5
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 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 g6 4. O-O (4. Bxc6) Bg7 5. Re1

Is there any point in maintaining the tension? Does it force any adjustments from Black? Is the timing irrelevant or is White really waiting for something?

3
  • 3
    It's not a given that white will exchange on c6 at all? Nov 16 '20 at 16:01
  • Was Bb5 not a wasted move if he does not inflict damage to Black's structure? When is it good to actually decline the exchange as White?
    – B.Swan
    Nov 16 '20 at 16:05
  • @B.Swan White typically plays Bf1 in the 3...d6 and 3...e6 variations after Black makes two moves aimed at the pin (a6 obviously & either Bd7 or Nge7), for example (but he might just exchange there as well).
    – Annatar
    Nov 17 '20 at 9:27
8

The underlying reasons for delaying BxN are -

  1. Preserving options
  2. Saving tempi

Suppose in the final position black plays a6 forcing white to make a decision. Bf1 is a perfectly good alternative to BxN. It is one which will lead to an entirely different game, one which white may prefer.

In any case it makes some sense to wait for black to commit with a6 because then BxN comes without the loss of a move that playing it unprovoked would involve and it has provoked a weakening of the b6 square.

Again looking at the final position above, an immediate BxN leaves black with a choice of recaptures, either bxc6 or dxc6. White may not like the position after dxc6, in which case it makes sense to wait until black plays d6 first before exchanging. Alternatively white might not like the possibility of BxN bxc6 followed by d7-d5. Again if white waits for d6 then a tempo has been saved.

Keeping options open and saving time are features of the way stronger players play. Prematurely closing down options and squandering tempi are what weaker players do.

6

A trade of c6 will not happen in all variations, so White keeps his options open (as the saying goes, to take is a mistake!) but even if that were the case there's no need to trade immediately if White considers that all of Black's moves that prevent the trade are bad.

There is no reason to assume that capturing immediately should be the default. We should looking for reasons to do it, rather than for reasons not to do it and exchange if we find none.

5

Both moves have their advantages and disadvantages. In the system you gave with 3...g6, 4.0-0 doesn't commit to capturing on c6. White may do this anyway at some point, but he also has other plans. For example, one line runs 4...Bg7 5.Re1 Nf6 6.e5 Nd5 7.Nc3 Nc7 8.Bxc6 dxc6 9.Ne4. So in this particular example, White does end up capturing on c6, but the position has clearly changed a fair bit since the 3rd move.

Meanwhile, the upside of 4.Bxc6 is that it makes it (arguably) slightly poorer than usual for Black to recapture on c6 with the d-pawn. Overall in OTB play, 4...dxc6 is still played about 1.77 times more often than 4...bxc6, and in correspondence the ratio is around 1.84. Nevertheless, the idea is that ...dxc6 enables White to castle queenside (one key reason is that the b-file remains closed). And White can take advantage of this thanks to his king still being on e1. One line goes 4...dxc6 5.d3 Bg7 6.h3 Nf6 7.Nc3 0-0 8.Be3 b6 9.Qd2 e5 10.Bh6 Qd6 11.0-0-0, with interesting play.

So if White wants to immediately capture on c6 (either on the 4th or 5th move), then it makes sense to go for 4.Bxc6. Even if he's not planning to castle queenside in the event of 4...dxc6, the bluff could persuade some players to play 4...bxc6. Meanwhile, if White intends on leaving the tension between the b5-bishop and c6-knight for a while, 4.0-0 is clearly the way to go.

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