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The French Endgame

  • GM BryanSmith
  • | Jan 23, 2014

A distinctive structure arises from the French Defense, featuring White's space advantage and Black's restricted light-squared bishop. Against this, Black hopes for counterplay via the pawn break ...f6 and queenside counterplay on the c-file and on the queenside squares such as a4 and b4.

This position arose in the game Keres-Flores, from the Buenos Aires Olympiad, 1939. Keres's vastly weaker opponent had just played - in a normal position as Black in the French Defense - ...Bb4+ followed by ...Bxd2+, ...Qb4, and ...Qxd2+.

Apparently he was hoping to make a draw with his famous opponent by trading queens early on. It is important to understand that this is not a good idea! Not only is cravenly playing for a draw bad psychologically (one who is fighting only for a draw often avoids active play when such play is simply necessary), but also here Black has made many concessions purely in order to effect the exchange of queens. His entire exchanging operation has lost many tempi, since he moved each piece multiple times before exchanging them, while White's recaptures improved his development. Black has also made the positional concession of exchanging dark-squared bishops when his fixed central pawns are located on light squares. Thus he is left with his bad light-squared bishop and weakened dark squares.

Nowadays I think most weaker masters would not play in such a way - but this was 1939. In some cases, the favored player could disturbed by a weaker opponent trading many pieces, even when the stronger player keeps some slight objective advantage - mostly if it becomes the type of ending where one mistake could lead the game the game to become very drawish. But this is not such a position. In particular, the position is closed and there isn't much chance that there will be many more simplifications.

Paul Keres

White has a clear advantage in the above position, and I don't think any strong player, regardless of style, would be unhappy to play this endgame. But Keres's technique is very instructive, and anyone wanting to see how to play this type of position should pay close attention.

He has two main objectives:

  • restrain Black's counterplay;
  • make progress somehow, avoiding a potential fortress.

Let's see how Paul Keres did this. The game began as follows:

Black is hoping to gain counterplay in a standard pattern, typical of such French positions - ...Bd7, ...Kd7, ...Rfc8, ...a5-a4, etc. It seems easier for Black to play, but let's see how Keres first stops Black's counterplay while preparing his own action.

Black's play on the queenside has been rendered harmless. White gave up the b4 square, but that can hardly be used to do any damage to him. Meanwhile, Black can be the one to occupy the only open file, the c-file, with his rook - but this gives him nothing since there are no invasion squares there. The next step of White's plan is to create some of his own play on the kingside. He needs to prevent chances of Black holding a draw by creating a fortress.

Black has been induced to create permanent weaknesses on the kingside. Now White must find a way to attack them. For this, Keres uses a nice and instructive maneuver. 

Finally White has won a pawn. What follows is the realization of the advantage, while preventing any counterplay.

A very simple but elegant game, between players of two very different classes. Nevertheless, an instructive example of how to restrict Black's counterplay in this typical kind of position, from which I think amateur players could learn a lot.



  • 4 months ago


    This is the second article of yours I have read today. I found both of them enlightening! I agree with an earlier comment that the layout and explanation are top notch. I will be looking for more. Thank you very much! I especially liked the rook maneuvers he used!

  • 21 months ago


    nice article and very instructive. Thanks.

  • 21 months ago

    NM GreggStanley

    I think 15...H4 offers more resistance.  I suppose white could still engineer a f3 g4 build up inducing black to take on g4 or just trade g and h pawns and go after f7.  

    On the supposed danger of white trading down:  Whites attack can get stronger, since the weak black biship is a higher percent of blacks pieces.  Another reason white agreed to trade rooks.  

  • 21 months ago


    Thank you GM Bryan , I view this game a second time, I like how you pointed out white plan and at the same time preventing black plan. It is something to keep in mind when making a plan, execute yours and preventing your opponent's plan. 

  • 21 months ago


    Nice game, with many instructive patterns to be remembered. Maybe I'll use this game as a lesson for my pupils too :)

  • 21 months ago


    thank you  for the article, could you please do a caro-kann endgame in the future?

  • 21 months ago


    Brilliant annotation.

  • 21 months ago


     Very Instructive article thank you

  • 21 months ago


    Awesome :D

  • 21 months ago


    a lot to study ...................for amatuers like me

  • 21 months ago


    One of the best articles I have read so far (for my level of play) because the reasons behind most movements are explained. Thank you very much! :D

  • 21 months ago


    thx GM BryanSmith ! this article is very instructive , i learn a lot of stuff :) keep up the good work! :)

  • 21 months ago


    This is just fantastic. Thanks for sharing.

  • 21 months ago


    Good stuff!!

  • 21 months ago


    Thank you for a very instructive article. Excellent! Excellent!!!

  • 21 months ago


    thanks sso much !

  • 21 months ago


    Instructive game! How come these grandmasters can make chess seem so easy, where I always get lost in all the complications?

  • 21 months ago


    Really instructive article.

  • 21 months ago


    Thank you. Very instructive. I also really like the layout for this article, especially for this type of endgame article--it encourages the reader to think about the different stages of White's plan. The pawn setup with the bishop on b1 was especially striking.

  • 21 months ago


    black was paralyzed,b3 was devasting

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