Attacking Chess – The French: A Dynamic Repertoire for Black by Simon Williams is yet another fine addition to a long list of repertoire books devoted to the French Defense from Black’s perspective. Earlier works on the same subject include those by IM John Watson (3 editions – the latest in 2003), GM Viktor Moskalenko’s The Flexible French and the Wonderful Winawer, and 2700 + FIDE rated Nikita Vitugov’s The French Defense: A Complete Black Repertoire. The latter two author’s works were published in the last three years.
English GM Williams is noted for his aggressive style of play and the lines he advocates in Attacking Chess reflect this. The key variations are:
Tarrasch – 3.Nd2
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.Bd3 c5 6.c3 Nc6 7.Ne2 cxd4 8.cxd4 f6 9.exf6 Nxf6 10.Nf3 Qc7
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.f4 c5 6.c3 Nc6 7.Ne2 Qb6 with the idea of meeting 8.g3 with 8…Be7 9.Bh3 cxd4 10.cxd4 0-0 11.Kf2 f6
Advance Variation – 3.e5
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.c3 Nc6 5.Nf3 Bd7 6.Be2 f6
Winawer – 3…Bb4
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e5 c5 5.a3 Bxc3+ 6.bxc3 Ne7 7.Qg4 Qc7
Williams’ book differs from the titles mentioned above in that it is arranged around 59 heavily annotated model games. Unlike some of the other French Repertoire books, he has adopted more of a pure repertoire in that there are not any specific backup systems (for example Vitiugov gives both 3…Be7 and 3…c5 4.exd5 Qxd5 against the Tarrasch as well as covering 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2/3.Nc3 dxe4). That said, in some lines Williams does suggest other playable variations inside his repertoire.
Not offering alternative major variations has its virtues in that the author is able to spend more time on the lines he is covering and offer more explanatory prose. Throughout Attacking Chess – The French Williams goes out of his way to explain what the key ideas and plans are in the position and this makes the book of lasting value, especially for players in the 1800 to 2400 rating range.
One potential disadvantage of the model games approach is the danger of neglecting to include a critical line or difficulties in finding certain variations. I didn’t see any examples of the former, and Attacking Chess – The French does have a good opening index in the back.
The material in this book includes games up to the first part of 2010 – there are many 2009 references but few from a year later. This plus the nonappearance of Moskalenko’s Wonderful Winawer or Vitiugov’s The French Defense: A Complete Black Repertoire (both published in 2010) in the bibliography would suggest that it took around a year to get this book published which is rather a long time. This should not be that much of a deal for the target audience this book is aimed for but still seems unnecessary.
Parts of Attacking Chess: The French will be interesting for titled players. For example, one of the most topical lines in the Winawer is reached after 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e5 c5 5.a3 Bxc3+ 6.bxc3 Ne7 7.Qg4 Qc7 8.Qxg7 Rg8 9.Qxh7 cxd4 10.Ne2 Nbc6 11.f4 dxc3 12.Qd3 Nf5 13.Qxc3 Bd7 14.Rb1 0-0-0 15.Rg1 d4 16.Qd3 Na5 17.g4 Ba4! (Williams). Now Vitiugov gives only 18.c3 based on Volokitin-Ganguly, Moscow 2007 and gives half a page of analysis, while Williams examines not only 18.c3 but also 18.Rb2 and 18.gxf5. He considers the latter best and spends two full pages on it with P. Smirnov-Arslanov, Russian Team Championship 2009 the key game.
Which repertoire books should French players get? That depends largely on how they meet the Tarrasch and 3.Nc3. If you answer 3.Nd2 with 3…Nf6 and 3.Nc3 with 3…Bb4 intending to enter the main line Winawer and want a focused treatment, then Attacking Chess – The French: A Dynamic Repertoire for Black is just the right book.