Review: A classical guide to the French Defence

by Davide Nastasio
6/15/2018 – While this DVD is dedicated to an opening repertoire for Black, we can also catch a glimpse into the grandmaster's mind. We are treated to a show where pawn structures, relationships between pieces and pawns, and middlegame plans come alive through the words and explanation of a top GM. Yannick Pelletier guides us beyond the mere memorization of moves and lines, directly into the land of strategy and planning. DAVIDE NASTASIO says it definitely has a certain 'je ne sais quoi'.

A Classical Guide to the French Defence A Classical Guide to the French Defence

This DVD gives you the key to start out with the French Defence. GM Yannick Pelletier is a specialist of this opening, and believes that the most efficient way to understand its ideas, plans, and typical structures is to study classical lines.


A review

French DVD coverThe last match I played ended in a tie, 8 to 8. The real amazing discovery which came out of it was that I did better, as black, with openings I knew deeply but didn't play in a long time. Instead of the new one, I studied in this last year. Personally, I was shocked seeing the Pirc, which I studied from the beginning of the year, give me only one win and two losses, while another opening which I neither studied nor used for more than six months gave me three wins. My amazement is due to the fact that I prepared for the Pirc, while for the other opening I just remembered ideas and lines from when I played it last.

Once the match was over, and I saw this DVD on the French, I thought I need to return to the French, since even if I don't like it, because I'm under pressure good part of the game and the c8-bishop is 'in jail', I still scored lots of wins!

I noticed a pattern found commonly between players who, like Yannick Pelletier, are using and loving the French: They don't consider it a "defence" at all but rather a kind of attack weapon. Pelletier states it in the introductory video: "I'm going to show you the active fighting ways to use the French defence."

GM Yannick Pelletier is no stranger to the French, despite being Swiss!

As a reviewer, when a DVD author makes some statements, I check them for veracity. Thanks to ChessBase Megabase 2018 now one can have millions of games at one's fingertips in seconds, hence it would be negligent not to.

For example, in the introduction, Pelletier says he began to play the French in 2001. Did he really begin to play the French in 2001? Actually, no — he began in 2000! Did he use the French for some fighting games? That is totally true! Enjoy the following:


Of course, if Pelletier is able to win with the French against not so well known GMs, that's not such a feat, but what if he won against a world championship contender and now, 17 years later, still in the top 100 players of the planet?

What if he won against a GM who is also considered an expert of the French?

Here are the answer to these questions!


These two games played by Pelletier definitely convinced me to return to the French.

Honestly, I like the passion with which Pelletier presents the French in the first introductory video. He had to restrain himself, because he was going to discuss already the ideas behind the opening moves, and then, of course, he remembered that was the introductory video, so he returned to speak of the general structure of the repertoire. But this little example gave me good feelings because one cannot easily fake passion for something he doesn't feel any affection towards, and Pelletier definitely loves the French!

Pelletier makes clear this is an opening repertoire, noting that he will give all the answers to whatever White can come up with. He pays particular attention the pawn structures which are peculiar to the French because, in a not so distant future, one could decide to improve, and truly master the opening, but that can be done only if the foundations are solid. In chess, the foundation of every opening, as well as middlegame planning, is based on a deep understanding of the pawn structure.

As always, it is also important to frame the opening with the champions who have used it in the past. A few are mentioned in the videos: Botvinnik, Petrosian, Korchnoi, all great names who can introduce us to the ideas of the French.

Pelletier shows honesty as a teacher with a warning: to learn an opening it is not just to memorize few moves, but to understand the themes which bring us into the middlegame. Those themes are shown in the selection of 170 games, which comes with this DVD.

The second video made by Pelletier is quite important and instructive. He begins to discuss the pawn structures, and the plans one will follow depending on the pawn structure. This will help to know which moves to play because one need not merely remember a series of moves, but also when they are important and why one plays them.

For example, Pelletier gives the definition of the bases of the pawn chain, and the reason to attack it, and he does it for each structure we find in the French.

Pelletier also describes the relationship between pawns and pieces, how the pawn chains hinder some pieces.

Typical structures for French patriots players

The content of the DVD consists of 18 videos discussing the pawn structures, lines, and model games. Followed by eleven video clips of tests, in which Pelletier presents a position, and asks pertinent questions on how to continue, giving feedback in case one didn't understand something learned from the previous videos. The videos run for a total of 4 hours and 27 minutes.

How do you gain the maximum from this DVD? This point is important and needs to be reiterated. For example, I was listening to a training video clip, where Pelletier presented a position from the game Ljubojevic vs Gurevich M.


In the video, Pelletier shows this position to demonstrate a typical sacrifice to open the centre, and says Gurevich made a living out of it. As soon as he said that, I opened my Megabase 2018, Inserted in the filter Gurevich M. and on the ECO keys inserted C00 to C19. The database found all the games Gurevich played with the French. The rest of the homework was to find a similar sac in the centre. (By the way, Gurevich has played the French extensively, I found more than 390 games with it!)

I wasn't able to find another game by Gurevich with similar central sac, but I found interesting manoeuvres Gurevich used to liberate the 'bad bishop' on c8. I also learned when Gurevich would consider safe it to castle queenside and many other ideas which could be important for my tournament games. The bottom line: one needs to do one's own homework, and be passionate about discovering this opening.  

Pros and cons

Often I hear that books are better because they have commented games. Well this Chessbase DVD has 170 of them! The selection given by Pelletier, if studied, will provide solid preparation not only for the opening but especially for the middlegame. As Pelletier pointed out in the beginning, if one plays correctly the first 10-15 moves, but doesn't know how to continue, then it's useless. The con is quite easy to understand. If you are an adult like me, time is limited by work, family, etc. and one needs to find the time to actually study the games after having watched all the videos. (I tried to leave the DVD on the bedside table and slept near it, but there was no osmosis.)

Another good feature of the DVD is that Pelletier addressing pawn chains at a level everyone can understand very clearly. So even a beginner who wants to pick up the French as an opening repertoire would be advised to pick this video series. Kudos to Pelletier for doing such a great teaching, in such a clear manner.

Some people tend to be obsessed by the specific content: Will Pelletier treat that line? Or that other one? I didn't spend much time on minutiae, because I like the way Pelletier treated the opening. For example in the French advance variation, he did explain different lines but gave particular attention to explain when it was possible to attack the centre with an f7-f6 push (as can be seen in the diagram below) and when it wasn't advisable.

This explanation will stay with me in my games and help me navigate the opening, better than my faulty memory because I will know "why" I'm pushing the pawn in a certain position.

Before closing this review, I'd like to share my experience with the French and give the reader, who is perhaps now on the French road, some games to see.

In the beginning, I felt overwhelmed by the amount of material, I didn't study enough, and I had some surprises when I was playing in a tournament. One way to try to neutralize the French is through the King's Indian Attack (KIA). Why? Because in this way White avoids needing to study opening theory and employs a system which works well also against the Sicilian. I found a couple of interesting Pelletier's games to neutralize the KIA. He is clearly a strong expert of the French, and a champion to use as a role model. But special attention must be given also to the exchange French, labelled as drawish, because it can become a weapon, and of course the Tarrasch.

In the game with the Tarrasch notice how Pelletier castled at move 30!! Showing how he doesn't play mindlessly, but just finds the right move to play at the right moment. In fact, I'd like to show you a position, coming from one of the games you can see under. Try to guess the move which made Black win:


And now enjoy these games:


Final thoughts

I loved to refresh my knowledge of the French thanks to the energetic, and passionate approach used by GM Pelletier. I also watched many of his games with the French, and I realized he is really good in the middlegame and endgame. So I hope one day he will share his wisdom in a ChessBase video series on these two areas of the game.

Meanwhile, I was happy Pelletier did this series, because I had a bad weekend with the Pirc, and I definitely needed something to restore my confidence in fighting against 1.e4 as Black. Many of Pelletier's games, and some of the players he mentioned, just cheered me up. For those who are impatient like me, and want to play the new opening as soon as possible, just watch the five videos of model games, and they will give you all the themes, and ideas you need to get started playing the opening!

Good luck!

A Classical Guide to the French Defence

This DVD gives you the key to start out with the French Defence. GM Yannick Pelletier is a specialist of this opening, and believes that the most efficient way to understand its ideas, plans, and typical structures is to study classical lines.


Davide is a novel chess aficionado who has made chess his spiritual tool of improvement and self-discovery. One of his favorite quotes is from the great Paul Keres: "Nobody is born a master. The way to mastery leads to the desired goal only after long years of learning, of struggle, of rejoicing, and of disappointment..."


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