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.


6 Answers 6


3.Nd2 is more exact as it maintains flexibility over the c-pawn!

How that might be relevant becomes clearer when considering specific cases, for instance, as pointed out by fuxia, 3.Nd2 avoids the possibility of 3...g6.

More precisely, in view of the concrete 3...g6 option:


  • Nc3 blocks the c-pawn and allows black to comfortably aim for the solid kingside fianchetto setup with 3...g6, providing the g7 bishop decent scope on the long a1-h8 diagonal along which multiple white targets stand. Although the immediate e5 response in an attempt to close the diagonal is possible, black is well able to keep playing on the dark squares and undermine white's d4,e5 setup with early f6, c5 and white has to invest extra tempo to reinforce with c3. Moreover, white often ends up with a temporarily (until f4 can be played) weak isolated pawn on e5 which black should target.

  • With the fiachetto'ed bishop on g7, black wants to keep the play on the dark squares and further enable their bishop. In view of this, the delayed advance of the c2-pawn means white is slower in shifting the central tension over to light squares, which in turn means black gets comfortable equalising chances, as their fight for the center goes unchallenged.

For a demonstration of the 3.Nc3 g6 line, first game that springs to mind is Smyslov vs Seirawan, where black benefited from a better fight for the center, exploiting the pressure on the long diagonal and white's delayed c-pawn advance to trade the c7 for the d4 pawn and establish a pawn majority in the center (see the diagrams below, progression from left to right). And black proceeded to draw the game comfortably while having the better endgame (dominating white's pawns on the queenside after c4-b5 conceding an outpost to the d7 knight).


  • Left: d4 is not firmly defended and cannot be reinforced with c2-c3, thus remains prone to exchanges with the c7-c5 pawn followed by the e5 advance.
  • Middle and right: White's Ne2, c4 has been too slow (green), thus, black finds a timely resolution of white's central pawns (red), after which black achieves a clear pawn majority (right diagram) in the center (blue).


  • 3.Nd2 instead of Nc3, maintains flexibility over the c-pawn, in particular, it prevents 3...g6 as white can readily strike in the center (with c4) and immediately challenge black on the light squares (diagram below), specially in reply to black setups typified by the pervious diagrams.

  • Alternatively, if instead of an early f6 black opts for Bg4 pinning the f3 knight and undermining d4's defense, then white has the important fortifying option of c2-c3 readily available. Therefore, after 3.Nd2, the g7 bishop stands poorly on the long diagonal which renders the whole 3...g6 option much less attractive for black.

In contrast to the game against V. Smyslov, Karpov never extended the same kindness towards Seirawan and always played the more exact 3.Nd2 (example games: (1), (2), (3)).

  • Your opening statement, "3.Nd2 is more exact as it maintains flexibility over the c-pawn!" is factually wrong in that it is not "more exact". First, if GMs believed that, they would not favor Nc3 at a rate of 2:1. It is not more exact, it is just different. Yes, it maintains flexibility over the c-pawn, but it also does not control the center as well. As with every move in chess, there are pluses and minuses. Commented Jan 30, 2020 at 12:09

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.

  • 3
    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. Commented May 16, 2019 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
    Commented May 16, 2019 at 11:47
  • 1
    So what is the downside of Nd2? How can black make use of it? Commented May 16, 2019 at 14:48
  • 1
    @RemcoGerlich There is no real downside, that's why it is still played so often.
    – fuxia
    Commented May 16, 2019 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. Commented May 16, 2019 at 15:32

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.


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.


It doesn't really matter – the only difference is against g6, which is considered not very good by theory and is rare. Nd2 is slightly better against g6, and technically Nd2 might be slightly more precise, but at the end of the day 99% of the time it doesn't matter (and even Nc3 g6 isn't bad at all).

  • Thank you for your answer! If Nd2 is more precise than Nc3, why it is rarer in top levels?
    – Zuriel
    Commented Apr 13, 2020 at 22:23
  • It's marginally more precise, doesn't really matter. You might WANT to see g6 just to avoid theory and get a better position.
    – pulsar512b
    Commented Apr 13, 2020 at 23:36

It is subtle and positional. It avoids lines white does not want to see and does it without any drawbacks that are significant.

  • another coward downvotes without giving a reason. Commented Jan 29, 2020 at 21:12
  • 3
    Ok, I will give a reason before downvoting, as per your implied request. This answer is vague and hollow. Why would you not give examples of the lines that white wishes to avoid? If it is too subtle for you to explain properly, then there is no reason for you to answer the question to begin with. There is nothing new that this answer brings to the table that other answers haven't dealt with already.
    – Scounged
    Commented Jan 30, 2020 at 13:33
  • if it is not incorrect it should just be ignored. if it is correct it should be upvoted. ONLY when it is totally wrong and misleading should it be downvoted. i do not agree with your reason but salute you for being the only person who at least gives some reason whether i agree or not with your reason. Commented Jan 30, 2020 at 14:20
  • 1
    @edwinaoliver Actually if you hover over the downvote button, the text describing it says "this answer is not useful", not "this answer is totally wrong and misleading". Commented Jan 30, 2020 at 16:58

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.