An exciting journey into the French Defence!
If you like your chess books how you like your comics, full of action and destruction, this might be a good read for you! The French is shown to be a potential firework show in the right hands!
Many years ago, the verdict on the French (1. e4 e6) was that it was a dry, solid and, frankly, lifeless opening. Many great players such as “Viktor the Terrible” and Alexander Morozevich have done tremendous work on the French to take it to the highest level of play. It has featured in many candidate matches and some world championships (Tal – Botvinnik is one example).
The author Simon Williams is known for his dramatic and exciting king hunts and this book is strongly in-keeping with his "activity leads to opportunity" outlook on chess. Each opening line is theoretically and practically sound (albeit sharp). As you may expect, it also typically steers the game into open play and positions enabling you to activate the black pieces quickly.
Who are the target audience?
This book is really great for someone 6-12 months into intensive chess training looking into one opening in detail to get a solid base for weekend tournament play. The example games bring the themes to life and many instructive notes are given to explain pitfalls and opportunities. The sections also start with a high level plan for each side which is marvellous – “Black – hack the centre with …c5, …f6, open the f file and get the c8 bishop out!” (paraphrased by TQM)
I have learned a great deal from it and would strongly advise it to be an integral part of the library of any avid French player.
Pros and Cons
The book focuses on several major lines in particular, missing a trick in giving general feedback on how to handle some major side-lines – for example, if Black is uncomfortable playing the sharp 3…Bb4 in the Winawer, there is very limited coverage of some of the less known lines of 3…dxe4 and 3…Nf6. There are good sections on the exchange and advance variations and some unusual sidelines but the book's main focus is on the Winawer (3. Nc3 Bb4) and Tarrasch lines (3. Nd2).
It is also not a theoretical textbook in that it isn’t exhaustive and not always the first computer move but I also quite like this about the writing style – it is written for club players – it explains concepts which make lines easier to play rather than memorising and justifying dry lines of theory. You will come unstuck (as I have) against 200+ players who know the Winawer to move 15 onwards and are comfortable with the complexities that come with it but against most club players, this will give you a sizeable time advantage in sharp lines which offer good chances for both players.
So, what's the verdict?
It is a great book to develop your knowledge of the French defence and get exciting games. However, it needs to be only part of your repertoire, since the French can move in so many directions.
Overall, We would give a very strong score of 9/10 – it’s a refreshing read and full of interesting, well thought out commentary, only losing out on the full score by failing to shortly go through a general plan for how to handle some of the quieter critical lines.
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