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In this opening, being White, I want to understand, for the next move, why is e4 not as strong a move as e3 or Nf3? I am a beginner.

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1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 Nc6
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    Think of the c6 knight. He'd be very happy to see the "e" pawn at e4, allowing him to stay comfortably on d4
    – David
    Sep 9, 2020 at 13:58

5 Answers 5

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With e2-e4, you create "holes" at d3 and d4 that can never again be attacked by pawns. Any enemy pieces that land on those holes have to be kicked out by your pieces, which is harder to do (because every piece runs away from a pawn job).

World champion Botvinnik used to set pawns on c4-d3-e4 which we call The Botvinnik Triangle. The world champion can live with those holes, but beginners have a tougher time.

Beginners shouldn't be playing 1. c4. If you'd played 1. d4, we wouldn't be having this conversation.

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    Thanks. Your explanation about holes at d3 and d4 makes a lot of sense. So for a beginner would it be better to go 1.d4 and then develop Nf3?
    – chessishan
    Sep 9, 2020 at 14:11
  • Much better. Then you're likely ready for c2-c4, though those games are more complicated then e2-e3, Bf1-d3, O-O. Sep 9, 2020 at 23:19
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What everyone has said about the "hole" on d4 is logical; However looking at what Magnus Carlsen has done recently, e4 may be just as good!

I am referring to: 1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.e4

Usually e4 is played after Black has committed d7-d6 blocking the dark squared bishop as it was thought that Black is immediately equal after 4...Bc5 or 4...Bb4. But Magnus has shown his ideas for White in these positions and it has become a trendy way of playing.

So then it comes to whether 3.e4 is the same and would transpose. The only thing I see is that Black could continue to delay the development of his King's Knight in the hopes of perhaps developing it to e7 or playing f5 before developing it to f6.

for example:

1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.e4 Bc5 4.Nf3 d6 with the idea of f5!?

I don't think it is a refutation of Whites play but it is an option Black doesn't have after 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.e4

I would argue that if your intent is to put your knight on f3 then move 3 is the time to do it, but in this line you have to deal with the 3...f5 lines.

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    Magnus is well-known for not always making the most accurate moves in the opening. Of course 3.e4 doesn't lose the game immediately, but it's definitely not the best move to fight for an advantage. Just think of 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 2.Nc6 where now White has three of four moves that are better than transposing into this position with 3.c4?!
    – David
    Sep 10, 2020 at 6:32
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There're several long-term reasons to avoid 3.e4.

  1. You permanently weaken the d4-square. This is dangerous because it's a central square. In the short term, Black can already play ...Nd4, plus ...Bc5 is another natural developing move that increases control of the square.
  2. You stop your own long-term plans. You need some knowledge of how pawn structure works to see this, but the idea is that at some point, you need to advance your pawns to mark out space and create an attack. If you play 3.e4, then you can no longer play d4 or f4 easily in the future (since your e-pawn can no longer support those advances), but if you can't play those two moves then it's not obvious how you're going to set up your play. Black is ready to fight you on the queenside via ...a5, if necessary.
  3. In the same way, it becomes harder to dislodge the pawn on e5. This is an important pawn, in fact it's likely Black's most important pawn in the position. It's on a central square controlling two more central squares d4 and f4, and it marks out space. Challenging it is an important part of White's plan, which is why e3 intending d4 or f4 is a key idea for White. Playing e4 gives up this plan.
  4. Finally, e4 puts the pawn on a light square. This makes it difficult for your f1-bishop to find a diagonal. In these 1.c4 formations, the natural place to put the bishop is on g2, where it together with the c4-pawn & c3-knight can control the central d5-square. With a pawn on e4, the g2-bishop will be blocked. Conversely, 3.e3 does temporarily block the c1-bishop, but after a future d4 the bishop will gain an open diagonal. The light square bishop cannot look forward to such a future after e4.
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After e3, white can follow up with d4 and will have a better center. The pawns on c4 and d4 control three of the four center squares while black only controls two.

e4 is similar to a Maroczy bind which isn't too bad despite the weak squares it creates. However, in this specific position, black hasn't committed to much so black has a lot of ways to combat it.

  1. Nd4 possibly followed by c5
  2. At some point playing c6 followed by d5. That's not available in the Sicilian because black commits to c5 on move 1.
  3. The f5 pawn break.
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For me personally, I think the main idea for e3 and Nf3 is to allow d4. Contrastingly, e4 doesnt help in the pushing of d4. Therefore it’s stronger.

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  • Thanks. That makes sense. Any special reason for making way for d4?
    – chessishan
    Sep 9, 2020 at 13:27
  • You're right about e2-e3 aiding d2-d4. Most 1. c4 players are developing their king bishop on g2, though, after which e2-e3 makes holes on the light squares (f3, d3). Sep 9, 2020 at 13:27
  • Grandmaster Soltis once compiled a list of the popularity of each first move (this was before we had databases to do all that work ). He combined 1. c4 with 1. d4 because "1. c4 players are closet 1. d4 players). If you start with 1. d4, you're almost always planning c4 on move 2 or 3. If you do c4 first, then you're just doing it in a different order. Sep 9, 2020 at 13:39

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