Openings for Tactical Players: French Defense

Openings for Tactical Players: French Defense‎

GM Gserper
30 | Tactics

The French Defense has a reputation of being a very solid, but not a very exciting opening from Black's point of view.  Says Wikipedia: "The French has a reputation for solidity and resilience, though it can result in a somewhat cramped game for Black in the early stages."  So, if you like to attack, should you just switch to the Sicilian?  Not necessarily! You can find sharp and exciting lines in any opening if you use your imagination. Let's examine a strange looking line where after 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nd2 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Nf6 5. Nxf6+ Black plays the surreal 5...gxf6!? instead of the logical 5...Qxf6.  Why would Black damage his pawn structure on the King's side?  The answer is similar to the variation Tal used to play in his World Championship match vs. Botvinnik in 1960 (1.e4 c6 2. Nc3 d5 3.Nf3 Bg4 4. h3 Bxf3 5. gxf3!?) In both cases the damage to your pawn structure is the price you pay to open the 'g' file and bring the 'g' pawn to control important central squares. In our French line, Black hopes to attack the White King along the 'g' file if White castles 0-0, and also the f6 pawn controls the very important 'e5' square.  Will these ideas outweigh the permanent damage to your pawn structure?  Let's check some practical games:



We just saw that the combined attack along the diagonal 'a8-h1' and the 'g' file is the main idea of Black's setup.  The following game played by two strong modern GMs reenforced this fact one more time.
Even if White castles Queen's side, away from the dangerous 'g' file, it is still not a guarantee against a possible attack against his King. See what happened in the following game:
Even if White tries to avoid this variation and plays 5. Bg5 instead of 5. Nxf6, Black still can insist on opening the 'g' file as in the next game:
An additional benefit of this line is there almost no theory to memorize since you play 3...dxe4 against both 3.Nc3 and 3. Nd2. There is noo French Tarrasch, Winawer, etc. to memorize!
In conclusion, let me repeat my usual advice/disclaimer.   In this article I didn't try to prove that Black is winning in all the variations or that this line is the best in French. My goal was just to explain the main ideas, to demonstrate typical attacking patterns and to share the spirit of this particular variation. I hope you replayed the whole games and not just the positions shown on the diagrams (Remember that you can always replay a whole game from the first move if you click "Solution" and then "Move list"). If you liked what you saw so far, then it is a good starting point for your own investigation of the opening. I can tell you one thing for sure: if you decide to give this variation a try, I can guarantee you an interesting game and a lot of excitement.
Good luck!
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