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Consider the following beginning, quite typical of the advance variation of the French defense:

[fen ""]

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.c3 Nc6 5.Nf3 Qb6 6.a3

On what I have seen on the web, the recommended black's next moves are 6. ... Nh6, or 6. ... Bd7. But what about 6. ... f6 ? Lately this has been played regularly against me with the white pieces, and I don't know what to do. Any idea?

Thanks,

Joël

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5 Answers

Actually, the GM who taught me (Vladimir Kosyrev) plays c4! closing the structure then Na5 then Bd7 then Nb3, after Nxb3, you pin the N on b3 with Ba4! and you can leave the pin until the queen moves, of course castle long and f5 to break through on the king side

[FEN "rnbqkbnr/pppppppp/8/8/8/8/PPPPPPPP/RNBQKBNR w KQkq - 0 1"] 
1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 c5 4. c3 Nc6 5. Nf3 Qb6 6. a3 c4 7. Nbd2 Na5! 8. g3 Bd7 9. Bg2 Nb3 10. Nxb3 Ba4!

Feel free to look up Vladimir Kosyrevs french games in this position after 6... c4!

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2  
Cool opening. The question is "what to do after 6. ... f6", though. –  Wes Freeman Jan 21 '13 at 23:36
    
Oh i thought he was asking about what to do as black. Nevermind i guess you can disregard it :) –  relipse Jan 22 '13 at 2:45
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I think 6. ... f6 is probably the best move for black at this point. The responses I'd try are 7. Bd3 or 7. Be2 or 7. b4. 7. exf6 seems like it just gives black an extra minor piece developed with Nf6, but it doesn't seem horrible either. 7. b4 looks the most interesting to me, followed by something like... 7. ... fxe5 8. dxc5 Qc7 9. Bb5 or 9. c4 Nf6. Still doesn't feel too great for white, but at least you're almost even.

In Beating the French Defense with the Advance Variation, GM Andrew Soltis doesn't even discuss 6. a3 as an option. You might consider his recommended line:

[fen ""]
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.c3 Nc6 5.Nf3 Qb6 6.Be2

At this point, the 6. ... f6 move is reduced to 4th or 5th place for black's options, the best being:

[SetUp "0"]
[fen "r1b1kbnr/pp3ppp/1qn1p3/2ppP3/3P4/2P2N2/PP3PPP/RNBQKB1R w KQkq - 4 6"]
[StartPly "10"]

6. Be2 cxd4 7. cxd4 Nh6

You'll probably find yourself castling short soon, and maybe breaking out a3 a few moves later when it will make black feel more pain.

Disclaimer: I'm by no means an opening expert. Just some ideas to try...

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Strengths

Positionally White has just blundered a little by playing a3. f6 takes advantage White neglecting to develop a piece and begins to work on attacking d4 from the king side ( obviously there is pressure on d4 from the queenside as well). Black is listed as having a slight -0.28 advantage (23 moves).

Weaknessess

A player who is not experienced defending may lose to a king side assault after moving f6. However, to build the attack it requires White to sac a pawn, and that is all an experienced player needs sometimes to win the game. This would not be a gambit. Black is very strong at this point and a3 should seriously be reconsidered.

White's Response

Play defensively. Although the position favors Black, it is still very slight, and an equal slip by the opponent will even the game out. No material has been lost yet. It is very important not to give in to Black's traps. Of which, there are many here, and all include dropping a pawn. Avoid taking first, unless it is absolutely forced. This game is going to continue on with White being forced over and over to make the correct move in order to properly develop and retain equal material.

There are, however, a few traps you may entice your opponent into

Offer a "free" pawn for a positional advantage.

7. Bd3...

This is a standard continuation of the position in question. Black will realize that by fiancettoing king side they can possibly win the pawn on e5.

[FEN ""]
1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 c5 4. c3 Nc6 5. Nf3 Qb6 6. a3 f6 7. Bd3 fxe5 8. dxe5 c4 9. Bc2 g6 10. Nbd2 Bg7

At this point, allowing Black to take the pawn gives White an undeniable advantage. Here is a continuation if Black takes.

[FEN ""]

1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 c5 4. c3 Nc6 5. Nf3 Qb6 6. a3 f6 7. Bd3 fxe5 8. dxe5 c4 9. Bc2 g6 10. O-O Bg7 11. Nbd2 Nxe5 12. Nxe5 Bxe5 13. Nf3 Bf6 14. Re1 Ne7 15. Ba4+ Kf8 16. Ne5 Kg8 17. Qf3 Nf5 18. Nd7 Bxd7 19. Bxd7 Kg7 20. a4 Rad8 21. a5 Qd6 22. Bxe6 Rhe8 23. Bf4 Qc6 24. Bxf5 gxf5

Otherwise, you may be looking at a long grueling, semi closed position:

[FEN ""]

1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 c5 4. c3 Nc6 5. Nf3 Qb6 6. a3 f6 7. Bd3 fxe5 8. dxe5 c4 9. Bc2 g6 10. Nbd2 Bg7 11. O-O Nge7 12. Qe2 Qc7 13. Re1 O-O 14. b3 b5 15. Bb2 Bd7 16. a4 a6 17. bxc4 bxc4 18. Ba3

Summary

What it all boils down to is, don't be overly aggressive, play defensively, and try not initiate a material trade (especially with pawns) when in this position. In my opinion, playing a3 is what makes f6 seem so disruptive, when the real result was a loss in tempo.

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I'd suggest playing 7.Be2, followed by castling short soon. If black plays fxe5, just play dxe5 (even Nxe5 works, but you will simplify a lot, and not give black any problems), which deprives the knight of the f6 square. The g8 knight will likely take one of the h6-f5 or e7-f5 route to plop on h5, after which you may consider even Bd3, if you find the knight particularly annoying on that square. You could follow up with putting your rook on e1, preparing a later f4, etc. following Nimzowitch's overprotection idea of a central pawn.

I'd also suggest not playing 6.a3. It seems very passive, and doesn't create any threats, doesn't help your pieces develop, and creates a weakness on b3. The position looks as if white is playing the black side of some variation of a QGD Meran system with an extra tempo or two. Instead, you may consider aiming for ideas like 6.Bd3 or 6.Be2.

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For what its worth 6.a3 is the most common theoretical move. It aims to protect the b4 square. 6.Bd3 is an interesting gambit. –  Akavall Jan 21 '13 at 0:32
    
Seems like GM Andrew Soltis recommends 6. Be2 in his book about the advance variation. 6. a3 isn't mentioned (at least, that I could find). Maybe it's too old to have the latest theory (1993)... –  Wes Freeman Jan 21 '13 at 1:11
    
@Akavall 6.Bd3 isn't a gambit. If black plays cxd4, cxd4, Nxd4, Nxd4, Qxd4, Bb5+ wins the black queen. –  chubbycantorset Jan 21 '13 at 6:56
1  
@chubbycantorset, 6.Bd3 cxd4 7. cxd4 black has 7...Bd7, and white's best choice is to 8. 0-0 and give up the d4 pawn. Attempting to hold on to the pawn with 8. Bc2 is probably not very good as after 8...Nb4 white either gives up their light-squared bishop for the knight or gives black bishop access to a6-f1 diagonal, if white plays 9.Bb3. –  Akavall Jan 21 '13 at 19:10
1  
chubby is right, usually Bd3 leads to gambiting the d4 pawn with a lead in development, but Gm Kosyrev Recommends taking the pawn anyway! –  relipse Jan 22 '13 at 2:44
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[FEN ""]
1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 c5 4. c3 Nc6 5. Nf3 Qb6 6. a3 f6 7. Bd3 fxe5 8. Nxe5 Nxe5 9. Qh5+ Ng6 10. Bxg6 hxg6 11. Qxh8
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Yannou, this line is interesting, but if black plays 9... Nf7 instead of 9... Ng6 then black is simply up a piece and white has very little compensation. –  Andrew Aug 26 '13 at 3:05
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