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After 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5, what are the differences between 3. Nc3 and 3. Nd2?

It seems 3. Nc3 is more popular, though after 3. ... dxe4, I failed to see the difference.

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3.Nc3 allows White to play the Two Knights Attack with 2.Nf3. It does block the c-pawn, though, so Black can play 3...g6, the Gurgenidze System, because White cannot protect the d-pawn with the c-pawn.

There is also the rarely played Gurgenidze Counter Attack 3...b5. A very dubious line that can be stopped easily with a3.

3.Nd2 tries to avoid these lines, but it makes the Two Knights Attack impossible, a line that is very popular nowadays. It also blocks the view of White's dark-squared bishop, so Black can develop their kingside knight to h6 if they want.

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    I don't get this, the Two Knights Attack is already impossible after 2.d4; a move played on turn 3 can not make something on turn 2 possible, that's in the past. As you say 3.Nd2 is good against ...g6, so there must be some other move by black (besides ...dxe4) to take advantage of it or it would be much more popular. – RemcoGerlich May 16 at 11:42
  • d4 is a move in almost every line of the Two Knights, although it is often played a bit later. There is one line with d3, but it's rather rare and probably a bit too passive. – fuxia May 16 at 11:47
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    So what is the downside of Nd2? How can black make use of it? – RemcoGerlich May 16 at 14:48
  • @RemcoGerlich There is no real downside, that's why it is still played so often. – fuxia May 16 at 14:50
  • In my database I see that 3.Nc3 is more than twice as popular as 3.Nd2. IThe question asks why. Your answer says that 3.Nd2 has an advantage (it's better against ...g6) and that it has no real downside. I don't understand. – RemcoGerlich May 16 at 15:32
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Nd2 avoids this line:

1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 b5!? 4.ed5 b4 followed by recapturing on d5

IM Jeremey Silman was a proponent of this for Black as a surprise weapon.

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Yes, if Black plays 3...dxe4 there is no difference whatsoever.

The difference between 3.Nc3 and 3.Nd2 is the sidelines they allow/prevent Black from playing. For example, 3.Nc3 may encourage 3...b5!?, trying to harass the knight.

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