French defence, Winawer, 5. a3, 6... f5 Analysis

The subject of the next analysis is a unique move i found in the French defence.

1. e4 e6
2. d4 d5
3. Nc3 Bb4
4. e5 c5
5. a3 Bxc3
6. bxc3 f5 (to stop Qg4)

Here we start an elaborate analysis where White will attempt to exploit Black's weaknesses while it is up to lack to prove that a decisive way for a White advantage cannot clearly be demonstrated.

The following discussion is taken from the 'Openings for amateurs' forum.

FM David Levin:
[1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. e5 c5 5. a3 Bxc3+ 6. bxc3 f5 7. Qh5+ g6 8. Qd1 Nc6 9. Nf3 Nge7 10. Bh6 Qa5 11. Qd2 Bd7 12. Be2 cxd4 13. cxd4 Qxd2+ 14. Bxd2 h6 15. h4]


My immediate impression was that White is much better due to White's potential "minority attack" on the a- and b-files, White's space advantage on the e-file (which suggests White's possibly opening the kingside at some point), Black's weak h-pawn, the lack of effective posts for Black's minor pieces, and Black's difficulty in generating active play along the c-file (given that Black cannot maneuver a knight to the c4-square via the a5-square).

To test this assessment, I tried to construct a tangible plan for White. The key seemed to be White's knight, which although "centralized" on the f3-square, is blocking the f-pawn and doesn't contribute to any White offensive. It seemed to rather belong on the c5-square, to aid in pressuring the b-pawn.

Here then, is the multi-stage maneuver I came up with.

Stage A. Connect White's rooks
A1) Play Bd3 (to free the e2-square for the king and protect the c-pawn in case a Black rook were to attack it along the c-file)
A2) Play Ke2 (to facilitate the deployment of White's rooks on either wing)

Stage B. Prevent blockade of White's a-pawn
B1) Play a4 (to prevent ...Ba4 in case Black's c6-knight were to move)
B2) Play a5 (to prevent ...Na5, ...Nec6, and ...b6)

Stage C. Redeploy White's knight to the b3-square (from which it may access the c5-square)
C1) Play c3 (so that White's d2-bishop can leave the a5/e1 diagonal without permitting ...Nb4)
C2) Play Be3 (to free the d2-square for the knight)
C3) Play Nd2 (another route to the c5-square would have been via the e1- and d3-squares, but this would have forced White pieces to inferior posts)
C4) Play Nb3 (not only eyeing the c5-square but protecting the a-pawn, thereby freeing White's a1-rook)

These stages/moves may need to be swapped or deferred based on Black's play. For example, if Black continues 15...Nd8, the reply should be 16. a4 (to prevent 16...Ba4), even though that move is listed under Stage B.

The following shows the result of the above three stages, with Black's pieces omitted.


A natural plan for White from this point would be to continue amassing pieces on the queenside. With White's knight protecting the a-pawn (thus allowing a White piece to interpose between White's a-rook and a-pawn), White's dark-square bishop could redeploy to the a3-square and settle at the d6-square. Then White's h-rook would probably come to the b1-square.

Another plan would be to prepare g4... followed by h5... (and if Black replies ...g5, White might play f4).

Summarizing, in the position reached by 15. h4, it seems to me that accurate play by White could well oblige Black to defend alertly for 30 or 40 moves, with little prospect for meaningful activity. This seems to imply that White has a clear edge, unless a comprehensive defensive plan for Black can be demonstrated. 

before we go any further I do like to say that white is obviously better and yes mainly because of everything you’ve mentioned and black’s uneasy piece play etc but is it really utterly decisive or simply… defendable?

Naming a few of black’s steps:

Play …b6 (to prevent Rb1 threats and the possibility of white posting a piece on c5)
Play …Kf7 (to connect the Rooks, defend king side pawns and the e-pawn thus giving more freedom to the d7 bishop)
Play …Kg7 (to defend the h-pawn and prepare the next step)
Play …Rb8 and …Rc8 (to activate the Rooks and defend the queen side. If possible double rooks on the b-file)

Possibly Play … Na5!? (if BxN the b and c-files will be opened giving black the activity needed for counter play. Black could then also play …a5-a4 preventing a piece coming to b3. Otherwise the knight controls key squares such as c4 and b3)

[variation: 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. e5 c5 5. a3 Bxc3+ 6. bxc3 f5 7. Qh5+ g6 8. Qd1 Nc6 9. Nf3 Nge7 10. Bh6 Qa5 11. Qd2 Bd7 12. Be2 cxd4 13. cxd4 Qxd2+ 14. Bxd2 h6 15. h4]

Likeable continuation: 15… b6 16. Bd3 Kf7 (BTW, possibly even 16... Na5) 17. Ke2 Rab8 18. a4!? Kg7 19. Rhb1 Rhc8 {possibly with 20… Na5}
I don’t’ see any problems for black. 

FM Dave Levin:
[1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. e5 c5 5. a3 Bxc3+ 6. bxc3 f5 7. Qh5+ g6 8. Qd1 Nc6 9. Nf3 Nge7 10. Bh6 Qa5 11. Qd2 Bd7 12. Be2 cxd4 13. cxd4 Qxd2+ 14. Bxd2 h6 15. h4]


[as suggested: 15…..b6 16. Bd3 Kf7 17. Ke2 Rab8 18. a4 Kg7 19. Rhb1 Rhc8]


Given that Black has played ...b6 (giving White's a-pawn something to "bite" on), White might as well pursue the minority attack.

20. a5 bxa5 21. Rxb8 Rxb8 22. Bxa5 Nxa5 23. Rxa5



Yes, white’s position and piece-posts have their merits but that does not out weigh black’s play in any way I can think of at this moment.

For instance, whatever move may be chosen for white as a substitute 24th move it doesn’t seem to force black to abandon the above mentioned plans to something, shall we say – less favorable. Not that I can see anyway.

So disregarding white’s 24th move I do believe black can simply meet most 24th move with 24…Nc6 and now, a few ideas:

A very fast-sleeve line to demonstrate these ideas:
24. Ra6 Nc6
25. c3 Rb2+
26. Ke3 Be8
27. Nd2 g5
28. hxg5 hxg5
29. g3 f4+
30. gxf4 gxf4+
31. Ke2 Bh5+

And it is white who seems to suffer a small predicament.

FM Dave Levin:
After the saner 24. Ra2 (protecting White's second rank), I'm not sure that White can ultimately be prevented from repositioning his knight to the c5-square and improving the placement of his other pieces. But even if this were achieved, it's far from clear that White could demonstrate a persistent advantage, although I still wouldn't be comfortable as Black in the 6...f5 variation. 

That is precisely the point, I don’t actually see that happening at all. I don’t see how the knight can successfully reach c5 nor can I see how white can improve if anything I’d say the tactics favor black and that somehow along the road the players have switched sides and it is now white who needs to aimlessly defend and it is black who’s enjoying the activity.

[1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. e5 c5 5. a3 Bxc3+ 6. bxc3 f5 7. Qh5+ g6 8. Qd1 Nc6 9. Nf3 Nge7 10. Bh6 Qa5 11. Qd2 Bd7 12. Be2 cxd4 13. cxd4 Qxd2+ 14. Bxd2 h6 15. h4 b6 16. Bd3 Kf7 17. Ke2 Rab8 18. a4 Kg7 19. Rhb1 Rhc8 20. a5 bxa5 21. Rxb8 Rxb8 22. Bxa5 Nxa5 23. Rxa5 Rb7 24. Ra2 Nc6]

A) 25. c3 {seems most natural here}
a5 26. Nd2 a4 27. Bc2 (27. Rxa4 Nxe5) 27... Ra7 28. Rxa4 Rxa4 29. Bxa4 Nxd4+ 30. cxd4 Bxa4 31. g3 g5

B) 25. Ke3 {trying to protect the d-pawn with the king in order to play Nd2}
a5 26. Nd2 a4 27. Rxa4 Nxe5 28. Ra2 Nxd3 29. Kxd3 Kf6 30. Nb3 Rb4 31. Nc5 (31. Rb2 g5 32. hxg5+ hxg5 33. c3 Rb8 34. Kc2 Ba4)
31... Bb5+

C) 25. Ba6 {attempting to stop the a-pawn}
Nb4 26. Bxb7 Nxa2 27. Nd2 Bb5+ 28. Ke3 Nb4 29. c3 Nc2+ 30.
Kf4 a5 31. Nb3 a4 32. Nc5 Kf7 33. Bc8 Ke7 34. Bxe6 Bc4 35. Nxa4 Kxe6 36. Nc5+ Ke7

In all these lines black appears to have more dynamics, more tactics and easier play while it is white who needs to show extra careful.

I haven't really gotten involved with long lines of theory discussion much, but I would like to add my two cents' worth here. One of the things I've learned recently is the idea that one should always focus on the specific drawbacks of the opponent's moves when considering what should be the correct response. Here, one could say that Qh5+ should definitely be considered, as Black has just weakened the h5-e8 diagonal, but I wonder if Qd1 might be discarded in favor of Qh3, which keeps an eye on the h6 square, weakened after g6.

[1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. e5 c5 5. a3 Bxc3+ 6. bxc3 f5 7. Qh5+ g6 8. Qh3]


At first glance 8. Qh3 does appear to stay on target rather than to retreat back to d1 so I understand the attraction of the move.

The problem is that from h3 the queen will not be able to defend the c2 and c3-pawns. Especially since after …Nc6 white will have to play Ng1-f3 cutting the queen’s lines even more.
Black only needs two tempi at most to attack these pawns, one way will be …Qd8-a5 {attacking c3} Qa5-a4 {attacking c2} and … Bd7-a4 {attacking c2}

It seems that without the queen the c1-Bishop and the a1-Rook cannot defend the c2- c3- and a3-pawns therefore black will be able to win {in most likelihood} the a-pawn.

After the capture …Qxa3 black will be able to close the centre with the thematic …c5-c4 which will limit white’s LSB but more importantly will serve black with what I consider a substitutional–regressive-plan. The queen {mind you it is now on a3} will be able to go straight to f8 from where it will defend the h6 hole and the f6 square.
Interesting that the queen is likely to continue with Qf8-g7 making a substitution for the DSB and defending the b7-pawn. Once that is achieved I believe black will be able to both advance on the king side with …h7-h6 / …g6-g5 and advance on the queen side with …b6 / … a5 / … b5 / …. Rb8 / … Ba6 and build on the break of … b5-b4 {or possibly if white hasn’t prevented it just ….a5-a4-a3 etc}

The most purposeful move then is:

8… Nc6 {trying to force white into Ng1-f3}
9. Nf3 Qa5 10. Bd2 Qa4 11. Rc1 Qxa3 12. Bd3 c4 13. Be2 Qf8 14. O-O 

Here is see to plans of action, one for pure defence and the other is a try for a win.

A) 14…Qg7 {playing for defence}
15. Ra1 h6 16. Rfb1 Nge7 17. Ne1 g5 18. Bh5+ Ng6 19. f4 g4 20. Qg3 O-O

B) 14... b6 {trying to play for a win}
15. Qg3 (15. Nh4 Qg7) (15. Bg5 h6) 15... Qg7 16. Ra1 h6 17. h4 b5 18. Rfb1 Rb8 19. Rb2 a5 20. Rab1 Ba6

Unless I’m missing something I think black is clearly fine with both plans

[1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. e5 c5 5. a3 Bxc3+ 6. bxc3 f5]

Two more lines I checked:

A) Main line 7. Qh5+ g6
A1) 8. Qe2 Nc6 9. Nf3 Qa5 10. Bd2 Qa4 11. Qd3 c4 12. Qe3 Qxc2 13. Be2 Na5
Seems pretty sound for black

B) 7. Nh3

{At first the idea of Nh3 seemed only natural for positional reasons. The main idea being Nh3-f4 from which it’ll attack the g6-square thus making a plausible Qd1-h5+ a decisive tactic. The second reason is Nf4-d3-c5 but I think that’s less plausible since the simple …b7-b6 or even …c5-c4 stops it but at least it’s a possibility. Yet another reason to support 7. Nh3 is the queen’s free play on the d1-h5 diagonal with possible moves like f2-f4 and Qd1-f3}

7... Qc7

{the idea for this move / plan came to me from the above lines with the black queen going to g7. here too the queen is heading that same way}

8. Bd2 g6 9. Qf3

{I welcome any suggestions you may have but for now this seems like the only way for white to actually develop his back rank}

9… Nc6 10. Qe3 Qg7 11. Bd3 c4 12. Be2 h6 13. O-O g5 14. a4

{I’m not convinced white has any better, the obvious 14. Bh5+ may be better but for now I’m not so sure. Black has a lot of pieces on the king side, any attempts by white should allow black to trade off as many pieces as he can. I’m not sure white can benefit from any open king side files as well, see the variation below to see why.}
(14. Bh5+ Kf8 15. f4 g4 16. Nf2 Bd7 17. Nxg4 Be8 18. Nf6 Nxf6 19. exf6 Qxf6 20. Bf3 Rg8 21. a4 Rc8 22. Bc1 Rc7 23. Ba3+ Kg7 24. Rf2 Kh7 25. Re1 Bf7 26. Kh1 Rg7 27. Rfe2 Rc8 28. Qf2 Rcg8 29. g3 h5)

14... Nge7 15. Bc1 O-O 16. f4
(16. Ba3 f4)
16... g4 17. Nf2 b6

The game reached a strategic impasse

[1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. e5 c5 5. a3 Bxc3+ 6. bxc3 f5]

Moves I’m planning to cover:
7. a4, 7. Be3, 7. Rb1

7. a4
7... Nc6 8. f4 

(8. Qh5+ g6 9. Qd1 Qc7 10. Nf3 Qg7
(10... Nge7 11. Bd2
(11. Bh6 cxd4 12. cxd4 Nb4)
11... b6 12. Be2 Bb7 13. Bh6 Ng8 14. Be3 Nge7 15. Qd2 Na5 16. Ng5 Nc4 17. Bxc4 dxc4 18. Nxe6 Qc6)
11. Be2 h6 12. h4 Nge7 13. Be3 c4 14. Qd2 b6 15. Ng1 Bb7 16. Nh3 O-O-O)

8... Nge7 9. Nf3 O-O 10. Be2 Qa5 11. Bd2 c4 12. O-O h6 13. Nh4 Bd7 14. Qe1 Rab8

Despite the complications I do see the same themes starting to repeat themselves with stable success. Black should be ok in these lines.

A game i played on the internet against a FM!


John said...

So far a clear way of a White advantage has not been discovered.

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