Well, we now come upon what is considered the most critical third move against the French Defense, and that is 3.Nc3. This move leads to lines that are very heavy in theory, so much so that I have split the coverage of this into two separate articles. Against 3.Nc3, I am going to recommend the move 3...Nf6, where the next article will cover the Steinitz Variation, 4.e5, which I find to be White's strongest response to 3...Nf6. This article will be covering everything else after 3...Nf6.
The purpose of 3...Nf6 is to continue to put pressure on the e4 pawn, forcing White to make a decision what to do about it. The first option is to advance the pawn, and as mentioned already, this will be covered in the next article. The second option is to pin the Knight with 4.Bg5, and realistically, this is White's only other option that gives him a shot at gaining the advantage. The vast majority of the article will cover this move. The only other options are to exchange the pawn or to try to guard the e-pawn again, and that is what we will be covering first.
Part 1: White's Alternatives to 4.Bg5 and 4.e5
In this section, we are going to talk briefly about White's two most critical secondary moves, 4.Bd3 and 4.exd5. Neither of these moves should pose Black any problems, and as long as you understand the basic concepts, including the rule differences in the Exchange with Nc3 versus the rules in the Exchange without Nc3 explained in the article on the Exchange French.
A) The first move that we are going to look at is 4.Bd3.
This adds another defender to the e4-pawn, but the move is clumsy in that it blocks the Queen from guarding d4, and if the d4-pawn is traded, it blocks the Queen from hitting the Black pawn on d5, and so, like the Tarrasch Variation, Black can attack the White center with 4...c5 despite the e-pawn not betting settled yet as to whether it will advance or exchange itself.
Now White has nothing better than to try to stick Black with an isolated pawn, but this proved to be no problem at all for Black in the game Sayber - Kacheishvili, Istanbul 2000, which went 5.exd5 exd5 6.dxc5 Bxc5 7.Nf3 O-O 8.O-O h6 9.h3 Nc6 10.Bf4 Be6 11.a3 Nh5 12.Bh2 Qf6 13.Na4 Be7 14.b4 Nf4 15.Nc5 a5 16.Nxe6 fxe6 17.b5 Nd8 18.Bxf4 Qxf4 19.Qe2 Bf6 20.g3 Qd6 21.Rad1 Bc3 22.Nh4 Rf6 23.Bh7+ Kh8 24.Qd3 Qxa3 25.Bg6 Qc5 26.Qe2 a4 27.g4 a3 28.g5 Rf4 29.Qh5 Qe7 30.Bd3 Qxg5+ 31.Qxg5 hxg5 32.Ng6+ Kg8 33.Nxf4 gxf4 34.Ra1 a2 35.Kg2 Kf7 36.Kf3 e5 37.Bf5 Kf6 38.Bd7 Nf7 39.h4 Ra3 40.Kg2 e4 0-1.
We see that once again, Black's play was fairly simple and that knowledge of general concepts is easily enough to get through this insipid line as Black kept himself to the one weakness on d5 which White was completely unable to pressure, and Black attacks the Queenside which is typical in the French Defense, achieves the passed pawn, and both allows White to gain the Bishop pair and even temporarily gives up an exchange in order to convert the isolated pawn into a central pawn mass which, combined with the passed a-pawn, becomes too hot for White to handle. You will rarely face this line, and after careful study of the above game, you should have no problems playing against this line.
B) The other move of importance is 4.exd5.
As you may recall in Part One on the Exchange Variation, it was mentioned that 4.Nc3 would be covered later on. The reason for that is the rules are different for lines with an early 4.Nc3 than those without. First of all, White is unable to move the c-pawn. This makes c3 harder to achieve. With a White Pawn on c3, a Knight on c6 would be misplaced, but here, the move ...Nc6 is frequently played with the idea of going to b4. Therefore, the move ...Nc6 is a natural reaction any time White plays the move Bd3. Another major difference is that the King's Knight does not play the mimic game. It always goes to f6. The last major difference is the development of the King's Bishop, where its best location is dependent upon the move order. For example, after 4...exd5 5.Bg5, the move 5...Be7 here is best, despite the fact that the move is more in line with the Classical than the MacCutcheon, but as we will see when we get to the 4.Bg5 line that this idea of 5...Bb4 doesn't work.
A good example of what to do in the early Exchange lines with Nc3 is the game Barczay - Dobosz, CSR-ch 1979. Given the repertoire presented here, this would happen in our case if moves 4 and 5 are switched. 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 Be7 5.exd5 exd5 6.Bd3 Nc6 7.Nge2 Nb4 8.O-O O-O 9.Ng3 Nxd3 10.Qxd3 h6 11.Bf4 c6 12.Rae1 Re8 13.Re2 Be6 14.Rfe1 Bf8 15.h3 Qd7 16.Be5 Nh7 17.Nd1 Kh8 18.c3 Rac8 19.Bf4 b6 20.Qf3 Kg8 21.Nh5 Bf5 22.Rxe8 Rxe8 23.Rxe8 Qxe8 24.Nd3 Bg6 25.Ng3 Ng5 26.Qe2 Ne6 27.Nef5 c5 28.Qe5 Qa4 29.Qb8 Qxa2 30.Ne7+ Kh7 31.Nxg6 Kxg6 32.Qe5 Kh7 33.Be3 Kg8 34.Nf5 Qxb2 35.Qxd5 Qxc3 36.dxc5 Bxc5 37.Qa8+ Kh7 38.Qxa7 Bxe3 39.Nxe3 Qc1+ 40.Nf1 Qc7 41.Qa2 Qc5 42.Qa7 Kg6 43.Qb7 b5 44.Ng3 Qc4 45.Qf3 Nf4 46.Ne4 f5 47.Nd6 Qb4 48.Qd1 Qd4 49.Qxd4 Ne2+ 50.Kf1 Nxd4 41.Ke1 Kf6 42.Kd2 Ke5 54.Ne8 Ne6 54.Kc3 Kd5 0-1.
Part 2: White Plays 4.Bg5
The rest of this article will be covering the position after 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5. (4.e5 will be covered in the next article.) The point behind White’s last move is that rather than advancing, exchanging, or protecting the threatened e-pawn, White pins the Knight to the Queen. Black realizes that the focus is still on the e-pawn and so this gives Black three options. Black can execute a trade and capture the pawn with 4…dxe4, known as the Burn Variation. Black’s second option is to play 4…Be7, known as the Classical Variation, which unpins the Knight, and re-threatens the e-pawn, where if White advances the e-pawn, Black can move the Knight out of the way with 5…Nfd7 and offer a trade of Bishops. Both of these lines are perfectly fine for Black, but I am going to cover Black’s third option, and that is to counter-pin the White Knight on c3 with 4…Bb4. This is known as the MacCutcheon Variation. The idea is to once again threaten the e-pawn. As we discussed earlier, these ideas with an early Bd3 to protect the e-pawn again don’t really work because Black can blast the center and after 5.Bd3 c5 6.e5 cxd4!, Black is slightly better. This leaves only two options for White. Exchange the pawn or advance the pawn. Now you might be saying to yourself “Doesn’t advancing the pawn win the Knight?” The answer is no. While advancing the pawn with 5.e5 is the main line, Black has 5…h6, counter-attacking the White Bishop.
Therefore, White has six options against the French MacCutcheon. The first one that we will cover is 5.exd5, once again exchanging the pawn, and that will be covered in the first game. The others are what White does after 5.e5 h6. White’s five options are 6.exf6, 6.Bh4, 6.Bc1, 6.Be3, and the main line, 6.Bd2. The first two should never cause Black a problem, and they will be covered briefly in the second game, which will focus on 6.Bc1. The third game will cover 6.Be3, and the firnal game will cover White’s main response, 6.Bd2.
Game 1: White Plays 5.exd5
We will start with a GM game played earlier this year.
W: Hou Yifan (2652)
B: Francisco Vallejo Pons (2710)
Moscow Grand Prix 2017
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 Bb4 5.exd5
This is the only deviation from the main move, 5.e5, that makes any sense for White. Now you might recall when we talked earlier in this article about what Black should do if White exchanges either on move 4, or on move 3 and then follows that up with 4.Nc3, that playing 5...Bb4 wouldn't work. Well, now we have already played 4...Bb4, and if we now play 5...exd5, we transpose to the 5...Bb4 line that was mentioned earlier doesn't work. Well, the reason why it doesn't work is that White has the very strong move 6.Qf3! and now 6...Be7?? loses to 7.Bxf6 Bxf6 8.Nxd5 Bxd4 9.Qe4+, and so Black must play 6...Nbd7, blocking in his own Bishop. Now after 7.O-O-O, Black has two options, and neither are good. 7...Bxc3 8.Qe3+ Be7 9.Qxc3 gives White a very strong initiative while 7...Be7 8.Nge2 c6 9.Ng3 h6 10.Be3 Nb6 11.h3 gives White the advantage and a very pleasant game. Therefore, Black next move is virtually forced.
So despite White's choice to exchange pawns, we don't see the symmetrical pawn structure that we've seen in the other lines of the Exchange Variation. That said, this line ends up being vastly different. For starters, both sides are about to see their pawn structures wrecked.
The best move available to White. Instead, 6.Nf3 allows Black to equalize comfortably with 6...Ne4 and after 7.Bd2 Bxc3 8.bxc3 Nxd2 9.Qxd2 b6 10.Bd3 Bb7 11.Qf4 Qd6 12.Qg4 Nd7 13.O-O O-O, Black has equalized, Savon - Glek, USSR 1989.
6...Bxc3+ 7.bxc3 gxf6 8.Qd2
Other moves pose Black no problems:
A) 8.Qg4 Qa5 9.Ne2 Ke7 10.g3 and now:
A1) 10...Bd7 and in the game Bilel Bellahcene - Mishra Swayams, Paris 2017, White got a strong attack down the middle after 11.Bg2 Bc6 12.Bxc6 Nxc6 13.O-O Qg5 14.Qf3 Rdh8 15.Rfe1 Kf8 16.Rab1 Rab8 17.h4 Qg6 18.Nf4 Qh6 19.Nd3 Rd5 20.Nc5 Nd8 21.Rbd1 Kg7 22.c4 Rf5 23.Qc3 Nc6 24.Ne4 b6 25.Nd3 Na5 26.d5 exd5 27.cxd5 Rxd5 28.Qc7 Rf8 29.Rde1 f5 30.Re6 Qd2 R6e2 Qh6 32.Nf4 Rc5 33.Qd7 Kg8 34.Re8 Qc6 35.Qd8 1-0
A2) 10...Nc6 is stronger, and in Ray Robson - Rafael Vaganian, Aeroflot Open, Russia 2009, Black, rather than playing passively and letting White roll down the center as seen in the previous game, he ignores his own pawn structure and immediately attacks White's center and wins a pawn-up Rook ending that deserves thorough analysis. 11.Bg2 e5 12.Qf3 Nxd4 13.Nxd4 exd4 14.O-O Qxc3 15.Rfe1 Be6 16.Qxc3 dxc3 17.Bxb7 Rab8 18.Bd5 Rb5 19.Bxe6 fxe6 20.Re3 Rc5 21.Rb1 Rd8 22.Rb3 Rd2 23.Rbxc3 Rxc2 24.Rxc2 Rxc2 25.Ra3 Kd6 26.Rxa7 c5 27.Kg2 c4 28.Kf3 c3 29.Ke3 Rxf2 30.Ra6+ Kd7 31.Ra7+ Kc6 32.Ra3 Rc2 33.Kd4 e5+ 34.Kc4 Kd6 35.h4 Ke6 36.Rxc3 Rxa2 37.Rf3 Ra4+ 38.Kb3 Rg4 39.Kc3 e4 40.Re3 Ke5 41.Kd2 Rg7 42.Ra3 Kf5 43.Ke2 Kg4 44.Ra6 f5 45.Kf2 Rb7 46.Rh6 Rb2+ 47.Ke3 Rb3+ 48.Kf2 e3+ 49.Ke2 Kxg3 50.Rxh7 Kf4 51.Rf7 Rb2+ 52.Kf1 Ke4 53.h5 f4 54.h6 Kf3 55.Kg1 e2 56.Re7 Rb1+ 0-1
B) 8.Nf3 b6! 9.Be2 Bb7 10.O-O Rg8 11.c4 Qe4 12.d5 Nd7! gives Black a strong position, and in the game Martin(2433) - Knott(2378), Birmingham 2005, Black proved that White's pawn weaknesses were more critical than his own and won in short order after 13.Re1 O-O-O 14.Bf1 Qg4 15.Nd4 Ne5 16.Qxg4 Rxg4 17.c3 c5 18.dxc6 Nxc6 19.Nxc6 Bxc6 20.Rad1 Rxd1 21.Rxd1 Rg5 22.f4 Ra5 23.Rd2 Ra3 24.Bd3 f5 25.h3 Rxc3 26.g4 Be4 27.Bf1 fxg4 28.hxg4 Rg3+ 29.Kf2 Rf3+ 30.Ke2 Rxf4 31.g5 Bb4 32.Ke3 Rxf1 0-1
The game Kristina Mokhova - Tatiana Grabuzova, St Petersburg Open (Women), 2000 instead saw White play 9.Ne2 and like Martin - Knott, Black wins via outplaying White once again in a Rook and Pawn ending via 9...Bd7 10.Ng3 Bc6 11.f3 Nd7 12.Bc4 O-O-O 13.O-O Rhg8 14.a4 a6 15.Qe3 Nb6 16.Bb3 Nd5 17.Bxd5 Qxd5 18.Rf2 Rg6 19.Ne2 Qg5 20.Qxg5 Rxg5 21.Nf4 Ra5 22.Nd3 Rxa4 23.Rxa4 Bxa4 24.Nc5 Be8 25.Ne4 f5 26.Nf6 h6 27.Ng8 h5 28.Nf6 h4 29.Nxe8 Rxe8 30.c4 Kd7 31.c3 a5 32.Ra2 b6 33.Kf2 f4 34.Ke2 f5 35.Kd3 h3 36.gxh3 Rh8 37.Rf2 Rxh3 38.Kc2 c6 39.Kb2 Kd6 40.Ka3 b5 41.Kb3 e5 42.dxe5+ Kxe5 43.cxb5 cxb5 44.Kb2 Kd5 45.Kb3 Kc5 46.Re2 a4+ 47.Ka3 Rxf3 48.Re5 Kc4 49.Rxf5 Rxc3+ 50.Kb2 Rf3 51.h4 Rf2+ 52.Kb1 b4 0-1
9...Bd7 10.Ne2 Bc6 11.f3
11.Nf4 is White's main alternative. Typically, Black has responded with with 11...Nd7, and things have usually ended badly for Black. For example, A.Sokolov - Atalik, Bundesliga 2003, White ends up with the superior minor piece and goes on to win after 12.c4 Qxd2+ 13.Kxd2 e5 14.Nd5 Bxd5 15.cxd5 Ke7 16.Rab1 b6 17.Rb4 Rag8 18.g3 Rg4 19.Re1 Kd6 20.c3 exd4 21.cxd4 Nb8 22.Re3 Rg5 23.Be4 Re8 24.h4 Rg7 25.Kd3 f5 26.Bxf5 Rxe3+ 27.Kxe3 Kxd5 28.Be4+ Kd6 29.Rb5 Nd7 30.Rg5 Rxg5 31.hxg5 Nf8 32.f4 c5 33.dxc5 Kxc5 34.Bc2 Kd6 35.Bb3 Ke7 36.Ke4 Nd7 37.Kd5 f6 38.Bc2 fxg5 39.fxg5 Nf8 40.Bf5 b5 41.Kc5 a6 42.Kb6 Kd6 43.Kxa6 Kc5 44.Kb7 b4 45.Kc7 Kd5 46.Kb6 Ke5 47.Bc8 Kd4 48.Kb5 Kc3 49.Bf5 b3 50.axb3 Kxb3 51.Kc5 Kc3 52.Kd5 Kd2 53.Kd6 1-0. Notice that the Black Knight is dominated, and the g3 pawn actually plays a role in the victory as it covers f4 and combined with the Bishop, builds a wall strong enough to keep the Black King out for just the right amount of time. If Black had played on, White would win after 53...Ke3 54.Ke7 Kf3 55.Kxf8 Kxg3 56.Bxh7 Kf4 57.g6.
Instead of 11...Nd7, Black should try 11...e5 where play is very unclear after 12.Nh5 Nd7 13.Bf5 (13.Nxg7+ Kf8 gives Black the advantage) 13...O-O-O 14.Nxf6 exd4.
11...Nd7 12.c4 Qxd2+ 13.Kxd2 Nb6 14.h4 Rg8 15.Rhg1
Castling here makes little sense. After 15...O-O-O?!, the Black King is misplaced. The Queens and two sets of minor pieces are off the board. There are enough pawns on the board such that keeping the King in the center should not be a problem, and the Black King would be better placed being in the center should an endgame arise. Also, by going to e7 with the King, Black's King is tending to the slight weakness on f6, and if the f-pawn advances to f5, the Black King has a clear path to the center and Kingside as the Dark-Squared Bishops have been traded off.
16.Ke3 Ke7 17.g4 h6 18.Rab1 Nc8 19.Nc3 b6 20.a4 Nd6 21.Nb5 Ne8 22.a5
White can also try 22.Nxa7 as after 22...Bxa4 23.Ra1 Be7 24.Nb5, Black is forced to find a slightly counter-intuitive move. For example, trying to attack on the side where he has the pawn majority is a mistake here. 24...f5? 25.gxf5 Rxg1 26.Rxg1 exf5 27.Nc3 Ra8 28.Rg8 and Black starts feeling the effects of his pawn weaknesses, particularly the h-pawn.
Instead, Black must play 24...c5 (Not 24...c6 25.Nc3, forcing White to relocate his Knight to a better square) and after 25.dxc5 bxc5, White can maybe claim a slight edge, but no more.
22...Bxb5 23.Rxb5 f5
The correct timing to advance the f-pawn, while the g-pawn is in a pin and White can't wreck Black's pawns like he could in the note to White's 22nd move above.
24.axb6 axb6 25.c5 Nf6
Tactically defending the b6-pawn due to a Knight fork.
27.Be2 Nd5+ 28.Kd2 Nf4 29.c3
Once again, Black is using aggressive, tactical means to offset the attack on the weak b-pawn rather than passively trying to defend it. This is a very common theme in the French MacCutcheon.
Taking the b-pawn continues to be bad for White. 30.Rxb6? Rxc3 31.Rb7+ Kf6 32.Ra1 Nxe2 33.Kxe2 fxg4 gives Black a clear advantage.
If 31.g5, then Black switches gears and goes for the Queenside via 31...Rc6 32.Rb4 Ra8 33.Bc4 Ng6 34.d5 Rc5 35.Bb3 exd5 36.Rxb6 Rac8 37.Rb7+ Kf8 38.f4 Nxh4 39.Rg3 (39.Rh1? Nxf3+ 40.Ke2 Rxc3 and Black's better) 39...Ng6 and Black can claim a slight edge.
31...hxg4 32.fxg4 fxg4 33.Rxb6 f5 34.Ke3 Nh3 35.Bxh3 gxh3 36.Rxg8 Rxg8 37.Rb1 Rh8 38.d5!
Once again, like many of the games listed in the side notes, we have a Rook and Pawn ending. The difference here is that Black is saddled with a Bishop Pawn and a Rook Pawn on the same side of the board. White sees that Black is going to have to trade on d5 as the connected passers if Black were to advance his e-pawn would be too much for him. White also sees that her Pawns are weaker than Black's, and so by ridding Black of the e-pawn, White will strictly focus on achieving the theoreticcally drawn position from the Rook versus Rook, f-pawn, and h-pawn position.
38...exd5 39.cxd5 Rxh4 40.Kf2 Kd6 41.Kg3 Rh5 42.Kh2 Kxd5
So now we have the endgame that White was looking for when she played 38.d5. Black plays on and tries to win, but is unable to do so, as can be seen in the rest of the moves in the game. This is an opening article and not an endgame article, so I'm not going to go into heavy detail on this endgame, but it is one worth knowing in case you end up on either side of this.
43.Rb5+ Ke4 44.Rb4+ Ke5 45.Rb5+ Kf6 46.Rb1 Rh4 47.Rb3 Ke5 48.Rb5+ Kf4 49.Rb3 Rh8 50.Rb1 Ke3 51.Rb3+ Kd2 42.Rb2+ Kc3 53.Rb5 Rh5 54.Rd5
Permanently cutting the Black King off. The draw should now be simple for White to achieve.
54...Kc4 55.Rd8 Kc5 56.Rd7 Kb6 57.Rd3 Kc6 58.Rd8 Rh4 59.Rf8 f4 60.Rd8 Kc5 61.Rd7 Kc6 62.Rd3 Rh8 63.Rxh3 Rxh3+ 64.Kxh3 Kd5 65.Kg2 Ke4 66.Kf2 f3 67.Kf1 Ke3 68.Ke1 f2+ 69.Kf1 Kf3 1/2-1/2
So as we can see here, the Exchange line of the MacCutcheon is far more complicated than your typical run of the mill Exchange Variation of the French Defense.
Game 2: White plays 5.e5 and 6.Bc1
We now move on to the lines where White plays 5.e5. This game we'll be looking at the rarely played, though very dangerous move, 6.Bc1, along with a couple of sidelines for White that should pose no problems to Black.
W: Fabien Libiszewski (2543)
B: Michael Feygin (2468)
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 Bb4 5.e5 h6 6.Bc1
This move is rarely played, but it actually has a lot of venom to it and Black has to be extremely careful, and the ball may actually be in Black's court.
White has a couple of alternatives that should pose no problems for Black.
A) 6.Bh4 g5 7.Bg3 Ne4 8.Ne2 f5 and now:
A1) In the game Matthias Dann (2452) - Matthias Bluebaum (2530), Bundesliga 2015, White played 9.f3, and Black did not have much trouble drawing the game after 9.Bxc3+ 10.Nxc3 Nxc3 11.bxc3 c5 12.dxc5 Qa5 13.Qd2 Qxc5 14.h4 Rg8 15.hxg5 hxg5 16.Rh7 Nc6 17.Rb1 Qa5 18.f4 Qxa2 19.Rb3 Qa1+ 20.Kf2 b6 21.Bb5 Bd7 22.c4 d4 23.fxg5 O-O-O 24.Bf4 Nb8 25.Qd3 Rh8 26.Ra3 Qb1 27.g6 Rxh7 28.gxh7 Rh8 29.Rxa7 Rxh7 30.Qxd4 Qxc2+ 31.Qd2 Qe4 32.Qe3 Qc2+ 33.Qd2 Qe4 34.Qe3 Qc2+ 1/2-1/2
A2) In the game Minu Nimi Onsander - Martin Zumsande, Canarias en Red prel 2004, White played 9.exf6, and after 9...Qxf6 10.a3 Bxc3+ 11.Nxc3 Nxg3 12.hxg3 Bd7 13.Be2 Nc6 14.Bh5+ Ke7 15.Ne2 Raf8 16.O-O Kd8 17.c4 Kc8 18.b4 dxc4 19.d5 exd5 20.Qxd5 Be6 21.Qc5 Qe5 22.Qxe5 Nxe5 23.Nd4 Bf5 24.f4 gxf4 25.gxf4 Rhg8 26.Rf2 Nd3 27.Rd2 Nxf4, Black was up two pawns for no compensation and proceeded to mate White on move 65.
B) 6.exf6 is a move commonly played by amateurs that have very little understanding of the position. After 6...hxg5 7.fxg7 Rg8, White has nothing. After 8.Qh5, the move I see most amateurs play, Black gets an excellent game after 8...Qf6 9.Nf3 Qxg7 10.O-O-O Bxc3 11.bxc3 Nd7. Instead, after the slight improvement with 8.h4, Black has a few options, and those wishing to explore and research should maybe check out 8...Nc6, but I am going to recommend simply taking the pawn as Black has easy equality after 8...gxh4. White has absolutely no way to stir up any trouble. In just about any line White plays, Black's going to play 9...Qf6 and round up the g-pawn with easy play.
This leads to a dilemma that Black faces a lot in the MacCutcheon. The g-pawn is threatened, and Black can't castle because 7...O-O?? 8.Bxh6 is already winning for White. This leaves Black with two options. He can advance his g-pawn, which weakens the h-pawn and creates yet another hook for White where he can advance his h-pawn in an attempt to rip open Black's Kingside. The other main option is to guard the g-pawn with his King via 7...Kf8. The downside to this is that Black surrenders all castling rights, and it might take him a while to get the Rook on h8 active. Both moves are completely sound. Two major advocates of the French MacCutcheon reacted to this in opposite manors. Igor Glek would typically advance the g-pawn to g6 in these lines while Viktor Korchnoi was a proponent of moving the King. I am going to suggest taking Korchnoi's route. I have actually played ...g6 more than I have played ...Kf8 in my own lifetime, but the move ...g6 actually leads to more problems than it's worth. Black may be able to play a more aggressive game not having the h8-Rook temporarily hemmed in, but White has numerous options to cause Black major headaches if White knows what he's doing, and it's simply of my opinion that it's not worth the hassle when first learning the French MacCutcheon.
Note that 7...Nxc3? is bad here. White has a huge advantage after 8.Qxg7 Rf8 9.Bd2!
8.Ne2 c5 9.a3 Ba5
Black ends up drawing this game, but I am afraid that it may be based merely on a blunder by White on move 25. If that proves to be the case, Black could maybe follow the game Mietek Bakalarz - Vladimir Iakemov, Rijeka 2010 and give 9...h5 a try. The game ends up being a huge mess more than anything else, but sometimes when the ball is in your court to find a better line, creating chaos in order to confuse the matter is the way to go. There are many spots in this game where alternatives can be researched to possibly find improvements for both sides, but in this game, Black won after 10.Qf4 Nxc3 11.axb4 Nxe2 12.Bxe2 cxd4 13.b5 Qb6 14.O-O Bd7 15.Qd2 Kg8 16.b3 a6 17.Bb2 d3 18.Bxd3 Bxb5 19.Qb4 Nc6 20.Qxb5 axb5 21.Rxa8+ Nd8 22.Rc8 d4 23.Ra1 f5 24.exf6 gxf6 25.Bxb5 Kg7 26.Bd3 Nf7 27.Rxh8 Nxh8 28.f4 Ng6 29.g3 e5 30.Re1 Qb4 31.Re2 exf4 32.Bxg6 Kxg6 33.gxf4 Kf5 34.Bc1 Qc6 35.Rf2 Qc3 36.Kg2 d3 37.cxd3 and White Resigned before Black made his move.
This is White's latest idea in this line. The older line is 10.b4, against which I am going to recommend the move 10...f5, and in the game Pierre Gengler - Fabien Libiszewski, Nice 2003, Black shows a nice display of how to win a pawn up opposite colored Bishop ending. 11.Qg6 Nxc3 12.Nxc3 cxd4 13.Nb5 Bc7 14.f4 Nc6 15.Bb2 Qh4+ 16.Qg3 Qxg3+ 17.hxg3 Bb6 18.O-O-O a5 19.bxa5 Rxa5 20.Nd6 Ke7 21.Bb5 Bc5 22.a4 Bxd6 23.exd6+ Kxd6 24.Bxc6 bxc6 25.Bxd4 Rg8 26.Be5+ Kd7 27.Kd2 Ba6 28.Ra1 Ra8 29.Bxg7 Bc4 30.Rxh6 Rxa4 31.Rhh1 Rxa1 32.Rxa1 Rxa1 33.Bxa1 Bf1 34.Ke3 Bxg2 35.Bd4 Kd6 36.c3 Be4 37.Ba7 c5 38.Bb8+ Kc6 39.Be5 Kb5 40.Bf6 Kc4 41.Be5 Kb3 42.Bf6 Kc2 43.Be5 Bg2 44.Bd6 d4+ 45.cxd4 c4 46.Ba3 Bd5 57.Ke2 c3 48.Ke1 Bc4 49.Kf2 Kd1 50.g4 fxg4 51.Kg3 Be2 52.d5 exd5 53.f5 d4 54.f6 Bc4 55.Kxg4 d3 56.Kf3 d2 0-1
White holds on to the Queenside Pawn majority and surrenders the e-pawn.
11...Nxe5 12.Qh5 Bc7 13.Nxe4 dxe4 14.Bb2 Qg5 15.Qxg5 hxg5 16.Nc3
A positional Pawn sacrifice based on the fact that if Black tries to hold onto the pawn with 16...f5, he ends up with too many weaknesses. After 17.Nb5 Bb8 18.O-O-O Nf7 19.Bc4 a6 20.Nc3, White is significantly better based on the weakness on e6 combined with Black's complete lack of coordination, and he is still going to have major problems connecting the Rooks.
White rejects the pawn offer, and wisely so. In Lazaro Bruzon Batista - Nigel Short - 45th Capablanca Memorial Elite, 2010, White took the offered pawn, but Black quickly regained it back, and with interest! After 17.fxe3 Ng4 18.Be2 Bg3+ 19.Kd2 Nf2 20.Rhg1 Rxh2 21.Raf1 f5 22.Kc1 Ke7 23.b5 g4 24.Bc4 Bh4 25.Kb1 g3 26.a4 Bf6 27.Be2 g5 28.Ka2 g4 29.Kb3 Bd7 30.Ba3 Kf7 31.a5 Be5 32.Bb4 Rc8 33.Bc4 Kf6 34.Re1 Bxc3 35.Bxc3+ e5 36.Rd1 Nxd1 37.Rxd1 Bxb5 38.Bxb5 Rxc5 39.Bf1 Rh1 40.Be2 Rxd1 41.Bxd1 Kg5 42.Be2 f4 43.a6 bxa6 44.Bb4 Rc7 45.exf4+ exf4 46.c4 f3 47.Bf1 Kf5 48.c5 a5 49.Ba3 Ke4, White Resigned as the pawns were too much for the Bishop pair to handle. This is a case where the Rook prevails over the two minor pieces.
Possibly 17...a6 could be an improvement, preventing White's next move, but I still think White's better after 18.Ne4!
18.Nb5 Rxh2 19.Be2 Bf4 20.g3 Rxf2 21.gxf4
Even stronger is 21.Bxg4 e2+ 22.gxf4 exd1=Q+ 23.Bxd1 Kg8 24.fxg5, or 21.Rh8+ Ke7 22.Bxg4 e2+ 23.gxf4 exd1=Q+ 24.Bxd1 and once again, Black appears to be busted. I would highly suggest looking at Black's alternative at move 9.
21...Rxe2 22.Nc3 e5 23.Rh8+ Ke7 24.Re8+ Kf6
The blunder that releases just about all of White's advantage. The winning move is 25.Nxa8, immediately threatening the Bishop, and after 25...Bf5, White has 26.Rd6+! The difference between the move in the game and this sequence is the location of the Black King. With the King on g6, Black can interpose with the f-pawn. Here he cannot. After 26...Be6 27.fxe5+ Kg6 28.Nc7 Re1+ 29.Rd1 Rxd1+ 30.Kxd1, Black's busted!
Suddenly, because 26.Rd6+ can now be answered by 26...f6, the threat on c2 is genuine, and White must return some of the material, and Black gets just enough to draw the game.
26.Nxa8 Bf5 27.Rd3 Bxd3 28.cxd3 Kf5 29.b5 gxf4 30.Bxf4 Kxf4 31.c6 bxc6 32.bxc6 Nf2 33.Rd8 Ra2 34.Kb1 Rxa3 35.c7 Rc3 36.c8=Q Rxc8 37.Rxc8 Nxd3 38.Re8 Kf3 39.Kc2 Nb4+ 40.Kd1 Nd5 41.Re5 Nf4 42.Nc7 a6 43.Nd5 e2+ 44.Kd2 e1=Q+ 45.Rxe1 Nxd5 46.Rf1+ 1/2-1/2
White is about to win the f-pawn, and the pawns are too far separated for Black to play for a win, and even if both pawns are lost, King and Rook versus King and Knight is a theoretical draw.
This line with 6.Bc1 is a highly underrated line that is not very popular, but I see no reason why it shouldn't be played more often by White. As mentioned prior, I would suggest that Black look into the 9...h5 line. It is highly unclear, and the line probably needs more testing to get an accurate assessment, but I don't think that 9...Ba5 is a viable option for Black any more because of 10.dxc5 instead of the older 10.b4.
Game 3: White plays 5.e5 and 6.Be3
This is the last of White's side line options, and is the most frequently played move outside of 6.Bd2. That said, I think Black has fewer problems in this line than he does in the 6.Bc1 line.
W: Garry Kasparov (2851)
B: Viktor Korchnoi (2659)
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 Bb4 5.e5 h6 6.Be3 Ne4 7.Qg4
Once again, we face the dilemma of whether to compromise our Kingside Pawn structure, or surrender castling rights.
This is White's only legitimate shot at anything. 8.Ne2 c5 9.O-O-O Nxc3 10.Nxc3 Bxc3 11.bxc3 Qa5 is better for Black while 8.Bd3 Nxc3 9.a3 Ba5 10.Bd2 c5 11.bxc3 b6 12.Nf3 Ba6 is dead equal.
8...Bxc3+ 9.bxc3 c5
The other option is to grab the pawn. Play is unclear after 9...Nxc3 10.Bd3 Bd7 11.Nh3 Nc6 12.Nf4 Ne7 13.Nh5 g6 14.Nf6 Bb5 15.Bxb5 Nxb5 16.a4 Nc3 17.Ra3 Ne4 18.Bxe4 dxe4 19.Qxe4 Qd5.
Black can also play 10...Nxc3 and in Laurent Fressinet (2536) - Francisco Vallejo Pons (2554), a quick draw was also achieved after 11.dxc5 Nc6 12.Nf3 f5 13.exf6 Qxf6 14.Qd5 e5 15.Bg6 Kg8 16.O-O Be6 17.Rae1 Rd8 18.Bd2 Ne4 19.c4 Nxd2 20.Nxd2 Qg5 and a draw was agreed. After 21.Qxg5 hxg5 22.cxd5 Rxd5 23.Ne4 Rh6, any advantage that White may have is minimal.
White has a couple of alternatives here.
A) Black has no problems after 11.Qh3 Nxc3 12.dxc5 d4 13.Bd2 Qd5 14.f4 Nc6 15.Bxc3 dxc3 16.Ne2 Qxc5 17.Be4 Bd7 18.Rd1 Be8 19.Qxc3 Qxc3+ 20.Nc3 Na5 21.O-O Rc8 22.Rd3 g6 23.Bf3 Kg7 24.Rf2 Rc7 25.Ne4 Ba4 26.Nc3 Rc4 27.g3 Rhc8 28.Nxa4 Rxa4 29.Rd7 Rxa3 30.Bxb7 Rb8 31.Ba6 Rb6 32.Bd3 Nb7 33.Rc7 Ra5 34.Bc4 Rc5 35.Rxc5 Nxc5 36.Rf1 a5 37.Ra1 a4 38.Kf2 Rb2 39.Rc1 Nb3 40.Bxb3 axb3 41.Ke3 Rxc2 42.Rxc2 bxc2 43.Kd2 g5 44.fxg5 Kg6 45.Kxc2 Kf5 0-1.
B) In the game Hudecz - Jakab, Paks 1996, White tried 11.Qf3 Nxc3 12.dxc5, but Black proceeds to take advantage of the holes in White's position, particularly d5, e4, and e3, and with a Knight on e3, keeps the White King in the center of the board and executes a nice Queenless attack. The game went 12...Nc6 13.Qf4 d4 14.Bd2 Nd5 15.Qe4 Nde7 16.Ne2 Qd5 17.Qxd5 Nxd5 18.f4 Ke7 19.Bc1 Nc7 20.Bb2 Rd8 21.Rd1 Nd5 22.a3 Ne3 23.Rd2 Rd5 24.a4 Ke8 25.Bb5 Bd7 26.Ba3 a6 27.Bd3 Na5 28.Be4 Bc6 29.Bxd5 Bxd5 30.Rg1 Nac4 31.Bc1 Nxd2 32.Kxd2 Ng4 33.h3 Nf2 34.Nxd4 Ne4+ 35.Ke3 Nxc5 36.a5 Rc8 37.g4 Ne4 38.gxh5 Rc3+ 39.Ke2 Bc4+ 40.Kd1 Rxh3 41.f5 Rxh5 42.fxe6 fxe6 43.c3 Bd3 44.Nf3 Rh3 45.Ng5 Nxc3+ 46.Kd2 Nb1+ 47.Ke1 Rh2 0-1.
The only move, but a good one. Black cannot give White time to castle prior to grabbing on c3. Both 12...cxd4 13.Bxd4 Nc6 14.O-O and 12...Nc6 13.Bxe4 dxe4 14.O-O are better for White.
The pin is completely artificial and doesn't work here. After 13.Bd2?!, Black just plays 13...Nxe2 anyway as the Knight hits the Queen should White decide to take Black's Queen.
13...Nxe2+ 14.Bxe2 Nc6 15.c4 cxd4 16.Bxd4 Nxd4 17.Qxd4
White has compensation for the pawn with his extra space and lead in development, but no more.
17...Bd7 18.cxd5 exd5 19.Bf3 Bc6 1/2-1/2
Keeping in mind that this game was played between a world champion and a player that made the final twice for the world championship title, they knew that this position is equal and agreed to a draw here. At the amateur level, I would suggest playing on with 20.Rac1, against which Black should return the pawn and get his pieces active via 20...Re8 21.Rc5 Qa4 22.Qxa4 Bxa4 23.Bxd5 Rxe5 24.Rc8+ Re8 25.Rxe8+ Kxe8 26.Re1+ Kd7 27.Bxf7 with an equal game.
Game 4: White plays 5.e5 and 6.Bd2 (The Main Line)
The game I am going to show turns out to be a win for White, but the game will serve two purposes. First off, it will show what Black has to be on the look out for. More importantly, Black makes a critical mistake on move 20, and the improvement given at move 20 will show that it's actually White is that very close to being busted!
W: Cemil Gulbas (2399)
B: Kastriot Memeti (2210)
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 Bb4 5.e5 h6 6.Bd2
This is a critical move to keep in mind. Black must trade his Bishop for the White Knight before moving his own Knight to e4. After 6...Ne4??, White wins a piece with 7.Nxe4 because after 7...Bxd2+, the "attacked" Knight is used to recapture and after 8.Nxd2. Retreating the Knight passively with 6...Nfd7 is also not good. White gets an easy game with no pressure placed on his position. Therefore, this capture is Black's only choice.
This is the correct recapture. Taking with the Bishop is clumsy. The Bishop doesn't belong here. After 7.Bxc3 Ne4, the move 8.Qg4 is not scary as Black can even castle here because after 8...O-O, there is no Bishop present to capture on h6, which would normally be winning for White. The other option would be 8.Bb4, but Black can equalize fairly easily via 8...c5 9.Bxc5 Nxc5 10.dxc5 Nd7 11.Qd4 Qc7 12.Nf3 Qxc5 13.O-O-O Qxd4 14.Rxd4 Ke7 15.Rg4 Rg8.
Posing the question again to Black that we have talked about before. Compromise the pawn structure on the Kingside, or relinquish castling rights?
Once again, we go with the latter option.
White can also play 9.h4, which will normally transpose to the game. There is nothing wrong with 9.h4, but I prefer the game move as it gives Black more room to error. The move 9.h4 prevents a line that is inferior for Black anyway.
9...Nxd2 10.Kxd2 c5
Inferior is 10...Qg5+ 11.Qxg5 hxg5 and now White has multiple options to gain the advantage. Below are two of them.
A) 12.g4 c5 13.Nf3 c4 14.Be2 f6 15.h4 gxh4 16.Nxh4 Kf7 17.Nf5 Rxh1 18.Nd6+ Kg8 19.Rxh1 Na6 20.f4 Nc7 21.g5 fxg5 22.fxg5 Bd7 23.Bh5 Be8 24.Nxe8 Nxe8 25.Rf1 Nc7 26.Bf7+ Kf8 27.Be6+ Ke8 28.Bg8 1-0 was Milan Matulovic - Roberto Cosulich, Imperia 1966.
B) 12.f4 gxf4 13.Rf1 c5 14.Nh3 Nc6 15.Rxf4 Ke7 16.Rhf1 Nd8 17.Rg4 c4 18.Be2 g6 19.Rgf4 Bd7 20.Ng5 Be8 21.h4 b5 22.Rh1 Rb8 23.g4 Kf8 24.Rf6 Kg7 25.Nf3 Rb6 26.a3 Ra6 27.Ra1 Nc6 28.h5 gxh5 29.gxh5 Rxh5 30.Rg1 Kf8 31.Ng5 Rxg5 32.Rxg5 Rxa3 33.Bg4 Ke7 34.Bxe6 fxe6 35.Rg7+ Kd8 36.Rxe6 b4 37.Rd6+ Kc8 38.Rg8 Kc7 39.Rxe8 Rxc3 40.Ree6 Rxc2+ 41.Kxc2 Nxd4+ 42.Kc1 Nxe6 43.Rxe6 Kd7 44.Rd6 Ke7 45.Rxd5 Ke6 46.Rc5 1-0 was Wang Jue - Zhang, China 2010.
Other 12th moves also give White the advantage, though these two moves leave Black with the least amount of counter play. It is recommended that this Queen trade is best avoided.
This is a direct transposition to the 9.h4 line, in which 9...c5 10.Bd3 Nxd2 11.Kxd2 is what typically follows, leading to the position in the game.
Forcing the Bishop to a passive position.
The idea behind retreating the Bishop all the way to b1 is to use the e2-square for the Knight. The more common response is 12.Be2. It was mentioned prior that Korchnoi was a big advocate of the 8...Kf8 line, well, here's a win by Black from Korchnoi himself. 12...Nc6 13.Rh3 Rg8 14.Rf3 Ke7 15.Nh3 Qa5 16.Qf4 Rf8 17.Rg3 Rg8 18.Bh5 Nd8 19.Re1 b5 20.a3 Qxa3 21.Rxg7 Rxg7 22.Qf6+ Kd7 23.Qxg7 b4 24.Re3 b3 25.Re1 Rb8 26.Nf4 Qa2 27.Bxf7 Qxc2+ 28.Ke3 Qe4+ 0-1, Florian Jenni (2471) - Viktor Korchnoi (2643), Zurich 2001.
In the game Viswanathan Anand (2781) - Viktor Korchnoi (2673), White altered at move 14 and was able to claim half a point after 14.Qf4 Bd7 15.Bh5 Be8 16.Ne2 f5 17.g4 Ne7 18.Rg1 Bxh5 19.gxh5 Qe8 20.Qf3 Rc8 21.Nf4 Rc6 22.Rhg3 Ra6 23.Qg2 Qf7 24.Qf1 Qe8 25.R1g2 Kf7 26.Rg1 Rxa2 27.Qg2 Qf8 28.Rb1 Qc8 29.Rg1 1/2-1/2
12...Nc6 13.Rh3 Bd7 14.Ne2 b5 15.a3 a5 16.Nf4
A very critical position has been reached here. Black must tread carefully.
This prophylactic move is Black's best. Two other far more dangerous moves have been tried.
A) In the game Peter Leko (2707) - Viktor Korchnoi (2635), Essen 2002, we see a case where Korchnoi ended up on the wrong end of the stick in a Rook and Minor Piece endgame. After 16...Rg8 17.Rf3 Ke7 18.Nh5 b4 19.Qf4 bxc3+ 20.Ke1 Be8 21.Rxc3 a4 22.Rg3 Qa5+ 23.c3 Rb8 24.Be2 Rb3 25.Qd2 g6 26.Nf6 Rh8 27.Bd1 Rb7 28.Bc2 Kd8 29.Rb1 Rxb1+ 30.Bxb1 Kc7 31.Bc2 Qb5 32.Rf3 Nd8 33.Qc1 h5 34.Kd2 Nb7 35.Qb1 Na5 36.Nxe8+ Qxe8 37.Qb4 Nb3+ 38.Ke3 Qd7 39.Qd6+ Qxd6 40.exd6+ Kxd6 41.Rxf7 Ra8 42.Rg7 Rb8 43.Ra7 Rg8 44.g3 Kc6 45.Rxa4 Na1 46.Bd1 g5 47.hxg5 Rxg5 48.Ra6+ Kd7 49.Ra7+ Kd6 50.Rh7 e5 51.Rh6+ Kc7 52.Rxh5 exd4+ 53.Kxd4 Nb3+ 54.Ke3 Rg6 55.Rxd5 Re6+ 56.Kf4 Ra6 57.g4 Kc6 58.Bf3 Nc5 59.Rd4+ Kb5 60.Bd5 1-0.
Black does have an improvement at move 21 with 21...Kf8 with a better position than what resulted above. That said, White can improve on his previous move by playing 21.Rg3 instead. There follows 21...Qb6 22.Rd1 Qb2 23.Nxg7 with a very dangerous attack for White.
In the same tournament, Korchnoi tried a different 16th move and also failed to survive. In the game Christopher Lutz (2644) - Viktor Korchnoi (2635), Essen 2002, Black tried 16...b4, but lost miserably after 17.Rf3 bxc3+ 18.Kd1 h5 19.Nxh5 Rg8 20.Ke1 Qb6 21.Rd1 Ne7? (The losing move. A little less clear would be 21...Qb2 22.Nf4 Ke8 23.Qh5 Ne7 24.Ne2 Ba4 25.Qxf7+ Kd7, though I'd still prefer White here.) 22.Qf4 Nf5 23.g4 Nh6 24.Nf6 Ba4 25.Nxg8 Kxg8 26.Rxc3 Qb2 27.Kd2 Rb8 28.f3 Rb3 29.Qe3 Rxa3 30.Rxa3 Qxc2+ 31.Ke1 Qxd1+ 32.Kf2 Bc2 33.Rxa5 Bd3 34.Bxd3 cxd3 35.Ra8+ Kh7 36.Ra2 1-0
17.Nh5 Nf5 18.Qf4 b4 19.Be2 bxc3+ 20.Kxc3
Turning the game around 180 degrees. It is important that Black grabs the b-file first. After 20...Rb8!, Black should not be afraid of 21.a4 as then 21...Qb6 is already winning for Black. Instead, 21.Rhh1 is forced, and after 21...Ba4 22.Rab1 Rg8 23.g4 Ne7 24.Rhc1 Rb6 25.Qe3 Qb8 26.Rxb6 Qxb6 27.Kd2 Nc6 28.c3 Qb2+ 29.Ke1 Qxa3, it is Black with the major advantage and the side that is playing for the win.
Instead, after the move played in the game, it's White that has the winning position.
21.Rb1 Rb8 22.Rxb8 Qxb8 23.g4 Qb1
23...Ne7 fails to 24.Nxg7!! where now 24...Kxg7? 25.Qf6+ wins on the spot for White while after 24...Ng6 25.Qf6 Rh7 26.Nh5 Qb6 27.Rf3 Kg8 28.Kd2, it's White that has the won position.
24.Kd2 c3+ 25.Rxc3 Nxh4 26.Qg3 Qh1 27.Rc7 Ke7 28.Qc3 Ng2 29.Qc5+ Ke8 30.Nxg7+ Kd8 31.Rxd7+ Kxd7 32.Qd6+ Kc8 33.Ba6# 1-0
Wow! That's a lot to absorb, isn't it? Well, nobody said that the French Defense, or chess in general, was easy. Actually, Black didn't win a single game amongst the main four games analyzed. That said, we looked at roughly two dozen games all told, many of which wins by Black, and as mentioned before, 3.Nc3 is the most difficult move for Black to face. Unlike the previous lines that we've looked at where you can equalize the position fairly easily, against 3.Nc3, you will always get three results. It's the nature of the beast.
As a quick overall summary, I'd like to point out the following:
- After 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 Bb4, the move 5.exd5 must be responded to with 5...Qxd5!
- In the 5.e5 variation, the moves 6.exf6 and 6.Bh4 should be non-issues for Black.
- The little played line 6.Bc1 I believe is the most dangerous line for Black. I would suggest the 9...h5 sideline mentioned in Game 2. Either way, Black must really tread carefully in this line.
- Make sure you know the 6.Bd2 line really well. as this is White's most common response to the MacCutcheon French by far.
- Our repertoire has us answering threats to g7 with ...Kf8, losing castling rights rather than compromising the Kingside.
- In many cases, the best defense is counter-attack. Passive play rarely works in the MacCutcheon.
Links to the rest of the articles.
Introduction and facing the Advance Variation
Part One: The Exchange Variation
Part Two: The Tarrasch Variation
Part Three: The King's Indian Attack
Part Five: The Steinitz Variation
Part Six: Beating the French with the Advance Variation