A series of opening moves in chess. The French Defense is often considered to be the most under-rated opening in chess. The French Defense if characterized by the moves:
1. e4  ... e6

White gets space, and black gets a solid pawn structure with good play on the queenside, and good endgame chances.

The most common continuation is the Winawer variation:

2. d4  ... d5
3. Nc3 ... Bb4
In this line, white, seeks to attack the kingside, and possibly the dark squares, while black seeks counterplay on the queenside and in the center.

Another popular continuation is the Advance variation:

2. d4  ... d5
3. e5  ... c4

This is played a lot at lower and intermediate levels of chess, and less, though some, at the higher levels.

If white is satisfied with a draw, sometimes the Exchange variation will be played:

2. d4  ... d5
3. ed

Another option for white is the Tarrasch:

2. d4  ... d5
3. Nd2
the idea being that black can no longer attack the key e4 square.

One that is less popular in the US than the rest of the world is the King's Indian Attack:

2. d3
the idea being to create a solid, though less aggressive, center and queenside so as to offer less targets for counter-attack while white is attacking on the kingside.

See also: chess notation.