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I'm working with my 1300 USCF kid on his opening repertoire. In the French defense, I have a few questions/problems I'm trying to resolve:

1) In many of the closed lines (after e5) we go after placing a knight on f5. Usually we go at it with ..h5, ..Nh6, ...Nf5. a) Sometimes people take the knight once it reaches h6 and we recapture with the rook. I struggle for a good plan after that, especially since the rooks are disconnected. b) When the knight does get to f5 it sometimes gets challenged by the white (light squared) bishop. The question is whether to reinforce this f5 knight with g6 and allow the capture, recapturing with gxf5. We try to play on the open g-file. I haven't been getting good practical results and wonder if I've got this wrong.

2) This question pertains to the advance variation. I've suggested using a quick ..c5, ..Qb6, ..Bd7, ..Bb5 to swap off the bad bishop. In this line we don't have the french Qside pawn storm at first. Moreover, I've been telling my son that if white breaks the tension with dxc5 we can recapture with ..Bxc5 which I thought was a "French dream". But recently in this "dream position", I've been hit with b4 and a queenside pawn storm initiative. Connected with 1a) above I've been getting bad games (no black queenside pawnstorm, and no Nf5 post). I'm wondering if there's a simple thing to do to create some black queen side space when the Queen is out front (perhaps ..a5)?

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I would suggest that you look up some theory in the French defense if you're planning on using it. What we seem to have here is a complete home brew.

For example, playing ...h5 before playing ...Nh6 is very uncommon. One of the reasons is that playing h5 as black actually makes Nh6 harder to play for black, as Bxh6 cannot really be answered with gxh6, as the h5 pawn becomes very weak. Thus black is encouraged to play Rxh6, which isn't ideal. If you want to play Nh6 in the advance variation, I suggest you play it without playing h5 first. You do not have to worry much about Bxh6 from white, as that makes b2 harder to defend, and gxh6 doesn't really give black many problems.

More importantly, if you are afraid of playing with the light squared bishop as black in the french, then the opening is not worth playing at all. I think that you may be underestimating the potential of that bishop, if all you want to do with it is trading it. A French player has to be able to play with the light square bishop as black to be successful in the long run. In essence, it's not worth the trouble to trade off the "bad" bishop.

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    This. Put the queen on b6 first and you usually have a Qxb2 intermezzo, attacking the rook, after Bxh6. – Cleveland Jan 24 '16 at 16:10
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1) In many of the closed lines (after e5) we go after placing a knight on f5. Usually we go at it with ..h5, ..Nh6, ...Nf5.

This is not a good plan. I'm curious as to where you got it from.

The problem is that by the nature of the pawn structure (white pawns on d4, e5, black pawns on e6, d5 and maybe c5) white has a natural attack on the king side and black more on the queen side. These king side moves of yours are if anything helping white.

You should be trying to attack the white pawn chain, either with c5 to attack d4 or f6 to attack e5. If you play f6 at some stage then you will have much better chances of king side activity than your Nh6-f5 plan.

2) This question pertains to the advance variation. I've suggested using a quick ..c5, ..Qb6, ..Bd7, ..Bb5 to swap off the bad bishop

Qb6 and Bd7 are usually two different plans. Qb6 aims to put pressure on the pawns at d4 and b2. It is used in conjunction with c5 and Nc6. Bd7 is usually used in conjunction with Qc7 where the queen is pressuring the pawn on e5 and maybe lining up to control the c file after the exchange cd by black or dc by white in conjunction with Rc8 and maybe Nb4.

The more normal way of trying to swap off the bad bishop is via b6 and Ba6 while the knight is still on b8. It's not a great plan and not one which I've ever tried because the knight is misplaced on a6 (should be on c6) from where it can exert no pressure whatsoever on white's pawns on d4 and e5.

  • Hi Brian -- Thanks. Concerning 1), I got the impression that set up is a good thing to go for. The logic is that ..Nf5 exerts pressure on the key d4 square, in combination with ..c5, ..Nc6. However, ..h5 is used to hold the N on f5 from being hit with g4. Usually I try to get in ..g6, ..Kf8 and ..Kg7 with the R on h8 in place. My experience in practice is that from the geometry of the french structure, it is not weakening the K-side and in fact hard to attack. Insofar as 2) is concerned, in other variations we do the Ba6 plan. You've given me the idea to do it in adv. french too. – Chessdad Dec 25 '15 at 4:38
  • From experience as a Caro-Kann player, Nh6-f5 is generally a very good way to develop the kingside, and ...h7-h5 is definitely not weakening (In fact, it's often a good reaction to and white g2-g4). I don't have experience with the bishop on c8. However it sometimes pays to delay Ng8-h6-f5 and go for f6, then you can recapture on f6 with a knight. – limits Dec 25 '15 at 4:44
  • @overtheboard In caro do you face Bxh6 or Bxf5 much? I started my son on Caro (as I had played it back in the day) but got convinced French worked better for him at present. – Chessdad Dec 25 '15 at 5:57
  • @Chessdad No one does Bxf5 in Caro because there is a bishop on g6 to recapture. Also Bd3 (which is usually bad, but when it is played,) is usually done when the knight has not reached f5 yet, and so Black just plays Bxd3 to trade off the inferior bishop. I play a line with ...Nh6-Nf5 (no ...h5) and Bxh6 is possible, but usually Black gets a very playable positions with chances for both sides by recapturing gxh6 and fianchettoing the dark squared bishop (...Bg7) and playing for ...f6 break. (However if white trades off the light squared bishops with Bd3 then it's probably – limits Dec 25 '15 at 20:05
  • probably not good to allow Bxh6 because (1) black does not get the bishop pair and (2) the h6 pawn is easy to attack.) – limits Dec 25 '15 at 20:06

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