5 Best Chess Opening Traps in the French Defense
Chess Openings

5 Best Chess Opening Traps in the French Defense

5 Best Chess Opening Traps in the French Defense

Today, I’ve published a new video lesson, where I shared with you the 5 best chess opening traps in the French Defense, which happens after the first moves 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5.

An interesting thing about these traps is that even the World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen has fallen for one of these traps, not just once but TWICE! So, most of these traps are suitable even at high level chess.

5 Best Chess Opening Traps in the French Defense

Trap-1: The World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen Fell for It

The first one on the list of opening traps for the French Defense that I’m going to show you was used against none other than Magnus Carlsen! Something unbelievable is that he was actually trapped, but that is not even the worst part of the story…

On the other hand, playing symmetrically in the French Defense is a common thing and it could lead to some traps. Watch the video lesson (at the end of this article) to find a full explanation, not only for the traps, but also for how to properly play the opening moves in the French Defense.

Opening Traps in the French Defense, Exchange Variation
Carlsen playing Black has fallen into this trap more than once!

In White’s turn, instead of going with the bishop to d3, he went with the pawn to c4. It looked like a standard development move in the opening that perhaps prepared an attack to the center by Nc3.

So, Black goes knight to e7, according to their plan. But, all of a sudden, instead of a move like Nc3 to pressure in the center, White can go c5! And Black finds himself in a big trouble. The bishop on d6 is trapped! Black is losing a piece for nothing, and it’s time to resign.

Carlsen Got Trapped Twice!

When we search for this position in the database of chess games in lichess, we found a really funny thing. ☺ At the top games, there are two games played as Black by DrNykterstein ―the nickname of Magnus Carlsen.

And the funiest is this! Funnily enough, he was trapped not only once, but he was trapped twice!! Once in 2020 and once in 2021. Therefore, this tell us that this trap really works, and that if you ever happen to encounter Carlsen, you can feel free to play this trap against him and secure a win. ☺

Trap-2: Series of Threats

Let’s move on to our trap number two in the French Defense, which we could see as a series of traps. It’s also interesting that, when I checked it in the game database, it happened that only occasionally White found the correct move which actually wins the game.

Everything begins with a temporary pawn sacrifice by White on the fourth move. The idea is to get it back later by the development of the pieces. Both black knights, on c6 and f6, are going to be pinned by the white bishops (Bb5 and Bg5). In this way, White prepares all the pieces in advance at the best squares to finally recover the pawn.

Opening Traps in the French Defense, Series of Threats
A tricky line which results in a series of threats

Finalizing the opening, Black has castled and White has exchanged the bishop for the knight on c6 and has captured the pawn on e4. White takes advantage of the pin on f6 and, at first, it looks like everything’s just great.

White Has to Be Careful

A high-class player wouldn’t go for this position playing Black. But on this game, Black played Qd5 ―hoping to win one of the white minor pieces. If White takes the knight on f6, then Black takes the knight on e4, first with check and, after that, wins the bishop on f6. Thus, Black would win the game.

But that is not a problem really, White just needs to be careful and play with the proper move order to save the minor pieces.

Can You Find the Winning Move?

french defense traps

After some captures, we come to a new position where Black is threatening to take and win the rook. White became unable to castle. Black has calculated how to win the game if the rook tries to escape. But I’d like to ask you to think about this position because there is a winning move for White. Several players, playing this position as White, could not find the winning move, and I’d like to challenge you to do that. Let’s see if you can do it. If you can find the right move, write it down in the comments below.

Trap-3: For Black, in the Advance Variation

The next trap is going to be for Black. We know that Black has a lot of interesting resources and traps available in the French Defense.

As a good chess player, there is one trap which is the first you got to be aware of when playing the French Defense. It revolves around the poisoned d4-pawn. Be sure to learn it (or remember it) by watching the full video lesson below because the third of the opening traps for this lesson on the French Defense derives from it.

After Black plays Bd7, White’s d4-pawn is really in danger. That’s why White has to move the light-squared bishop away, by playing Bc2. And here is an interesting thing!

Opening Traps in the French Defense, Advance Variation
White cannot castle and is at Black’s mercy
Playing Aggressively

Instead of playing a normal development move, you can play more aggressively with the black pieces and go Nb4. Normally, White tries to avoid the exchange of his bishop for a knight and will go Bb3, hoping to kick the knight away in the next move.

At that moment, you will play the key move Qa6! It gives Black certain advantage (sometimes, a pretty huge advantage actually). The idea is that now the knight is ready to jump to d3! And this is a really powerful threat. The queen supports Black’s attack on the diagonal.

If White just plays some natural move, let’s say Nc3, which is actually the most played move in this position, White is lost! Black will enter White’s position by giving a check with Nd3+, and everything will be attacked. Whatever White does, Black wins material or the game instantly. White has to resign.

The Secrets of Strong Players

And before we go into the fourth trap for this chess lesson, let me just say to you that if you want to know how to advance yourself to a stronger level ―so that you can beat more experienced opponents, not just in a single game with the help of a certain trap but on a more regular basis―, then you can enroll into the course The Secrets of Strong Players.

The Secrets of Strong Players

In this chess course, I’m sharing with you specifically what differences advanced players from amateur players, so that you know exactly the skills that you need to master in order to narrow the gap between where you are right now and where you want to be.

Trap-4: GM Igor Smirnov’s Favorite Trap

The next trap is one of my favorite opening traps against the French Defense. I actually executed it myself more than once, and the fun thing is that even strong players fall into this trap because it just goes so smoothly. It happens in the line known as the Rubinstein Variation.

Opening Traps in the French Defense, Rubinstein Variation
GM Igor Smirnov’s favourite trap in the French Defense

At this position, you play Qe2, and this move, which looks like just a normal development move preparing castling queen side, in fact sets a clever trap. Because, in this case, it’s time for Black to develop their light-squared bishop, and develop it to d7 looks passive.

Black certainly will play b6 instead, so the bishop can be developed to the long diagonal. It looks a lot more profitable for Black. But, in this case, the trick is that instead of doing the queenside castling, you can just take on f6 and, after that, go with the queen to e4, creating a killer double attack.

The Killer Double Attack

White threatens Black in two ways at the same time. To checkmate on h7 is one threat, while to take the rook on a8 is the other one. And, even though this trap looks very easy when you’re aware of it, in fact the previous Black’s moves are so natural and the trap is a bit hidden.

It looks like White were just developing their pieces and, therefore, a lot of players, including really strong ones, were losing the games just like that. You can see the real power of this opening trap in the chess games database. On the full video, I show you how extremely strong players with a rating of 2800-3000 are trapped this way.

Trap-5: In the Tarrasch Variation

The last one in this list of opening traps for the French Defense is really interesting and tricky, and happens when White goes with Nd2 to play one of the main lines of the French Defense, called the Tarrasch Variation.

After some play ―both positional and aggressive― from Black, we come to the following position, where (by playing Bg5) White threats to take the queen on f6. But things are not so easy, because Black certainly calculated this possibility and they were hoping for a counter blow with Bxf3, which is also an attack to White’s queen.

If both players take each other’s queen, at the end of the line, Black is clearly winning. Black would end with an extra knight.

Opening Traps in the French Defense, Tarrasch Variation
You don’t need to exchange queens, when you can simply win the game! ☺
Mind-blowing Tactics

However, instead of taking the black queen on f6, letting Black win, White actually has another move, which is certainly way more powerful: Qc1!

This move is so easy to overlook because White rarely goes with the queen from d1 to c1. It’s kind of an awkward move, but just in this particular position, it simply works!

From c1, the white queen protects the dark-squared bishop. Therefore, the black queen is still attacked and it’s going to be captured. When the queen goes to d4, because that’s actually the only square for the queen to go to now, you can see the other idea behind the move Qc1. All of a sudden, it can go inside Black’s camp to deliver checkmate. It’s a pretty interesting tactical shot for White and also a quite hidden combination that is so easy for Black to overlook.

5 Best Chess Opening Traps in the French Defense (Video Lesson)

Below you can go through all the moves on the chessboard, and also download the PGN file with the chess games that we used in this lesson to study the 5 best chess opening traps in the French Defense.

I hope you enjoy reading this blog post.

If you want GM Igor Smirnov to help you get better at chess, watch this Masterclass.

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