[fen ""]
[Startply "3"]
[Title "2.f4 against the French Defense"]

1.e4 e6 2.f4

What is so obviously wrong with this approach? I ask because it is not even mentioned in the complete Black repertoire book French Defense: The Solid Rubinstein Variation by Hannes Langrock http://www.russell-enterprises.com/images/frenchrubinsteinexcerpt.pdf which includes second move alternatives to 2.d4 such as 1.e4 e6 2.b3 or 2.Qe2.

  • 4
    After ...d5, Black has a good game. e5 leaves bad pawn formation, or exd5 gives better central control for Black. Not a blunder but definitely not a very challenging setup.
    – SmallChess
    Commented May 11, 2016 at 13:59
  • Also, the 2.b3 and 2.Qe2 sidelines usually strive to use different plans and setups than 2.d4. Thus they're justified to include, a well as 2.d3. 2.f4 strives to go for a d4 setup, only, it's not as good as an immediate d4, which has been reaffirmed by practical results.
    – Scounged
    Commented May 11, 2016 at 18:34
  • 3
    Nakamura played this in a US championship a few years back and won, so it's clearly not horrible: chessgames.com/perl/chessgame?gid=1666545 Commented May 13, 2016 at 9:18
  • Most repertoire books don't include it because it's so rare. IM John Watson, considered one of the leading experts on the French, includes it in his Play the French, (both the 3rd and 4th edns), but left it out of his Mastering the Chess Openings. Viktor Moskalenko, another French expert, left it out of his The Even More Flexible French, although he includes the Reti/Papa Gambit, 2.b3. It just seems to be considered too rare to devote theory to. Keep in mind, also, that 5.f4 is a normal move in the Classical French.
    – jaxter
    Commented Oct 1, 2016 at 5:29

3 Answers 3


Grandmaster Igor Glek wrote a survey about 1. e4 e5 2. f4 in Secrets of Opening Surprises, volume 8 (2008).

Some quotes:

With 2. f4 we return to the nineteenth century, when modern chess understanding made its first steps. The basic idea is clear I suppose - after 2... d5to play 3. e5! - gaining some space in the centre. So in principle we see the same ideas as in the popular Advance Variation (2. d4 d5 3. e5), but White doesn't permit Black to create immediate counterplay against pawn d4.


My opponents usually played in the same way as they would against 2. d4 d5 3. e5 line - ... c7-c5, ... Nb8-c6, ... Ng8-e7(h6)-f5. My reaction was Nb1-a3-c2and then not d2-d4 immediately, but first Bf1-d3. Interestingly, we can already see this manoeuvre in McDonnell's and Labourdonnais' games!

That's exactly the plan Nakamura followed in the game mentioned in the comments.

[FEN ""]
[Event "US Championship"]
[Site "Saint Louis USA"]
[Date "2012.05.19"]
[Round "11"]
[Result "1-0"]
[White "Hikaru Nakamura"]
[Black "Yasser Seirawan"]
[PlyCount "59"]

1.e4 e6 2.f4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.Nf3 Nc6 5.c3 Nge7 6.Na3 Nf5 7.Nc2 h5
8.Bd3 g6 9.O-O Be7 10.Bxf5 gxf5 11.d4 h4 12.dxc5 Bxc5+ 13.Be3
Be7 14.h3 b6 15.Qe2 Nb8 16.Rfd1 Ba6 17.Qe1 Nd7 18.b4 Nf8 19.a4
Bc4 20.Ncd4 Qd7 21.b5 Ng6 22.Nc6 Kf8 23.Nd2 Bd3 24.c4 Kg7
25.cxd5 exd5 26.Nb1 Bc4 27.Qc3 Qe6 28.Nd2 Rhc8 29.Nd4 Qd7
30.e6 1-0

So the answer is: There's nothing wrong with 2. f4 against the French Defense.

  • 11...b6 looks more tempting than 11...h4.
    – Evargalo
    Commented Mar 27, 2018 at 8:33

There is nothing wrong with the Labourdonnais variation (1. e4 e6 2. f4) per se.

As mentioned in the comments by @Student T, the continuation is 2...d5. This is the mainline:

[FEN ""]
1.e4 e6 2.f4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.Nf3

Black has a fine game with a good spatial edge. White hasn't blundered, but also has no theoretical edge here. E.g. the slight lead in development with 4. Nf3 cannot be exploited in any way. My assessment of the variation is an early dynamic equality.

  • By the same token, the King's Indian Attack is correct but has no edge but the author devotes a whole chapter to his unique way of treating it. From my experience the KIA is not more popular than 2.f4. On the contrary, 2.f4 is quite often played in my online blitz games. I see no reason why a complete repertoire book should omit 2.f4. Commented May 13, 2016 at 19:22
  • @user3456 Your experience doesn't seem to be representative. In a 650k DB of 2400+ ELO games, the KIA vs French appears 890 times, and the Labourdonnais 60. That's not counting KIA's vs Sicilian or Caro-Kann, either. In over 1000 ICC games at Standard Time Controls, and 700 at Blitz, the Labourdonnais never shows up, but the KIA shows up 4 times.
    – jaxter
    Commented Oct 1, 2016 at 5:39
  • @jaxter You confirm my point. Your statistics involves professional players and the opening books are supposed to be for club players but they are based on professional games statistics. My constant grievance against opening books is that they have little relation to my online blitz play at about the expert level. Commented Oct 1, 2016 at 19:51
  • @user3456 I guess we'll have to agree to disagree. The ICC statistics are taken from players with ELO 1100-2100, with a median of about 1500, in both STC and Blitz. Perhaps I should have mentioned that, so you could see how my comment refutes your point, rather than confirming it, as you thought.
    – jaxter
    Commented Oct 2, 2016 at 0:21
  • @user3456 Regarding your point about your experience in blitz play, the OP's question didn't suggest he was interested in blitz. While there may be a need for opening ideas to be used for blitz, that's not the market the opening theory books are targeting. It might be worthwhile to approach publishers to ask them why this is so. In the meantime, you might find this ref helpful: amazon.com/Chess-Opening-Repertoire-Blitz-Rapid/dp/9056916033/…
    – jaxter
    Commented Oct 2, 2016 at 0:26

In his Play the French, 4th Edn, John Watson recommends:

[FEN ""]
[White "French Defense"]
[Black "Labourdonnais Variation"]
[Annotator "John Watson"]

1. e4 e6 2. f4 d5 3. e5 c5 4. Nf3 Nc6 5. c3 d4 6. d3 Nh6 $11 {M.Weiss-Maróczy, Budapest 1895. I think that Black's position is easier to play, and White doesn't seem to have a good way of making 2 f4 interesting.} *

Black's d-pawn is going to be hard to get rid of, and White's d-pawn is jammed behind it. Black aims for the natural (in the French) moves ...Nf5 and/or ...Qb6, and he's right at home, while White has trouble making progress.

I could only find about 60 games among players rated 2000 ELO or higher involving 2.f4 , so there's not much modern practical experience to go on, but the overall results were 22-25-13. So, it's certainly playable.

Needless to say, Nakamura's played it. He played it in the 2012 Sinquefield Cup, after having first run into it as Black in 2010 at the same tournament. I guess he liked what he saw. Other 2600+ ELO players who've tried it include Bologan, Zviagintsev, Stevic and Yudasin. It's most ardent supporter seems to have been the Moldovan Viktor Komliakov , whose score in games I can find was 4-7-2. But since he's now 56, he seems to be playing a lot less frequently. They might be a good reference, though.

  • Elaborating on the Nakamura-Seriawan game and Glek's plan quoted in @Dag Oscar Madsen 's answer, could White play 6.Bd3 instead of 6.d3, not fearing 6...dc 7...dc and planning 0-0, Na3-c2, and probably Be4 followed by d3 rather than Bxf5 ?
    – Evargalo
    Commented Mar 27, 2018 at 8:31

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