French Defense – Basic Guide

French Defense is a counter-attacking opening used by the black side. I have been playing french for 10 years and this has been one of my favourite openings. My experience with french has been a decent one. I have had my nice victories as well as painful lessons from it.

Basic Position of French Defense

Concept of the French Defense

French is an addictive opening. Its concepts are so intriguing that it’s difficult to quit this opening once you start it. The basic plan with e6,d5,c5 is to counter white’s centre on d4 and e5 with c5 and f6 pawn breaks respectively. To create activity on c and f file is one of the main ideas of french. To trade black’s light-squared Bishop is a common concept.

Most positions from French Defense lead to unclear and complicated positions. Black creates his play on queenside regularly in every variation of French. Castling can be delayed in french as the position is compact. In variations like Winaver, you can see a lot of games where black does not castle and does a king walk.

Variations in French Defence –

Kings Indian Attack (KIA)

KIA is commonly seen at the club and amateur level. This setup is easy to follow and leads to attacking positions from the white side. This position can be reached by the following move order –

1.e4 – e6   2.d3-d5  3.Nd2-c5  4.Ngf3-Nf6  5.g3-Nc6  6.Bg2-Be7  7.0-0. White waits for Black to castle and then pushes e5 to close the centre and launch an attack on the kingside.

Exchange variation –

This is one of the most unambitious tries from the white side. It is easy to play from both sides but it does not give white many chances to get an advantage. I don’t recommend it to anyone who is reading this article. The move order is –

e4-e6  d4-d5  exd5-exd5. The remaining development of pieces can be done according to the understanding of the player.

Classical French Defense

The classical system is one of the most popular variations from the white side as it has a good score. Black generally struggles to trade off his only weakness which is the c8 Bishop and suffers an endgame with Bad Bishop. If he manages to exchange it then black is more than comfortable in arising positions.

This position arises from the following move order –

e4-e6  d4-d5  Nc3-Nf6  e5-Nd7  f4-c5  Nf3-Nc6  Be3.  Black’s complete play is on the queenside.

Winaver French Defense

Winaver according to me is by far the most complicated variation in french. Black has a variety of sub-variations which lead to a different pace of positions. Some are slow while some are razor sharp. Black gives up his dark-squared bishop to damage white’s pawn structure. So this leads to imbalances which lead to decisive games. Move order –

e4-e6  d4-d5  Nc3-Bb4 e5-c5  a3-Bxc3 bxc3.

Advance Variation –

Advance variation is the basic variation against french. I feel it is underrated as it is not seen quite often but has a lot of chances to strive for advantage. Here black perfectly exerts pressure on d4 with c5 pawn break and e5 with f6 pawn break. The only problem for black is king safety in a few lines. Move order of Advance variation is –

e4-e6 d4-d5 e5-c5 c3-Nc6 Nf3-Qb6.

3.Nd2-Nf6 Tarrasch Variation

The 3.Nd2-Nf6 variation is a very interesting variation. It has a lot of imbalanced positions. White has positional triumphs while black relies on attacking prospects. Move order is –

e4-e6 d4-d5 Nd2-Nf6 e5-Nfd7 Bd3-c5 c3-Nc6 Ne2-cxd4 cxd4-f6 exf6-Nxf6. Watch out for Rxf3 sacrifices in this line!

3.Nd2-c5 Tarrasch.

3.Nd2-c5 Tarrasch often takes the game to IQP positions. As there is a specific chapter on IQP, you need to study it well before playing with black. The margin of error for black is considerably high here.

Move order – e4-e6 d4-d5 Nd2-c5 exd5-exd5 Ngf3-Nc6 Bb5-Bd6 0-0-Nge7 dxc5-Bxc5 Nb3-Bd6 c3-0-0 Bd3. White has a pleasant position and can enjoy playing against the IQP.


These all were the main lines in French Defense. Will be coming up with an article on the sidelines as well. Yes, I do consider KIA as a mainline!

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7 Top players in French Defense

The French defense has a rich history. The French Defence is named after a match played by correspondence between the cities of London and Paris in 1834[1] (although earlier examples of games with the opening do exist). It was Chamouilley, one of the players of the Paris team, who persuaded the others to adopt this defense. There are 3 main variations against french defense i.e. Tarrash, Advance, exchange variation. We will see a detailed analysis of these variations in an upcoming blog. Here are the top players in french defense.

Viktor Korchnoi 

Victor Korchnoi was a very strong Russian grandmaster. Unfortunately, he cannot become a world champion. You can find more detail about Viktor in this article. Viktor majorly played french defense in his career. You can say he started French Defense fashion. He has beaten many strong such as Gashimov, Vallejo pons, John Nunn, Nigel Short.

Pentala Harikrishna 

Pentala Harikrishna is an Indian super grandmaster and currently in the top 30 in the world ranking. Currently, he is staying in the Czech republic. Although French is not his main weapon but he is playing regularly and given some beautiful games. He has beaten many players such as Caruana, Mamedov, Evan Saric.

Nikita Vitiugov 

Nikita is a Russian grandmaster. He won many big events such as the Grenke chess classic 2018, Prague chess festival 2019. The French defense is a trademark of Nikita Vitiugov. He’s played it constantly over the last 2 decades, against all kinds of opponents. And in fact, he has also written two books on the French Defense! Both of them are published with Chess Stars.

Emmanuel Berg 

Emmanuel Berg is a Swedish grandmaster. As a youngster, he made solid progress and was consequently selected to represent his country in the various age categories of the European Youth and World Youth Championships. He won various games in french defense against top players. Following is his best game


Alexander Morozevich 

Alexander is a Russian chess grandmaster. Morozevich is a two-time World Championship candidate (2005, 2007), a two-time Russian champion, and has represented Russia in seven Chess Olympiads, winning numerous team and board medals. Morozevich is known for his aggressive and unorthodox playing style. He is also a top player who plays french defense. He won games in french defense with many top players such as Vishy Anand, Vladimir Kramnik, Karjakin Sergey.

Vaganian Rafael 

Veteran grandmaster Rafael Vaganian is an Armenian chess player. He is currently 68 years old and he is still an active player and played almost all top players such as Mikhail Tal to Vishy Anand. He played 478 games out of 575 games with french defense. (As per mega 2020 database)

Surya Shekhar Ganguly

Surya Shekhar Ganguly is an Indian well known, Grandmaster. His current rating is 2635. He plays French frequently. He has won 40 individual gold, 21 individual silver, and 6 individual bronze medals in National as well as international tournaments. In addition, in team competitions, he has won 12 gold, 4 silver, and 3 bronze medals. He has beaten many players in french defense such as Ponomariov, Naiditch, Volotkin. Surya also run his youtube channel, click here to watch his videos with Vishy Anand, Wesley So, Aronian Levon

Bonus Player

CRG Krishna 

Krishna is an international master from India. I have included him on this list for a special reason. Against E4 Krishna played only french for all his life. Currently, in the mega database 2020, he has 113 games against e4, in which he played 110 games with french. With this example, I want to say that you can get to this level by sticking to a single variation. You just have to update your knowledge about that variation every time.


Some Best Games In french Defense

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