Due to the match between Alphazero and Stockfish two openings have been considered refuted, I am talking about the queen’s indian defense and the french defense. Many have refused playing them at elite levels (not all) however the French in particular has been gaining success on mid-tier tournaments, I think it is nice to write an article about it.
To commemorate this so-called dead opening, let’s take a look at the best French defense players in history including those that are no longer playing and are actively choosing it in their games. If you are looking to master the french then you should keep on reading.
Table of Contents
French defense player No.1: Víktor Korchnói
If you are looking for the classics there probably isn’t a better option than Victor Korchnoi, he is a strong player in general and he had a couple of good games using the french defense. It is actually one of his main opening repertoire, since this is the time when the French defense is still respected as a theoretical opening.
In 1951, Korchnoi achieved the status of Soviet chess master, then in 1954, he achieved the status of international master, and in 1956, he achieved the status of international grandmaster. During the years 1960 to 1970, he won four Soviet Union championships, which were by far the most competitive national chess championships throughout the globe at that time period.
In 1974, Korchnoi was defeated by fellow compatriot Anatoly Karpov in a chess match that determined who would challenge Bobby Fischer for the worldwide chess championship. In the event that Fischer chose not to defend his title, Karpov was crowned world champion by operation of law. In 1978, he was defeated by Karpov in a lengthy and difficult comeback match for the world title, losing by a score of 5 wins to 6 defeats. (The match’s 21 draws were not taken into consideration.) In 1981, he was defeated by Karpov once again.
From 1954 through 1990, Korchnoi competed in over 70 international chess events, winning or sharing first place in 40 of those competitions. In his whole career, he has finished no worse than third place seven times. Unlike most grand masters, he continued to participate in elite grandmaster contests well into his fifties, making him somewhat of a rarity.
French defense player No.2: Georg Meier
This one is not as mentioned in the forums that I have read but it is definitely worth the mention, Georg Meier is such an underrated french defense player as he plays this opening religiously. Real chess players know the extent of Meier’s French defense expertise, he may not be well known but he is probably the best in the world in this line.
Georg Meier is a Professional chess grandmaster who was born into a family of chess players. In 2009, he represented the United States at the FIDE World Cup.
In the 19th Magistral Pamplona Tournament, held in December 2009, Meier finished in a tie for first–fourth place with Julio Granda, Viktor Láznika, and Kiril Georgiev. His performance in the Dortmund Sparkassen Chess Meeting, which had been crowned by Fabiano Caruana as first place 2014, tied him for second place with Peter Leko. Meier defeated Ukrainian Alexander Moiseenko in the primary grandmaster competition at the 2017 Maccabiah Games in Jerusalem, taking home the gold medal.
For Germany, he participated in the Chess Olympiad, World Team Chess Championship, European Team Chess Championship, and Mitropa Cup, among other competitions. During the 2011 European Team Championship, held in Porto Carras, Greece, his team took home the gold medal and the championship trophy.
French defense player No.3: Matthias Blübaum
Currently he is also one of the best french defense players in the world along with George Meier but his name is probably something that you haven’t heard about, he is also quite underrated. When talking about expertise he is the one that you should check out in modern times, he continuously plays this line even with the modern theoretical refutation.
Matthias Blübaum is a grandmaster in the game of chess in Germany. As of October 2021, he is Germany’s No. 4 player. Blübaum started playing chess when he was six years old and became a member of the Prinzen Gruppe towards the age of 12.
Blübaum was selected the 2011 U14 Player of the Year by the German Chess Federation. In 2012, he was granted the international master title, and in 2015, he was granted the grandmaster head line as well. Following his participation on the German team that won the European Youth Team Championship in 2015, he has gone on to compete for his country in the European Team Chess Championship as well as the International Team Chess Olympiad.
French defense player No.4: Alexander Morozevich
Unlike with Meier and Blübaum this player does not solely rely on the french defense as his primary weapon, he has many opening expertise but the french has a relationship with this guy. He has a lot of good games that you can find online where he has chosen the french defense, it is pretty instructional and you can learn a lot from him.
Alexander Sergeyevich Morozevich is a Russian chess grandmaster who competes in the World Championships. In 1994, the Federation of International Chess (FIDE) conferred the designation of Grandmaster to him. In addition to being a two-time World Championship contender (2005, 2007), Morozevich is a two-time Russian title holder and has represented Russia at seven Chess Olympiads, where he has won multiple team and individual gold.
On many occasions, he has won the Melody Amber (2002, 2004, 2006, 2008) and Biel (2003, 2004, 2006) competitions, as well as the Melody Amber Grand Prix. Morozevich is well-known for his forceful and unconventional approach to the game. In July 2008, he reached the top of the global rankings, placing him second.
French defense player No.5: Ian nepomniachtchi
This may come as a surprise for some people but Ian is actually known to be a good French defense player, this makes him one of the few people who represent the said opening at the elite levels. He has many games featuring the French defense against the top 20 chesz competitors in the world, definitely one of the best in this particular line.
Ian Nepomniachtchi has claimed the Russian Super Finals in 2010 and 2020, but also the European Individual championship in 2010. He has also earned the Tal Memorial in 2016, as well as the Aeroflot Open in 2008 and 2015. He was a part of the Russian side that dominated the World Team Chess Championship in Antalya (2013) and Astana (2014, 2019). Nepomniachtchi was a member of the Russian squad that won the 2015 European Team Chess Championship in Reykjavik.
When it comes to quick chess and blitz chess, Nepomniachtchi is fourth in the entire globe, according to the FIDE rankings published in October 2016. Two silver titles at the World Rapid Championship and just a silver medal at the World Blitz Championship have been won by him, and he was the winner of the 2008 Ordix Open in 2008. Nepomniachtchi qualified for the Candidates Tournament 2020–21 by placing second in the FIDE Grand Prix 2019. He won the FIDE Candidates tournament for the year 2021 with a round left and will play Magnus Carlsen in the World Chess Championship in November 2021.
French defense player No.6: Nigel Short
Out of all the people in this list Nigel Short is probably the most well-rounded, he doesn’t really focus on the french defense as his primary opening repertoire but he has become one of the best in it. He is so good that at one occasion he even had the opportunity to be a world champion, that tells a lot about his skills.
Nigel David Short is an Englishman chess grandmaster, journalist, coach, and pundit who has served as Vice-President of the International Chess Federation (FIDE) since October 2018. For a brief period between 1988 and 1989, Short held the Grandmaster status and was rated #3 in the entire globe by the Federation of International Chess (FIDE).
After qualifying to face Garry Kasparov in the World Chess Championship 1993 in London, he has become the first English player to compete in a World Chess Championship bout. Kasparov defeated him 12½ to 7½ in the match, which was broadcast live on television.
Short learned to play chess from his father when he was five years old. With his 10-year-old victory against Viktor Korchnoi, then the world’s second-ranked player at the time, Short initially gained widespread media attention. Short was the sole winner of a simul show in London that had 31 boards and in which Short would be the only winner.
French defense player No.7: Mikhail Botvinnik
If you have been following the games of this world champion then you know that two of his most favorite lines for black are the caro kann defense and the french defense, he used it a lot. He has proven to be a potent player in the french defense variation and his games would really bring the best out of you, you should check it out if you are a positional player.
Mikhail Botvinnik was a Soviet and Russian chess player who rose to prominence in the 1960s. Although he is best known as the sixth World Chess Champion, his professional background includes work as an electronic engineer and computer engineer, as well as a pioneer in the field of computer chess.
Botvinnik was the very first global competitor to emerge from the Soviet Union, and he was also the first to achieve international recognition. Additionally, he played an important part in the governance of chess, contributing significantly to the construction of the World Chess Championship structure following World War II and then becoming a key component of the coaching system that allowed the Soviet Union to rule top-level chess during that period. Among his students are World Champions Anatoly Karpov, Garry Kasparov, and Vladimir Kramnik, among others.
French defense player No.8: Nikita Vitiugov
This is another underrated elite that have specialized in the french defense but is more well-known in the past, currently he is not one of the strongest players since his peak is over (he is out of his prime). Technicality wise he can rival a lot of elite players by using the french defense, he is one of the best in history at this particular variation.
Nikita Vitiugov is a professional chess player from Russia. In 2007, the Federation of International Descent (FIDE) conferred the status of Grandmaster to him. In 2009 and 2013, he was a participant of the Russian team that won the World Team Chess Championship for the second time. During the 2013 Gibraltar Masters competition, Vitiugov was victorious, as was he during the 2017 Grenke Open. Vitiugov was victorious at the Russian Chess Championship in 2021.
During the 2005 season, Vitiugov won the Russian under-18 tournament and became runner-up in the European under-18 tournament during the same year. Both in 2006 and 2007, he finished second in the Russian Junior Championships in Moscow. In 2006, he emerged as runner-up in the World Junior Chess Championship in Moscow.
French defense player No.9: Varuzhan Akobian
Akobian still participates in a lot of tournaments as of the moment, the french defense is a powerful tool at his arsenal though some of the players above may have been more successful. He is definitely one of the best experts in the French defense, he may not have been the best of the best but he is still pretty good.
Varuzhan Akobian is an Armenian-born American chess Grandmaster who was born in the United States. He is initially based from Armenia and currently lives in the St. Louis, Missouri area. He was a member of the United States chess squad that finished with bronze medals in the 2006 and 2008 Chess Olympiads.
French defense player No.10: Tigran Petrosian
The list couldn’t end without mentioning this renowned world champion, Tigran is well known for his defensive positional style and the French defense is one of the tools he used to achieve such positions. He sprinkles his own spin through the variation that he plays, he is one of the best in history to play the french defense.
Tigran Vartanovich Petrosian had been a Soviet Armenian Grandmaster and World Chess Champion from 1963 to 1969. He was born in the Soviet Union of Armenia. He was given the moniker “Iron Tigran” because of his nearly unbreakable conservative approach, which placed preservation above everything else.  Armenian chess master Petrosian is known for promoting the game.
For the World Chess Championship, Petrosian qualified eight times, the most of any player (1953, 1956, 1959, 1962, 1971, 1974, 1977 and 1980). Against Mikhail Botvinnik in 1963 he won his world championship title. He successfully defended the World Championship in 1966 over Boris Spassky, and then lost the title to Spassky once more in 1969. Ten successive three-year cycles, as a result, he was either the world champion or a World Championship Candidate. A total of four times he was champion of the Soviet Union (1959, 1961, 1969, and 1975).
To summarise the best french defense players in history were: Víktor Korchnói, Georg Meier, Matthias Blübaum, Alexander Morozevich, Ian nepomniachtchi, Nigel Short, Mikhail Botvinnik, Nikita Vitiugov, Varuzhan Akobian, and Tigran Petrosian. If you’re looking to master the variation of the French then these are the players that you should check out.
Many of these names are quite underrated and have not been discussed on top blog posts, hopefully this article will bring more awareness to people and would lead them to the real experts. I am sure that you are going to like studying these players, thank you for reading.