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Understand the French Isolani

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In this article, GM Mihail Marin deals with an extremely important pawn structure - French Isolani. On the diagram below, you can see a typical case of French Isolani.


This structure is mostly reached in the so-called Tarrasch Variation of French Defence after the moves 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 c5 4.exd5 exd5. The French Isolani will arise whenever White goes for dxc5 in this position.

Also, it is important to mention that this structure is by far not limited to the French Defence. The French Isolani can be reached out of different openings such as Queen's Gambit Accepted, Queen's Gambit Declined, Petroff Defence, and so on. Indeed, in the abovementioned openings, we reach this pawn structure with reversed colors. Let's take a look at the following example:

After the moves 1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 3.e3 e5 4.Bxc4 exd4 5.exd4, we have a typical French Isolani position.


Later on, Black will play c7-c6 and we have a Reversed French!

In the introduction to the current article, Marin writes:

The French Isolani is one of the structures that have intrigued me most since my early teenage years back in the '70s. I used to play 1.e4 and meet the French with 3.Nd2, when 3...c5 4.exd5 exd5 frequently gave me headaches and had Kortschnoj, a specialist of this line, as my greatest hero. Later, when I switched to 1.d4 I found the Queen's Gambit Isolani much easier to play against. Since I never again switched back to 1.e4, I did not ask myself whether this was due to my already better strategic skills or to specific differences between the two similar structures. At the moment of writing these lines, I believe that, while the former may have played a part, the latter is doubtlessly true. Since the French Isolani structure is an important part of the repertoire I built up in the theoretical databases, I find it useful to prove that even when things go relatively badly for Black, his Isolani is safer than in the closely related Queen's Gambit structures.

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