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I have recently been experimenting with the move ...a6 in the Caro-Kann advance variation. The idea is to keep white's bishop or knight out of b5, which is common in the Nc3 main line.
This is just one game I can dig up in this variation. Here is a trap from one of my games:
I have only had one player try ...a6 on me. I just continued the attack on the kingside, then opened up the queenside.
After 4.Nc3 a6 is playable of course, as g4 can't reasonably be played, and the knight is misplaced on c3. White has a lot of sophisticated waiting moves available as well.
I just like giving White a pawn and destroying him afterwards with 4...e6!
It's playable, sure - but I'm with you: why waste a tempo to prevent a White piece from coming to b5 later, when you can develop quickly with ...e6 now?
It isn't as if White occupies the square - or threatens to - in every variation, and Black generally has multiple answers if he does. But Black is certainly going to play ...e6 at some early point, so playing it at move 4 seems most flexible.
Well, actually one of the major points of the modern advance variation is to exploit the light-squared weaknesses on the queenside caused by ...Bf5. In this view ...a6 is probably the most logical waiting move to this end. And although white doesn't occupy the b5 square specifically, for instance Qa4+ could be answered with ...b5.
The issue seems to be that black doesn't need to play a waiting move. I agree; I think black is perfectly fine in the critical battlefields after Nc3 e6 g4; However, my point is that when grandmasters are playing ...Qb6, a6 begins to make more sense. The reason black is playing a waiting move is to be able to retreat along the c8-h3 diagonal after g4. In the ...e6 lines white's play is pretty much solely devoted to trapping this bishop, as well as gaining space and attacking with his or her lead in development.
By the way, Bill Wall, I have immediately noticed a few ways black could improve in the game you posted. In my view Nf3 followed by Be2 is not challenging ...a6 at all. Maybe we could play a game...
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