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I'm looking into starting playing the French as Black, at 2000 Elo. "Playing the French" by Aagard & Ntirlis is 11 years old. Are the chapters on the Advance variation still solid, or have there been any more recent developments that are important to be aware of?

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A few general remarks first:

  • at the Elo 2000 level it is far more important to understand plans and motifs than knowing specific lines. My highest Elo rating ever was ~2150 (and that was 30 years ago, so we are perhaps about the same playing strength) and my experience is that it is better to be able to come up with second-best moves consistently than to know a certain critical line up into the endgame. We all have a limited amount of time to learn about chess and this time is IMHO better invested learning chess than learning moves.

  • opening books are usually written by very strong players. The problem is that they tend to write books for a player of their own strength, not for us patzers. The stronger one gets the more concrete ones game has to be and the more critical lines one has to consider are. For players of our strength knowing the right plan is paramount, even if we don't execute it in the most precise way. With players of GM strength knowing the plan is common knowledge and executing it with utter precision is necessary to win a game.

  • the french defence is about counter-attack. Black allows white to build a strong center and to get some space advantage but immediately prepares to attack the center and ultimately demolish it. Having said this, there are less razor-sharp forced lines in the french (unlike e.g. the sicilian) and the battle take a more positional course. This makes positional thinking more important and knowing concrete lines less important - even though this is relative and the stronger you and your opponent play the more important are calculation skills.

Having said this: my suggestion for a book is "The Flexible French" by Victor Moskalenko for learning the French in general.

Notice that you need to have an answer to the Tarrasch variation (1.e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3.Nd2!?) because there are indeed a lot of concrete lines there where every move counts. What I know about it I learned from "The French Tarrasch" by John Emms - even more "outdated" but IMHO still the best book to learn the structures and plans.

After having learned the concepts you probably should work with a database, not with a book. There have been some games in the penultimate candidates tournament (if I remember correctly someone?-Nepomniachtchi was an Advance French).

So, to sum it up to directly answer the question: I don't think it really matters if the book (or parts of it) is outdated or not. Use books to learn concepts and plans, then use a database to learn concrete lines.

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  • Thank you very much!
    – Anna
    Commented May 25 at 8:58

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