I had White deviate from the French main line in a blitz game by playing:

[FEN ""]
1. e4 e6 2. Nc3

Since this line is not discussed in the Wikipedia article on French defence I am thinking that Black may have better options than to simply pursue normal French development with:

[FEN ""]
[StartPly "3"]

1. e4 e6 2. Nc3 d5

(which is what I played, it being a blitz game and all)

I was thinking maybe it's worthwhile to respond with: 2...Bb4 with the aim of a Bishop-Knight exchange and forcing White to suffer double pawns on the c-file. Or try the non-committing: 2...Nf6 or 2...Nc6.

The chess engine XBoard / Fairy-Max 4.8Q with 50 minutes available time for Black (for 40 moves) suggested 2...Be7.

Any thoughts?

  • You mean "double pawns on the c file", right?
    – TKR
    Jan 31 '14 at 2:22
  • @TKR yeap, fixed that. Jan 31 '14 at 10:04
  • Is there a particular line you don't like after 2...d5? Because to me it seems like you'll transpose to one of the mainlines most of the time. I don't like 2...Nf6 at all due to 3.e5, and after 2...Nc6 3.d4, White has an improved version of the French Defense. 2...Bb4 doesn't look bad at all if you are a Winaver player
    – David
    Dec 3 '20 at 17:45

It is very hard to answer this question without White's next move after you played d5. I bet he tried something like 3.Nf3 or even 3.d3 would not surprise me.

You see, the move 2.Nc3 is not bad-it follows all the opening rules, and is used only to transpose from one opening into another or to dodge certain variations that are unpleasant for White.

In my opinion, I assume that White did not want to play main lines of the French defense so he tried to trick you to transpose into another opening or another line, the one you do not know.

This is especially useful in blitz games. Your move-2.d5-is the best move.

Never fool around with transpositions when you play blitz, always spend the least amount of time possible on openings. Quality blitz games are won in the middle game or by the expiration of thinking time, not in the opening.

The main point of 2.Nc3 is that it can not be refuted, and it can not give White a bad position.

White tries to force you to waste important thinking time on the opening trying to refute this move. You could play 2.c5 here but why? After c5 you get Sicilian defense which is not your repertoire against 1.e4 is it? Therefore, White would achieve his goal-he would transpose into opening you do not know-because if you intended to play the Sicilian defense at the first place you would respond with 1.c5 not with 1.e6 right?

If 2.Nf6 he can dodge the French defense by playing 3.e5! which might give him a slight opening advantage. If 2.Nc6 with the idea to play e5 and transpose into favorable version of the Italian game then 3.d4 transposes into some sort of Nimzovich defense and you are out of your opening in both cases.

On 2.Bb4 White can now go for 3.Nge2!? with events developing something like this:

[fen ""]

1.e4 e6 2.Nc3 Bb4 3.Nge2 d5 4.a3 Ba5 5.d4 dxe4

This position is known in the Winawer French defense-it is coded as C15 in the ECO and the above is the sideline. This variation is not played with bishop on a5, and being unable to find any theoretical resource that mentions this position in Winawer line I must conclude that the move Ba5 in the regular line is bad-which is precisely the goal of White's altered move order. In the normal Winawer things would go like this:

[fen ""]

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.Nge2 dxe4 5.a3 Bxc3+ ( 5...Be7!? )

We can list other moves or possibilities for Black after White plays 2.Nc3, but let us keep this post short and answer your question:

  1. e4 e6 2. Nc3 - how should Black respond?

Again, I consider your d5 to be the strongest move-both for theoretical and psychological/practical reasons explained below:

Do not experiment with transpositions or you may end up in a position that will very likely be unfavorable for you. You can break this rule only if you are 100% sure that transposition can benefit you. If not then decline it by staying in your opening. Most of the time this is the best choice to make and the most unpleasant one for the side trying to trick you.

If you have further questions leave a comment and I will reply.

Best regards.

  • 3.d3 was indeed White's next move. Jan 30 '14 at 18:37
  • @MarcusJuniusBrutus: So obvious :) I do not know if you realize it, but with d5 you actually won a psychological war. I do not play the French defense that often but c5 should be good for you. Then Nc6 and then exchange on e4 so he can not transpose into *King's Indian Attack` or something else. He will have to lose a tempo to contest the center with d4 or else you will have space advantage. Hopefully this helped. Best regards. Jan 30 '14 at 19:21

Well, let's start by looking at the position

[FEN ""]
1.e4 e6 2.Nc3

Why does white play 2.Nc3? Because white gets two options after the standard (!) 2...d5, namely 3.d4 or 3.Nf3 as shown below

[FEN ""]
1.e4 e6 2.Nc3 d5 3.d4 (3.Nf3)

In case black wants to aim for a French system position, I would say that 2...d5 is the best option. In case black wants to go for other types of positions, then it is possible to go for a Sicilian system with 2...c5 as well as more independent routes like 2...Bb4, 2...e5. It is also possible to go for some sort of hybrid after 2...Be7 3.Nf3 g5 4.h3 h5, as shown below. What is the objectively best move? Well, I would say that 2...c5 and 2...d5 are equally strong. While 2...Bb4 seems like an interesting option that needs a bit more research. Or just try it for fun and see where it goes!

[FEN ""]
1.e4 e6 2.Nc3 d5 (2...c5) (2...Bb4) (2...e5 3.Nf3 Nc6 4.Bb5 Nd4) (2...Be7 3.Nf3 g5 4.h3 h5)
  • @bof very good points. 2...e5 does look odd, yet the black knight is still on b8 which offers black the extra option of c7-c6 taking control of the d5-square. Of course, objectively, white should be happy with 2...e5. At the same time, the point is to get a slightly different position from the normal ones and hopefully dribble white off the track. Again, it all depends on the strength of the opponent. Regarding 3...g5 in the 2...Be7 line, the idea is similar to the Morozevich line from Nd2-French with 7...h5. After 4.d4 g4, the Nf3 is driven off and white gets less control over d4 and e5. Jan 30 '14 at 20:20

As Black, I'd play 2 ... c5. White has failed to occupy d4 with his second move, so I would try to head off his occupation of that square.

Of course, White may be headed for a more restrained version of the French defense, that is, no e5, and d3 instead of d4, but that gives Black some chance to capture the initiative.


In Harald Keilhack's book "Knight on the Left: 1.Nc3" he discusses the position after 1.e4 e6 2.Nc3 and identifies 2...d5 as the most likely Black response.

A transposition to a Sicilian with 2...c5 is possible. But it seems an odd move order for a 1...e6 player. Why not play 1...c5 instead?

2...Nf6 could lead to a sideline of the Alekhine's Defence after 3.e5 Other options are 2...b6 (Owen's Defence) or 2...Nc6 (when 3.d4 Bb4 is a possibility).

2...Bb4 is a little-studied position and White has a large number of playable moves. These include 3.Nge2, 3.Nf3, 3.g3, 3.d3, 3.a3, 3.Nb5!? and 3.Qg4!?

Here is a sample game: Gmeinwieser-Bromberger, Bavaria 1999


People (like myself) who occasionally play 1.Nc3 regard this as a main line and are not unhappy to see it. The book by Keilhack mentioned by @mleonard is excellent (as a general chess book) and points out all the transpositional possibilities that White might try to confuse you with. As a counter to some of the remarks made above, White does not always intend d4. He often plays Bc4 or Bb5 followed by d3. If he decides to play e5, he can support it with f4. Because d4 has not been played, ..c5 has less point. Since Whites QN has no better square than g3, Black can stir up trouble with ..h5, but White has seen this before.

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