According to lichess, if Black simply goes 3...Nf6 against the Two Knights Variation, then the main line is 4.e5 Nfd7 5.d4. This is the exact same position as White would have reached if they'd played 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.Nf3. Why play the Two Knights at all then if Black can just transpose into territory they're more familiar with? Is it just to avoid the Winawer?

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    "Why play the Two Knights at all then if Black can just transpose into territory they're more familiar with? Is it just to avoid the Winawer?" -- what if Black is more familiar with the Winawer? Commented Apr 8, 2021 at 3:42
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    I don't agree with the close votes on this question. What does Two Knights French avoid and what does it allow? It seems very specific to me.
    – Akavall
    Commented Apr 9, 2021 at 4:45
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    What's the point of the Mainline French with 2.d4, since it can just transpose into the Two Knights French? Is it just to avoid the line where Black plays 3...d4?
    – bof
    Commented Apr 10, 2021 at 7:14

2 Answers 2


Another idea of the two knights variation is to provoke 3...d4 and get some kind of reversed Old Indian. Some players like these pawn structures, and it also may not be blacks taste to be the one with the space advantage.

For example:

[FEN ""]
[Title "Analysis"]
[StartPly "99"]

1.e4 e6 2.Nf3 d5 3.Nc3 d4 
    ( 3...Nf6 )
4.Ne2 c5 5.c3 $1 Nf6 
    ( 5...d3 $6 6.Nf4 c4 $2 7.Qa4+ $18 )
6.cxd4 cxd4 
    ( 6...Nxe4 $5 )
    ( 7.e5 Nfd7 8.Nexd4 Nxe5 $10 )
7...a6 $1 
    ( 7...Nc6 8.Bb5 $14 )
    ( 8.Bc4 $6 b5 9.Bb3 $2 d3 $1 $17 )
8...Nc6 9.Be2 e5 $13

Objectively black is minimal better due to his space advantage, but white operates with the vacuum which d5-d4 has created in blacks position. He will sooner or later play f2-f4 and attack the pawn chain e5/d4, for example by playing h3 and Nh2. If black takes on f4 this will isolate the d4 pawn, and white may be able to win it. Of course that will not work if black plays it sensible, for example by protecting the pawn with Qb6 and Rd8. The stronger player will win.

But as you already said, Black can play 3...Nf6 and this transposes to the main lines.

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    This is why I play it, I’m a 1. Nc3 player and after d5, 2.e4 e6, part if the reason I play Nf3 is black might play d4 into lines I’m used to. Also people who don’t know this position often play 5. c3 d3? And if they do go for the mainline I can take them away from their book with 6. Bg5. Commented Apr 11, 2021 at 16:38
  • @Noah Snyder Good point, and I added that 5...d3 line to my example. Commented Apr 11, 2021 at 17:14
  • It's interesting, your 4. ... Nf6 is the move the engine likes and it scores very well for black, but it's pretty rare in mid-level human play. (I'm looking at lichess rapid 1600-2000 and Nc6 is played 16K times, d3 5K times, dxc3 5K times, and Nf6 less than 2K). Masters do mostly know to play Nf6. Commented Apr 11, 2021 at 17:43

You've pretty much answered your own question. Black can go 3...Nf6 and go for the mainline, but White is managing to avoid some other lines like the Winaver.

Anyway your question could be reversed just as well: why play the main move order whne you could go for the Two Knights French all the time instead?

  • The second paragraph gets at the real point: you play the standard move order because you want to play 5. f4 which you can’t do in the two knights. If you want to play 5. Nf3 anyway then you’re better off in the two knights move order. Commented Apr 11, 2021 at 3:02

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