[FEN ""]
1. e4 e6 2. e5

This line of attack seems to break so many opening theory principles (don't move same piece twice, don't overextend, develop minor pieces ASAP) that I am surprised it's not immediately punishable.

  • If I hadn't run into this line myself, I wouldn't have believed anyone would play it. My opponent was a decent player, but probably not older than twelve.
    – jaxter
    Sep 25, 2016 at 21:40
  • I had this played against me twice today by different opponents (~1000 on lichess), Hence why I am here :)
    – Nick Moore
    Feb 12, 2021 at 16:43

6 Answers 6


How should Black defend against the Steinitz attack? This line of attack seems to break so many opening theory principles (don't move same piece twice, don't overextend, develop minor pieces ASAP) that I am surprised it's not immediately punishable.

Why should you defend, at the first place?? All of your observations are correct, so we can conclude that e5 is a bad move. Black is better here, but the only reason you do not see a question mark behind this move are following facts:

  1. Pawn at e5 is White's only weakness;
  2. Black has no open lines or diagonals that can be used to attack the e5 pawn;
  3. White can defend e5 pawn with d4 which means that black will have to attack it with d6/f6 at some point-this will give White the chance to get himself rid of his ONLY weakness by exchanging it.
  4. No matter how Black reacts, White will still have small spatial edge-e5+d4 pawn chain vs e6+d5 pawn chain, or d4 pawn vs e6+c6 pawns. For better understanding of these middle-games consult book Andrew Soltis-Pawn Structure Chess;

Still, Black can gain his fair amount of space in the center and equalize gradually like in any other viable semi-open game.

Since White played twice with a pawn and has overextended himself, the best would be for us to continue developing using initiative against e5 pawn to get tempo.

Below are the variations that demonstrate what I have stated so far:

[fen ""]

1.e4 e6 2.e5 Nc6!? ( 2...d6!? ) 3.d4 d6 4.exd6 ( 4.Nf3 dxe5! 5.dxe5 ( 5.Nxe5? Qxd4 6.Nxc6 Qxd1+ ) Qxd1+=) ( 4.f4? dxe5! 5.dxe5 Qxd1+ ) ( 4.Bb5?! Bd7 5.exd6 ( 5.Nf3 dxe5 6.Nxe5? Nxe5! 7.Bxd7+ Nxd7-+ ) Bxd6= ) Bxd6 5.Nf3 ( 5.Qg4?! Nf6! 6.Qxg7 Rg8 7.Qh6 Nxd4 8.Bd3 e5 9.Bg5!? ( 9.Bxh7? Rh8!-+ 10.Bg5 Rxh7 11.Qxh7 Nxh7 12.Bxd8 Nxc2+ 13.Kd1 Nxa1! 14.Bh4 Bf5-+ ) 9...Ng4! 10.Bxd8 ( 10.Qxh7?? Qxg5-+ ) Nxh6 11.Bh4 ( 11.Bxh7?? Rh8-+ ) Bf5-+ ) Nge7 6.Bd3 e5 7.dxe5 Nxe5=

I was trying to find this line and the only thing I found was a main line from above, given by Lev Psakhis. His line starts with 2...d6 and transposes to the main line given above. The move 5.Qg4 shows my own analysis, since it was not mentioned anywhere but I believe it can be tricky. Notice the traps that I have shown in the above sidelines-they can be very useful to you during play. Also, notice how in time Black frees himself from Whites small spatial advantage and equalizes.

If you do not like these you can always transpose into normal French defense with 2...d5 and 2...c5 is also viable here.

If you have further questions leave a comment and I will reply as soon as I can. Hopefully this answer helped you.

Best regards.

  • 1
    I disagree with "black is better here". I think that white probably loses any chances of getting an opening advantage after playing e4-e5. But apart from this, I would guess that the position is balanced (equal).
    – user2001
    Jan 30, 2014 at 11:05
  • @RauanSagit:"I would guess that the position is balanced (equal)." I said the exact same in my answer-"Black is better here, but the only reason you do not see a question mark behind this move are following facts:"-and the main line in the diagram shows = as the final assessment. Still, I realize that I could have phrased this more clearly but your comment and this reply of mine can suffice. There is no need to edit the answer, but if you disagree I will add a quick edit. Best regards. Jan 30, 2014 at 16:49
  • 2
    "If you do not like these you can always transpose into normal French defense with 2...d5" No doubt 3.d4 transposing to the Advance Variation is White's best move, but if White insists on playing this silly line he will play 3.exd6 e.p.
    – bof
    Sep 24, 2016 at 11:19
  • 1
    2...d5 3.exd6 e.p. is perfectly playable. It's not common (the Steinitz itself isn't common in the first place), and doesn't have as good practical results as 2...c5, but Black can just continue 3...Bxd6 and his bishop is developed, while White has now spent 3 tempi on moving the same pawn. I'll take that development advantage.
    – jaxter
    Sep 25, 2016 at 21:39
  • Stockfish really doesn’t like Nc6, it thinks black has roughly a pawn advantage with c5 or d6 but is even in your line. Presumably the problem is blocking your own c pawn before it can move to c5. Apr 28, 2020 at 16:52

@TKR is right - I ran into this OTB, and had never even heard of it. But, I'm a dedicated French player, and I understand the concepts of opening theory.

Here, the situation is clear: the white pawn on e5 is overextended. It must be supported by d4. So, Black prevents this with 2...c5.

White spent the next 15 moves trying to hang on to his e-pawn while I just kept adding pressure. I could see him squirming, thinking he'd made some kind of terrible opening mistake.

Since White often has a pawn on e5 for most (and sometimes all) of the game in a French Defense, players of the black pieces are not fazed in the least by the pawn.

I was eventually able to overpower and win the pawn for nothing, but another strategic option would have been to launch a queenside initiative while his pieces were tied down defending that pawn.

Incidentally, in a database of 7 MM games, I found 136 games with players over 2000 ELO who played the French Steinitz. Of the games with 2...c5, White had a 20% win rate, Black won 50% of the games (that's a 5:2 decisively winning ratio), and there were 30% draws.

  1. ... f6 is a valid way of challenging the e-pawn right from the start.

Thinking strategically, it is known that having a 2 v 1 advantage of centre pawns means you have good prospects, so Black trying to exchange an f-pawn for an e-pawn is a good way of proceeding in this position.

  • Isn't the King supposed to castle kingside when playing the French, wouldn't loosing f-file pawn weaken kingside castling defenses for Black? Jan 29, 2014 at 22:02
  • Usually the f file is used to line up rook against something so after you castled you already have f file opened
    – Panzer
    Jan 29, 2014 at 22:05
  • 1
    In the French Defense, Black often never castles at all, because the center is blocked and he doesn't need to. Also, in the lines where White plays e5 (which is most of them), Black has no knight on f6, which makes the kingside a dangerous place. In many lines, Black prepares ...f6 to knock out the e-pawn, after preparing it with ...Be7, and leaving the knight on g8. Sometimes, though, he just plays ...Ne7-f5, skipping the e-pawn and focusing both knights on the d4 pawn. If he has already played ...cxd4 and White has replied cxd4, then White has a backward pawn there with no prospects.
    – jaxter
    Sep 25, 2016 at 21:32

Since White will presumably try to defend that advanced e-pawn with d4, an immediate ...c5 seems to make sense for Black here, to prevent that possibility. (But then, I'm a complete novice, so take this with a grain of salt.)

  • 1
    Probably an immediate c5 is the best reply to e5, the other one being d6.
    – sharcashmo
    Oct 27, 2015 at 23:13

The pawn isn't considered a piece in chess, so it doesn't break the rule of moving the same piece twice. Also, many books and engines have 2. ...d6 as a good reply. However 2. ...c5 is the best move.


It is immediately punishable with 2...d6. White doesn't have a good way to protect the e-pawn.

  1. f4 is going to get crushed by dxe5 followed by Qh4+

  2. d4 is just bad. After 3...dxe6 4. dxe5, Qxd1 5. Kxd1 black is better

  3. Nf3 is probably best but after 3...dxe5 4. Nxe5, Bd6 white doesn't really have anything other than moving the knight back to f3 and now black is ahead in development

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