I enjoy playing the French Defence as black against 1. e4, for the following reasons.

  1. It often creates a closed position without wild tactics
  2. It takes white away from the more familiar lines (1... e5 and 1... c5)
  3. If black survives the attack, black will likely have a better pawn structure for the endgame.
  4. It doesn't involve a kingside fianchetto, which never seems to work out for me.

I'm curious what would be a similar option against 1. d4. I find that when I try to play positionally, looking for long-term advantages, I often find myself in extremely symmetrical, drawish positions.

I'd like a system to play against 1. d4 that is not extremely common and is reasonably safe, and not prone to symmetrical positions.

I'm strictly a club-level player that has no aspirations of being competitive with class-A players.

  • Does the King's Indian count as "French-like"? It also generates that type of closed centers with attacks on the sides
    – David
    Jul 29, 2019 at 11:03
  • I think that it does. However, it is so common it would be hard to argue that it takes white away from the common lines (maybe you would say the same about the French). Also, I've never been good with a kingside fianchetto. Nevertheless, it is worth considering. One can always improve. Incidentally, I've left the French for the Caro-Kann. Simple, relatively uncommon, and no bad bishop. Jul 31, 2019 at 20:59
  • Great to know that you've finally found your dream repertoire. Anyway, I wouldn't consider the King's Indian as a regular fianchetto defence, as White doesn't try to castle queenside that often
    – David
    Jul 31, 2019 at 21:37

7 Answers 7


One option is to play 1... e6 against 1. d4 anyways!

After 1. d4 e6, white doesn't really have a choice other than to transpose into a standard opening anyways. If white plays 2. e4, well that's just the French Defense that you know and love.

If white plays something else, like 2. c4 (as most Queen's Gambit players will), then you have a few options:

  1. Queen's Gambit Declined (2... d5)
    You have to be prepared here because white will most likely know a few good openings. There are some obvious similarities between the French and the QGD (black's light square bishop!), but there are a few key differences that you will need to practice.
  2. Benoni (2... c5)
    If you don't want to deal with a symmetrical game, the Benoni is a good option. However, this is likely to lead to a fairly tactical game after 3. d5 exd5 4. cxd5 d6. Since you weren't thrilled about a tactical melee, that brings us to the...
  3. Dutch Defense (2... f5)
    Although the Dutch Defense doesn't have the best reputation, it fits your criteria: it's not very tactical (at least the Stonewall, the Leningrad is a totally different story!), black will have some positional trumps (namely the e4 square), and it's offbeat enough. Black's simple plan is to setup pawns on f5, e6, d5, and c6 and then stick a knight on e4. The whole battle revolves around control of the e4 square, and black has had good results with the Stonewall Dutch.

After mentioning all that, 1. d4 e6 2.c4 can also lead directly into Indian structures with either 2... Nf6 or 2... b6 (the Nimzo and Queen's Indian respectively). If you are familiar with one of these openings, this is a good way to try to get a French, but fall back on a main line opening if your opponent doesn't oblige with 2. e4.


Rudolph Spielmann, a great advocate of the French Defense, would play e6 against d4, to give White the chance to transpose into the French defense with e4. When Rubenstein played c4 instead, Spielmann played f5 and went into a Dutch defense/Stonewall formation, rather than play d5, which seems to give White an edge.

If White plays c4 on the second move after your e6, an alternative to f5 is Nf6, which holds back the d pawn and in some instances heads for a Nimzo-Indian.

  • 10
    The Stonewall is a good suggestion, but "it seems to give White an edge" is not a characterization that fits the Queen's Gambit Declined.
    – user332
    Jun 16, 2012 at 9:56
  • 2
    The QGD gives White a lasting pressure, especially if the exchange variation is used. In a normal QGD, Black always has a problem developing the Queen's Bishop.
    – Mike Jones
    Mar 20, 2016 at 8:56
  • @MikeJones: I agree with you, which is why I look for alternatives to QGD. I will play QGD reluctantly, and at a time and circumstances of my own choosing (e.g. after White has made a "non optimal" move).
    – Tom Au
    Mar 20, 2016 at 13:31

As a French player, I never liked d4 e6 because I didn't want to go into the QGD. I see its dynamic potential now, but it's just not my style.

I can't say this is based on strict logic, but my play got a big boost from the Benko Gambit. The French and Benko have a reputation for just being annoying and they shouldn't be solid, but they are. And you won't have to memorize as much theory to get a good start.

The Benko has more positional maneuvering than you'd expect in the main pawn-sac line, and it also has the same themes of queenside play if White advances, along with a cramped but potentially dynamic position. It has some thematic moves that flow pretty naturally too. In this case you may fianchetto a bishop, but it's not blocked in.

I tried the Dutch but found there were too many good anti-Dutch systems.

The French is a woolly opening that requires you to recognize many different odd positional things. So is the Benko. I was worried about sac'ing a pawn, but I think it helped me play more dynamically. And it is definitely not symmetric! The main drawback is White doesn't have to play d5.


Well, I think the Tarrasch defense is pretty 'french-like'.

[FEN "rnbqkbnr/pppppppp/8/8/8/8/PPPPPPPP/RNBQKBNR w KQkq - 0 1"]

1.d4 d5 (1...e6 2.c4 (2.Nc3 d5 3.e4 Bb4) 2...Nf6 3.Nc3 d5 4.Nf3 c5) 2.c4 e6 
3.Nc3 c5 *

As you can see, the gradual c5 thrust is universal against pretty much all d4 setups. You can play this way against the London System, you can play this against the Queen's Gambit (which is strictly the Tarrasch defense), you can even play this against the Stonewall attack, etc.

Enjoy! )) P.s.



I play the French and the Gruenfeld against 1.d4. Both are counterattacking, that's what the French really is anyway a counter attack. So a French player will feel at home in the Gruenfeld despite its more open nature.

  • I think I'll play around with this, and see if I like the positions I get. Jul 9, 2021 at 14:06

How about the Old Indian (1.d4, Nf6 2.c4, d6)? It is not popular at the highest levels, but I have forgotten why not, and so will most of your opponents. Of course, White might not play c4, but Im sure you did not expect an easy answer. It can make a lot of sense to play a slightly inferior opening that you understand very well.


I think the most "French-like" reply to 1.d4 is the King's Indian Defense. By playing an early ...e6 and ..d5 you're making the same moves as in the French, but you hardly ever get a similar type of pawn structure.

However, with the King's Indian, you'll often get a closed center with a chain of blocked pawns on it, with each side playing on an opposite side of the baord, just as in so mnany variation of the French.

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