01 March 2016

Beating the French

In 2003, I switched from the Sicilian Defense to the French Defense as my principal response to 1.e4. After a couple short years learning the basics, my rating began a rapid climb from mid-1400s to high 1900s. The French Defense brought me better results than I ever had with the Sicilian. More important than opening choice, however, was the way this shift marked a change in my thinking.

I began to favor positional dominance over tactical fireworks.

Still, the French vexes me when I have White. I started playing it, in part, because I was tired of losing to it. With some notable exceptions, such as one night at the Spokane Chess Club when I won two French games--one as White and one as Black, my performance against the French Defense is subpar (see "Setback: Delusions of Grandeur"). In blitz, I often adopt an anti-French system that transposes in the Exchange variation. The irony that I have mocked the Exchange nags me.

After posting "Rating Woes", I logged into Chess.com to seek redemption through a game or two of blitz (see "Blitz Addiction" for the notion of redemption). My opponent met 1.e4 with 1...e6 and I opted to go for a main line. He chose an offbeat line. I won the game!

Stripes, J (1819) -- Internet Opponent (1799) [C10]
Live Chess Chess.com, 29.02.2016

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nc6 

According to my database, I've seen this move twice before. In 2002, I lost, but I won in 2014. I have also played it seven times, losing five and winning two.

I was hoping for  3...Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.Nce2 This is a line that I find irritating from the Black side.


White's score is abyssmal enough that this move should be considered a mistake.


4...exd5 5.Nf3 Nf6 

5...Bb4 6.Bb5 is pretty.

White to move

Bobby Fisher played this position during his phenomenal streak of wins.


Fischer played 6.Bb5 Bg4 7.h3 Bxf3 8.Qxf3 Be7 9.Bg5 a6 10.Bxc6+ bxc6 11.0–0 0–0 12.Rfe1 h6 13.Bh4 Qd7 14.Re2 a5 15.Rae1 Bd8 16.b3 Rb8 17.Na4 Ne4 18.Bxd8 Rbxd8 19.Qf4 Qd6 20.Qxd6 cxd6 21.c4 Nf6 22.Rc1 Rb8 23.cxd5 cxd5 24.f3 Nh5 25.Rc6 Nf4 26.Rd2 Rfe8 27.Rxd6 Re1+ 28.Kf2 Rh1 29.Kg3 Nh5+ 30.Kh4 g6 31.Rxd5 Re8 32.Rxa5 Ree1 33.Nc3 Nf4 34.Kg4 Ne6 35.Re5 f5+ 36.Kg3 f4+ 37.Kh4 Kh7 38.Ne4 g5+ 39.Kg4 Ng7 40.Nxg5+ hxg5 41.Rxe1 Rxe1 42.Kxg5 Ne6+ 43.Kf5 Re2 44.Rxe2 Nxd4+ 45.Ke5 Nxe2 46.a4 1–0 Fischer,R (2760) -- Petrosian,T (2640), Buenos Aires 1971.

6...Bg4 7.0–0 

Although this move appears in five games, it might be termed a novelty. It would be so if the database were stripped of games of players below 2000 and unrated unknowns. On the other hand, I am below 2000, so the move remains an unplayed novelty awaiting its debut.

7.Be3 Bh5 8.Ne2 Bxf3 9.gxf3 Qd7 10.c3 0–0–0 11.Qc2 g6 12.0–0–0 h5 13.Kb1 Bh6 14.Qd2 Ng8 15.h3 Nce7 16.Nc1 Nf5 17.Nb3 b6 18.c4 dxc4 19.Bxc4 Kb8 20.Qc3 Nge7 21.d5 Qa4 22.Bxh6 Rxh6 23.Rhe1 Rhh8 24.d6 cxd6 25.Bxf7 Rhf8 26.Be6 Qc6 27.Qd3 d5 28.Rc1 Qd6 29.Qb5 Ka8 30.Qa6 Kb8 31.Qb5 Ka8 32.Qa6 Kb8 ½–½ Frolyanov,D (2563) -- Jobava,B (2702), Moscow RUS 2013.

7...Be7 8.h3 Bh5

8...Bxf3 9.Qxf3 Nxd4 10.Qd1 and Black is much better.

9.Bb5 0–0

9...Bxf3 10.Bxc6+ bxc6 11.Qxf3 is slightly better for White.

White to move


That I thought this move was useful indicts my opening plan against this offbeat French.


10...Bxf3 11.gxf3 gives Black a clear edge.

11.Be2 Bd6


12.c3 Ne7 13.Bg5 Ne4 

White to move

The bishop is attacked, but it is defended. Alas, that piece also is attacked. White is defending with few good squares for his pieces.


14.Nbd2 Nxg5 15.Nxg5 Bxe2 16.Qxe2 h6 17.Ngf3 and the queen might feel awkward when a rook slides to e8.

14...f6 15.Nbd2 Nxd2

15...Nf5 16.g4

16.Nxd2 Bxe2 17.Qxe2 Ng6 

White to move


An unpleasant decision.

18.Qh5 was worth considering 18...Nf4 19.Qg4 h5 20.Qf5 and the bishop still looks awkward.
18.Qe6+ may be better 18...Kh8 19.Bg3

18...Bxg3 19.fxg3 Re8 20.Qf2 Qd6

Black should bet better here.

21.Nf3 Re7 22.h4 Rae8 23.h5??

Black to move



24.Rae1 Nd7 25.Nh4 Rxe1 26.Rxe1 Rxe1+ 27.Qxe1 Kf8??

27...Kf7 28.Nf5 Qe6 29.Qxe6+ Kxe6 30.Nxg7+ leads to the sort of endgame that is easy to lose with only seconds per move. In other words, Black has equal chances.

White to move

28.Nf5 Qb6 

28...Ne5 avoids checkmate. 29.dxe5 Qxe5+-

29.Qe7+ 1–0

I did not beat the French Defense. My opening play gave Black a clear edge well through the middlegame. Then, in a difficult position, I blundered away my queen. Luckily, my opponent failed to exploit the error. He used less than a second for 23...Nf8, suggesting that maybe premove left my queen secure.

Then, having failed to exploit my blunder, my opponent moved his king to the wrong square. I saw the checkmate and acted with vigor.

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