isn't to your taste, below, find a sample game as well where white simply plays c3 and looks for a more quiet attempt to play for an edge.

The following game shows a straightforward game in which white simply holds onto the strong-point d4 by playing c3 and looking for a small long term plus as opposed to a knock out attack.

The following game, played by Asa Hoffman the champion of this line, illustrates some ideas for white that involve the simple and solid move Ne2.

16 Responses to “The Dunst: Attacking the Caro-Kann with an Early Queen Sortie”

  1. Temposchlucker on February 3rd, 2011 at 5:20 pm #

    I have played this opening for many many years. I even invented a few gambitlines on my own. Good to learn tactics.

    • lefthandsketch on February 3rd, 2011 at 11:28 pm #

      Temposchlucker, I’m a newbie to this system, but I’m becoming a convert. Could you share some of your games or ideas with us? Perhaps you could do a post on it on your blog?

      Do you have any good source text recommendations for this line? I just got a copy of Keilhack’s “Der Linksspringer” on ebay, I can’t wait for it to get here.

  2. blogeurix on February 3rd, 2011 at 6:42 pm #

    in the game Hoffman – Hastings 6.Bc4 ?! e6? better is 6…Nb6 7.Bd3 (what else?) Qxd4 and white has no clear advantage anymore.

  3. blogeurix on February 3rd, 2011 at 6:46 pm #

    in the main line 5….Ndf6?! better is Ngf6

  4. lefthandsketch on February 3rd, 2011 at 9:19 pm #

    Blogeurix- to respond to your second comment first, I agree that Ngf6 appears to be natural and more in line with the rule – don’t move the same piece twice- etc. however, those things alone do not make it better.

    Here is why Ndf6 is superior: (1) the knight on f6 (whether it comes from d7 or g8) will be exchanged quickly in the fight for the center. (2) the knight d7 blocks the queen and bishop, both of which are crucial in the fight for the center. (3) taking these two things into consideration- if Ngf6, then after that knight is exchanged, the knight on d7 will have to move to f6 anyway to make way for the queen and bishop to come to the center- so why not skip losing a tempo and exchange that knight off first while activating the queen and bishop?

    If you have some concrete lines that demonstrate how Ngf6 is in fact better, I invite a healthy debate as I’m actually very interested in this line and am encouraged by your interest.

    Thanks for the comment.

  5. lefthandsketch on February 3rd, 2011 at 9:30 pm #

    As to your first comment- which is an interesting idea, I like your proposed move Nb6 for black- though I think the bishop may be well placed on either d3 or b3, objectively you’re right d3 is best. Graham Burgess gives the following line “6…Nb6 7.Bd3 Qxd4 8.Ne2 with compensation for the pawn.” He does not justify this conclusion with concrete lines- though my engine views it as dead equal “0.00″ after 8…Qe5 9.0-0 Nbd5 10.Rd1 Bg4 11.Nxf6 Nxf6 12.Qf4 Qh5 13.f3 e5 14.fxg4 Nxg4 15.Qg3 Bc5 16.Kf1 Nxh2 17.Ke1 0-0-0 (when the engine then gives a tiny edge to white.)

  6. Blunderprone on February 3rd, 2011 at 10:28 pm #

    I saw something like this also against the Sicilian. As a C-K player myself, I looked at blacks replies and instinctively thought dxe4 was Black’s sharpest line.

    In the Hoffman- Hastings demo, I ask, what is Black’s Rush to Castle? Let White castle first to know what side of the Board to play one. You can also grab some initiative with b5 and kick white’s c4 Bishop. Even if the queen grabs c6 with check Black respnds with Bd7. I have to look at the this line more. But once White shows his hand with 0-0-0, then its a race to open up the Queenside and not castle kingside at all since the guns are pointed in that general direction.

  7. lefthandsketch on February 3rd, 2011 at 11:15 pm #

    Interesting idea- generally I’m a fan of leaving the king in the center as long as possible with the black pieces (to make up for the fact that I’m playing with black)- one issue with your line might be 10…b5 11.Bxb5 (since cxb5 hangs the rook). Though why not the simple 10…Bd7 11.0-0-0 and now both Qb6 and your idea of b5 look good to me, depending on your taste. I sometimes play openings with this pawn structure as black- with pawns on e6 and c6 biting on the d5 square, which Watson calls “the central restraint structure” and I usually play for either c5 or e5 pawn breaks. Here, with Rc8 and Qb6, c5 looks like a nice counter strike idea. which might make white regret castling queenside.

    Objectively, I think if black leaves his king in the center than white likely should do the same. With both sides keeping their options open, white may simply play moves like c3, Bd3, h3 and leave his king in the center for near eternity while black prepares for a counter punch with either e5 or c5.

    Thanks for the comments guys- you’re making me think. I guess these sidelines are sidelines for a reason, but I’m still feeling confident that this is playable for white.

  8. blogeurix on February 4th, 2011 at 6:44 am #

    “If you have some concrete lines that demonstrate how Ngf6 is in fact better”…for me in the main line 5….Ngf6 (prevents white to play the Bishop in c4) is better because with this move white play for a draw at best

  9. lefthandsketch on February 4th, 2011 at 10:35 am #

    I agree with you that Ngf6 looks more natural, and it’s probably what someone would play if they didn’t want to play the line where black wins the d pawn. Personally, I don’t like the “mainline” for white either- I’d rather play Ne2 and hold the d-pawn than go through the tactics in that gambit. It’s a nice simple chess game. Honestly, I think that’s why Asa Hoffman plays it- to get away from theory and get a solid game from which to slice and dice his weaker opponents.

  10. Jason Wroda on May 30th, 2011 at 6:07 pm #

    Here is a site with a lot of theory on the lines with this system. It’s in French but it should translate to English through the internet. I do have to warn that when it does that to put your cursor over the actual moves because when it does translate it messes up the move order for some reason.

    • lefthandsketch on May 30th, 2011 at 9:16 pm #

      Nice find- also i speak French so it’s a doubly sweet find.

      • Jason Wroda on May 30th, 2011 at 10:26 pm #

        Thanks. I love Kenilworthian’s chess site. They have such a huge amount of stuff that you can find. And thats good that you can speak French. I hated having to keep checking it every time when I went over the lines.

  11. Signalman on July 3rd, 2011 at 12:30 pm #

    This post is a great find for me, as I’ve been looking for a way to play against the Caro Kann without having too much theory hanging over me.

    I castle Queenside in a couple of other openings as well, so it seems that there may be some common themes .

    My first use of it was a tough win, though I have to admit that if I’d done my homework more ( ie reviewed all of the Hoffman game given with Ne2 ) I’d have been better off !

    • lefthandsketch on July 12th, 2011 at 9:20 pm #

      I would love to see the game and add it to the blog if you have a copy- email it to us at with annotations and I’ll put it up! I love this little sideline- caro players like to be comforted in their familiar pawn structure- this variation usually gets some interestingly facial expressions early on- i love it.

  12. Richard Cowan on September 14th, 2011 at 10:52 am #

    You seem to have missed out 3…Nf6. This is one of the best moves for black!
    E.g. Houska recommends 3…Nf6 4.e5 Ngd7!?
    Personally, I’ve even played 4…d4!? here with success, I think the game went something like – 5.Bc4 Bg4 6.Qf4 g5!? 7.Qxg5 dxc3 8.exNf6 Qd4!! 0-1.
    I’d defend these lines for Black all day if I was given the option!

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