I'm referring to openings such as d6 (Pirc Defense) or e6 (French Defense) in answer to say, e4. These openings often make it more difficult to develop pieces than say, c5 or e5. In particular, the black squared bishop needs to be fianchettoed after d5, and the white squared bishop is locked behind a wall of pawns after e6 (and d5). For these reasons, White (almost) never begins a game with d3 or e3. A certain chess master had the opinion that "Cramped positions carry within them the germ of defeat," and would play c5 as black, whenever possible.

Do such openings (French and Pirc defenses) represent a desire for a "closed" game style of play? Could black be trying to get white to overreach? Or is it that these are among the better choices available to black, given that s/he moves second, with the other openings offering problems of their own?


4 Answers 4


"Cramped" openings are generally used by players who are good at piling up strong defenses for the opening and who hope to encourage overextension on White's part, in order to take advantage of it; or to fend it off till it has passed, and then muster an attack of their own. After 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5, which is the common continuation of the French Defense, Black main drawback is, as you mentioned, his Queen Bishop, which cannot usually enter the play until the endgame. However, after ... c5, attacking the newborn White Pawn chain, Black's Pawn center may become threatening, and can grow into a major defensive asset, either forcing White to give up the center, or tying down White's pieces to defense of the center. The point is that Black has many attacking chances as well, and while his first moves appear conservative, even "cramping", he is merely being more patient than in the alternative openings. He uses more moves to get where he wants, but the extra moves can reap dividends when White comes to attack.

So a closed opening which is handled by a patient player holds much potential defensive advantage, and it is often played with a definite view toward strong reactions after White has burnt himself out trying to effect a successful attack.

Naturally, not all closed openings are effective. More than one kind of cramped opening exists: the kind that looks cramped, but is in reality compact and smooth (closed), and then there is also the kind that is really unworkable and impossible to manipulate (cramped). The latter turn into big mistakes, even worse than they look, especially when played by one who is more used to aggressive technique than the patient biding of time. It wouldn't be recommended to play these unless you are the patient type, or unless you can force yourself to play quietly and defensibly until it's time to strike.

Edited later to say that there are closed openings for White, as well.

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    (((My first attempt at an answer on board games. :-O! )))
    – Daniel
    Commented Jun 22, 2011 at 18:09
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    @drm65: Your first attempt. An upvote on that basis. And thanks for the the "congrats" for 1000. Looking forward to yours someday soon. Apparently, congrats are already in order for your 100.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Jun 22, 2011 at 20:19
  • @Tom, you get 100 on a StackExchange site for linking a profile with 200 or more on another site ... so you can create a profile on any other site now and start with 101 there yourself. Not that this isn't a quality answer, but we don't all start from the same place. :) Commented Jun 23, 2011 at 16:07
  • @Dave: Actually, this site is the one in which I have the highest reputation. So I didn't start off with 101. I only started with stack exchange five days ago.
    – Daniel
    Commented Jun 23, 2011 at 16:10
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    Ah, so at this rate, in a day or so you'll be getting a rep boost on all those other sites. (Sorry to detract from your answer; this is becoming more chatty and less informative and would be better done in chat ... comments should be about the answer itself.) Commented Jun 23, 2011 at 16:22

First, the French defense and the Pirc are not cramped! They are very deep openings that will test your positional skills.

There's a lot more to the French defense than the Queen's Bishop "weakness". The position is closed enough not to need this particular piece so early. Every opening has a kind of weakness or imbalance, it doesn't make them cramped.

In high rated games, these openings (the french in particular) is not played because it leads most of the time to drawn games but it can be a very dangerous weapon if you know it well.

e5 and c5 openings in answer to 1.e4 are more tactical and aggressive.

Sometimes it's a psychological strategy to play a slow opening against a player very good at tactics and skirmishes. Some of them will lose patience and make a positional mistake.

So you're confusing a cramped position and a closed opening.

-Closed openings are slower and require very deep knowledge of the different variations and good positional skills.

-1.e4 e5/c5 are more 'aggressive' and requiring very good tactical skills.


Obviously the french defense is not a cramped defense (or else Mihail Botvinnik would not have been a world champion). The french defense is one of the most solid defenses.

About the black squared bishop it is a great piece for black in many cases, a great piece as black's pawns are in white squares with great movility from the start.

The white squared bishop can be very useful also if you know how to use it. Anyways if you dont like it, it can almost allways be exchanged for white's bishop simply by doing b6 and Ba6 (very simple, isnt it?).

I also want to say these defenses are not always quiet. You can take a look at the winawer system (as complex and aggresive or even more than the sicilian) that derivates from the french defense: 1 e4 e6 2 d4 d5 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 e5 c5 5 a3 Bxc3+ 6 bxc3. Very dangerous for both sides.


Adopting a 'cramped' positions has some things in favor for it, usually, you will get positions you are more likely familiar with.

A quote from David Bronstein's Zurich 1953 book (P.19)

"The text is thought to give Black a cramped game, but if a player likes precisely that sort of "cramped game", then he will get better results with it than with a "freer" game. Generally speaking, such evaluations, even though they may sway the opinions of the theoreticians, have far less of an influence on practical tournament games than is commonly supposed."

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