Opening Basics – The French

The French Defence - Je ne regret rien!

We recently mentioned the French in our book review of Simon Williams' exciting book: ."Attacking Chess - The French"

Three things you will learn today about the French Defence

  1. The French is a defence which black needs to play actively or they will get squashed
  2. White cannot be complacent either or they will also get surprised
  3. Knowledge of key squares and attacking and defensive motifs are key

Part 1 of 3 - White has a space advantage and should use it!


Black gets a roasting in this game - French couch potatoes will get finished off early!

In the following game, white uses an exciting Milner-Barry Gambit to exploit a development advantage. Black is completely tied up and "at home".
White finally unleashing a super positional sacrifice to rip open the king's defensive cover!

Example Game

[Event "Corfu"] [Site "Corfu"] [Date "2007.10.02"] [Round "2"] [White "Karpatchev, Aleksandr"] [Black "Khetsuriani, Besarion"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C06"] [WhiteElo "2469"] [BlackElo "2337"] [PlyCount "65"] [EventDate "2007.10.01"] [EventType "tourn"] [EventRounds "9"] [EventCountry "GRE"] [EventCategory "7"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "2007.11.01"] 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nd2 Ne7 4. Ngf3 Nd7 5. c3 c5 6. e5 Nc6 7. Bd3 Qb6 8. O-O cxd4 {this is the Milner-Barry Gambit. White allows Black a pawn in compensation for a massive lead in development. Black needs to be extremely accurate to avoid getting caught in tactical complications} 9. cxd4 Nxd4 10. Nxd4 Qxd4 11. Nf3 Qb6 12. Qa4 Qb4 13. Qc2 Qc5 14. Qe2 Qb6 15. Be3 Bc5 16. Bd2 Bb4 {white is not interested in exchanging his active bishop - whilst black's dark bishop isn't bad, exchanging it would make the defensive task easier. White settles for Bf4 where it cannot be easily dislodged and supports the weak d6 square} 17. Bf4 Be7 18. Rac1 a6 19. Rc3 Qd8 20. Rfc1 Nf8 {Let's take stock - white has completed his development and has a strong centre. The C file is white's and all his pieces occupy sensible squares - he know expands on the kingside to occupy more space} 21. h4 Bd7 (21...Bxh4?? 22. Nxh4 Qxh4 23. Rc8 {+-}) {This light squared bishop is black's major trouble piece - by taking on d4, black has given up a lot of time to prevent getting this guy out!} 22. h5 Rc8 23. Rxc8 Bxc8 {back home again!} 24. Be3 h6 25. Qc2 Bd7 26. Qb3 Qa8 27. Nd4! {TQM loves this move - gently rocking the structure of the defence - lots of points are vulnerable and white has control of so many light squares!} Bd8 28. a4 Bc6 29. Bd2 Nd7 30. Nxe6!! {a great tactical sight!} fxe6 (30...Nxe5 31. Nxg7 Kf8 32. Nf5 {and white is so much better - just look at the queen on a8 and the control all white's pieces have. Plus black cannot castle now! That king isn't a happy fellow on f8! h6 is also threatened so black will face a horrible future}) 31. Bg6+ Kf8 32. Bb4+ Kg8 33. Qh3 {the wheels have fallen off, despite being a whole piece up!} 1-0
White played superbly here.
  1. He got his development completed, without worrying about regaining his lost material
  2. Often in the French, black will want to get the c8-bishop into the game, white never allowed this and kept as much material on as he could
  3. White identified the critical moment and was prepared to invest more material to denude black of any defensive cover!

Part 2 of 3 - White cannot be complacent!

A French Cousin

Whilst white has a space advantage, once black gets into the game, the play will become sharp quickly and white can easily become unstuck!

Example Game

[Event "Monarch Assurance 16th"] [Site "Port Erin"] [Date "2007.09.26"] [Round "5"] [White "Sulskis, Sarunas"] [Black "Bartel, Mateusz"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "C17"] [WhiteElo "2537"] [BlackElo "2609"] [PlyCount "46"] [EventDate "2007.09.22"] [EventType "swiss"] [EventRounds "9"] [EventCountry "IOM"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "2007.11.01"] 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. e5 c5 5. g3 {a sideline - the idea is to put pressure on e6 with Bh3 and maybe f4-f5 but it proves a waste of tempo in this line} Bxc3+ 6. bxc3 Qa5 7. Bd2 Ne7 8. Qg4 O-O 9. Bd3 Nbc6 10. Qh5 h6 11. h4 c4 12. Bf1 f6 13. Rh3 Bd7 14. Bxh6? {black's defensive cover is too good} gxh6 15. Qxh6 Nf5 16. Qg6+ Kh8 17. exf6 Be8 18. Qg5 Rg8 19. Qf4 Ncxd4 20. g4 e5 21. Qxe5 Bf7! 22. Kd1 Rxg4 23. cxd4 Re8 0-1
Black demonstrated some excellent French defence understanding.
  1. The development was sensible - the attack on h6 was easily parried by the Nf5 and Be8 jumps.
  2. Almost all of White's development was based on an "all or nothing" attack which didn't work
  3. The final coverage of the centre and the g file meant white had no choice but to give up masses of material

Part 3 of 3 - Key Squares and Key Attacking and Defensive Ideas

As can be seen from the games we have shown, we conclude if either side is sloppy with development, they can go down quickly.

White's basic plans

  • Develop quickly
  • Aim for either a strong centre (c3-d4-e5 pawn chain for example) or dynamic piece play
  • Try to confine black as much as possible. At least ensure your pieces are occupying key squares - an even middle game is likely to favour black psychologically!

Black's basic plans

  • Stake a claim in the centre and strike at any stronghold white has (e.g. attack d4 with c5 and e5 ideas with f6)
  • Develop well and pay special attention to c8 bishop who is in the dark after 1...e6 - a later ...e5 should help! The Bc8-d7-a4 or d7-e8-h5 plans are often seen
  • Be on the lookout to create new open files - particularly the f file. Equally queenside counterplay will be a strong feature of stopping white's attacking ideas