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To me it seems that both moves transpose into each other in almost all lines, so why is e3 so much more popular? Some statistics from the lichess masters database:

    1. e3: 3,289 games (72.5%)
    1. Nf3: 877 games (19.3%)

What is the meaningful difference between these two moves?

  • 1
    in the exchange QGD. delaying Nf3 gives white the flexibility to later chose between e3 Bd3 Nf3 plan or e3 Bd3 Nge2 plan. Nge2 is mostly played with the idea of an f3 e4 break. while Nf3 positions may lead to minority attack positions on the Q side or even Ne5 f4 plans
    – cmgchess
    Commented Mar 21, 2023 at 5:02

2 Answers 2


As the other answer points out 5. e3 is more flexible but there is a very concrete reason too; After 5. Nf3, Black can play h6 6. Bh4 dxc4 7. e3 c5 and now we are heading to an isolani type of position that tends to drawish positions and may not suit everybody's style:

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[Startply "21"]

1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Bg5 Be7 5. Nf3 h6 6. Bh4 dxc4 7. e3 c5 8. Bxc4 cxd4 9. exd4 (9. Nxd4 Bd7 10. O-O Nc6 11. Nf3 O-O 12. Rc1 Nh5 13. Bxe7 Qxe7) 9... Nc6 10. O-O O-O 11. a3 b6 12. Qd3 Bb7 13. Rad1 Nd5

Moreover, if Black instead of 6... dxc4 plays 6... 0-0, the main move for White is e3. This means that by altering the order (first Nf3 and then e3) White has to study the shown line above, whereas in 5. e3 Black has to study additional lines like 5... 0-0 6. Rc1 or 6. cxd5, so 5. e3 is a more pragmatic choice.

  • Thanks db_max for your excellent answer. I suspect many players at my level are not so sophisticated. They move e3 first because they can immediately recapture with the bishop if Black ...dxc4.
    – dlemper
    Commented Mar 21, 2023 at 18:39
  • Instead of 9.exd4, White could also play Nxd4 to avoid the IQP, but nonetheless thank you for the point about the pragmatic reasoning. Commented Mar 22, 2023 at 1:37

My notes indicate I wondered the same thing when studying the QGD. In his book Playing 1. d4 d5 Ntirlis, for the Bg5 QGD, prefers move order 4. Nf3 Be7 5. Bg5 . This is simply his repertoire. Later, p 29, he discusses Delaying Nf3 or e3 . "Against defensive schemes like the Tartakower and Lasker, it makes some sense for White not to develop his knight at f3 so soon." Soon he changes course and states "Another idea for White is to develop the knight while delaying e2-e3. This is known as the Uhlmann Variation." I'm not an openings guru, but my short answer is that 4. Bg5 Be7 5. e3 is the traditional line of the Lasker. ( Tradition = peer pressure from dead people.) The art is long and life is short.

  • 1
    Interesting, I was hoping there may be a better answer than simply due to tradition. Were there any specific lines given in which Nf3 or e3 would be beneficial to delay? It seems odd that the Lasker defense would have such an impact on modern theory given it's relative rarity. Commented Mar 21, 2023 at 6:00

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