The French Defence for Beginners I: Key Ideas

Consider the French defence pawn formation in the diagram. You can sort of 'feel' that White should be attacking on the K-side, and Black on the Q-side. That's where they each have more space, and can organise their attacks better. Nimzovitch taught that these 'pawn chains' should be attacked at the base - in this case, at d4 and e6. White will aim for the pawn break f2-f4-f5; Black with ...c7-c5 and/or ...b7-b5-b4.



So In the line after 1 e4, e5; 2 d4, d5; 3 e5 we see 3...c5, attacking the base. The immediate reply 4.c3 by White transfers the base, and therefore the focus of the attack, to c3. Black can push past with ...c4 and go for ....b5-b4, or exchange on d4 with ....cxd4,cxd4 which brings the base one step mearer again, at cost of relieving some tension. There can follow 4...Nc6; 5 Nf3, Qb6. now the natural 6.Bd3 leaves the d-pawn exposed (although you can play it as a gambit), and a logical sequence is: 6 Be2, cxd4; 7 cxd4, Bb4+ 8 Kf1 since 8. Bd2 risks 8...Nxd4. Nowadays we are less rigid about these things: for example, White need not sit back on the Q-side, and instead often plays 6.a3 threatening b4, and experience has shown that this is not an idle threat. Black usually moves one more step down the chain with 6...c4, but a playable alternative is 6...f6!?, attacking the head and not the base. Admittedly after 7 exf6 Black's e-pawn is a bit sickly, but for the moment White is in no position to attack it.

  The most important feature of positions shown in the first diagram is not itself actually shown: this is the Black light-squared (Queen's) Bishop. Stuck behind the pawn on e6, it will play little role in the game for a while. This feature led Bob Wade to coin the line 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 c5 4. c3 Qb6 planning ...Bd7 and ...Bb5. Recently there has been a small fashion for 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Bd7!? idea ...Bc6. More commonly Black will play ...b6 and ....Ba6 to secure the exchange (see Hubner-Larsen), but often as not Black just carries this piece as a slight liability on d7, waiting for its chances after ...e5 or in an endgame when it might reappear on b5.


White's chances on the King's-side

The King's-side attack is mainly seen in the middlegame. There are genuine chances here for White, particularly if there are other factors favouring the attack. For example, in the Alekhine-Chatard attack White sacrifices a pawn: 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Bg5 Be7 5. e5 Nfd7 6. h4!? for an open h-file and attacking chances, or in another line Nimzovitch invented 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 c5 4. Qg4!?, giving up the d-pawn but intending to base an attack on the wedge at e5, when Black's usual Queen's-side attack has no natural outlet. There are many attractive miniatures where White's attack crashes through in these lines. However, Black players with a little knowledge of these lines can avoid the worst dangers, and so White usually plays more slowly.

White's chances on the K-side: Pillsbury - Lasker (Nuremberg, 1896)

1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. e5 Nfd7 5. f4 c5 6. dxc5 Nc6 7. a3 Nxc5 8. b4 Nd7 9. Bd3 a5 10. b5 Ncb8 11. Nf3 Nc5 12. Be3 Nbd7 13. O-O g6 14. Ne2 Be7 15. Qe1 Nb6 16. Nfd4



Despite the weak c-pawn, White is well placed here: Black cannot quickly organise a Queen's-side attack while the White Bishops are nicely placed to influence events on both sides. The Black King cannot comfortable castle ...O-O with the holes all over the defences there.

16... Bd7 17. Qf2 Nba4 18. Rab1 h5 19. b6 Nxd3 20. cxd3 Bxa3 21. f5



Just as Black is getting somewhere on the Queen's-side we have a classic Pillsbury breakthrough. This is a vacating sacrifice to allow the Ne2 to move up into firing position, hoping to catch the Black King in the centre.

21... gxf5 22. Nf4 h4 23. Ra1 Be7 24. Rxa4

  A deflecting sacrifice, pulling the Bd7 away from the support of e6.

24...Bxa4 25. Nfxe6 fxe6 26. Nxe6 Bd7 27. Nxd8 Rxd8



The Queen rather than the King was caught!

  The attack has thus resulted in a small material advantage (Q v. RB) which White converts with continued vigour.

28. Bc5 Rc8 29. Bxe7 Kxe7 30. Qe3 Rc6 31. Qg5+ Kf7 32. Rc1 Rxc1+ 33. Qxc1 Rc8 34. Qe1 h3 35. gxh3 Rg8+ 36. Kf2 a4 37. Qb4 Rg6 38. Kf3 1-0


Black's chances on the Queen's-side

Just as White can hope for good things on the King's-side, Black has opportunities on the other side of the board.

Black's Queen's-side attack: Neumann - Tranmer, Manchester, 1950

1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Bg5 Bb4

  The sharp MacCutcheon Variation.

5. e5 h6 6. Bd2 Bxc3 7. bxc3 Ne4 8. Bd3 Nxd2 9. Qxd2 c5 10. dxc5 Qc7 11. Qe3 O-O 12. Ne2 Nd7 13. f4 Nxc5 14. O-O Bd7 15. Rf3 Rac8 16. Rh3 f5 17. Qd4 Rf7 18. c4 dxc4 19. Bxc4 Be8 20. Qe3 b5 21. Bb3 Re7 22. Nd4 Kh7 23. Qe2 Qb6



White's energetic start has not given him anything concrete. Meanwhile, Black has ample opportunities on the Queen's-side, with a sickly pawn on c2 to lean on.

24. Kh1 Ne4 25. Rd3 a5 26. a3 Bf7 27. Qe3 Qc5 28. Rf1 a4 29. Ba2 Nc3

  The point immediately in front of an isolated pawn is a great outpost for a Knight. The Bishop retreats, but soon wishes it had a 0-th rank to retire further.

30. Bb1 Rec7 31. Qc1



31... b4 32. Rff3 Qa5 33. Qb2 bxa3 34. Qa1 Qb4 35. Ba2

[35. Rf1 Qb2 36. Qxb2 axb2 and ...a4-a3-a2]

35... Nxa2 36. Qxa2 Qe1+ 0-1


The bad Black light-squared Bishop and the bad endgame for Black

Everyone (Stean, Harding, Taulbut...) quotes this game: Tarrasch gives a beautifully clear example of what can go wrong for Black with the bad light-squared Bishop in the endgame. All the other pieces come off, and Black cannot stop an invasion of the White King on the dark squares.

[Why does everybody quote this game? Laziness? Or is it that it's not so easy to do for White? Or that Black players now see it coming and avoid it?]

Black's bad bishop and the bad Black endgame: Tarrasch,S - Teichmann,R (14) [C14] (San Sebastian, 1912)

1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Bg5 Be7 5. e5 Nfd7 6. Bxe7 Qxe7 7. Qd2 O-O 8. f4 c5 9. Nf3 Nc6 10. g3 a6 11. Bg2 b5 12. O-O cxd4 13. Nxd4 Nxd4 14. Qxd4 Qc5 15. Qxc5 Nxc5



The Queens have come off leaving a bad Black Bishop. White has potential control of the d4 point and would ideally like to get rid of the Black Knight for his own Knight or Bishop, so that he can occupy d4 unchallenged.

16. Ne2 Bd7 17. Nd4 Rac8 18. Kf2 Rc7 19. Ke3 Re8 20. Rf2 Nb7 21. Bf1 Na5 22. b3 h6 23. Bd3 Nc6 24. Nxc6 Bxc6 25. Kd4



The moment the Black Knight disappears the King moves up into position.

25... Bd7 26. g4 Bc8 27. h4 g6 28. Rh1 Kg7 29. h5 Rh8 30. Rfh2 Bd7 31. g5 hxg5 32. fxg5 Rxh5 33. Rxh5 gxh5 34. Rxh5



White has used the extra space and good Bishop to make some progress on the King's-side. This progress consists of open lines, and Black cannot easily oppose Rooks on the h-file because the White King would immediately barge in through the unlocked door at c5.

34... Kf8 35. Rh8+ Ke7



White is two pieces up on the King's-side.

36. g6 fxg6 37. Bxg6 b4 38. Rh7+ Kd8 39. Bd3 Rc3 40. a3 a5 41. Rh8+ Ke7 42. Ra8 1-0


The good endgame for Black

If White's King's-side initiative dies down, which it often will with an exchange of Queens, White may be left facing a persistent Queen's-side attack from Black (after all, not trying for mate, the Q exchange need not affect its force) and perhaps over-exposed pawns.

  Here is a well known example.

Fischer,R - Petrosian,T [C12] Curacao ct, 1962

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 Bb4 5.e5 h6 6.Bd2 Bxc3 7.Bxc3 Ne4 8.Ba5 0-0 9.Bd3 Nc6 10.Bc3

  White has got nothing from his Bishop excursions.

10...Nxc3 11.bxc3 f6 12.f4 fxe5 13.fxe5 Ne7 14.Nf3 c5 15.0-0 Qa5 16.Qe1 Bd7 17.c4 Qxe1 18.Rfxe1 dxc4 19.Be4 cxd4 20.Bxb7 Rab8 21.Ba6 Rb4



After the exchange of Queens there is still an initiative (and for the moment a pawn) for Black. White successfully fends off the first wave...

22.Rad1 d3 23.cxd3 cxd3 24.Rxd3 Bc6 25.Rd4 Rxd4 26.Nxd4 Bd5 27.a4 Rf4



But the defence has left White passive an uncoordinated. Black manoevres skilfully to weave a win.

28.Rd1 Ng6 29.Bc8 Kf7 30.a5 Nxe5 31.a6 Rg4 32.Rd2 Nc4 33.Rf2+ Ke7 34.Nb5 Nd6 35.Nxd6 Kxd6 36.Bb7 Bxb7 37.axb7 Kc7 38.h3 Rg5 39.Rb2 Kb8 40.Kf2 Rd5 41.Ke3 Rd7 42.Ke4 Rxb7 43.Rf2 0-1


French pawn formations

Fine gives a helpful analysis of possible pawn formations which might arise from the French.  With a sensible distribution of pieces, we might expect

A : The hanging centre (=/+=)



This is best for Black. It is also the most common and important type of centre. The e-pawn is weak but White cannot easily attack the K-side because of the need to prevent ...e5. In most French games Black can keep White worrying about enough other things on the board to stop White making much use of theoretical advantages.

  An actual example:

1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5

  This is the classic French conjuring trick with the White pawn centre.

3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Bg5 Be7 5. e5 Nfd7 6. Bxe7 Qxe7 7. f4 O-O

  Now you see it...

8. Nf3 c5 9. Bd3 f5 10. exf6 Rxf6 11. Qd2 Nc6 12. dxc5 Nxc5



...Now you don't! Without the f-pawn White risks being rolled over. Even with the f-pawn White must still pay constant attention to Black possibilities of an ...e5 break, so much so that White may undertake little elsewhere on the board.

  Another example:

3. Nd2 Nf6 4. e5 Nfd7 5. Bd3 c5 6. c3 Nc6 7. Ne2 cxd4 8. cxd4

  White can count this exchange a partial relief.

8...Qb6 9. Nf3 f6 10. exf6 Nxf6 11. O-O Bd6 12. Nc3 O-O 13. Re1 Bd7



This formation is more favourable to White, but look at the pieces! White has spent so much time carefully arranging the pawns and Knights that the Black pieces have had time to come to very good squares. The proud White d-pawn is under some pressure (not lots of pressure yet because of the Bxh7+ trick), the White Queen's-side is no more developed now than at move three, and Black can eye up a few stray White pawns (b2, d4, f2). The position possibly is slightly more favourable to White, but in practical play the conversion to a full point is a long hard struggle in which Black has good chances to win, since if ...e5 does ever come the d-pawn will be passed.

White's chances with a hanging centre: Nimzovitch - Salwe (Carlsbad, 1911)

1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 c5 4. c3 Nc6 5. Nf3 Qb6 6. Bd3 Bd7 7. dxc5 Bxc5 8. O-O f6 9. b4 Be7 10. Bf4 fxe5 11. Nxe5 Nxe5 12. Bxe5



This is the hanging centre in the worst form for Black: White has a through blockade.

12... Nf6 13. Nd2 O-O 14. Nf3 Bd6 15. Qe2 Rac8 16. Bd4 Qc7 17. Ne5 Be8 18. Rae1 Bxe5 19. Bxe5 Qc6 20. Bd4 Bd7 21. Qc2 Rf7 22. Re3 b6



White has maintained the restraint of the pawns, and has pointed his Bishops at the Black King.

23. Rg3 Kh8 24. Bxh7

  White is now a pawn up, and exchanges down to a won ending.

24...e5 25. Bg6 Re7 26. Re1 Qd6 27. Be3 d4 28. Bg5 Rxc3 29. Rxc3 dxc3 30. Qxc3 Kg8 31. a3 Kf8 32. Bh4 Be8 33. Bf5 Qd4 34. Qxd4 exd4 35. Rxe7 Kxe7 36. Bd3 Kd6 37. Bxf6 gxf6



38. h4 1-0


Black's chances with the hanging centre: Van Scheltinga - Van der Tol [C02] , 1946

1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 c5 4. dxc5 Nc6 5. Nf3 Bxc5 6. Bd3 f5 7. exf6 Nxf6 8. O-O O-O 9. c4 e5



The centre begins to roll... the central pawns are exposed, so Black needs to play sharply (i.e. vigorously and accurately). That's just what he does!

10. cxd5 e4! 11. dxc6 Qxd3 12. Qxd3 exd3 13. Ne5

  White really needs to get a few more reserves into action.

[13. Nc3 bxc6 14. Na4 Bd6 15. Be3 <=>/=+]

13... bxc6 14. Nxd3 Bd4 15. Be3

[15. Nc3 Ba6 16. Rd1 Rad8 17. Ne2 Bxd3 18. Rxd3 Bxf2+]

15... Bxe3 16. fxe3 Ba6 17. Rd1 Rad8 18. Nf2 Rxd1+ 19. Nxd1 Ne4 20. Nf2 Nxf2 0-1


B : The c5 lever only (+=)


White can exchange dxc4 and aim to put a N on d4: this is better for White in the middlegame (ideas of f5) and the endgame (good N vs. bad Bc8)

White's chances with only the ...c5 lever: Tarrasch - Noa (Hamburg, 1885)

1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. e5 Nfd7 5. Nce2 c5 6. c3 Nc6 7. f4 cxd4 8. cxd4 Bb4+ 9. Bd2 Qb6 10. Nf3 O-O 11. Bxb4 Qxb4+ 12. Qd2 Nb6 13. Nc3 Rd8 14. Nb5 Bd7 15. Nd6 Rab8 16. Rc1 Qxd2+ 17. Kxd2 Nc8 18. Nb5 a6 19. Nc3 N8e7 20. Bd3 Rbc8 21. b3 Nb4 22. a3 Nbc6 23. b4 h6 24. h4 Nb8 25. Ke3 Rc7 26. Rc2 Rdc8 27. Rhc1 Kf8 28. g4 Be8 29. Nd2 Nd7 30. Nb3 Nb6 31. Nc5



After a long first act we see the c-file being hotly contested with an additional two plus points for White: the outpost on c5 and the initiative on the King's-side. At this point Black snaps and concedes a pawn for some chances to re-arrange his defences.

31... Nc4+ 32. Bxc4 dxc4 33. N5e4 b5 34. Nd6 Rb8 35. f5 Bd7 36. Rf2 Nd5+ 37. Nxd5 exd5

  White has exhanged all but Black's least useful minor piece.

38. g5 h5 39. Rcf1 Kg8 40. g6



The exchanges have left the Queen's-side blocked while the King's-side pawns keep rolling along... This push wins an outpost on f7(!).

40... f6 41. Re2 Bc6 42. Rfe1 Rd8 43. Kf4 fxe5+ 44. Rxe5



White now has the e-file all to himself, and Black cannot strike down the impudent Knight because of the back rank mate. Black tries to contest the e-file...

44... Kf8 45. Nf7 Re8 46. Ng5 Rce7 47. Nh7+ 1-0


C : The f6 lever only (+=)


White can exchange exf6 and restrain the e-pawn: this usually signals a good middle-game for White and a better ending.

Example with only the ...f6 lever: Hubner - Larsen (2) [C04] Montreal Intl, 1979

1. d4 e6 2. e4 d5 3. Nd2 Nc6 4. Ngf3 Nf6 5. e5 Nd7 6. Nb3 a5 7. a4!? b6 8. c3 Be7 9. Bd3 Ba6 10. Bxa6 Rxa6

  After the exchange of the bad light-squared Bishop, Black can look forward to reasonable chances in the middlegame.

11. O-O Ra8 12. Re1 Nf8 13. Nbd2 Ng6 14. Nf1 Qd7 15. Qe2 O-O 16. Ng3 Rae8 17. Nh5 f6



18. Nf4 Nxf4 19. Bxf4 f5

  (= Taulbut) After some inaccuracies bu both sides, White steers home a win, but at this point chances are probably about equal.

20. Reb1 Ra8 21. Qb5 Rfc8 22. Bg5 Bf8 23. Bd2 h6 24. b4 g5 ?! 25. h4 g4 26. Ne1 Qe8 27. Qd3 axb4 28. cxb4 Ra7 29. Bc3 Rca8 30. Qd1 Nd8 31. b5 c5 ?! 32. dxc5 Bxc5 33. Nd3 Nb7 34. g3 d4 ?! 35. Bd2 Bf8 36. Qb3 ?! 36... Rc8 37. Rc1 Raa8 38. Ra2 Rxc1+ 39. Bxc1 Na5 40. Qd1 Rc8 41. Rc2 Rc3 ?! 42. Rxc3 dxc3 43. Qc2 Qc8 44. Be3



44... Qc4 45. Bxb6 Nb3 46. Be3 Na1 47. Qe2 Qxa4 48. b6 Nb3 49. Qc2 Qc4 50. Qa2 Qd5 51. Nf4 Qd1+ 52. Kh2 c2 53. Qxb3 1-0


D : Two open files (+/-)


This is poor timing: both ...f6 and ...c5 have been tried but the White centre is stronger than ever, and will be unhindered by the need to defend a tense centre. A good middlegame for White but only a slightly better ending.

White's chances with two open files: Watson - Short (Brighton, 1983)

1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nd2 Nf6 4. e5 Nfd7 5. f4 c5 6. c3 Nc6 7. Ndf3 Qb6



8. g3 cxd4 9. cxd4 Bb4+ 10. Kf2 g5 11. Be3 f6 12. Bh3 gxf4 13. gxf4 fxe5 14. fxe5 Rf8



There is no pawn tension in the centre now. Both Kings are a little exposed, but what matters is getting men into the box.

15. Ne2 Be7 16. Qd2 Ndb8 17. Rhf1 Na6 18. Kg2 Bd7 19. Ng5



White's Knight parachutes in. Of course, ...Bxg5 removes the intruder but at cost of cenceding the dark squares.

19... Rg8 20. Kh1 Na5 21. b3 Rg7



White spies loose piece on a5.

22. Bxe6 Bxe6 23. Nxe6 Qxe6 24. Qxa5 1-0

  A pawn down with the King still stuck in the middle, Nosher had seen enough.


E : No pawn levers (+-)


White's game at its best: a built-in King's side attack with f4 and even g4 is unhindered by the need to defend the centre, and Black's pieces have very little room, and no counterplay to slow up White's attack. I actually couldn't find an example of this, but some of Black's problems are illustrated in the following early game in the Tarrasch Variation by its founder.

Tarrasch - Eckart [C05] Nuremberg, 1889

1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nd2



This distinctly unclassical move has been a major line ever since: it avoids the ...Bb4 pin, allows c2-c3 reinforcing the d-pawn, and has a mind to go later to f3, while the Ng1 goes via e2 to f4 or g3. 3... Nf6

4. e5 Nfd7 5. Bd3 c5 6. c3 Nc6 7. Ne2 Qb6 8. Nf3 Be7

  This is now recognised as too slow.

9. O-O O-O 10. Nf4 Nd8 11. Qc2



Black's king is in the firing line with little support. This is the sort of fierce initiative Black can be faced with if no counterplay is forthcoming. Now Black is obliged to move the f-pawn.

11... f5 12. exf6 Nxf6 13. Ng5



Black must make some concession on the King's-side

13... g6 14. Bxg6

  In such positions, this sacrifice is a matter of technique more than imagination.

14... hxg6 15. Qxg6+ Kh8 16. Qh6+ Kg8 17. Ng6 1-0



The gang of thuggish White pieces cannot be stopped.

F : The isolated Queen's Pawn (+=)

Typically this arises through the Tarrasch Variation, as Karpov and Korchnoi battled on through their 1974 match, e.g. game 16:

1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nd2 c5 4. exd5 exd5 5. Ngf3 Nc6 6. Bb5 Bd6 7. O-O cxd4 8. Nb3 Nge7 9. bxd4 O-O 10. c3 Bg4 11. Qa4 Qd7 ...etc.

  Karpov repeatedly showed that Black labours under a disadvantage in this line, and Korchnoi repeatedly showed that it was possible to draw with the IQP. The IQP is associated with possibilities for a Knight outpost on e4 and chances for a King's-side attack, as in this striking game:

Tatai-Korchnoi, Beersheva 1978

1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. exd5 exd5 4. Bd3 c5 5. Nf3 Nc6 6. Qe2+ Be7 7. dxc5 Nf6 8. h3 O-O DIAGRAM



Having played h3, White now castles under it.

9. O-O Bxc5 10. c3 Re8 11. Qc2 Qd6 12. Nbd2 DIAGRAM




The weakness created by h3 now meets swift punishment.

12...Qg3 13. Bf5 Re2 14. Nd4 Nxd4 0-1

(resigns, because 14... Nxd4 15. cxd4 Bxd4 16. Bxc8 Rxf2 and Black will soon mate)


G : The Winawer Formation (=/+=)


White has prospects of a King's-side attack with f4-f5, but Black's attack on the c-pawns can be certain of opportunities. The big structural disadvantage for Black is the lack of the Bf8, creating possibilities of a dark-square campaign. Black should castle Queen's-side, if at all.

Blacks chances in the Winawer: Tolush - Botvinnik (Ussr Ch'p, 1945)

1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. e5 c5 5. a3 Bxc3+ 6. bxc3



The basic Winawer start. White can play Qg4 or more slowly:

6... Ne7 7. Nf3 Qa5 8. Bd2 c4 9. a4 Nd7 10. Be2 Nb6



White is passive and Black has already rounded up a Queen's-side pawn.

11. O-O Nxa4 12. Nh4 Ng6 13. Nxg6 hxg6

  The open h-file will be important later. Black has potential initiatives on both sides.

14. Re1 Bd7 15. Bf1 b5 16. Qf3 Rb8 17. Reb1 Qc7 18. Bc1 a5



Black's Queen's-side advance rolls.

19. Ba3 Rb6 20. Qg3 Qd8 21. Bd6



This is the problem with the Winawer: you may get a Bishop stuck in your throat. Here Black sacrifices the exchange, confident he has enough going for him on the Q-side, which the Bishop was holding up!

21... Rxd6 22. exd6 Bc6 23. h3 Kd7 24. Re1 Qh4 25. Qe5 Qf6 26. Qg3 Rh4 27. Re3 Rf4 28. Be2 Qh4 29. Bf3 b4



White is hanging on grimly.

30. Qxh4 Rxh4 31. g3 Rh8 32. cxb4 axb4 33. Rb1 Rb8 34. h4 Rb7 35. Kh2 Kxd6 36. g4 Nc3 37. Ra1 Nb5 38. Rd1 Ra7 39. h5 g5 40. Kg2 Ra2 0-1


Exeter Chess Club: H: The French `Little' Centre

Peter Lane, 11th October 1996

The prime example of this formation arises in the Tarrasch Variation, as a means of avoiding the isolated queen's pawn.

1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nd2 c5 4. exd5 Qxd5 5. Ngf3 cxd4 6. Bc4 Qd6 7. O-O Nf6 8. Nb3 Nc6 9. Nbxd4 Nxd4 10. Nxd4 a6




Black loses time with his queen (...Qc7 will be her third move) to obtain a better pawn formation for the endgame. In fact, the position looks more like a Sicilian, with ...a6 and ...b5, ...Bb7, ...Rc8 to come. And, as in a Sicilian, White's lead in development can turn into a nasty attack.

  eg: after 11. Re1 Qc7 12. Bb3 Bd6 13. Nf5! Bxh2+ 14. Kh1 Kf8 15. g3 threatening Bf4-d6, but Black does have a pawn.

  If the game is less sharp, Black will hope to gain a little time off the white bishop and develop for the endgame. All is not peace and tranquillity though, and a careless White can fall badly.

  e.g.: from the diagram

S. Gilmour vs. P.C. Lane (Maidenhead, 1992)

11. c3 Qc7 12. Qe2 Bd6 13. g3? e5! 14. f4? Bg4!

  and wins a piece, as the queen is overloaded, pinning the e-pawn (so it cannot take the knight) and defending a bishop.

15. Nf3 e4 16. Bd3 O-O 17. Bxe4 Rae8 (perfect timing!)

  and black won comfortably a little later. This line is interesting in proving that the e-pawn may move, if the Bishop on c8 spies a light square weakness.

  Assuming that Black can survive, what sort of endgame are we looking at? The pattern is simple: The sole central pawn on e6 acts as a buffer to white attacks, and provides a support on d5 for a knight. The half open c-file and the minority attack generate a comfortable initiative on the queen side for black. We can see this in action in the game

L.Vogt vs U.Andersson (Havana, 1975)



This position derived from a Sicilian, but illustrates the theme in an easy to understand example of the minority attack.

1. Ba7 Ra8 2. Bb6 Bb7 3. a3 Rfc8

  White may own the d-file, but black's minor pieces keep the rooks out, and now the knight on c3 is pinned to the c2-pawn, and ...Bxa3 is threatened! ``Half-open files do not need entry points. They naturally generate pressure.'' (Stean)

4. Ba5 g6 5. h3? (weakening) 5...h5 6. Bf3 Bxf3 7. Rxf3 h4!

  suddenly the aggressive f-pawn is looking lonely.

8. Rd2 Rc4 9. b3 (forced, else ...Rac8...Nh5xf4) 9...Rc6 10. a4 b4 11. Ne2 Rac8 12. c4 bxc3 13. Rxc3 Nd5 14. Rxc6 Rxc6

  The finish of this game is given in Stean's Simple Chess, with further notes on the minority attack in general. Black wins by manoeuvring against the two weaknesses. My games are not so well controlled, but black has ongoing play, and can often gain the full point merely by planting a knight on d5 and pushing the pawns down the right.

  These lines are used further in the Rubinstein lines, 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 dxe4 though ...c5 can be harder to achieve. But for those wanting to shock the Exchange-players, and to prove a missing d-pawn does not imply a dull endgame, there is:

1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. exd5 Qxd5 4. Nc3 Bb4 5. Nf3 Nf6 6. Bd3 Ne4 7. O-O Nxc3 8. bxc3 Bxc3

  for his pawn white has a lead in development, and that queen is still exposed, the books give Kotkov vs. Bukhman, 1966 (by transposition)

9. Rb1 Nc6 10. Rb5 Qd6 11. Be3 Nb4 12. Ng5 c6 13. Ne4 Qd8 14.Qg4 Kf8 15. Rg5




which is supposedly in white's favour

  but 15...f5 16. Qg3 fxe4 17. Rxg7 Qf6! wins

  or 16. Qf3 Bxd4 and the Black-side holds, so I find this unclear at worst.

  This last line highlights the basic strengths of the Black position. After the queen recapture, White has to gambit a pawn in order to gain an initiative, else Black develops comfortably, and patiently waits to begin his minority attack...