Your First Defence Against 1. e4

When playing as black, the most common move you will face is 1. e4. It is therefore essential, that you have a strong defence prepared against 1. e4 openings. What I am going to recommend for your first opening repertoire, is a simple and effective way to play. I am going to recommend the French defence.

  1. e4 e6 (figure 1)
French #1
figure 1

At first, you might be thinking that this move seems like a small move, perhaps inferior to 1…, e5 because it does not advance as far. However, it is not always best to advance your pawns the maximum advancement just because you can.

‘Pawns can only move forwards, so every pawn move creates a weakness, since the moved pawn cannot cover the ground behind him again.’

The most common continuation, and you will face this in almost all of your games is 2. d4 taking control of the centre. The best way to continue is 2…, d5 (figure 2) striking back, even at this early stage – which rings true to the idea of the French defence – to counterattack.

French #2
figure 2

From the position in figure 2, there are a number of different variations, which all need to be considered. In future posts we will have a look at:

  • 1. 2. e5 – The advance variation – A simple way to play, releasing the tension.
  • 2. 2. exd5 – The exchange variation – A popular move at club level.
  • 3. 2. Nc3 – Depending on how black continues, it could become a Winawer French or a Classical French.
  • 4. 2. Nd2 – The Tarrasch variation.

But first, it is important to understand the ideas behind the moves rather than the actual moves themselves. When you develop a deep understanding about why you should play certain moves, you will become a much stronger player.

Let`s look back at our opening principles:

Goals of the Opening

  1. Develop your pieces.
  2. Gain Strong central control.
  3. Find a safe place for your king – often by castling.
  4. Gain a solid pawn structure – with few or no weaknesses.

In the French defence, your minor pieces are usually developed reasonably, but it is often the case that your bishop on c8 is a bad piece (see figure 3), because it is locked in behind your pawn chain, but this lack of mobility does not have to be a permanent feature of your game, you can often release your bishop into play via the manoeuvre Bd7-Be8-Bh5. (I will come back to this idea in the Intermediate series).

French defence bad bishop
figure 3 – The c8 ‘French bishop’ is a bad piece, because it is hemmed in behind the pawns (on red squares).

In terms of the central control. Black normally concedes some space in the centre, with the idea of striking back at a later stage in the game. A typical example of this is when you allow white to play e5, because as black you counterattack with c5, which tries to undermine the roots of the pawn chain. Normally, in an attempt to keep things in tact, black will respond with c3. (see figure 4)

undermine pawn chain
figure 4 – Undermining the pawn chain with c5.

Normally in the French defence, you will castle your king on the kingside, and attack on the queenside. Your king will normally be quite safe there, but you should be aware that white`s light squared bishop on d3 can be dangerous pointing towards h7 and your king`s position. There have been occasions where I have castled on the queenside, because that area of the board has become closed, thus making it a safe haven for your king.

In the following posts, I will provide some specific variations…

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