1.Nc3 is called the Van Geet opening. It is a rare first move. Although it fulfills the fundamental principle of controlling the center, this move is not as popular as 1.e4, 1.d4, 1.c4 or 1.Nf3.
Drawbacks of 1.Nc3
There are 3 main drawbacks of 1.Nc3
1. It doesn’t stop the advance of black’s center pawn. 1.Nf3 stops the move 1…e5. But 1.Nc3 doesn’t stop 1…d5 because the pawn is protected by the queen. Thus, 1.Nc3 actually doesn’t restrict black’s possibility in any way.
2. It blocks the c pawn. The advance of c pawn is usually helpful for white in either protecting the d4 pawn or attacking black’s center with c4. By playing 1.Nc3, white loses that possibility.
For example, after 1.Nc3 d5 2.d4 c5 black can attack white’s center, but white can’t defend it with usual move c3.
3 .Nc3 doesn’t help in short castle. Short castle is the quickest way to finish development in most popular openings. 1.Nc3 doesn’t help achieve that goal.
Because of these three reasons, 1.Nc3 is inferior to 1.Nf3. However, it is still playable.
1.Nc3 e5 2.e4 can easily transpose into popular Four Knights opening with 2…Nf6 3.Nf3 Nc6
1.Nc3 d5 2.d4 Nf6 3.e4 leads to the Blackmar Diemer gambit that we have seen earlier.
1.Nc3 c5 2.e4 transposes into closed Sicilian opening.
One reason white can play 1.Nc3 is to lure the opponent into completely unknown territory. For example, 1.Nc3 d5 2.e4 is a possible irregular opening, which doesn’t transpose to any popular line.
After 2…dxe4 3.Nxe4 e5 4.Bc4 Nc6 5.d3 h6 the game develops based on the player’s positional skills rather than home preparation.
And after 2…d4 3.Nce2 e5 4.Ng3 Nf6 5.Bc4 Bd6 6.Nf3 c5 7.d3 0-0 8.0-0 we reach an unfamiliar position. Since white has moved his queen’s knight three times, he has lost the opening initiative. But the game is equal and requires both sides to come up with original plans.
White can play Ne1-f4-Nf3 trying to put pressure on e5 pawn. Black can try a6-b5-c4 to restrict white’s light-squared bishop.
In my database, I found that grandmaster games with 1.Nc3 have been played mostly in blitz games or internet speed games. The idea is to use time as a factor and force the opponent to be original from 1st move. In short time control, black cannot make the most of the drawbacks of 1.Nc3 and therefore it is playable.
It is not very popular at top-level classical games. However it is not unplayable at club level.