I am crafting an E4 repertoire from scratch and I am looking for a dynamic approach for white against the french and have shortlisted the classical with Nc3, but here I am not sure whether the Steinitz with E5 is the more aggressive option or the classical main line with Bg5, or should I scrap the classical and use the advance?

1 Answer 1


Strongly depends on personal taste and on how much theory you would like to learn.

I have been using the 3. e5 system against the French Defence for about thirty years. [...] I understood that the move 3. e5 was not objectively the strongest, but I had no desire to compete with such experienced French-specialists as, for instance, Vaganian, in the long and complex lines that arise after the main continuation 3. Nc3. Thus I chose the 3. e5 system [...] for practical reasons, since I understood that my opponents would be focusing their attention on the moves 3. Nc3 and 3. Nd2 which were much more popular at that time.

— GM Evgeny Sveshnikov, French Defence Advance Variation volume 1, Introduction.

1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3

More theoretical, since black now has choice between three systems, which all accomulated quite a large body of theory. That is:

  1. The very sharp Winaver with 3. ... Bb4.
  2. The Classical with 3. ... Nf6:
    • If you go for aggressive 4. Bg5 black has choice between 4. dxe4 and the razorsharp MacCutcheon with 4. Bb4.
    • 4. e5 leads to more logical positions.
  3. The calmer Rubinstein with 3. ... dxe4.

These lines usually lead to sharp play, which favours better prepared player. The good side is, that with good preparation play prefers White side. The bad side is, black is the one which chooses the line.

1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. e5

More forgiving (it leads to positions that can be played "by ear" and not solely "by book") and, more importantly, it gives white bigger say in choosing the resulting position.

You have space advantage, while black has a little advantage in development. In a lot of lines you will see white sacrificing his d4 pawn to catch up in development, while keeping space advantage. Remember: protect e5 for all costs, don't worry if you lose d4.

Looking at pieces - black obviously has big problems with development of his light squared bishop, while white has some issues with his queenside knight, since c3 is occupied with the pawn. That's why early cxd4 is not very good idea for black, since it gives white c3 for his knight after recapture.

If black doesn't go for one of the dubious tries to exchange of his light squared bishop (e.g. b6 - Ba6 or Qb6 - Bd7, etc. - these give white very strong iniative, if he blasts the centre open at the right moment), he has two good choices:

  1. 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 c5 4. c3 Nc6 5. Nf3 Qb6 is modern Mainline.
  2. 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 c5 4. c3 Nc6 5. Nf3 Bd7 the very reliable Euwe variation.

Today against the mainline the most common try for advantage is improved Milner-Barry gambit: 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 c5 4. c3 Nc6 5. Nf3 Qb6 6. Bd3 cxd4 7. O-O (the "old" 7. cxd4 gives black equality at least) Bd7 8. Re1. If black takes on c3 you have advantage, since you are able to deploy your knight with Nc3. Otherwise you go for grab space on kingside with h4 and then usually play switches to queenside expansion with a3 - b4.

Alternatively white can cross black plans even earlier by going for Keres-Nimzowitsch gambit line 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 c5 4. Nf3, where black equalizes, but is not better. Play for white is in most cases thematic: you play Bd3 - O-O - Re1, Qe2 if needed, and then start pushing h4 - h5 - h6.

  • Thanks for the highly detailed answer, I think since I am crafting my repertoire from scratch, I will go for Nc3 and break my mind with the theory :) while keeping the advance as a backup weapon. Can you suggest any books or other resources other than sveshnikovs excellent book on the French advance Jan 31 at 8:43
  • @anti-Marshall I don't know Nc3 as well, since I don't play it. Maybe check Chess publishing's French section? chesspublishing.com/content/2/index.htm Jan 31 at 8:51
  • Will check it out, thanks for the same Jan 31 at 8:54

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