Normally, using engines for any given opening I can find ways for White to maintain a slight edge into the middle game. By a "slight edge" I mean an evaluation of around +0.20

The exception to this is the Classical French (and Steinitz), where it seems like every line Black has at least equality and most lines lead to an edge for Black!

For example, in his book on the French, Psakhis says that after 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Bg5 Be7 5. e5 Nfd7 6. h4 0-0?! is dubious for Black after 7. Bd3. However, the engine shows that not only is not dubious for Black, but Black has the advantage after 7...c5!

This is just one example. No matter what line I try, Black always seems to get at least equality.

Even more scary is that not only is Black always getting equality, but White seems to have a lot more ways to go wrong than Black in many of the lines.

Is there any line in the Classical where White can retain a pull?

I am using Komodo 10 as my engine.

  • If this line gives Black equality, then choose another line to play for White: what is the actual question? For example instead of playing 6.h4 White could just play 6. Bxe7 Bxe7 7. f4 (or 7. Qd2), that still keeps the advantage (6.h4 is a waste of time as White exchanges the dark squared bishops anyway).
    – gented
    Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 18:03
  • @GennaroTedesco All the lines I have analyzed lead to at most equality or an edge for Black including 6. Bxe7. If you think 6. Bxe7 leads to an edge for White then show the line in an answer. Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 18:20
  • @GennaroTedesco For example, after 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Bg5 Be7 5. e5 Nfd7 6. Bxe7 Qxe7 7. f4 O-O 8.Nf3 c5 9. Nb5 a6 10. Nd6 cxd4 11. Qxd4 Nc6 12. Qe3 f6 Black has at least equality. Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 18:25
  • The variation 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Bg5 Be7 5. e5 Nfd7 6. h4 0-0 is very risky for black, and white has many ways to continue the attack. Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 19:10
  • I don't like h4 there, it is problematic. White should be focusing on pushing the fpawn, distracting on the queenside for a bishop sac on h7, or working on d5. h4 does none of that, actively prevents a safe 0-0, and is more liability than anything else.
    – Travis J
    Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 19:17

4 Answers 4


From my experience it can be dangerous to analyze openings with a single engine only. Adding an extra engine can be very helpful, as it has a different evaluation function. Stockfish is open source and probably at least as strong as Komodo (according to the CCRL). Futhermore, when studying an opening, it is also important to check game databases and opening books.

As far as I know, the current theoretical status of the French defence is that it is a sound opening, with good chances to obtain equality with black, but white can try to fight for a small advantage.

In the line you give, 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 Be7 5.e5 Nfd7 6.h4 0-0 7.Bd3 c5, it seems that white can force a draw: 8.Qh5 g6 9.Qh6 cxd4 10.Nf3 Nxe5 11.Nxe5 dxc3 12.Nxg6 fxg6 13.Bxg6 hxg6 14.Qxg6+. This is exactly what happened in several games, e.g. Anton Guijarro-Forcen Esteban.

Instead, white can try to obtain an advantage with 7.Qg4, which was played for the first time in Hebden-Gurevich. The immediate threat is Bh6 and after 7....f5, white is probably better after 8.Bxe7 Qxe7 9.Qg5. Therefore, the main line is 7....f6 (Hector-So), where white can choose between the greedy 8.Qxe6+ (Hector-Matthiesen) or the aggressive 8.Bd3. After the latter, white seems to have a very dangerous attack, e.g. 8....Rf7 9.Nf3 c5 10.Nxd5 exd5 11.e6 and 9....Nc6 10.Bg6! hxg6 11.h5 gxh5 12.Qxh5 Rf8 13.Nxd5.

      [StartPly "12"]

      [FEN ""]
      1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 Be7 5.e5 Nfd7 6.h4 O-O 7.Qg4 (7.Bd3 c5 8.Qh5 g6 9.Qh6 cxd4 10.Nf3 Nxe5 11.Nxe5 dxc3 12.Nxg6 fxg6 13.Bxg6 hxg6 14.Qxg6+) f6 (7...c5 8.Bh6) (7...Kh8 8.Nf3 c5 9.Bd3) (7...Re8 8.Bh6 Bf8 9.h5) (7...f5 8.Bxe7 Qxe7 9.Qg5 Qb4 10.O-O-O) 8.Bd3 (8.Qxe6+ Kh8 9.exf6 Nxf6 10.Qe2) Rf7 (8...fxg5 9.Bxh7+) 9.Nf3 Nc6 (9...c5 10.Nxd5 exd5 11.e6) 10.Bg6! hxg6 11.h5 gxh5 12.Qxh5 Rf8 13.Nxd5


An evaluation of +0.2 is just noise and nothing like a "slight edge". Another engine might very well give you -0.2 or so. I would not be overly concerned by such evaluation.

When analyzing opening lines, much more important is the character of the position: whether you like it, whether it gives you winning or drawing chances (depending on requirement), whether it is easy to play for you (and difficult for your opponent), etc. All of these are difficult to assess automatically with a computer and require you to look at it. That's why GM spend so much time on openings and don't just have their computers running looking for the line with the highest evaluation.

  • I went over the position after Nc3 and on lichess with SF16,probably the strongest engine around, at a depth of 57 with cloud analysis, the position is indeed 0.0 with black's best move being Nf6 but as said above, such a evaluation means nothing in human terms. for what it's worth, the Alekhine defence, with the same engine at a similar depth gives an advantage of 0.3 for white while the Berlin gives a 0.2 edge. This implies that the Alekhine and the Berlin are of the same calibre! And while that may be true nobody is using the Alekhine at 2700+ for equality :) Commented Jan 31 at 5:56

Very good question! I was looking at Negi's book on e4 and in French in Nc3 Bb4 line the engine evaluated soooo many lines better for black that it could drive me crazy. In Qg4 O-O system (instead of sacrificing g7+h7) it shows advantages only for black even on very high depths. Similarly the immediate Nf6 e5 and your Nf6 Bg5. Was quite frustrated by this, but than I checked correspondence games in some of the lines and white was often one with clearly the better results. But it stood often on insane sacrifices, precise maneuvers no human could ever find. So you must make the best assessment possible how each line fits for human and your play, whether it is more difficult to play for white or for black. Often one side gets the objective advantage while the other side gets desired type of position, which is both valuable. No popular line can be both bad and unpractical. In my particular example the final truth was on white's side, but missing one move can hurt the evaluation to what engine thinks about the position not seeing the precise continuation. I didn't very enjoy what I saw as defence had too obvious moves while attack was too hard to play good. Engine doesn't understand human needs for position so it's use in specific lines is limited. Those comes to my mind.

French g5 b4 racing in Najdorf Poisoned pawn in Sicilian KID

for the main theoretical ones

Many gambit and tricky lines are of course also misunderstood by chess engines as they expect perfect play from both sides which never happen.


You need to first understand what does this +0.20 exactly means . Well true that in majority of cases White stands a slight more advantageous to Black if both play their openings correctly . The reason for this is White always gets to move first . White always has the initiative . In a standard middle game +0.2 for any engine like Fritz/ StockFish /Komodo or any other Engine it means that out of 64 Squares before the game begins White & Black has equal number of Squares on their command . After a few moves White may occupy 2-3 Squares more than Black . It may be that as in case of Ruy Lopez White has 2 pawns in center like e4,d4 and Black has e5 d6 . May be that White castles first or an extra piece developed .Then the evaluation changes to +0.2 or +0.3 . These are some examples to consider . I would advise until & unless the Score shows a tentative > +0.8 you should not get bothered by such low figures .

With time, knowledge & experience I have seen that even when the Score shifts to +- 1.0 also people with less than 2200 Elo can not find looking at the board as to who has a better position in many respective positions .

People with 2400 IM norms & above are the ones who can pull out the win from these positions. So in opening and especially French you can ignore that slight advantage . Yes in Sicilian/Evans/Semi Slav Meran it may affect you because positions are very razor sharp and openings may turn the middle game into a disaster if not carefully played .

  • Does not answer the question. Commented Mar 16, 2017 at 22:28
  • What about the explanation given below by user1583209? Do you think @RemcoGerlich that would be an appropriate answer ? Commented Mar 17, 2017 at 7:16

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