Sam Collins: The French Advance Structure

by ChessBase
6/4/2013 – This structure, which can arise in the French, Caro-Kann, Sicilian or Slav Defence, is characterized by the pawn chain d4-e5 for White and e6-d5 for Black and an open c-file. Chess trainer Sam Collins provides full instructions on a ChessBase DVD which reviewer Lukas Wedrychowski says is "one which especially those with limited time should get." He gives it 6/6 stars = Highly Recommended!

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Sam Collins: Know the terrain Vol 4 –
The French Advance Structure

Review by Lukas Wedrychowski

On his new DVD, IM Sam Collins from Ireland continues his discussion of the most important, popular and most frequently occurring pawn structures in chess. After dealing with the Carlsbad Structure, the Capablanca Structure, the Open Games, he comes to the highly popular French Advance Structure, which is characterized by the pawn chain d4-e5 for White and e6-d5 for Black and an open c-file.

Sam Collins is an International Master from Ireland with two GM norms. He has represented his country at six Olympiads, winning a gold medal at Bled. He is the author of several bestselling opening books and is a regular columnist in chess periodicals. As a coach, he has lectured national junior squads and taught the master class at the renowned Berkeley Chess School. His first Chessbase DVD, “1.e4 repertoire – Grandmaster Lines Explained for Club Players” was well received by players and reveiwers alike. He is a former Irish and Japanese champion.

The structure of the DVD looks quite good, as it covers the most important features of the position. As one can see in the diagram above, one aspect of the position is the open file, which will become quite contested in future. This can either lead to mass exchanges on it, as a result to huge simplifications and a good game for Black as you can see in Kuzubov–Jobava, Dubai op 14th 2012.

But what happens if one of the players manages to dominate the only open file in the position? Well then there arises a classical example in which the upper side tries to penetrate the position and prevent any counterplay as seen in Sargissian–Yu.

Although the open file is certainly one of the main features of the structure it is by no means the only relevant. There are many strategic dangers which one has to bear in mind. For example the potential threat to end up playing a “good knight vs bad bishop” ending. This occurs if a white knight manages to dominate the dark squares (probably on d6 or e5) and keeps the light-squared bishop, the eternal problem of the black player, out of game.

Collins adds some more interesting material and motifs such as the “h4-push” by White or the idea of taking the Nh6 with “Bxh6” in the advance variation of the French Defence (Svidler–Nguyen). But that’s not the only case in which the pawn structure might change. If Black manages to generate enough counterplay against his main target, the d4-square, then he might force White to defend the square with a bishop on e3. This gives the second player an additional opportunity to capture that bishop and change the pawn structure (fxe3 as seen in the games: Giri-Dgebuadze and Caruana-Vallejo Pons).

Besides the h-push White can start pushing the other pawns, among most likely the f-pawn, gaining space and aiming to advance it further and further. This might become the base for a kingside pawn storm with a later g-push. When talking about strategic ideas one can hardly skip the important topic of exchanges. Two chapters deal with the trade of knights with GM Adams playing the white side of the games and he shows brilliantly how a bad exchange can have a great impact on the position. As a famous saying goes: “It only matters what remains on the board”.

The last remaining chapters deal with material imbalances, including the important exchange sacrifice in which one side sacrifices the rook for a knight and some positional gains as well as two interesting games in the queen’s pawn openings (Catalan & Queen’s Indian) where the structure tends to occur.

So do you need to play the French in order to gain something out of this DVD? Actually no… the structure which is discussed in great detail can arise from many different openings. Let’s see:

  • French Defence: 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.c3 (with a later cxd4 to come, opening up the c-file)

  • Caro-Kann Defence: 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 Bf5 4.Nf3 e6 5.Be2 c5 6.c3 etc.

  • Sicilian Defence: 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.Bb5+ Bd7 4.Bxd7 Qxd7 5.0-0 Nf6 6.Re1 Nc6 7.c3 e6 8.d4 cxd4 9.cxd4 d5 10.e5

  • Slav Defence: 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 dxc4 5.a4 Bf5 6.e3 e6 7.Bxc4 Bb4 8.0-0 0-0 9.Qe2 Nbd7 10.e4 Bg6 11.Bd3 Bh5 12.e5 Nd5 13.Nxd5 cxd5

I must admit that there is a slight tendency to White players, as almost all games are won by White. But don’t be afraid, this structure is not a forced loss for Black! He certainly gets enough counter play, as for example with the typical counterstrike …f6 to break up the powerful pawn chain.

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This is simply a good series and one which especially those with limited time should get! To become very good you need certain knowledge of all common structures in chess. But most players simply don’t have the time to study many openings in which these structures tend to occur most frequently. So this DVD is well suited for those with limited time resources but also for young, ambitious (club or master) players aiming to improve their knowledge in typical pawn formations! The pawn structure defines the plans and you have to know the most common structures in order to find the best moves over the board. A must-have for each local chess club!

Rating: (6/6) ****** Highly Recommended!

Sample video: Sam Collins - Know the terrain Vol 5: The Philidor Structure

Buy Sam Collins: Know the Terrain Vol. 5: The Philidor Structure in the Chessbase Shop

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