The advance variation of the French defence: part one, classical white set up

| 22 | Opening Theory

Apart from shedding light on the advance variation of the French defence, this three part series is meant to promote the group French Defense Fanatics, of which yours truly is of course a member.







The diagrammed position is reached after 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.c3 Nc6 5.Nf3. Although the advance variation is already reached after 3.e5, I will concentrate on this position and not look into alternatives. Furthermore, I will write from a black perspective and concentrate on lines with 5...Qb6 and ...Nh6 to follow. The analysis draws heavily on Watson's "Play the French", a book which I heartily recommend to any French player.

But before we delve into the actual lines, it might be wise to consider the strategic outlines of the battle ahead. The advance variation is in this sense interesting for many variations of the French, because the action will revolve around the central pawn structure  white: d4,e5, black d5,e6, which is common in many other French lines as well. In playing 3.e5, white has staked out a space advantage, but also given black some tangible objectives to work with. Black will try to undermine the white centre by attacking d4 (the base of the pawn chain, as Nimzowitsch called it) by c5, Nc6, Qb6 and sometimes Nf5. That last knight may come from h6 or e7, but in the variations I choose it will usually come from h6. That gives white the opportunity to exchange his bishop on c1 against this knight, mutilating black's kingside pawn structure (white should be careful in doing this, because Bc1 is the only defender of b2 and black can sometimes play Qxb2 instead of recapturing on h6, winnig the a1 rook). This gives rise to delightfully modern play, because it also helps black prepare his other central pawn break: f6. After gxh6  balck can post his bishop on g7 and undermine the centre further with f6. Of course black's king side is shattered, but current theory has equality for black in these lines. In the following games all of these possibilities will be demonstrated, depending on the set up that white chooses.

White chooses a classical set up

The classical set up is my name for the 6.Be2 system. We will look at two games, one where white takes on h6 and one where he does not.

White plays Bxh6

(check out the moves list!)



Summarizing, we see several interesting and noteworthy ideas in this game. Black plays for pressure on the white centre with c5, Nc6 and Qb6, but also with f6 and Bg7. Exchange sacrifices with Rxf3 are always in the air and black can consider redeploying his whitesquared bishop to g6 via e8. The off-beat knight manoeuvre via d8 is not (yet) as firm a part of French theory, but leads to interesting play. After White takes on f6, black can also work with the pawn break e5. The white strategy is less clear, because he has no obvious pawn breaks. His intentions are to nullify the black initiative and then bank in on his superior structure.

White does not play Bxh6




The play here is a lot less strategic, although one should note the strength of the black centre after black wins the pawn on d4. The tactics are complex and lovely, but a prepared black player needn't fear these lines too much.

Somewhere in the coming week (probably) I will treat the interesting 6.a3 variation.

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Interesting snippet

Interesting snippet

The advance variation of the French defence:part two, white plays 6.a3

The advance variation of the French defence:part two, white plays 6.a3