Today’s lesson will actually be useful for ALL players, regardless of whether you’re stronger than a beginner and regardless of whether you play the French defense for either side.
It will not be a comprehensive lesson on how to play the French defence.
It WILL touch upon strategical play which very often comes up in chess (and which are VITAL building blocks in the foundation of a strong player’s strategic understanding) and will include many observations of my own, lessons I learnt, as well as a couple of games I myself have played.
Required Study for this Lesson:
- Pawn Chain Theory (coming soon!)
If you play chess and want to become strong, you need to know this structure.
If you want to improve your OVERALL understanding of chess, you need to learn this best chess strategy.
Let’s get started. 🙂
The Advanced French Structure!
The so-called (by me 😆 ) “Advanced French structure” is a very common structure in chess and can occur in various forms, from several different move-orders and openings (not only the French Defence).
As we can see in the diagram above, black’s strategy will be to apply increasingly more pressure to the base of white’s pawn chain (the guy on d4 😉 ) and if possible, to occupy the c-file with his rook/s.
The only chink in black’s armour is the somewhat passive position of his light-squared bishop, which is locked inside his pawn chain.
This poor light-squared bishop (and the sometimes occurring traffic jam between the g8 knight and the f8 bishop), give white a development lead which is often used to conjure up an attack.
Sometimes white will over-protect his sensitive d-pawn and sometimes he will sacrifice it, but the attack on the kingside is vital. If white can accomplish nothing on the kingside, black will certainly take over.
There are also instances (where if black doesn’t immediately grab his advantage on the queenside), where white will steal it from him with a3 and b4, plus take the c-file for himself.
If this happens, black will try to bust the centre open with …f6.
We won’t mention these exceptions here and will instead focus on the plans mentioned already.
Opposites in Conflict
Chess like anything in life is a battle of opposites.
In life it might be good vs evil or fire vs rain or whatever.
Here we have already lightly mentioned the plans for both sides and it must be mentioned that each player will of course also be aware of his opponent’s plan…but as these opposites conflict, the stronger player will naturally assert his will on the other.
To do this he’ll use tools like tactical threats, forcing moves, the initiative and better calculation in his attempt to overpower his opponent and all of this keeping in mind the strategic ideas mentioned above as well.
This of course applies to all chess positions, but anyway… let’s see how it plays out in a couple of sample games. Continue reading for Best Chess Strategy.
White Kingside Strategy Triumphs:
Kramnik, Vladimir vs Rustemov, Alexander
In this game we see a few very important strategies to pay attention to, namely;
- Black tries a strategy of swapping his bad bishop (mentioned above) with …Bd7-b5.
- Black dominates the c-file with his rooks.
- White places his dark-squared bishop on the very strong a3-f8 diagonal.
- White manoeuvres his knight to h5 (via a weird but normal Nf3-g5-h3-f4-h5) in what seems like a very slow idea, but the strength which this knight exerts in this structure is usually worth the time invested.
- White plays an f4, g4, f5 pawn advance to open up the kingside.
Very instructive breakthrough by white.
Black Strategy Triumphs:
Shabalov, Alexander vs Shirov, Alexei
In this game instead of white getting everything he wants, we see black controlling the game with intelligent use of several of the strategies mentioned above.
Notable Themes to Remember:
- White plays a well known Na3-c2 manoeuvre in order to over-protect his tender d4 pawn.
- White kicks black’s knight out of the powerful f5 square with 11.g4 and this over-extending pawn move is later used as a lever by black for his 13…h5 move, which will either regain the f5 square or open the h-file to white’s king.
- Black plays 10…Na5 with the idea of 12…Bb5, exchanging his bad light-squared bishop.
- Black delays castling until the last moment and once white has sufficient weaknesses on the kingside, black evacuates his king with 21…0-0-0 and proceeds to attack the white king. White’s attack never really got off the ground.
How I’ve Applied this Knowledge in My Own Games:
There was a time when I thought that the Advanced French Structure was much better for black and that white could NEVER hope to attack such a solid structure successfully.
But then I played in a big blitz tournament in Australia…
The Doeberl Cup Blitz I believe it was…
I had somehow smashed through my first 5 rounds and was matched with IM (now GM) David Smerdon against whom I played the French.
For the entire game, I thought I was doing ok but the pressure kept mounting and mounting until he eventually broke though somewhere around move 40.
I wish I had the game, but it was the same line as the game coming up.
White Sacrifices his d-pawn
So in the game with Smerdon, he did this shit where he let me just take his d-pawn for free!
Can you believe that?
Actually, I’m not a complete retard. 😆
I knew what was going on in the game, but just overestimated my chances at some point, made some poor decisions and lost.
Shit happens and he’s a genius so…whatever. 😉
There is actually an attacking idea in this structure where white will sacrifice a pawn (a CENTRE pawn at that!) and use the time gained (plus the newly vacated d4 square) to initiate a swift kingside attack.
Here’s a game Dave played against the legendary Dutch GM Jan Timman in which he actually had him in trouble at one point, but the game diffused into a draw.
David Smerdon vs Jan Timman
Dave played his favourite move 9.Nbd2 (9.Nxd4 Qxd4 10.Nc3 is more common) and Jan chose 9…Bc5 as his defence and theory continued until move 15.
On move 18 Jan got tired of not being able to castle and played the super risky 18…0-0-0 which could have backfired on him, but some inaccuracies by Smerdon let him off the hook.
Let’s see it.
As mentioned, there was a time when I would have thought after seeing such a game “black was two pawns up! Smerdon was lucky to ‘get away’ with a draw” but now I know..
The dynamic element in chess and things like the initiative are difficult to understand because to the beginner’s eye… they are invisible.
Or more accurately, they are much harder to see (read: understand) than static features like material count, pawn structure etc.
I now know (as you should) that these clashing elements (dynamic vs static) in chess are just tools of equal power, which will only decide the game in favour of the stronger side.
He who utilizes his elements (or “tools”) most skillfully.
If Smerdon had won, we could say that he had used the dynamic “tools” more skilfully than Timman used the static “tools”.
If Timman had won we’d argue the opposite.
I cannot underestimate the value of this lesson.
Let’s see how I recently applied it in a game of my own (I also copied Smerdon’s line!).
As you might know, I’ve started to play my online chess on a Chinese server called “国象联盟” (Guo xiang lian meng) and last week I played a pretty decent player as white.
The result is a clear demonstration of the lesson I learnt from astutely observing my game against Smerdon (even though it was blitz!) and following up with questions like “How did he still break through, even though my structure was better and I had no real weaknesses?”.
Combined with intense work with tweaked engines this awakening exploded my chess understanding.
Let’s see the game in question anyway…
Brendan J. Norman vs Chinese Player
Here I followed Smerdon’s line until I played 10.b4!? sacrificing another pawn.
This extra pawn sacrifice was from a game I seen by some obscure 2300 player when perusing my database.
I was impressed by the idea and grabbed it.
In my game we see black doing his job of grabbing material and trying to weather the storm, while I am doing my job of trying to prevent castling, creating threats and generally keeping the initiative.
The Chinese player misses a single chance to gain an advantage (with the ridiculously computer-like 20…Rc8) and in doing so I was allowed to unleash a series of sacrifices which ended in him eventually being mated.
I’m quite happy with this game and can surely say that…
“I utilised the dynamic tools more skilfully than he used the statics tools”
Now…Have I learn’t anything else?
There are certain structures in chess where one can get all of the benefits of one structure without the downsides.
Here’s an example of how somebody can go wrong.
A Dream for Black
I am not actually a player of the French Defence but of the Sicilian Defence.
As mentioned in the beginning of this post though, there IS still good reason to master this structure and these ideas, regardless of the opening you play.
Look at this example.
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.c3 Nf6 5.e5 Nd5 6.Bc4 Nb6 7.Bb3 d5 8.cxd4? *
This is a position that comes up surprisingly often in my games, especially against Chinese opponents.
White should have gone for an open attacking game with 8.exd6 e.p, because the alternative (and natural) move 8.cxd4 allows 8…Bg4! which achieves the following:
- After a quick …e6 black gets a normal Advance French Structure with his light-squared bishop (his biggest issue as we’ve learnt) already outside of the pawn chain.
- The knight on f3 (the defender of his “tender” d4 pawn) is now pinned.
- The presence of this bishop on the kingside will make white’s attacking aspirations much harder to achieve.
Here’s another example from my own play.
Chinese Player vs Brendan J. Norman
In this game the Chinese player makes the strategic mistake mentioned above (8.cxd4) and after 8…Bg4 I was pretty happy already.
I played 13…a5 in order to gain space on the queenside and within a few moves my advantage was unquestionable there.
White on the other hand was trying to make things work with his own kingside attack, but to no avail.
Once all of white’s tricks were sidestepped, I went to work on the standard weak d-pawn whilst also keeping his weak a-pawn under surveillance in order to keep him tied up (the principle of two weaknesses).
The conversion is fairly smooth.
In this game I can surely say that…
“I utilised the static tools more skilfully than he used the dynamic tools” 😀
Of course it makes it easier when you have an advantage right from the opening!
So what do you think?
I have to applaud you for having studied this far, as this is so far the longest lesson on this blog.
Your chess future is sure to be bright with such diligent study! 😉
If you have fully studied and digested the material on this page, you are really a serious student of chess. Great job! 🙂 You’ll probably find yourself beating me in an online game before long!
This material was absolutely essential knowledge and you’ve now gained it.
Keep an eye on this blog and I’ll guide your chess progress (in my admittedly weird teaching style) as best I can.