More French Cooking

by admin on February 28, 2015

My last post on the French Defense, a few days ago, attracted more comments than any post I’ve written for at least a couple years. So let’s continue the conversation.

One of the commenters (Brian Wall, I’m looking at you) asked, “What doesn’t beat the French?” Maybe White can do just about anything!

In the spirit of doing just about anything, I started playing around last year with 1. e4 e6 2. c4 d5 3. ed ed 4. cd (diagram).

french5Position after 4. cd. Black to move.

FEN: rnbqkbnr/ppp2ppp/8/3P4/8/8/PP1P1PPP/RNBQKBNR b KQkq – 0 4

First, does anybody know if this variation has a name?

I  knew, of course, that White sometimes plays this way against the Caro-Kann, but I had never seen it in the French. Here are some of the reasons I felt that it was worth trying:

  1. Psychology. If there’s one thing a French player can count on, it’s having a pawn on d5. Not in this variation!
  2. Psychology. For my whole chess career, I’ve been afraid of playing isolated queen pawn positions. Here I’m committing myself to such a position on move four. Face your fears!
  3. Psychology. I’m a player who likes open lines. This variation should lead to positions with plenty of open lines.

Unfortunately, you can’t choose moves based on psychology alone. There also has to be some chess thought behind them. Like Mike Splane in my previous entry, I found what I think is a model game in this variation, the game Joel Benjamin – Paul van der Sterren from Munich 1994. I loved this game so much that I recorded a ChessLecture about it, called (if I remember correctly) “When Not to Think.”

The thing I loved about this game was that Benjamin played 20 obvious moves, none of which needed any tactical calculation at all. The first time he had to calculate anything was on move 21, when he played a piece sacrifice that won the game. Let’s see:

Benjamin – Van der Sterren

1. c4 e6 2. e4 d5 3. ed ed 4. cd Nf6 5. Bb5+ Nbd7 6. Nc3 Be7 7. d4 O-O 8. Nf3 Nb6 9. O-O Nbxd5 10. Re1 c6 11. Bc4 Be6 12. Bb3 h6 13. Ne5 Re8 14. Qf3 Bf8 15. Bd4 Nb4 16. Ne4 Nbd5 17. Ng3 Nd7 18. Rad1 Qc7 19. Nh5 f6 20. Ng6 Bd6?

french4Position after 20. … Bd6. White to move.

FEN: r3r1k1/ppqn2p1/2pbbpNp/3n3N/3P4/1B3Q2/PP1B1PPP/3RR1K1 w – – 0 21

Black’s last move was a mistake that gives White a winning combination. But even before 20. … Bb6, White was just about winning! I put the game on Rybka, and it rates the position as +1 pawn for White. And the only Black move that even does that well is 20. … Bf7, trying to trade off material. White’s best move is then 21. Qf5!, with the brutal plan of Nf4, Bc2, and Qh7+. Anyone would be happy with White’s attack here.

If Black had played, say, 20. … N7b6 instead of 20. … Bb6, White would have had a different sacrifice: 21. Bxh6! Black’s kingside pawns are exceptionally poorly placed: not only do they leave the light squares undefended, they are also (every one of them) targets for White’s pieces.

Is that enough of a hint for you to figure out White’s winning move? Benjamin played 21. Nxg7! ripping open Black’s pawn formation. Van der Sterren thrashed a little bit with 21. … Kxg7 22. Qh5 Bxh2+ 23. Kf1! Bf4 24. Nxf4 Nxf4 25. Bxf4 Qxf4 26. Bxe6, but even though material is even White is winning. Benjamin lifted a rook to g3 and van der Sterren had to give up his queen.

For those of you who’ve seen my ChessLecture, sorry about repeating myself, but I think it’s worth looking at the game a second time. White’s development was so natural. Bishops out, rooks to center, knight to e5, queen to f3, other knight to the kingside. And that isolated queen pawn that I was worried about? Not a factor.

I have played this variation twice now in tournament games, and I still haven’t reached a verdict. One was a win and one was a draw, but the results are a bit deceptive. In the win I thought I came out of the opening with little to no advantage, while in the draw I had a huge advantage and botched it. Neither player played van der Sterren’s 5. … Nbd7; one played 5. … Bd7 and the other opted to take a move earlier on d5 with 4. … Qxd5.

With the Two Knights variation and the Exchange variation and the Double Exchange variation (that’s what I’ll call this unless somebody can tell me a better name), it seems indeed that White has plenty of interesting offbeat methods against the French, and we haven’t even gotten to the main line of 2. d4 and 3. Nc3.

P.S. Some of you might have noticed that I have not recorded any ChessLectures yet this year. It wasn’t intentional at first, but I think I’m going to take a hiatus for a while. I’m expecting a very busy period of work in the next few months, and I don’t know if I can afford the time for the ChessLectures and the blog. But I’m not making any official announcements, because I’d like to be able to step right back into doing ChessLectures if I have the time and the creative muse to do it.

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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Brian Wall February 28, 2015 at 9:27 am

I call this variation the Pap Smer after its two most ardent 2500+ admirers/players/published authors in the system Misha Pap and David Smerdown.


Brian Wall February 28, 2015 at 9:36 am

Bill Weihmiller tried this ancient Steinitz line against me.
I studied it and started racking up dozens of wins.
My idea for White was Nb3, Be3, Kf2, h4, Bd3 and Bxh7+
The strange thing is that almost no Black did what they were supposed to
… Qb6, … Bb4+, Kf2 and then bring the pieces backwards – … Be7, … Qd8
Who wants to move backwards?

[Event “Poor Richard’s Restaurant May Round 5”]
[Site “Colorado Springs, CO”]
[Date “2007.05.30”]
[Round “5”]
[White “William Weihmiller”]
[Black “brianwall”]
[Result “1-0”]
[ICCResult “White resigns”]
[WhiteElo “1738”]
[BlackElo “2239”]
[Opening “French: Tarrasch, closed variation”]
[ECO “C05”]
[NIC “FR.16”]
[Time “18:07:42”]
[TimeControl “Game/90 5 second delay”]

1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nd2 Nf6 4. e5 Nfd7 5. f4 c5 6. c3 Nc6 7. Ngf3 cxd4 8.
cxd4 Qb6 9. Nb3 a5 10. a4 Bb4+ 11. Kf2 f6 12. Be3 O-O 13. Bd3 g5 14. g3 g4
15. Nh4 fxe5 16. Qxg4+ Kf7 17. dxe5 d4 18. Qh5+ Ke7 19. Qg5+ Ke8 20. Bxh7
dxe3+ 21. Kg2 Be7 22. Qg6+ Kd8 23. Qd3 Bxh4 24. gxh4 Rxf4 25. Rhe1 Nxe5 26.
Qxe3 Qxe3 27. Rxe3 Rxh4

0-1 Weihmiller resigns

[Event “Southern Colorado Open”]
[Site “Manitou Springs, El Paso Road”]
[Date “2007.06.09”]
[Round “1”]
[White “brianwall”]
[Black “Jacob Zax”]
[Result “1-0”]
[ICCResult “Black Checkmated”]
[WhiteElo “2237”]
[BlackElo “1687”]
[Opening “French: Tarrasch, closed variation”]
[ECO “C05”]
[NIC “FR.16”]
[Time “15:14:26”]
[TimeControl “Game/90 5 second delay”]

Southern Colorado Open
June 9, 2007
Round 1
Board 2
Game 90 5 second delay

White – Brian Wall

1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nd2 Nf6 4. e5 Nfd7 5. f4 c5 6. c3 Nc6 7. Ngf3 Qb6 8.
Nb3 cxd4 9. cxd4 Bb4+ 10. Kf2 O-O 11. Bd3 f6 12. Be3 fxe5 13. Bxh7+ Kxh7 14.
Ng5+ Kg6 15. Nxe6 Rxf4+ 16. Bxf4 exf4 17. Qg4+ Kf7 18. Ng5+ Kf6 19. Qxf4+
Kg6 20. Qf7+ Kh6 21. Ne6 Bf8 22. Nxf8 Nde5 23. Qf4+ g5 24. Qf6+ Kh5 25. Qh8+
Kg4 26. Qh3+ Kf4 27. Ng6+ Ke4 28. Rae1+ checkmate

dozens more examples at

also Joel Johnson usually puts 50 of my games in any of his books.


Brian Wall February 28, 2015 at 9:39 am

I played over all of Magnus Carlsen’s games and he would occasionally played 3 Bd3
as a child and later in blitz games. which seems very much in his style, creating no weaknesses and squeezing them later


Brian Wall February 28, 2015 at 9:47 am

What I like about 2 b3 is that you fight Black with her own weapons.
Usually White overextends in the center but with 2 b3 White invites Black to over extend in the center.


Brian Wall February 28, 2015 at 9:51 am

Just trying to give Dana more anti-French ideas.
just found out Dana did a video in 2013 on Brian Wall – Damian Nash which was also featured in Nov 2013 Chess Life’s What’s my Best Move feature.

This game is another Pap Smer,
promoting women’s health while kicking some French ass.
Justin is only 13 but already beat me 3 times and drew me twice.
Very talented.


Brian Wall February 28, 2015 at 9:55 am

always wanted to try 3 Be3 against the French.
Not a well played game but this is normal for me as I often try new stuff
with no analysis until afterwards.
keeps me fresh.


Jeremy Kane February 28, 2015 at 12:47 pm

This line was a favorite for me as a kid. I liked that French Defense players frequently took back on d5 with the queen, rather than waiting playing Nf6 and recapturing that way. This was my favorite game in the line, although I think that 6… Nb4 is very comfortable for black.:

[Event “Illinois Open”]
[Date “2003.09.01”]
[White “Jeremy Kane”]
[Black “Matt Cohn-Geier”]
[Result “1-0”]
[WhiteElo “1697”]
[BlackElo “1833”]

1. e4 e6 2. c4 d5 3. exd5 exd5 4. cxd5 Nf6 5. Nc3 Nxd5 6. Bc4 Nb6 7. Bb3 Be7 8.
d4 O-O 9. Nge2 c6 10. O-O N8d7 11. Re1 Nf6 12. Bg5 h6 13. Bf4 Nbd5 14. Nxd5
Nxd5 15. Qd3 Re8 16. Bc2 Nf6 17. Ng3 Be6 18. Nh5 g6 19. Rxe6 gxh5 20. Rxf6 Bxf6
21. Bxh6 1-0


Brian Wall March 1, 2015 at 8:22 am

The French Wing Gambit was my favorite for 15 years.
Dozens of examples at
I played this game while playing in the Colorado Closed at the same time.

I am glad Dana gave me two more ways to beat the French.
can’t wait.


Paul Bryan Porter March 2, 2015 at 11:04 am

As a French player I love for white to play this! The best response IMO is 4 … Nf6. There is no way for white to keep the Pawn. In fact white is losing a tempo to Black.

You ARE correct that psychologically this works well against French players if they only ever play the French. I came from playing the (Nf6 variation) of the Scandinavian before moving to the French. What you brought up is for me, in my mind, the last vestiges of the (2 … Nf6) Scandinavian in my game. The Big problem with the Scandinavian is the OBVIOUS 1 e4 d4 2 exd Qxd is 3 Nc6. I bring this up because one course of action after 1 e4 d4 2 exd is to throw in 2… Nf6. The point of this is to obviously to recapture the pawn without losing tempo. I eventually abandoned the Scandinavian for the French in part because ultimately, however grievously ugly, there is a way for white to hold on to the pawn. The original position in this post occurs in the Scandinavian after 1 e4 d5 2 c4 e6 3 exd exd 4 cxd . So when I see this opening from white my mind goes out of French mode into Scandinavian ALL OUT ATTACK MODE.

Having played this white responds with 5. Nf6. I know why they do this, they simply think its a logical response but Black then just picks up the pawn with 5. … Nxd4.

There are some of crazy responses after 4 … Nf6, like 5 Bc4 or 5 Qa4+. But I believe that the c pawn, now a d pawn, is ultimately lost with tempo. Please send your crazy response feedback after 4… Nf6

You are correct that this a good psychological trick if you know they ONLY play the French and don’t know the Scandinavian. Also this is a VERY good opening if you want to force a French player into an open game albeit at a loss of a tempo.



Paul Bryan Porter March 2, 2015 at 11:07 am

“OBVIOUS 1 e4 d4 2 exd Qxd is 3 Nc6” should be Nc3. You know I do proof read this stuff but don’t notice errors till I look at it AFTER I POSTED IT. LOL


Paul Bryan Porter March 2, 2015 at 11:10 am

“pawn with 5. … Nxd4.” should be “pawn with 5. … Nxd5” I should put these into a PGN viewer or something before I post them. I know I’m going to get Flame Trolled like I did last time. My apologies.



jon March 2, 2015 at 11:56 am

1.e4 e6 2.c4 d5 etc., is an interestiny way to face the French. This line is new to me. It is similiar to a line against the Caro Kan Defense: 1.e4 c6 2.c4 as long as black plays 2…d5 instead of 2….e5. I’m an older class B (1698 USCF) player, and have had some difficulty against the French. I had been playing the advance variation, and hoping for 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.c3 Nc6 5.Be3. This line had worked pretty well for me. I think that black often plays 4…Qb6 in order to avoid 5.Be3.

I’ve not played any Sicilian Defense lines, other than the Kan variation. But, I did have someone (in a friendly game) play 1.e4 c5 2.c4 against me.


Paul Bryan Porter March 2, 2015 at 9:51 pm

“First, does anybody know if this variation has a name?”

French: Steiner

Not to be confused with Steinitz


admin March 2, 2015 at 10:41 pm

Herman Steiner, I presume? He was a pretty decent player, even won a U.S. Open. But no Steinitz!


Paul Bryan Porter March 2, 2015 at 9:52 pm
Paul Bryan Porter March 2, 2015 at 10:16 pm

Small correction, 1. e4 e6 2. c4 is just the French: Steiner variation.

2. …, d5 3. exd5 exd5 4. cxd5 is the Orthoschnapp Gambit.

with 4. …, Nf6 you immediately transpose into B01 Scandinavian Icelandic Gambit

Some people recommend…

1. e4 e6 2. c4 d5 3. cxd5 exd5 4. Qb3

Which could be more of a psychological trick! (I believe the correct response for black is 4. …, dxe4)



Paul Bryan Porter March 2, 2015 at 10:22 pm

As a counter psychological trick black against the Orthoschnapp
black can play…

4. …,Qxd5 5. Nc3, Qa5



Paul Bryan Porter March 2, 2015 at 10:32 pm
Paul Bryan Porter March 2, 2015 at 10:50 pm

Hmmm… It looks like the Qb3 move is the sadistic variation your looking for, after
4 …,exd4 white can develop his Bishop to c4 and ignoring the black pawn on e4. Then black needs to develop Qe7 blocking in his dark square Bishop, apparently black can get in lot of trouble with the natural move Qf6 as I have linked from Then Nc3, Nf6 then a very Brian Wall, Limmengesque Nh3, Nd7 (now black has both bishops blocked in) then Ng5 putting tremendous pressure on the f7 pawn. Black Houdinis out of this with Nc5 and finally the whole carnival ride folds up like a cheep tent Qc2, Nd3+. White can’t take the Queen with the bishop as there is a discovered check on the white king and the white queen is lost. But any false step by black along the way and black can get into very bad trouble. And it just doesn’t feel natural to block in both bishops.



Mike Splane March 4, 2015 at 1:04 pm

I looked at this opening idea several months ago. The problem is that Black does not have to cooperate by playing 2 … d5 . After 1. e4 e6 2. c4 c5 what does White have in compensation for surrendering control of the d4 square? The website shows a slight advantage for Black (after 2 … c5) in their database statistics.


Paul Bryan Porter March 4, 2015 at 1:38 pm

Some people just want to use 1. e4 e6 2. c4 As a surprise attack.


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