The Essence Behind French Defense in Chess

A lot of online articles have been published on French defense and the amount of information given to readers is immense. However, my feeling is that the essence deep inside this issue has not been revealed. In spite that this issue has been presented in many different ways, I have tried to provide guidance on the way of thinking in order to make French defense clear and a successfully applicable technique to start the game.

An introduction to French Defense

The French defense is one of the most popular defenses against the king’s pawn opening.It is reached after the moves 1.e4 e6, but the pawn structure usually associated with this particular opening is the following:

White has better control of the center and a large space advantage which cramps Black’s pieces, especially Bc8, making it difficult to develop. On the other hand, Black has it’s share of central control, thanks to the pawns e6,d5 which have blockaded White’s pawns, making them possible targets.

Typical Plans

Before going over the games, let’s look at some of the most common plans and strategies for both sides.

White’s objectives:

  • consolidation and development: White has already the advantage in space, so there is no
    need to actively hunt for more.Instead White should focus on protecting the center while
    developing
  • prevent Black’s counterplay: This is an extension of the previous objective.Black needs to
    counterattack on the center to generate play.White’s job is to prevent that and stay in
    control, before moving to the next plan.
  • an attack on the kingside: The e5 pawn signifies that White’s point of focus should be the
    kingside.If Black decides to castle there, the king will be subjected to a strong attack.
  • the pawn break f4-f5: The f pawn usually protects the center from f4, but can be also used to
    attack Black’s center by f5, a plan favored when a direct attack is not possible.If Black has
    castled kingside,f6 also becomes a major threat, weakening the king’s defense.

Black’s objectives:

  • apply pressure on White’s center: Black’s highest priority.An exchange of the wing pawns c7
    and f7 for the d4 and e5 pawns would be ideal, but that’s hard to accomplish.Even so, central
    pressure, if applied properly, will keep White on the defensive, too busy to organize an attack
  • exchange or activate the Bc8: The light-squared bishop is Black’s most problematic piece. While it is easy to forget about it and focus on the more useful pieces, managing to exchange it or find a good square for it will result in immediate improvement for Black’s position.
  • create counterplay on the queenside: The strong d5 pawn indicates that the queenside is where Black should play.This can happen by grabbing space with pawn moves such as a6 and b5, or by piece play,e.g. placing a knight on c4 from where it generates many threats.

It is obvious that for every variation of French defense, the player should realize and assess correctly the situation he is in and have a plan how to move his pieces in order to have the advantage against the other player and put him in a difficult position. That’s the hard part and the player should have a clear picture of his objectives applying the guidance mentioned above.

Illustrative games

First example

Second example

Third example

Qc7# is threatened,and if 24…axQ,then 25.Ra8 Nb8 26.RxN#. It’s no coincidence the combination happened almost exclusively on dark squares.

Forth example

White can’t stop the d pawn and will have to sacrifice a lot of material.

Conclusion

French defense has some unique kinds of positions that are very rewarding to study. A player with a good grasp of the opening’s principles will always find the way to the correct move. One should keep in mind that a slight difference in the positioning of pieces creates a new reality and a different reaction of the player is needed in order to handle the new situation properly. So, don’t try to copy moves you see on the Internet without knowing what you are doing. Hopefully,  this article helped you discover new ideas and understand this tricky opening a little better. In conclusion, I consider that educated thinking and a great number of games in the past ensure a better future as a player. I would greatly appreciate if you sent me any comments and share with friends.  Keep playing and enjoy the game.

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