The so-called Steinitz variation in the French Defense arises after the next sequence of moves: 1.e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. e5 Nfd7 5. f4 c5 where Black gives up space for an opportunity to attack White's center. When he succeeds, the results are usually fantastic. Take a look for example at one of the games played in the most recent super-tournament:
Very impressive, isn't it? But what really impresses me is the influence of chess fashion on the mind of chess players. Today everyone and his brother automatically plays 6.Nf3 and then struggles to keep his center intact. But if you play the Steinitz variation, maybe, just maybe, you should check how this line was treated by the man the system was named after?
The next positional gem is given with annotations by Kasparov from his excellent book "My Great Predecessors" (which I highly recommend to every chess player regardless of his/her level).
What a beautiful game and very instructive annotations by one of the World's greatest chess players! Even if you never play the French Defense with either color, please do yourself a favor and replay the game at least a couple of times trying to understand the depth of Steinitz's strategical concept.
In last week's column I already expressed my opinion that the legendary Harry Nelson Pillsbury was thoroughly studying the games played by the best players of his time in order to use their ideas in his games (this is something every chess player should do!). The following game is just another example. Pillsbury borrows the Steinitz idea to create his own attacking masterpiece. This is probably one of the most famous Pillsbury games!
(Just like in most of my articles I give you a chance to test your chess skills, so the games are given as a Quiz. Please remember that you can always replay the whole game from the first move if you click "Solution" and then "Move list".)
Even less famous players were able to produce their own little attacking gems using Steinitz's idea:
You can ask "If this system is so great, why it is not played more frequently these days?" In my opinion this is just a matter of chess fashion. I won't be surprised if 20 years from now the situation changes and the old Steinitz line becomes the main variation again. But in my opinion such things as chess fashion shouldn't bother chess amateurs and average club players. So, let me borrow my own words from this article: http://www.chess.com/article/view/how-to-learn-an-opening-in-one-hour
"Now, will it be easy for your opponent (who probably studied the latest games from Super Tournaments but not the games played 50 years ago) to pass the opening unscathed? It depends. If you are playing a 2700+ Grandmaster, then your little opening trick will probably just amuse him. But for an average club player (meaning under ELO 2300), this is a very dangerous weapon to meet."
Except here we are talking about games played almost 120 years ago! Actually, this approach can work even if you play against Grandmasters. Just look at the next game where a very strong GM fell a victim of the classical Steinitz variation:
The conclusion is simple: before you buy a modern book on an opening and invest hundreds of hours memorizing all the variations, maybe you can find a solution in the old games of Morphy or Steinitz?