Flexible French, The

Strategic Explanations and Surprise Weapons for Dynamic Chess Players

Viktor Moskalenko

Reviewer: John Donaldson
New In Chess
278 pages

The Flexible French by GM Viktor Moskalenko is an opening book that defies easy characterization. It’s certainly not an encyclopedic guide, which would require at least 1000 pages for the French. Rather it is a cross between an opening repertoire book and the short, focused articles found in the Dangerous Weapons and Secrets of Opening Surprises series. The common link in the material, with the possible exception of 3……Be7 against the Tarrasch, is that it has been played repeatedly by Moskalenko.

He covers the following lines in depth from Black’s perspective:
Advance Variation (3.e5): 3……c5 4.c3 Nc6 5.Nf3 Qb6 6.a3 Nh6 (and 6……c4) 3……c5 4.c3 Nc6 5.Nf3 Nh6 Tarrasch Variation (3.Nd2): 3……Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.Bd3 c5 6.c3 Nc6 (and 6……b6) 7.Ne2 cxd4 8.cxd4 f6 9.exf6 (and 9.Nf4) 9…Nxf6 10.Nf3 and now both 10……0-0 and 10……Qc7.
3……Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.f4
3……Be7 or 3……c5 4.exd5 Qxd5 Steinitz, McCutcheon, Winawer (3.Nc3): 3…Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.f4 (and 5.Nce2) 3……Nf6 4.Bg5 Bb4
3……Bb4 4.e5 b6
3……Bb4 4.e5 c5 6.a3 Bxc3+ 7.Bd2 Qa4
Each of these is organized as follows: Historic origin of each variation, which includes main ideas, resources, advice, analysis of the most interesting lines through model games, illustrative games, statistics, summaries, and conclusions.
The same format is used for chapter 7, entitled Russian Roulette (aka the Zakharov variation) where the author changes tack and fights against his favorite, advocating the aggressive new weapon against the French – 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.Nf3 c5 6.dxc5 Nc6 7.Bf4 Bxc5 8.Bd3 f6 9.exf6 Nxf6 10.Qe2!? 0-0 11.0-0-0. This line is dramatically different than the old treatment with short castling. Moskalenko devotes 19 pages to this system, which should appeal to aggressive players who want to limit the amount of material they need to study. Moskalenko does note that this variation can also be reached via 1.e4 e6 2.Nc3 d5 3.Nf3, which eliminates the need to have a way to meet the Winawer, and briefly examines 3…d4 (3…Bb4 – Short and Huebner and 3…Nf6 4.e5 Ne4 – Romanishin are unexamined alternatives) 4.Nce2 c5 5.c3 Nc6 6.cxd4 cxd4 7.Qa4 Bc5 8.b4! I agree with the assessment but the problem with this move order, which is not mentioned, is the tricky 6…Nf6 with the point that 7.e5 Nd7 8.dxc5 Ndxe5 9.Nxe5 Nxe5 10.d4 is met by 10…Bxc5! as played by Mamedyarov, Shulman and Socko who all won with it, admittedly against lower-rated opposition. It looks to be a clean equalizer, which may explain why young Turks of this line like Zubarev and Nepomniachtchi have preferred 5.d3 and 5.Ng3 respectively.
The lack of detailed coverage of alternatives to 3…Nf6 is not that big a deal. Moskalenko is approaching the position from the move order 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 not via the Two Knights. Since both lines require White to have a knowledge of the Rubinstein variation (Black can always play …dxe4) a practical way for an aggressive non- theoretical player to meet the French might be 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 using the Zakharov variation against 3…Nf6, choosing a line against the Rubinstein and meeting 3…Bb4 with something like 4.Qd3.
 The final part of the book, entitled Seven Samurai Swords, deals with odds and ends that fill out a Black repertoire and some surprise lines. They consist of:
1.e4 e6 2.Nf3 d5 3.e5 c5 4.b4 d4
1.e4 e6 2.d3 (and 2.Qe2)
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 exd5
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 Be7 5.e5 Nfd7 6.h4 0-0
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.Nge2 Nf6
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e5 c5 5.Bd2 cxd4
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e5 c5 5.a3 Bxc3+ 6.bxc3 Qc7
The latter is of particular interest because this line, despite being given in John Watson’s PLAY THE FRENCH (FM Hans Olav Lahlum wrote the chapter), does not enjoy the best of reputations. Moskalenko has a very specific idea how to rehabilitate it. After 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e5 c5 5.a3 Bxc3+ 6.bxc3 Qc7 7.Qg4 f5 8.Qg3 not the commonly played 8……cxd4 or 8……Ne7 but 8……Nc6 delaying the exchange on d4 to sidestep Ne2-f4. He offers many of his unpublished games to support the argument that Black should aim for ……Bd7-e8-g6 instead of the more commonly seen plan of ……b6 and ……Ba6 (when Black has opted for 8……cxd4 or 8……Ne7). Moskalenko has an engaging and entertaining writing style that livens up this book.
 Highly Recommended