The French Defence

1.e2-e4 e7-e6

With his first move Black prepares the advance … d7-d5, so as to attack the white pawn on e4. The disadvantage of the move is that the bishop on c8 is temporarily shut in and it concedes slightly more space in the centre to White. For that reason the French is considered slightly passive, but it gives Black good counter-chances. This opening is very popular at amateur level since the plans have a clear structure.

The name comes from a match between teams from London and Paris in 1834. The French opened in this way with Black and won the game.

Mit Weiss gegen Französisch

In the following diagrams you can return to the starting position with and from there you can go backwards and forwards through the opening moves with the arrow keys and

Subsequently click on the name of the opening in order to get more detailed information.

The Exchange Variation: 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 exd5

1. e2-e4 e7-e6 2. d2-d4 Since on his first move Black chose a modest advance White takes advantage of it to occupy the centre with a second pawn. 2...d7-d5 Black continues with his plan and attacks the white pawn on e4. White now has several logical replies. 3.exd5 exd5 This is the basic position for the Exchange Variation. White takes the d5-pawn and Black recaptures with his pawn. The pawn structure is now symmetrical and both sides can develop their pieces without problems. The Exchange Variation is fairly risk-free from White’s point of view and tends towards very balanced positions.

French Advance Variation with 3.e5

Advance Variation: 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5

1. e2-e4 e7-e6 2. d2-d4 d5 3. e4-e5 White advances the pawn and gains space in the centre. However, Black has a simple plan with the attack on the d4-pawn. In the Advance Variation the centre is closed and play moves to the wings. 3...c7-c5 Black immediately attacks the white centre. 4. c2-c3 White should try to hold his centre and always recapture on d4 with the c-pawn if Black exchanges it. Otherwise the pawn on e5 would lose its natural protector. 4...Nb8-c6 Black develops a knight and increases the pressure on the d4-pawn. 5. Ng1-f3 White also develops a knight and protects the d4-pawn. 5...Qd8-b6 Black develops the queen. In open positions the queen should not be brought into play so soon, but here the position in the centre is closed and the danger for the black queen small. In addition Black is increasing the pressure on the pawn on d4 and making it difficult for White to continue his development. 6.a2-a3 This is the main move. White prepares the advance b2-b4 to force Black to move the c5-pawn, after which the pressure on the d4-pawn would slacken. In addition he would like to place his dark-squared bishop on b2. As a rule Black develops his second knight to e7 or even h6 after …f5 and tries to maintain the pressure against the d4-pawn. Generally the c-file is soon opened and both players should use it for their rooks. Since the position in the centre mainly remains closed, the players, exceptionally, can take their time about castling.

French Tarrasch Variation with 3.Nd2

Tarrasch with 3.Nd2 Nf6: 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 Nf6

1. e2-e4 e7-e6 2. d2-d4 d7-d5 3. Nb1-d2 Ng8-f6 With this move Black provokes White into advancing his e-pawn and closing the centre. 4.e4-e5 This is logical since it is played with tempo and seizes space. 4...Nfd7 Under the given circumstances this is the best square for the knight. Black’s plan is now once again typical for the French. He would like to attack the white centre with the standard moves … c7-c5, …Nb8-c6, …Qd8-b6 and sometimes even … f7-f6 5. Bf1-d3 White develops his light-squared bishop as actively as possible since from here it is eyeing up both wings 5...c7-c5 The typical move with which Black attacks the white pawn on d4 6. c2-c3 The typical move with which White protects the pawn on d4 6...Nb8-c6 Black develops this knight and increases the pressure on the d4-pawn. 7. Ng1-e2 White develops this knight and protects the d4-pawn. He intentionally places the knight on e2 so that the other knight can later go to f3 in order to then open the diagonal for the dark-squared bishop on c1. Black now generally exchanges a pawn on d4 and frequently breaks up the white centre with …f7-f6. White exchanges pawns on f6 follows up with castling. Then the knight goes to f3 and the dark-squared bishop comes into play. Black should quickly develop his dark-squared bishop and also aim to castle.

Tarrasch with 3.Nd2 c5: 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 c5

1. e2-e4 e7-e6 2. d2-d4 d7-d5 3. Nb1-d2 The basic position for the Tarrasch Variation. White develops a knight and protects the pawn on e4. Black has two main moves in this position. He either opens the centre or he tries to keep it closed. 3...c7-c5 After this the position in the centre opens since many pawns are facing each other. 4. exd5 White releases the tension a bit. 4...Qxd5 The main move. Here the queen has a dominant position but it is soon driven away. 5. Ng1-f3 White develops the second knight and temporarily sacrifices the pawn on d4. This is better than taking the c5-pawn since Black would recapture with his bishop and speed up his development. 5...cxd4 Black temporarily wins a pawn. 6. Bf1-c4 White develops his light-squared bishop with tempo, i.e. a gain of time, since the black queen has to move again. 6...Qd8-d6 Over the years this has revealed itself to be the best retreat square for the queen. 7.0-0 After castling White has a lead in development, but he will have to use the time he gained to recover his d4-pawn. He achieves that by transferring his knight from d2 to b3 and attacking the d4-pawn with three pieces. After that Black should simply return the pawn and push on with his development. He does so by first bringing his knights into the game.

French with 3.Nc3

Classical Variation: 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6

1. e2-e4 e7-e6 2. d2-d4 d7-d5 3. Nb1-c3 This is the main move with which White defends hi spawn on e4 and develops his knight to its natural square. 3...Ng8-f6 This aims for typical French positions. Black develops his knight and attacks the pawn on e4. White has two main moves with which to parry this threat. 4.Bc1-g5 Like this White develops his dark-squared bishop and pins the knight on f6. Here theory recommends three ways to counter this. Black can resolve the pressure in the centre with 4...dxe4, get out of the pin with 4...Bf8-e7 renewing the threat against the white pawn on e4 or even the risky move 4...Bf8-b4, with which he in turn pins the knight on c3 and indirectly attack the pawn on e4. The move you choose is all s question of taste. White must be prepared for everything and react accordingly.

Classical System, Steinitz Variation: 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e5

1. e2-e4 e7-e6 2. d2-d4 d7-d5 3. Nb1-c3 Ng8-f6 4.e5 White advances the pawn with tempo and seizes space in the centre which is now closed. 4...Nfd7 This is the best place for the knight in order to exert pressure against the white pawn on e5. 5. f2-f4 White strengthens his centre, which Black now absolutely has to attack. 5...c7-c5 The typical move with which Black attacks the pawn on d4. 6. Ng1-f3 White develops the knight and would use it to capture on d4 if Black decides on the exchange. 6...Nb8-c6 Black develops the knight and maintains the pressure on the d4-pawn. 7. Bc1-e3 White develops his dark-squared bishop and further supports his pawn on d4 and thus his centre. That is in principle the basic position of the Steinitz Variation. Black has several ideas up his sleeve. He can, e.g., start to expand on the queenside with … a7-a6 and then …b7-b5, he can resolve the tension in the centre with the exchange or he can develop his own dark-squared bishop to e7 quickly following that with castling. White almost always puts his queen on d2 and often castles long in order to attack on the kingside.
1. e2-e4 e7-e6 2. d2-d4 d7-d5 3. Nb1-c3 Bf8-b4 Black develops his dark-squared bishop to b4, pinning the knight on c3 and thus indirectly threatening the e-pawn. 4. e4-e5 White parries the threat and pushes his pawn forward, gaining space. 4...c7-c5 This is the typical way for Black to attack the pawn on d4 and the white centre. 5. a2-a3 This clever intermediate move “forces” White to take the knight on c3 with his bishop. 5...Bxc3+ 6. bxc3 After the capture on c3 White has doubled pawns, but in return Black has had to exchange his lovely dark-squared bishop, meaning that in the black camp numerous weaknesses have appeared on the dark squares. Black has two main plans in this position. He can develop his knight to e7 and castle short. That is not risk-free as White has a space advantage thanks to the pawn on e5 and can attack on the kingside. He often places his queen on g4, the light-squared bishop on d3 and the knight on f3, after which the threats against the black king are dangerous. Black almost always tries to achieve counterplay through pressure against the white centre with moves such as …Nb8-c6 and …f7-f6. A further idea for Black is … Ng8-e7 and …Qd8-c7. If White uses Qd1-g4 to go on a pawn hunt (though he does not have to do so), Black obtains counterplay by the capture on d4 and the semi-open c-file. Moreover, White remains slightly behind in development here.

Rubinstein Variation: 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 4.Nc3 dxe4