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1. e4 g6 2. d4 Bg7

by far the most common third move is 3. Nc3. This goes against the principle of not blocking the c pawn with the knight as white, now of course principles can be broken but I can't see the benefit of doing so here.

The e4 pawn does not need defending, and if the aim is to stop 3... d5 then 3. c4 achieves this as well, then Nc3 can be played later.

So why is it not preferable to play 3. c4 before Nc3?

  • 2
    Nothing wrong with c4, I suspect (hence a comment rather than an answer) that the reason is more practical - very few players are truly ambidextrous (i.e. play 1 e4 and 1 d4 with equal confidence) and so your average e4 player won't feel happy going into the white side of a Kings Indian which is what c4 invites. But he or she will have their pet line against the Pirc, and so why not Nc3 to see if you can go there? For instance I play the Austrian attack against both Pirc and Modern move orders, but have never played 1 d4 in a serious game.
    – Ian Bush
    Commented Apr 5, 2019 at 6:43
  • 3.c4 would transpose to the King's Indian Defense, arising usually from 1.d4. Commented Sep 28, 2019 at 23:31

5 Answers 5


3. c4 will likely transpose to a King Indian defense while 3. Nc3 will likely lead to a Pirc. 1. e4 players will prefer the more familiar Pirc positions.

The Modern Defense move order lets White decide the main position.

  • Good point, but it does not really answer why people tend to play 3.Nc3 over 3.c4. I would say that White often feels more comfortable playing against Pirc than against the King's Indian. Also, players who want to face the King's Indian may have played 1.d4 g6 2.c4, not even reaching the position in question.
    – David
    Commented Apr 8, 2019 at 7:07

It is just a matter of taste. White is playing a king pawn opening so with the pawn on e4 the principal of blocking the c-pawn does not apply. White simply doesn't want to play a King's Indian defense.

With Nc3 White has a lot of options:

  • For one he can seek a more Dragon type game with the idea of Bc1-e3, Qd2, and h2-h4; often with f2-f3 being played.
  • Alternatively, White can go for f2-f4 lines probably pushing e4-e5.
  • Or White can play classically with Nf3 and Be2.

So overall a flexible developing move.

  • And white can still cover d4 with a pawn, so in that sense Nc3 is less commital
    – Ian Bush
    Commented Apr 5, 2019 at 20:32

There is no such principle as "don't block your c-pawn". A c3/c4 pawn push is better in some positions and worse in others. What White intends is to develop his queenside fast, castle there and launch a kingside attack with his pawns, so c4 is out of the question if you want to play that plan.

Indeed, White would want to do the same thing against the King's Indian, the reason why he doesn't is that Black would not allow it! See for instance 1.d4 Nf6 and now 2.Nc3 is not done because 2...d5 would come, otherwise, if would be the best move!


3.Nc3 saves a tempo by not pushing the c-pawn first, which could be important in some sharp lines. However, 3.c4 is equally as good, transposing from the Pirc into the King's Indian.

It really just depends on your preferences.


Carlsen used to play 3.Nf3 with the idea of 3...d6 4.Bc4 Nf6 5.Qe2 0-0 6.0-0, with Rd1 and e5 following. It is very easy to play with white because the attack is immediate, and solving the black issues on the board seems not to be that easy.

  • 1
    That doesn't answer the question why Nc3 is played.
    – fuxia
    Commented Jun 1, 2019 at 2:41
  • Indeed, it meant to be a comment to Ywapom.
    – La buba
    Commented Jun 1, 2019 at 11:36

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