In this lesson, we introduce you to what the French Defense is, and what the main lines of play are. Play through the following moves.
The French Defense is known as a solid defense, although Black often suffers from a lack of space at the beginning. Note, for example, that Black's move 1. ... e6 blocks the c8-h3 diagonal for his light-squared bishop. Then 2. ... d5 blocks the a8-h1 diagonal for the same bishop in case Black fianchettoes it with Bb7. This is a problem especially if White fixes the center with the move e4-e5. So, Black sometimes has a problem developing his light-squared bishop, and we will see ways that Black deals with this. A typical pawn formation in the French Defense looks like this:
You can see that White has more space on the kingside and Black has more space on the queenside. White's central pawns are pointing him toward the kingside, and Black's central pawns are pointing him toward the queenside. As a result, White often plays on the kingside and Black seeks counterplay on the queenside.
Let's look at the position after move 2 again and discuss White's 3rd move options:
Note again that White's e4 pawn is attacked. The four main ways to respond are with 3. e5, the Advance Variation; 3. exd5, the Exchange Variation; 3. Nd2, the Tarrasch Variation; and 3. Nc3, the Paulsen Variation. In other words, White responds to the threat on e4 by either moving the pawn, exchanging the pawn, or guarding the pawn. Other ways of guarding the pawn are not advisable: 3. Qe2? blocks in the king's bishop (and other queen moves prematurely develop the queen); 3. f3 weakens the kingside and takes the f3 square away from his knight; and 3. Bd3 has the following drawback:
Let's look at the Advance Variation a bit:
Now let's look a little at the Exchange Variation:
Next, let's look at the Tarrasch Variation:
After 3. Nc3, the Paulsen Variation, play can diverge along many lines. Let's look at some possibilities:
One last line:
After studying the lines above and memorizing their names, try the quizzes below.
Play the first five moves in the standard line of the Advance Variation:
Now play the Exchange Variation with an aggressive 4th move by White to unbalance the position:
Now play the Tarrasch Variation:
Now play the Rubenstein Variation:
Now play six moves in the normal line of the Winawer Variation:
Now play the Burn Variation:
Now play the Classical Variation:
Now play the Black side of the McCutcheon Variation:
Finally play five moves in the most common line of the Steinitz Variation: