French Defense - How to Play the e-pawn Openings - The Complete Chess Course From Beginning To Winning Chess! (2016)

The Complete Chess Course From Beginning To Winning Chess! (2016)

Book Seven

How to Play the e-pawn Openings

French Defense

From this point on, we no longer consider openings in which Black answers 1.e4 with 1.e5. Instead, he tries to fight for control of the center in a different way.

In this opening, for example, he answers 1.e4 with 1…e6, for then after 2.d4 he continues 2…d5. This is a defense with many solid defensive virtues, with the notable drawback that in many lines Black’s light-square bishop has little scope.

This explains why the simplifying course 3.exd5 exd5 is rarely seen in modern play. The pawn position is symmetrical and drawish, and Black’s light-square bishop has been liberated. Most variations in which White gets the initiative involve the move e4-e5. This keeps Black’s light-square bishop tied up and also offers prospects of kingside action.

(a) McCutcheon Variation

French Defense

White - Black

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 Bb4

Black fights vigorously for control of the center. If now 5.exd5 Qxd5 6.Bxf6 Bxc3+ 7.bxc3 gxf6 8.Nf3 Nd7 9.g3 b6 10.Bg2 and Black can play 10…Ba6!, for if 11.Nh4 Qa5! 12.Bxa8 Qxc3+ and wins.

5.e5 h6

Forced. If now 6.exf6 hxg5 7.fxg7 Rg8 regaining the pawn with equality.

6.Bd2 Bxc3 7.bxc3 Ne4 8.Qg4 g6 (D)

Now White tries a speculative sacrifice to preserve his valuable dark-square bishop, for if 9.Bd3 Nxd2 10.Kxd2 c5 with a good game for Black.


Position after 8…g6

9.Bc1!? Nxc3 10.Bd3 c5 11.dxc5 Qc7 12.Be3 Nd7

With 13.Qd4! White maintains the initiative, and his two powerful bishops assure him substantial attacking chances.

(b) Classical Main Line

French Defense

White - Black

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 Be7

Another way of fighting for the center. White can hit back with 5.Bxf6 Bxf6 6.e5, but after 6…Be7 7.Qg4 0-0 8.0-0-0 c5! Black has good counterplay. For example: 9.dxc5 Nc6 10.f4 f5 11.Qh3 Qa5! 12.Nge2 Bxc5 13.g4 d4 14.Nb1 Nb4 and Black has the initiative.

5.e5 Nfd7 6.Bxe7 Qxe7 7.Qd2 0-0 8.f4 c5 9.Nf3 Nc6 (D)


Position after 9…Nc6

Black has attacked White’s pawn center with …c5 and intends to intensify the attack with …f6.

If now 10.g3 f6 11.exf6 gxf6! as in the main line, with a promising game for Black.

10.0-0-0 f6 11.exf6 gxf6! 12.g3 cxd4 13.Nxd4 Nb6

Even game. White may have the better development, but Black has open lines and a powerful pawn mass in the center.

(c) Alekhine’s Attack

French Defense

White - Black

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 Be7 5.e5 Nfd7 6.h4! (D)


Position after 6.h4!

Black cannot very well accept White’s enterprising pawn offer. After 6…Bxg5 7.hxg5 Qxg5 8.Nh3 Qe7 9.Nf4 Nf8 10.Qg4 White has a murderous lead in development.

If now 6…f6 7.Qh5+ g6 8.exf6! gxh5 9.fxe7 winning back the queen with a very superior endgame for White; or 8…Nxf6 9.Qe2! with strong pressure on Black’s backward e-pawn.

6…c5! 7.Bxe7 Kxe7!

After 7…Qxe7 8.Nb5! Black has a difficult game.

8.Qg4 Kf8 9.Nf3 cxd4! 10.Qxd4 Qb6! 11.Qxb6 axb6

Black has satisfactorily undermined White’s center.

12.0-0-0 Nc6 13.Re1 d4!

Black has an excellent game, for after the attacked knight moves he can play …Rxa2.

(d) Burn’s Variation

French Defense

White - Black

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 (D)


Position after 3…Nf6

If White ends the tension in the center with 4.e5, there follows 4…Nfd7 5.f4 and now Black counters with 5…c5! liquidating White’s valuable d-pawn.

4.Bg5 dxe4

This colorless continuation leaves White with a more aggressive position.

5.Nxe4 Be7 6.Bxf6 Bxf6

Likewise after 6…gxf6 White has the more promising development: 7.Nf3 b6 8.Bc4! Bb7 9.Qe2 c6 10.0-0-0 Qc7 11.Kb1 Nd7 12.Ba6! 0-0-0 13.Bxb7+ Kxb7 14.c4! Black’s pawn position is weakened and he is exposed to attack.

7.Nf3 Nd7 8.c3! Qe7

Or 8…0-0 9.Qc2 e5 10.0-0-0! exd4 11.Nxd4 Bxd4 12.Rxd4 Qe7 13.f4 Nc5 14.Nxc5 Qxc5 15.Bd3 when White has a splendid development and good attacking chances.

9.Qc2 c5 10.dxc5 Nxc5 11.Bb5+ Bd7 12.Bxd7+ Nxd7 13.0-0-0 0-0-0 14.Qa4 Kb8

White’s game is more comfortable and he has an advantage for the endgame in his queenside majority of pawns.

(e) Winawer Variation

French Defense

White - Black

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 (D)


Position after 3…Bb4

By pinning White’s knight Black counterattacks and thus maintains the fight for control of the center. 4.exd5 would be a colorless reply as 4…exd5 frees Black’s light-square bishop.

White can ignore Black’s threat, but the results are not particularly attractive, for example 4.a3 Bxc3+ 5.bxc3 dxe4 6.Qg4 Nf6 7.Qxg7 Rg8 8.Qh6 c5 - or 4.Qg4 Nf6 5.Qxg7 Rg8 6.Qh6 c5. In either case, Black has strong counterplay.

4.e5 c5 5.a3!

The best reply to Black’s logical counterattack in the center.

5…Bxc3+ 6.bxc3

Whereas Black’s remaining bishop has very little scope, White’s bishops are very powerful - as in the variation 6…Ne7 7.Qg4 Nf5 8.Bd3 h5 9.Qh3 cxd4 10.cxd4 Qh4 11.Qxh4 Nxh4 12.g3 etc.

6…Qc7 7.Nf3

After Black’s last move, he can answer 7.Qg4 with 7…f5.

7…Ne7 8.h4! Bd7

Striving for counterplay. If instead 8…b6 9.h5! h6 10.a4! Ba6 11.Bb5+! Bxb5 12.axb5 and White has the initiative on both wings.

9.h5 h6

White was threatening 10.h6 practically forcing 10…g6 and leaving Black dangerously weak on the dark squares.

10.g4! Ba4 11.Bd3 Nd7 12.g5 Rc8 13.Ra2!

White has a strong initiative on the kingside, where he will be able to open a file before or after Rg1. Black has pressure on White’s c2-pawn, but White has adequate defense. White’s greater command of the board, supported by the potential power of his bishops, gives him the better game.

(f) Tarrasch Variation

French Defense

White - Black

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 (D)


Position after 3.Nd2

White’s extraordinary third move is playable despite the fact that it blocks his dark-square bishop. The point of this development is that it avoids 3…Bb4, as seen in Variation (e).


The classic freeing move. The alternatives give Black a cramped game, for example 3…Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.Bd3 c5 6.c3 Nc6 7.Ne2 cxd4 8.cxd4 etc. Or 3…Nc6 4.Ngf3! Nf6 5.e5 Nd7 6.Nb3 f6 7.exf6! Nxf6 8.Bb5 etc.

4.Ngf3 a6!

This gives Black a much more comfortable game than 4…Nc6, for example 5.exd5 exd5 6.Bb5! Bd6 7.0-0 Nge7 8.dxc5! Bxc5 9.Nb3 Bb6 10.Be3! Bxe3 11.Bxc6+! bxc6 12.fxe3 and White has strong pressure on the dark squares.

5.exd5 exd5 6.dxc5 Bxc5

Black has an isolated d-pawn, but he can develop his pieces rapidly and the diagonal of his light-square bishop has been opened.

7.Nb3 Ba7! 8.Bg5 Nf6 9.Nbd4 0-0 10.Be2 Qd6 11.0-0 Nc6! 12.Be3 Bb8!

Black has real attacking chances and a fine initiative. His admirable development outweighs the disadvantage of the isolated d-pawn.

(g) Advance Variation

French Defense

White - Black

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5!? c5!

This is an extremely trying variation for both players. By advancing his pawn to e5, White creates a wedge in the kingside which among other things prevents Black’s knight from reaching its best square at f6. In general, White’s intention when he advances the e-pawn is to leave Black with a permanently constricted position.

Naturally Black is not going to resign himself to being smothered to death. He intends to fight back, and the method he chooses is to try to undermine White’s advanced e-pawn by removing its support (White’s d-pawn). (D)


Position after 3…c5!

By playing …c5 - always the logical counterattack to e4-e5 - Black strives for counterplay on the queenside and in the center in order to neutralize White’s constricting pressure on the kingside.

4.c3 Nc6 5.Nf3 Qb6

Superficially 6.Bd3 looks like a good reply, for if 6…cxd4 7.cxd4 Nxd4??? 8.Nxd4 Qxd4 9.Bb5+ winning the queen. But Black plays 7…Bd7!, leaving White nothing better than 8.Be2.

6.Be2 cxd4 7.cxd4 Nge7 8.b3 Nf5 9.Bb2 Bb4+

Black’s pressure on the d-pawn is so strong that White cannot interpose to this check.

10.Kf1 0-0 11.g4 Nh6

After 12.Rg1 Black plays 12…f6 when the fight for control of the center will rage on. Prospects are even, with chances for both sides.