Opening Experiment Results: Unblocking the French with 2.c4!?

Opening Experiment Results: Unblocking the French with 2.c4!?

NM CoachJKane
Sep 7, 2015, 7:40 PM |

Hi Chess Friends,


My post on my experiments with the Queen's Gambit Accepted was well received, so I'm following up with an even less common line that's scored well for me, the 2.c4 French.

Even many strong players have struggled against the locked up structures in the French Defense. It was a particularly problematic line for even the great Bobby Fischer to face. In my experience, players with black tend to be well versed in the various gambits that I used to play against the main lines and I couldn't prove any advantage in the more topical theory. That's why, I often prefer to avoid any closing of the center and head quickly out of theory with the quirky 2.c4. 

What might happen?

Black Option 1: 2...c5 (The Sicilian Hybrid)

This transposes into a solid line against the Sicilian. In my experience it's pretty rare for French Defense players to play c5 before d5. Like any Sicilian, this can be a big topic to cover, but I recently saw, then FM, Eric Rosen, soundly defeat consecutive Grandmasters with it at the 2015 Chicago Open. I haven't analyzed them deeply, but here's one of his wins.

Option 2: 2...d5 3.cxd5 Qxd5.(the Scandinavian Hybrid)

This line gets play similar to the Scandinavian Defense, an opening I'm happy to see a French player forced into. White wins time by attacking the queen, and I have a near perfect score in these lines.

Here's my most recent outing, which was very fun to play:

Option 3: 2...d5 3.cxd5 Nf6 4.Nc3 Nxd5 5.Bc4 Nb6 (the main line)

At least half of my games in the c4 French go along this path. You can actually reach these positions from the Scandanavian, and even some Queen's Gambit lines. White has an isolated d-pawn and the associated attacking chances in the middle game. Even though I played this game as a kid, it's still one of the most fun and potentially instructive games of my career.

Option 4: 2...d5 3.cxd5 Nf6 4.Nc3 Nxd5 5.Bc4 Nb4!? (The sharpest)

5... Nb4 leads to some of the most tactical lines in the c4 French, although very few players with the black pieces are brave enough to enter them. I like to gambit a pawn with 6.d4, leaving black a couple of options. 6...Bf5 is tempting, but probably too brave. b7 and f7 will cause him too many problems. Accepting the gambit with 6...Qxd4 is blacks' best, leading to complicated play. You can see the game below for details.


Have any of you tried out this line for white? If so, I'd be fascinated to hear how it went.