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I recently met the French defence as white which turned into the advanced version.

In short, I got crushed in a humiliating way, kicked while lying and spat on.

So now I am reforming and reconstructing my life. Why do I push my E and D pawns in openings? I do this sometimes before moving minor pieces. Am I a pawn-push addict? Am I better off with the pawns on the 4th and 5th ranks than on 3rd and 4th? This can happen in the Sicilian, Caro-Kann, Scandinavian, Nimzowitsch and the French. I need group therapy/feedback.

  • could you add a diagram? cheers – Rauan Sagit Feb 25 '14 at 14:01
  • No sorry, but anyone else can. – AWE Feb 25 '14 at 22:11
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    You didn't lose because you played the Advance Variation, you lost because you played bad moves later. – dfan Feb 26 '14 at 1:08
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    could you include the first e.g. 10 moves? – Rauan Sagit Feb 26 '14 at 9:18
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Perhaps you would find it useful if I tried to explain the pros and cons of playing the advance variation in the French defense for white. Let's look at its starting position

[FEN ""]
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5

Why does white choose 3.e5?

  1. To control the squares e5, d6 and f6
  2. Prevent black from developing with Ng8-f6
  3. Lock down the f7-pawn to attack it later
  4. Make the h7-square weaker to attack it later (Nf6 usually protects h7)
  5. Make the black Bc8 worse by locking it behind the f7-e6-d5 pawn chain

What are the downsides of 3.e5?

  1. White releases the e4-d5 tension
  2. The white d4-pawn becomes a target for attack
  3. The white e5-pawn becomes subject for the thematic f7-f6 break
  4. White makes an extra pawn move and sort of loses the extra tempo

What should black do?

  1. Attack the d4-pawn
  2. Do the f7-f6 break
  3. Activate the Bc8 at some point, e.g. via Bc8-d7-e8-h5
  4. If white is sloppy, go for a quick attack on the enemy king

What should white do?

  1. Have a strong control over the dark squares d4, e5, f4 and e3
  2. Make sure the king is safe
  3. Keep the strong control over the center
  4. Attack the enemy king

For example

[FEN ""]
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.c3 Nc6 5.Nf3 Qb6 6.a3 a5 7.Bd3 Bd7 8.O-O cxd4 9.cxd4 Nxd4 10.Nxd4 Qxd4 11.Nc3
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    Good answers. I wish I could accept yours and Weses. I will stick to pushing the center pawns for now since it is in line with the beginners opening principles. – AWE Mar 5 '14 at 19:37
  • @AWE Cheers! Yep, push them 1 or 2 steps but think a bit extra before pushing any further! Try to use your pieces more. Remember, pawns cannot move backwards :) – Rauan Sagit Mar 5 '14 at 19:54
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So now I am reforming and reconstructing my life.

First of all, calm down. Hey, it's just a game! You sound as if your whole life depends upon whether you win or lose! You might want to read this post about how to deal with losses.

Why do I push my E and D pawns in openings?

I would caution you against criticizing your opening (or any other aspect of your game) based on the outcome of just one humiliating defeat. Many top players have got crushed and humiliated. Look at Deep Blue vs Gary Kasparov, 1997, Game 6; perhaps the most humiliating defeat of Gary Kasparov's career; yet he still remained number 1 in the world for the rest of his career. Also consider Botvinnik's humiliating defeat against Tal in game 6 of their match in 1960, where Tal played an unsound sacrifice and still beat Botvinnik. Botvinnik lost that match, but came back stronger in the rematch and crushed Tal (+10 -5 = 6).

Am I a pawn-push addict? Am I better off with the pawns on the 4th and 5th ranks than on 3rd and 4th?

Only you can answer the first part. For the second part, you may or may not be better off with pawns on the 4th and 5th vs pawns on the 3rd and 4th. It depends upon the position and also your playing style. Pawns on the 4th and 5th rank often occur in these type of configurations-

     [FEN "4k3/pp3ppp/3p4/2pP4/4P3/8/PP3PPP/4K3 w - - 0 6"] 

Benoni Type Structure (White plans e4-e5 break at some point)

     [FEN "4k3/ppp2ppp/4p3/3pP3/3P4/8/PPP2PPP/4K3 w - - 0 3"] 

French Type Structure (White plans kingside attack and maybe even f4-f5 break)

     [FEN "6k1/ppp2p1p/3p2p1/3Pp3/2P1P3/8/PP3PPP/4K3 w - - 0 7"]

King's Indian Type Structure (White plans c4-c5 and queen side attack)

The advantage of such pawn structure is obvious- White has more space whereas Black has less space to move pieces. The disadvantage is that it's often easier for Black to attack White's pawn chain than for White to do the same (except in case of the Benoni). The simple reason is that it is easier for Black to make moves like c5 and f5 to attack the central d4 or e4 pawns which support the pawns on the 5th rank, than for White to try to play f4-f5 or c4-c5 to undermine the e6 or d6 pawns that hold Black's position. Moreover, White has to make additional moves like c3 or f3 to support the pawn chain, whereas Black's pawns often support the chain from their natural squares like c7 or f7.

To determine whether these positions are "good" (suitable to your style of play) for you, you must examine some sample games in these structures to see if they fit your style.

Sample games with these structures - Benoni, French, King's Indian.

If not, you will definitely be better off placing pawns on the 3rd and 4th ranks most of the time. In those cases, you have to note that you will not be able to maintain the pawn center for long. You either have to push your pawns to the 5th rank or exchange pawns when Black attacks.

Some sample structures -

       [FEN "4k3/pp3ppp/4p3/2p5/3P4/2P5/PP3PPP/4K3 w - - 0 5"]

Alapin Sicilian Type Structure (White usually gets isolated pawn on d4 but great piece activity)

       [FEN "4k3/pp3ppp/4p3/3p4/2PP4/8/PP3PPP/4K3 w - - 0 5"]

Panov Attack Type Structure (Might lead to isolated pawn. White plays on the kingside or queenside depending upon how Black continues)

       [FEN "3qk3/ppp2ppp/8/3p4/2PP4/8/PP3PPP/4K3 w - - 0 4"]

Exchange French Type Structure (Might lead to isolated pawn. Black is in no real danger)

       [FEN "4k3/pp3ppp/2p1p3/3p4/2PP4/4P3/PP3PPP/4K3 w - - 0 4"]

Queen's Pawn Opening Type Structure (Flexible. White may play on the kingside or the queenside depending upon how the game proceeds. White may try e3-e4 or cxd5 exd5 and b4-b5 if Black allows)

       [FEN "4k3/ppp2ppp/3p4/4p3/3PP3/2P5/PP3PPP/4K3 w - - 0 3"]

Ruy Lopez Type Structure (White plans d4-d5 at the opportune moment and kingside attack)

You can look up these openings in a similar way. The advantage is that your pawn center is not that easily attacked and your "mobile" pawns can prevent Black pieces from activity in the center. The disadvantage is that your opponent's center is often strong too. Besides, in such positions, White can often acquire an isolated pawn, which may become a disadvantage in the endgame.

The important think to note is, you can't simply win by maintaining pawns on the 3rd and 4th ranks. Your pawns either have to advance or exchange with enemy pawns to create advantages of space, mobility, outposts, backward pawns for opponent, etc. It's knowing when to push to the 5th rank that's important. That comes with experience and studying games with different pawn structures.

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There are two conflicting ideas at play here. White's idea is to push his e and d pawns, grab more space and get an open play and try to cramp black's position. Black's idea is the so-called 'hypermodern' approach which is to allow white to set up a pawn center and then try to demolish it. Both sides have a plan, and whoever carries out their plan better will win!

In the french defence, black is able to generate sufficient counterplay by bringing enormous amount of pressure on white's d4 pawn. This pressure will appear to be formidable especially in the hands of a french specialist. However, white does have a few tricks of his own! The advance variation is playable but you need to be well versed in theory in order to carry out the maneuvers precisely as often one wrong step can spell doom for white.

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In my experience really early in the opening, without specific diagrams to address, it is ok to push the E and D pawns to the 4th and 5th rank as long as you have the Nc3 out.

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