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

| 14 | Opening Theory

This the second part in a three part series aiming to elucidate the advance variation of the French defence and to promote the group French Defense Fanatics, of which this writer is a member. The first part can be found here:, the introduction is also to be found there, I advise interested readers to start there.

In this article I will look at the variation where white plays 6.a3 and I will concentrate on a black set up with Nh6. Analysis draws heavily on Watsons book "Play the French" (which I strongly recommend), though not as heavily as I expected at the outset of writing this article.

First let us compare this white set up with the classical white set up, as treated in the first part of the series. With 6.a3, white intends to follow up with 7.b4, nullifying blacks pressure on b2 and gaining space on the queenside, something white often does later on in the classical set up as well. Furthermore, white prevents the move Bb4+, which was especially annoying in the classical set up where white didn't take on h6. Consequently, that variation (where white does not take on h6) is much more dangerous in 6.a3 set up. One extra benefit of a3 and b4 is that Bb2, covering the weak pawn on d4, now becomes a possibilty. The disadvantages of a3 and b4 are that they weaken the long diagonal (often giving rise to a knight sacrifice on d4) and that sacrifices like Nxb4 become a serious threat. Because black is especially strong on the long diagonal in the Bxh6 variation (after gxh6 and Bg7), that line offers black too much leeway, whereas declining the h6 exchange becomes critical, a complete reversal of the situation in the classical set up.


White plays Bxh6

(Check out the moves list!)





In summary it can be said that both Watson's 12...Nxd4 and the normal 12...0-0 lead to good positions for black. The knight sacrifices on b4 (after Nc3, so as to pin the knight) and on d4, intending Bxe5 with a pin on the long diagonal, should be part and parcel of the French players repertoire. (As a bonus, I should like to point out the player of the black pieces. Not only is he one of the best players of the French defence today, but he also has the greatest name I ever heard: Smbat Lputian. My firstborn child will be named Smbat. Even if it is a girl.)

White does not play Bxh6












In summary, in the Be3 line, black has a strong attack after the exchange sacrifice. In the Bb2 line play, is of a more positional nature. After the critical 10.g4, white has black square weaknesses on both wings and black is often able to invade on the kingside, where the white king will usually wind up. In order for a kingside attack to be effective, black may wish to postpone or altogether forego castling in this variation.

In the last part of this series (I'm not sure when I'll get round to writing it) we'll look at what is in a sense whites most principled answer to the threats to his centre: sacrificing it.

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Interesting snippet

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

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