(This is a lesson from the Chess Mastery Course, add your email in the box to the right to get future lessons! Also, you can download this lesson as a pdf from the downloads page).
(1) French – Winawer [C18]
Black is going to challenge White’s central pawn by playing d5. By playing e6 first, Black can recapture with a pawn (instead of the Queen) if White exchanges.
2.d4 d5 3.Nc3
developing a piece and protecting e4 [3.Nd2 is the Tarrasch variation, White blocks his Bishop but keeps c2-c3 as an option.; 3.e5 is the Advance variation]
by pinning the Knight, Black is again threatening e4.
the main line. White fixes Black’s pawn on e6, where it blocks his light-squared Bishop and gains space on the Kingside by restricting Black’s movement here, most clearly by taking away f6 for his Knight.
White’s central pawns must be challenged for Black to free up his position. If the d4 pawn is taken then e5 could become weak.
[5…Qa5?! 6.axb4! (6.Bd2 Bxc3 7.Bxc3 is also good for White) 6…Qxa1 7.Nb5 Na6 defending c7 (7…Kd8? 8.Bg5+) 8.Nd6+ Kf8 again, staying away from Bg5+ and protecting f7 9.Bxa6 Qxa6 and White will get a pawn for the exchange, a very powerful Knight and Black will have trouble getting his pieces into play, especially the h8 Rook. For example, 10.Qh5 g6 11.Qh4 Bd7 12.Qf4 Be8 13.Nf3 h6 14.dxc5! freeing d4 for the Knight;
5…Ba5 is a decent but less common continuation 6.b4! (Alekhine’s move )
6…cxd4 (6…cxb4 7.Nb5 bxa3+ 8.c3 helps White get a Bishop on a3 where it controls a key diagonal 8…Bc7? 9.Qg4 Ne7? 10.Qxg7 Rg8 11.Qxh7 and a3 will fall with White having a dream position.) 7.Nb5 Bc7 (7…Bb6 8.Nd6+) 8.f4 Bd7 9.Nxc7+ Qxc7 10.Nf3]
preparing for White’s next move [6…Qc7 7.Qg4 transposes with Ne7 as 7…cxd4? 8.Qxg7 Qxc3+ 9.Kd1 Qxa1 10.Qxh8 Kf8 11.Bd3 is winning for White, for example 11…Nc6 12.Nf3 Bd7 13.Ke2! Qc3 14.Bh6+ Ke7 15.Bg5+ Kf8 16.Bf6 Nce7 17.Ng5]
This is our starting position. White is taking advantage of the exchange of Black’s dark-squared Bishop by attacking the undefended g7 pawn. Playing g7-g6 isn’t an option for Black as it would leave holes on the dark squares f6/g7/h6 that cannot be defended. Eg, 7…g6 8. Bg5.
7…Ng6 isn’t a good idea either as White will play 8. h4 and if 8… h5 then 9. Qg3 followed by 10. Bd3 and White is going to win a pawn on g6.
This leaves 2 ideas for Black, defend the pawn by castling or give up the pawn for quick development. Both are perfectly playable.
1) Black castles
In this line, Black positions his King on the side where White is strongest and subjects himself to attack. White can advance the h-pawn and lift the Rook to h3 and bring his Bishop and Knight to d3 and f3 respectively.
To combat this, Black will open the f-file (and remove the limiting e5 pawn) with …f6 or …f5 and either play …c4 to keep the Bishop from d3 or exchange …cxd4 and attack the centre.
If White’s centre falls, he can find himself over-run. Note that after the e5 pawn has been exchanged on f6, Black can play …e5 with a discovered attack on the Queen. This is an important break for Black in the French.
immediately taking aim at the King position [8.Nf3 is also played but this is less accurate as the Queen and Bishop can combine to threaten h7 and gain tempo]
[8…Qa5 is sometimes played with the plan of keeping White occupied by attacking the Queenside. This results in a careful balance on both sides of the board between attack and defence.]
[9.Qh5!? is another attacking option 9…Ng6 10.Nf3]
blocking the Bishop’s sight of h7, giving the King an escape square on f7 and opening up the f-file for Black’s own kingside attacks. [Black is lost after the natural looking 9…Bd7?? 10.Bxh7+!]
10.exf6 Rxf6 11.Qh5
getting away from the Bc8’s aim with tempo [11.Bg5 e5! 12.Qh4 (12.Qg3 Rxf3! 13.gxf3 c4 14.Be2 Qa5 15.Bd2 Nf5 16.Qg2 exd4 17.cxd4 c3 18.Be3) 12…e4 13.Bxf6 gxf6 14.Qxf6 exd3 15.cxd3; 11.Bxh7+ no longer works 11…Kxh7 12.Ng5+ Kg8 13.Qh5 Nf5]
11…h6 [or 11…g6]
Black may play to activate his Bishop via d7 and e8 to g6 after getting White’s Bishop off d3 with …c4 and push for …e5.
2) Black gambits the g7 pawn
Black gives up a pawn and has his Kingside destroyed, giving White a passed h-pawn as well. In return, he will be able to develop quickly and use the open files for his own attack. The King will be quite safe castling Queenside surrounded by its own pieces and with White finding it difficult to use the c-file. Black has his own immediate threats too, as there will soon be an attack by the Queen on c2 and c3.
8.Qxg7 Rg8 9.Qxh7 cxd4 10.Ne2!
protecting c3 (10.Kd1 is also good; 10.cxd4? Qc3+ wins the Rook)
(not 11.cxd4? Nxd4! 12.Nxd4? Qc3+)
preparing to castle, there is no need to capture on c3 straight away
returning the Queen to the action and threatening to take on d4
there are a few continuations here including capturing on c3 with either the Knight or Queen or playing Rb1, stopping Qb6 controlling the b-file and putting pressure on e3 after Nf5.
White’s plans will include playing g4 (after h3 or Rg1) to keep a Knight out of f5, develop his Bishops to d3 and e3 to control many squares and push the h-pawn later on.
Black, for his part, might castle Queenside, look to play …f6 (note that if f4 is left undefended, f6 can be played even unsupported as exf6 will be met by Qxf4), use the Rooks to pressure on the open c-, g- and h-files (after 0-0-0, Black often plays Kb8 and Rc8 – it’s better to take the extra moves and have the Rooks connected than just play Rc8 without castling) and cramp White’s position with Nf5 and a timely …d4.]