7
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1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 Bf5 4. h4 { B12 Caro-Kann Defense: Advance Variation, Tal Variation } h6 5. g4 Be4 6. f3 Bh7  7. e6 Nf6

What is the point of the intermediate move 5...Be4 before retreating by ...Bh7? It was played by very strong players, including Ding Liren (against MVL) and Hikaru Nakamura (against Mikhail Antipov).

If the point is to provoke f3, it seems to me that White is not unhappy to play f3 and control e4, as Black might play 6... Nf6 next, which is indeed a good move in these positons.

If the point is to disallow Nf3 in positions when White pushes e6 and Black takes with exf, it does not achieve that, as Black wasted one tempo on the bishop retreat Bf5-e4-h7 and White can also waste a tempo by playing f2-f3-f4 and then Nf3.

It does weaken g3, which Black could try to exploit with 7...Qd6, but after exf+ Kxf7 White can once again push f4 without feeling bad about wasting a tempo.

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    I don't know, but if White was planning to leave the pawn om f2 then f2-f3-f4 loses two tempi, not one. – bof Jul 5 at 22:41
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    In other words, by playing Be4 Black denies White the option of choosing a variation that does not involve an early f4. But what do I know, I'm just a patzer. – bof Jul 5 at 22:49
  • f3 is no improvement no White's position – David Jul 6 at 6:47
6

White probably intends to play e6 anyway, to launch an attack against the light squares. Whether Black takes this Pawn or allows exf7, White will want to play Nf3-e5 as part of his followup, and if f3 has been provoked, he will need to play f3-f4, losing another tempo and obstructing his dark Bishop.

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5

If the point is to disallow Nf3 in positions when White pushes e6 and Black takes with exf, it does not achieve that, as Black wasted one tempo on the bishop retreat Bf5-e4-h7 and White can also waste a tempo by playing f2-f3-f4 and then Nf3.

There is an error in your tempo-count.

If Black plays Bf5-e4-h7 instead of Bf5-h7, he loses one tempo.

If White plays f2-f3 followed by f3-f4 and Ng1-f3 instead of directly Ng1-f3, he loses two tempi.

Having the pawn on f4 instead of f2 may be useful in some lines (provides control of e5, might be followed by f5 or g5 in tactical skirmishes) or harmful in others (e4 is weakened, the Bc1 will find it harder to reach an active spot), but in any case it is not what White would like to spend on tempo at that point on in such a sharp position.

Indeed, After 6...Be4 7.f3, most often White doesn't follow with f3-f4 and find other ways to develop his Ng1 (e.g. through h3 and f4).

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