French Defense is 3rd most popular choice against 1.e4. In this opening, Black tries to attack the queenside and white control center. This aggressive opening ends with the unbalanced position where both players get equal chances to win. Black usually choose french defense if he/she likes to play the closed positions. White has 4 main choices to counter french defense which are Classical Variation, Exchange Variation, Advance Variation, King’s Indian Attack, etc. The most popular choice is 3.Nc3 and 3.e5. In this article, we are going to see how you can play against the French Defense.  

How to counter french defense?

The safest variation to play against French Defense is Exchange Variation. It leads to equal positions. If you love to play equal and symmetrical endgame then you can choose Exchange Variation. There is also a more aggressive variation in Exchange Variation where you play 4th move c4 and try to get the unbalanced position. Still, that position is also equal, and black also gets counterplay.

The mainline to counter French Defense is a Classical Variation which is 3.Nc3. This variation is very critical and requires a lot of preparation and effort. Classical Variation is also very sharp for both sides. If you like to play tactical, aggressive, sharp positions then I would definitely recommend you. Also, this is the most popular variation against French Defense. I have recommended you some videos to learn about this opening in this article. 

Other variations are very sharp and give white a better edge. This variation includes 2.Qe2 and two knights variation.  

Best variations to counter French defense

Chigorin Variation

chigorin variation

In Chigorin Variation white plays 2. Qe2 where white develop his queen on 2nd move only which is against any opening principle. The main plan of white is to avoid black’s 2…d5. White then slowly develops pieces and starts an attack on the kingside.  

I have created a course on Chigorin Variation for white. You can purchase from here.

King’s Indian Attack (KIA)


This is also a very interesting variation to play against French Defense. In this variation, white plays 2.d3 and starts an attack on the kingside. With accurate play, black can hold a position and sometimes gain advantage also. But it is very difficult to play exact moves from the black side. I have played against KIA many times and trust me, it is really very difficult to manage white’s attack. 

Advance Variation

Advance Variation

In advance Variation, white plays 3. e5. This is one of the most popular replies against a French Defense. The main plan of white is to control the center and attack the kingside. Sometimes white can try to attack queenside also. This variation is very trending and a lot of new variations coming in upcoming years. If you want to prepare against the French Defense for the long term then this variation might be your choice. 

Exchange Variation

How to counter French Defense

In Exchange Variation white captures black’s d5 pawn and black recaptures it with a pawn. This variation is very simple to study and prepare. You can play this variation in must-win situations, against higher-rated players, etc. 

You can watch the following video to learn more about Exchange Variation

Classical Variation

This is the most popular variation against the French Defense. In Classical Variation, white play’s 3rd move Nc3. This position becomes very complex in the next few moves only. If you want to prepare this variation in deep then it will take atleast 8-10 months and a lot of practice and a detailed complete repertoire. 

Strategies to beat French Defense

  • Keep your structure solid – In french defense, black can get counter attack anytime. It is very important to keep your position solid and risk-free. For this, you need to study a lot of games in French Defense. 
  • Try to convert position in the endgame – Most of the endgame positions in french defense are better for white. Therefore you can create your plan accordingly. Some positions are very tricky but almost 70-80% of positions give better endgame for white.

How to prepare against French Defense?

  • Choose Variation – First, choose which variation you want to continue. It is important to analyze which positions you like to play. If you are an attacking player then you can go with Advance Variation or Classical Variation or if you want to play a simple position then you can go with Exchange Variation, etc.
  • Prepare a detailed repertoire – Repertoire will help you before the match to revise all theories which you have prepared. Your repertoire should consist of every variation in that opening. It is important to see opponent resources in detail. 
  • Play a lot of games – This step is very important to understand different positions in the opening. You can play on any website or in a tournament or with a playing partner. If you just prepared any opening, then I will recommend you to play with a playing partner or play online. 


Is the French Defense good for Black?

Yes. French defense is very popular and many top players play french defense from the black side. Every major opening is good. It is important how much you study that opening and how you play in the actual game. 

How do you beat the French Defense?

It is not that easy to beat the French Defense but with proper opening selection and analyzing various games, you can easily score good points against the French Defense. Also, you can read this article and follow the resources to get a better understanding. 

Is Caro-Kann better than French?

Caro Kann and French are two different openings but in some positions, they share a similar structure. Caro-Kann is riskier then french. On the top level, both are equally popular. You can also prepare both Caro Kann and french defense simultaneously. You can read more from these articles. 

Who is the best French Defense player?

Many top-level grandmasters played French Defense consistently. Some of the most popular includes Mikhail Botvinnik, Viktor Korchnoi, Akiba Rubinstein, Aron Nimzowitsch, Tigran Petrosian, Lev Psakhis, Wolfgang Uhlmann, Rafael Vaganian, Alexander Morozevich, Teimour Radjabov, Nigel Short, Gata Kamsky, Alexander Grischuk, etc. 


To counter French Defense, choose a strong variation, prepare and practice that variation deeply. You will get 100% results if you do these steps. 

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