The f6 pawn break is an important move to know in The French Defense Advance Variation. When White advances with 3. e5 Black has two pawn break he should us to attack White’s strong center pawns.
The two breaks are c5 and f6. The 56 pawn-break is very simple because when White advances the e-pawn on move 3 we need to immediately undermine and attack White’s pawn chain with c5. C5 is always the first pawn break to be played and you should always play the as your third move against 3. e5.
The f6 break is a bit more tricky when looking for the right timing and a lot of players struggle here. Actually some grandmasters have played the f6 break already on move 5 () with good excellent results, but it really requires expert play to pull that off.
Why Play F6 In The French Defense Advance Variation?
Let us start by getting an understanding of exactly why we should want to play f6. This all goes back to the general ideas and plan behind The French. Here is a short and concise outline from Black’s perspective.
- Let White take control of the centre with pawns on e4 and d4.
- Attack White’s strong centre immediately.
- Overtake control of the centre and dominate White.
It sounds simple, right. In reality White is obviously going to have other plans for himself. This is why we need to attack White’s strong center pawns right away – before White gets a chance to consolidate.
We do this by means of the two pawn breaks c5 and f6 in that order. Like I already established the c6 move is pretty straightforward to time correctly. The f6 break depends a lot on White’s moves.
In planning when to play the f6 break in The Advance Variation of The French Defence (Also known as The Paulsen Attack) you should play particular attention to how active White’s pieces are. If White has already developed some pieces pointing towards Black’s kingside you should hold the f6 break. Here your King might well be too vulnerable.
We are going to have a look at real grandmaster games to get a feel for when and how you should time the f6 pawn-break and also to help get a better understanding of the middlegame and endgame positions that are likely to come out of the moves.
Let White’s Piece Activity Guide If And When To Play F6 In French Defense Paulsen Attack
The first thing to realize about the f6 break is that it is not always going to be necessary to play.
C5 aims to break up White’s center by attacking the base of the pawn chain and then Black can go on to attack the tip of the pawn chain later with f6.
Generally you should be aiming to play f6 soon after c5. If White is very quick to get his pieces out attacking our kingside you have to postpone the break until it is more safe.
At the lower levels White might be tempted early to take on c5 with his pawn and after you take back with your bishop you should play the f6 break immediately after. White has wasted tempo and also broken up his own strong pawn chain.
A typical line in the Advance French where an early f6 is good is when White plays a rather passive pawn move like a3 in this line:
Here the a3 move means White has not yet mobilized too many pieces for the Black king to be in danger – so we go ahead with 6…f6.
In this line if White instead plays the other main move here 6. Be2 then we will not play f6 because White has played a more active move. Here instead we keep developing bringing our knight on g8 to f5 either via e7 or h6. Also Black’s queen goes to b6 adding another attacker to put pressure on d4.
Often The f6 Move Is Played Late Or Not At All
It is important to know that the f6 pawn break is not mandatory in the same way c5 is. C5 is crucial to break up White’s strong center with an attack, but f6 is a bit more complicated.
The important thing to realize is that f6 does leave behind weaknesses on the kingside. This is the reason we suggest to only play an early f6-break if white has made a rather passive pawnmove like a3. If White has been developing pieces on every move it is best to hold back the push.
If we try to look for examples in grandmaster games it is hard to find new games. The Advance French is simply not played much by White anymore. Instead usual moves are The Tarrasch Variation with 3. Nd2 or The Paulsen Variation with 3. Nc3. These alternatives are now considered better for White.
Let us take at look at a Grandmaster game where Black plays f6. We are going to see an early f6 already on Black’s 6th move.
Early f6 Pawn Break In Grandmaster Game – Alexei Shirov vs Sasa Martinovic
In this first game with Alexei Shirov versus Sasa Martinovic Black played the f6 break very early in move 6. The game follows all the 5 first moves for both Black and White in the main line of the French Defence Advance Variation.
Then Black plays the f6. Alexei Shirov with the white pieces did not take on f6 but instead played 7. bd3. Now Black takes and White takes back. See the game below to get a feel for how the game can evolve. Both players are strong Grandmasters and eventually the game ended up as a tie.
Be sure to click on one of the moves to open the chess replayed allowing you to go back and forth between the moves.
There are a lot of interesting ideas in here.
A great source of inspiration when exploring an opening is to look at top Grandmaster games where the player is an expert in the exact opening your studying.
In case of the French Defense I encourage you to study the games of Grandmaster Yury Schulman. Being an exclusive French Player against 1. e4 you can get a good understanding of Black’s plans in the French and a good idea about which pieces go where after different moves by White.
Beyond that it is up to you to get out there and play some great French Defence chess yourself. We love the opening and so should you.