The Center Counter is easy to play -- if you know what you are doing and you want to learn to play positionally. It is similar to the Caro-Kann defense with ...Bf5 (1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Bf5). The fundamentals are similar in both openings and the pawn structure is the same.
--The Queen is much more active than it is in the Caro-Kann -- it deploys on the a5 square.
--There is not as much theory to learn.
--It is not as easy for White to lock up the position if that is what he wants to do. In the Caro-Kann, White can lock up the position at will (1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. e5).
--White has a wide variety of setups to choose from.
--If Black is careless, White can make the Queen into a target.
--In some of the main lines, White can secure a dangerous initiative on the King Side that can swamp Black if he doesn't know what he is doing.
With that in mind, let's show how not to play the Center Counter. In this game, Black plays the move 3...Qe5+?!. This is one of those moves which looks aggressive, but is not. Its superficial aggression makes it appealing to patzers, but in fact, 1100 players can take advantage of this move simply by interposing with one of the two pieces and swarming the Queen. Even stronger players do not have much more luck; some go down in a mere 21 moves. Here is an example:
In this game, Black moved the Queen five times in the first 11 moves while White was easily able to get his pieces into play.
3...Qd8 is a little better, but still too passive and strong attackers can still dismantle it in 20 moves if Black is not careful. Here are two examples of high-level play against 3...Qd8:
With that in mind, there are two ways of proceeding against 3. Nc3 -- 3...Qd6 and 3...Qa5. This survey will look at 3...Qa5. It is not intended to be a complete manual, but an attempt to point the reader in the right direction. My comments will be in the diagrams.