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Consider the following side line of the Advance Caro-Kann:

[FEN ""]
1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.dxc5 e6 5.a3 Bxc5

In master OTB games, the move 3...c5 is one third as common as the main move ...Bf5. The main justification I have heard for this is that black is immediately conceding to a lost tempo by having first played first ...c6 and only then playing ...c5. I contend that this justification makes no sense, for two reasons:

(1) In the main line after 3...c5, black immediately regains the tempo when he recaptures with the bishop on c5. True, white can himself gain a tempo on the bishop with b4, but it is at least questionable whether this is the best move in the position.

(2) Even if we grant that black doesn't really regain the tempo because the bishop will have to move again, the fact remains that in the lines after ...Bf5, black still needs to play ...c5 at some point. But whenever he plays it, he will still be losing a tempo. Where is the harm losing this tempo on move three rather than on some later move?

So my question is: is the 'lost tempo' really the reason why 3...Bf5 is preferred to 3...c5?

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  • after 5... Bxc5 b4 Bb6 are you sure this is a tempo that you wanted? – NoseKnowsAll Dec 15 '20 at 7:19
  • The placement of the bishop on b6 is admittedly awkward, but b4 also brings certain advantages to black. In particular: - The black king's bishop and knight no longer interfere with one another as they do in the main lines; - After 6...a5 white has to either overextend his pawn to b5 or play 7.Bb2 axb4 8.axb4 9.Rxa1 Bxa1, after which black should eventually be able to claim the open a-file. – Anonymous Dec 15 '20 at 10:42
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    One third as common still makes it a main line, it's not a bad move or it would be much rarer. The variations are completely different and in the end it comes down to "a majority of players happen to prefer the positions they get from ...Bf5." – RemcoGerlich Dec 15 '20 at 12:31
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I believe 3...Bf5 is preferred is because they want to play a Caro-Kann and not the French defense. Black's main problem with his position after 4...e6 is the Bishop on c8. White still has all his pieces on the first rank while Black has a Bishop developed so any loss of tempo is not really an issue here.

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