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I want to learn this opening right now, and I was wondering what are some good games that have been played in these two openings. I prefer games in between modern players so I can relate to the game. I also need some kind of commentary on what the problems and advantages with the opening are.

For example, Harikrishnan vs Giri was a good example of French Defense in which black won.

What is the best way to study it ?

  • 1
    search V. Korchnoi in a game database! – M.M Aug 23 '16 at 22:25
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First, you need to narrow down your scope a bit. The French Defense has a massive amount of theory and you only need to learn a small portion of that to play it competitively.

You'll most commonly face 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3. Here, there are two main choices: 3... Nf6 and 3... Bb4. From an openings database or explorer (here, for example), you can pick the one you prefer. Notice the "Notable Games" section of the interface. These games are usually thematic and will teach you a lot about a variation with careful study. The black players are also more often than not "heroes" of the given opening, and you can look through more of their games.

Starting out, I would avoid only looking at the games of modern players. This tweet by Garry Kasparov illustrates the problem with that nicely, in my opinion. You don't need cutting-edge theory to play the opening well, you need the core ideas. These were fleshed out in the games of classical masters.

There are other lines that you need to learn as well. I commonly face the Exchange French, the Advance French, and the Tarrasch French in tournaments, and sometimes other variations. You need to know a little bit about each of these. The same process should suffice.

Apart from looking at games, I learned a great deal by reading The Flexible French by Viktor Moskalenko. The expanded version is available here.

  • But, I know the names of modern players so I'll feel interested in seeing the game. – user230452 Aug 20 '16 at 3:00
  • How do top GMs study theory of moves ? They can't read books because the authors of the books are lower rated than them. – user230452 Aug 20 '16 at 3:01
  • Wow. I thought it would be an article or something. There's an entire book about just one opening ? Lol. Is there one for Ruy Lopez ? That's my favorite. – user230452 Aug 20 '16 at 3:02
  • Re names: learn the names of classical players. You'll become just as interested in them. Their games are much more comprehensible than today's top players. Re top GMs: they look at games played by other strong players and then figure out new moves on their own and with computers. Re books: there are hundreds, if not thousands, of books on the Ruy Lopez. Look on Amazon. – Cleveland Aug 20 '16 at 3:05
  • Suggest some players and games. – user230452 Aug 20 '16 at 3:12
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It is a good idea to play games by grandmasters who used the French Defence.

Notable players of the French Defence include Mikhail Botvinnik, Viktor Korchnoi, Aron Nimzowitsch, Tigran Petrosian, Lev Psakhis, Wolfgang Uhlmann and Rafael Vaganian. It should be easy to find annotated games by Botvinnik and Korchnoi, who published annotations of their own games. Uhlmann used the French Defence almost exclusively against 1. e4, and published books about the opening (which are now out of date). Uhlmann published a selection of his best games, Meine besten Partien, in German. Annotated games by Nimzowitsch and Petrosian should also be easy to find.

For the younger generation, Wikipedia lists Evgeny Bareev, Alexey Dreev, Mikhail Gurevich, Alexander Khalifman, Smbat Lputian, Alexander Morozevich, Teimour Radjabov, Nigel Short, Gata Kamsky, and Yury Shulman. When you look for annotated games, make sure that they have prose explanations instead of only variations.

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Uhlmann's "Winning with the French" is an excellent book. Another is "Mastering the French" by McDonald.

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As a longtime player, I've been impressed by Andrew Martin's YouTube videos on the French. Simon Williams's on iChess work well too.

One thing to watch out for is that these can maybe point out the good points, to encourage players just to get started. You also want to see games where the French didn't work.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eXEjDAacBcA shows Carlsen beating Short in the sort of endgame that can be painful or French players.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0SEBkKrJW-8 shows Kasparov taking out Short.

While a previous poster mentioned that it's important to look at variations, you need to decide whether the bad French bishop (light squared) is enough of a hindrance to scare you away from playing the opening.

And most importantly you will want to look at French Exchange games, because people will do that to you, and as you get better, it's sadly a good way for lesser players to make you sweat trying for a win.

This will show you theoretically not-critical games that may show you how to keep play alive if people want to deaden it.

  • Where can I understand subtle points like the dark squared bishop is good or bad in a certain opening ? Most Wikipedia pages just tell you about many possible move orders. – user230452 Sep 9 '16 at 1:41
  • Bad or good bishops are not hard to figure once you get the hang of it. A bad bishop is one on the same color as most of the player's pawns--in particular, the central ones. A good bishop, the opposite. So in the French, the pawn on e6 immediately makes the queen bishop bad. If the pawns are fixed, you will find it hard to change a bad bishop to a god one. But if they are mobile, you can change it. For instance, if Black can play ...c5-cxd4 and ...f6-fxe5, and White can't support his d4/e5 pawns, then ...e5 makes the bad light squared bishop very good. – aschultz Sep 9 '16 at 8:33

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