FM Steve Stoyko on the French Defense
A group of us at the Kenilworth Chess Club, led by FM Steve Stoyko (above), decided to develop a Black repertoire around the French Defense. We chose the French since it makes a good fit with the 1.d4 d5 Black Repertoire that Steve lectured on last year. For one thing, it allows Black to play 1.d4 e6!? inviting the French, which some 1.d4 players may go into "on principle" without knowing the lines very deeply. Steve pointed out several other advantages to the French combined with 1.d4 d5, including the way it allows you to transpose to familiar lines from the Veresov (1.d4 d5 2.Nc3 e6!) and to stick it to Blackmar Diemer Gambit players (with 1.d4 d5 2.e4 e6!) There are also some similar structures between the two, including the IQP positions that can arise from both the Queen's Gambit Declined and from the Tarrasch French. So the combination of the French and 1.d4 d5 makes a lot of sense.
At our initial meeting (depicted above) we set forth some territory for discussion and picked a starting point, which will be some specific line of the Winawer. Steve said it was important when learning a new opening to start with your core line, since you have to have something complex that you are shooting for and that you know you can play for a win if necessary. Once you feel solid on that core line, you can add the peripheral ones.
Since we are still at the exploring stages, we decided to look first at one of the most fashionable lines, which is 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. e5 c5 5. a3 Bxc3+ 6. bxc3 Ne7 7. Qg4 O-O. This line was the subject of a fantastic German book a few years back titled Französisch Winawer (Chessgate 2001) by Stefan Kindermann and Ulrich Dirr, and is also well-covered in all French books that followed, including John Watson's 3rd Edition of Play the French. At our last meeting, we spent some time looking at the game Riordan-Hummel, US Amateur Team Championship 2006 by way of introduction to its main themes.
Riordan - Hummel, after 26.Bg4.
What is Black's thematic move?
Riordan - Hummel made a nice starting point since it not only featured some nice handling of the line by Black, but it also had some symbolic significance. After all, one of the goals of our work together is to improve our results at the US Teams next year, so it's nice to contemplate the Black side of the championship game....
The main game and Charbonneau-Pelletier (mentioned in the notes) also illustrate how players as White will go into these extremely sharp lines despite only having a hazy recollection of the theory. After all, even the most active players may only encounter the French a handful of times each year (unless they play it themselves), so it is not part of their first tier of preparation. Charbonneau admits as much in his blog Pascal's Thoughts, where he discusses his game, noting that he could not remember the theory on his opponent's move and so did not go into the sharpest line. And Riordan shows in his time-wasting Bishop moves that he was not certain where the Queen's Bishop best belonged.
After our discussion, Steve expressed some doubts about this line as a main choice in the Winawer, and so we will likely look at some more. Though I won't be able to share all of our analysis and ideas in the blog (you'd have to come to the club or play 1.e4 against one of us for that!), I will be giving some general coverage of the lines that our study group reviews.