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The French Exchange [C01]

Finding a good system for White against the French Defense is difficult. The Advance variation and the Tarrasch variation both require plenty of study. Play 3.Nc3 and the Winawer takes a year to learn. Even less common lines such as the Exchange variation with 4.c4 or the 2.Nf3 and 3.Nc3 variation still leave a struggle to not only get an advantage but also sometimes to equalize. And this as white! I came across 4.Bf4 in the Exchange variation while in the NYC scholastic chess scene. I didn't know much about it, but the more I learn the more I think it could be a good idea.

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The Openings Explained

Abby Marshall
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1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 This is the standard French position. 3.exd5 This is the Exchange variation. White resolves the tension in the center right away and gives Black no central targets as is the case in the main lines. However on principle this approach is a little wobbly since it lets the c8bishop out. 3...exd5 3...Qxd5. One person has actually played this move against me, but it defies reasoning. Black lets the c8-bishop remain behind bars, the queen is a target for attack, and White has more space. 4.Nf3 Nc6 5.Nc3 (5.c4 is another idea that White can play, aiming for maximum center space. 5...Bb4+ 6.Nc3 Qa5 7. Bd2 Nf6 8.Bd3 White is fully developed and the black queen looks displaced.) 5...Bb4 6.Bd3 Nf6 (6...Bd7 Black can also try to castle queenside. 7.00 Qa5 8.Bd2 000 9.d5! This is powerful because Black cannot take the pawn. 9...exd5? 10.a3 Bxc3 11.Bxc3 Qb6 12.Bxg7) 7.00 Bxc3 8.bxc3 Bd7 9. c4 Qh5 10.Rb1 000 11.c3 White opens the diagonal for the queen. 11...h6 12.Ba3 g5 13.Qb3 Na5 14.Qb4 b6 15.c5 Bc6 16.Ne5 White has good chances.) 4...Nf6 5.Nc3 Bb4 6.Bd3 Ne4 (6...00 7.00 Bxc3 8.bxc3 Nc6 9. Bf4 Black is more passive because of the c8-bishop.) 7.Bd2 Bxc3 (7...Nxd2?? 8.Nxd5) 8.bxc3 Nxd2 9.Qxd2 Nc6 10.00 00 11.c4 White has more space and is more developed. 4.Bf4
Play the French by John Watson

Dangerous Weapons: The French by John Watson

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The Flexible French by Victor Moskalenko

[FEN "rnbqkbnr/ppp2ppp/8/3p4/3P1B2/8/ PPP2PPP/RN1QKBNR b KQkq - 0 4"]

I have not been able to find serious theory on this move. Most sources say it is extremely drawish; however, mass exchanges are not imminent, so play remains on the board. If White is a much lower rated player than Black, this is a good weapon for not losing to the monster. I found 748 games with this line.

There were draws forty-seven percent of the time, which is not an overwhelming number. It is worth pointing out that this can also be used against the Caro-Kann (1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.ed cd 4.Bf4). The most interesting idea in this line against the French or the Caro-Kann is a rather primitive attacking idea that could turn venomous. 4...Bd6 This seems most popular and most direct. A) 4...c6 does not look so impressive.

[FEN "rnbqkbnr/pp3ppp/2p5/3p4/3P1B2/8/ PPP2PPP/RN1QKBNR w KQkq - 0 5"]

A1) 5.c3 This is the oldest game I found in this variation, against the venerable Kortchnoi no less. 5...Bf5 6.Bd3 The white bishop has no other good spot other than the passive e2. 6...Bxd3 7.Qxd3 Nf6 8.Nd2 Be7 Black doesn't allow the position to become completely symmetrical. 9.h3 Nbd7 10. Ngf3 00 11.00 Re8 12.Ne5 (12.Rfe1 avoids exchanges and is a possibility.) 12...Nxe5 13.Bxe5 Nd7 14.Bh2 Bf8 15.Rfe1 Qf6 Here White did not opt for the aggressive primitive plan and allowed exchanges. , Khalilbeili,SKortchnoi,Tbilisi 1956). A2) 5.Nc3 Nf6 6.Qd2 Bb4 7.Bd3 00 8.Nge2 The knight is better here since it supports the knight on c3 and the d4-square. White may also play f3-g4 at some point. 8...Re8 9.000 I like White's lead in development.; 4...Nf6 5. Nc3 (5.Nf3 Another quick draw coming up! But again, if you are an 1800 and playing a master or above, maybe this isn't the worst choice. 5...Be7 6.Bd3 0 0 7.00 Bg4 8.h3 Bh5 9.Nbd2 , Pri,E-Kaminski, Paris 1996) 5...Bd6 6. Qd2 00 7.Bd3 Nc6 8.Nge2 We have out little scheme all set up. 8...Re8 9.0 00 Nb4 10.h4 Maybe it's a little artificial, but so what? If I was Black and playing against one of these NYC scholastic kids, I'd be getting nervous. B) 4...Bf5 This is a solid move. If the bishop is left unopposed, White will start getting in trouble. 5.Bd3 This is going to have to be played inevitably. 5... Bxd3 6.Qxd3 Bd6 7.Ne2 (7.Bxd6 Qxd6 8.Nf3 Nd7 9.00 Ne7 10.Re1 00 11. Qa3 Qxa3 12.Nxa3 , Degraeve,J-Apicella, Chartres 2005) 7...Nc6 8. Nbc3 Nf6 9.Bg5!? Be7 10.Bxf6 Bxf6 11.Qb5

[FEN "r2qk2r/ppp2ppp/2n2b2/1Q1p4/3P4/ 2N5/PPP1NPPP/R3K2R b KQkq - 0 11"]

C) 4...Be6 This looks uninspiring. The bishop is blocked by the d-pawn. 5. Bd3 Nd7 6.Nf3 (6.Qd2 It is possible that here this setup is not the greatest

since after White castles queenside, Black has the option of playing ...c5, and then the bishop on e6 is aimed at the queenside. 6...Ngf6 7.Nc3 Bb4 8.Nge2 0 0 9.000 c5 10.dxc5 Nxc5)

[FEN "r2q1rk1/pp3ppp/4bn2/2np4/1b3B2/ 2NB4/PPPQNPPP/2KR3R w - - 0 11"]

6...Ngf6 7.00 Be7 8.Re1 00 9.Ng5 Bg4 10.f3 Bh5 11.Bxc7?! This doesn't work tactically. (11.Nc3 c6 12.Qd2 Simple chess. White has a little space advantage.) 11...Qxc7 12.Rxe7 h6 13.Nh3 Qd6? (13...Qb6 is a double attack on d4 and b2 and would have won back the pawn.) 14.Re2 Rfe8 15.Nd2 Qb6 16.Nb3 Ne5 17.Nf4 Nxd3 18.Qxd3 Rxe2 19.Qxe2 Well White is just up a pawn. 19...Re8 20.Qf2 a5 21.c3 a4 22.Nc5 Qc6 23.Ncd3 a3 24.Ne5 axb2 25. Qxb2 Qc7 26.Rb1 Re7 27.Qb3 Qa5 28.g4 Bg6 29.Nfxg6 fxg6 30.Nxg6 Re3 31.Qxb7 Rxc3 32.Qb8+ Kh7 33.Nf8+ Kg8 34.Rb7 Rc1+ 35.Kg2 Qd2+ 36. Kh3 Qe2 37.Ne6+ 10, Reginato,M-Simone,Bratto 2006. D) 4...Nc6 5.Qd2 We just continue with the same setup. 5...Bd6 6.Nc3 Nf6 7.000 00 8.Bg5 Bb4 9.Qf4!? Bxc3 10.bxc3 Be6 11.Nf3 This is an odd position. The doubled c-pawns don't matter because White can double Black's pawns anytime. White has more flexibility. E) 4...c5 Now the plan with Qd2 and castling queenside is eclipsed by central considerations. 5.Nf3 Nc6 6.Bb5 White has too much development for ...c5 to work well. 6...Nf6 7.00 Be7 8.dxc5 Bxc5 9.Qe2+ Qe7 10.Qxe7+ Kxe7 11. Nc3 White has a pull because of the lead in development. 5.Qd2 This move is most consistent with our setup. 5.Bxd6 This is another option that could lead to the attacking setup we talked about as well. I just don't like making Black more active since the queen gets to come to d6. 5...Qxd6

[FEN "rnb1k1nr/ppp2ppp/3q4/3p4/3P4/8/ PPP2PPP/RN1QKBNR w KQkq - 0 6"]

A) 6.c3 This turned out poorly for White. 6...Nf6 7.Bd3 00 8.Ne2 Already, this is too artificial for me. 8...Bg4 9.00 Re8 10.Re1 Nbd7 11.Nd2 Nf8 12. Nf1 Ng6 13.Bxg6 hxg6 14.f3 Bd7 15.Qd2 Bb5 16.Neg3 b6 17.Rxe8+ Rxe8 18.Re1 Rxe1 19.Qxe1 Kf8 20.Qe3 Ng8 21.Nd2 Ne7 22.Kf2= f6 23.f4 Bd7 24. Nf3 Qc6 25.Qd3 Qa4 26.Qb1 Nf5 27.a3 Ne7 28.Ke3 Qb5 29.Qc2 Bg4 30.h3 Bc8 31.Kf2 Kf7 32.Ke1 Ba6 33.Kf2 Qd7 34.Kg1? Qd6 35.Qa4 (35.Qd2 g5 Black wins the f-pawn.) 35...Bc4 36.Qxa7 Qxf4 37.Nf1 Bxf1 38.Kxf1 Qc1+

39.Ne1 Qxb2 40.Qxc7 Qxa3 41.Qxb6 Qxc3 42.Nf3 Qe3 43.Qc7 g5 44.Qd7 Qe6 45.Qc7 Kg6 46.g4 Qe4 47.Kf2 Kh7 48.Qc3 Ng6 49.Nd2 Qf4+ 50.Ke1 Qh2 51.Nf1 Qh1 52.Qc2 Kh6 53.Qc8 Nf4 54.Qh8+ Kg6 55.Qe8+ Kh7 01, Kritz,L-Jussupow, Osterburg 2006). B) 6.Nc3 Bf5 7.Nf3 Nd7 8.Bd3 Bxd3 9.Qxd3 Ngf6 10.Qe2+ Qe7 11.Qxe7+ Kxe7 12.000 White is more active. B1). 6...Ne7 This is an option played in a high level game between two players over 2400. 7.Qd2 White plays the aggressive setup! 7...c6 8.Nf3 00 9.000 Bg4 10.Be2 Bxf3 11.Bxf3 Nd7 12.h4 b5 13.h5

[FEN "r4rk1/p2nnppp/2pq4/1p1p3P/3P4/ 2N2B2/PPPQ1PP1/2KR3R b - - 0 13"]

This is the kind of chess we are looking to play. 13...Nb6 14.Be2 White retreats to cover c4 and clear the third rank. 14...h6 15.Rde1 Rab8 16.g4 Rb7 17.Rh3 b4 18.Nd1 Nc4 19.Qd3 Nc8 20.Qf5 Ne7 21.Qf3 f5 22.b3 fxg4 23. Qxg4 Rf4 24.Qg3 Na3 25.Rh4 Rf6 26.Qxd6 Rxd6 27.Bd3 So White's traded queens with the idea that Black has created a lot of structural damage to to his pawns. White also has the open g-file. 27...Rf6 28.Ne3 Kf8 (28...Rxf2 lets White get an initiative, 29.Rg1 Kf8 30.Rhg4 Ng8 31.Nf5) 29.f4 Nc8 30.Rf1 Nb5 31.Ng4 Rd6 32.Bxb5 cxb5 33.f5 Kg8 34.f6 Rf7 35.Re1 Nb6 36.Rh3 Nd7 37.Re8+ Rf8 38.Rxf8+ Kxf8 39.fxg7+ Kxg7 40.Rg3 Kf7 41.Rf3+ Ke7 42.Rf5 White has the edge and was able to convert it to a win. Nicely done. 42...a6 43. Kb2 Rc6 44.Rxd5 Re6 45.Rf5 Kd6 46.Nf2 Re3 47.Nd3 Ke6 48.Rf1 a5 49.Nf4 + Kd6 50.Rg1 Re4 51.Rg6+ Ke7 52.Nd5+ Kf7 53.Rxh6 Rxd4 54.Rh7+ Ke6 55.Nc7+ Kf6 56.Nxb5 Rd5 57.Nc7 Rd2 58.Rh6+ Ke7 59.Kc1 Rh2 60.Nd5+ Kf7 61.Ra6 Rxh5 62.Rxa5 Rf5 63.Rb5 Rh5 64.Kb2 Rf5 65.Nc7 Rxb5 66. Nxb5 Ke6 67.Nc7+ 10, Hess,R- Shulman,Saint Louis 2009. 5...Nf6 This seems most natural. If 5...Qe7+, I don't believe White is in trouble after 6.Be2 Bxf4 7.Qxf4 Qb4+ 8.Nd2 Qxb2 9.Rb1 Qxc2 10.Ngf3. For the moment White's queenside is wiped out but the lead in development and precarious position of the black queen can't be good for the second player: 10...Ne7 11.00 00 12.Rfc1 Qxa2 13.Qe3 Ng6 (13...Nbc6? 14.Ra1 Qb2 15.Rcb1 Qc2 16.Bd3) 14.Qc3 Nf4 15. Bf1 Qa4 16.Qxc7. 6.Nc3 This is all consistent with our development idea. 6...00 Black castles as quickly as possible.

[FEN "rnbq1rk1/ppp2ppp/3b1n2/3p4/3P1B2/ 2N5/PPPQ1PPP/R3KBNR w KQ - 0 7"]

7.Bd3 It's best to do this before castling otherwise 7...Nc6 would be awkward since 8. Bd3 leaves the d-pawn hanging. 7...Re8+ Black seizes a chance to take the file. 8.Nge2 Now White is all developed. 8...Ne4 Black tries to force things right away. If 8...Nc6 9.000 Nb4 10.f3, unclear. 9.Bxe4 White does not lose a tempo and takes off the knight with the bishop. 9.Nxe4 dxe4 10.Bc4 Bg4 The loss of tempo moving the bishop costs White. 9...dxe4 Black recaptures. 10.000 This is what we would play. 10.00 Here is another example of how to play the white position. 10...Nc6 11. Nb5 Bf5 12.Bxd6 cxd6 13.Qf4 Bg6 14.Nxd6 Re6 15.Nxb7 Nxd4 16.Nxd4 Qxd4 17.Na5 Qxb2 18.c4 h6 19.Qc1 Qb4 20.Qe1 Qc5 21.Rc1 e3 22.Nb3 Qg5 23.f4 Qf6 24.Qc3 e2 25.Rfe1 Qxf4 26.Qd2 Qxd2 27.Nxd2 Rd8 28.Nf3 Bd3 29.c5 Bb5 30.Rc2 g5 31.h3 f5 32.a4 Ba6 33.c6 g4 34.c7 Rf8 35.Nd4 Re4 36. Nb5 gxh3 37.Rcxe2 Rxe2 38.Rxe2 Bxb5 39.axb5 Rc8 40.Re7 Kf8 41.Rh7 Ke8 42.gxh3 h5 43.Kf2 h4 44.Kf3 f4 45.Kxf4 10, Zabiak,J-Farkas,Hungary 2008. 10...Bg4 Black develops and pins the e2-knight. 11.h3 White does not allow that pin to stick and starts subtly advancing the kingside pawns. 11...Bxe2 Black refuses to lost a tempo and forces a White response.

12.Nxe2 White recaptures and keeps the f4-bishop protected. 12...Nd7 Simple development. Black maneuvers the knight to best effect and keeps the possibility of an advance to ...c5. 13.Kb1 This guarding move usually makes sense. 13...Nb6 Development. 14.Rhe1

[FEN "r2qr1k1/ppp2ppp/1n1b4/8/3PpB2/ 7P/PPPQNPP1/1K1RR3 b - - 0 14"]

Just play chess. Vorotnikov, Vladislav (2505) Naumkin, Igor (2455) Moscow Open 1995 French Exchange [C01] This game was played by two strong players, both of whom I would love to be able to beat since they are quite strong. A 2500+ player adopts the set-up I recommended so let's take a look. 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 exd5 4.Bf4 Nf6 5.Nc3 Bb4 This is definitely more combative than ...Bd6 and Black can hope to have a fight here. 5...Bd6 is the move that we looked at briefly in the theory section. 6.Bd3 We are going to see White do a delayed version of our set-up. 6...00 7.Nge2 Bg4?! This move seems to give White what we want. Possible is 7...Nc6 8.Qd2 Re8 9.000 Ne4 10.Bxe4 dxe4 11.d5 Na5 with an interesting game. 8.f3 Bh5 9.Qd2 Bg6 9...Nc6 Development seems more important here. 10.000 Re8 11.Kb1 and it's a game. 10.000 Nbd7 11.g4

[FEN "r2q1rk1/pppn1ppp/5nb1/3p4/1b1P1BP1/ 2NB1P2/PPPQN2P/2KR3R b - - 0 11"]

This is White's ideal strategy: attack the king! White is better already. 11...c6 If 11...Nb6 12.h4 Qe7 13.h5 Bxd3 14.Qxd3 Nc4 15.g5, White's attack is coming awfully fast. 12.h4 Bxd3 13.Qxd3 b5 14.h5 Nb6 15.Kb1 15.g5 I guess White doesn't have to play this right away but it seems most direct. 15...Ne8 16.g6 h6 17.gxf7+ Oh this looks so good to me. 17...Rxf7 18. Rdg1 Kh8 19.Be5 White is winning. 15...Nc4 16.Ng3 I like that White wants to involve both pieces and pawns in the attack, but this is so slow. Like I say to my students, forcing moves! (16.g5!) 16...Bd6 Now Black gets to exchange a piece off, detracting from White's attack. 17.Bxd6 Qxd6 18.Rdg1 Rae8 19.Nf5 Qb4 20.Nd1 The one slip of the initiative let Black back in the game. 20...Qd2 20...g6!? This is such a computer move. 21.hxg6 fxg6 22.Nh6+ Kg7 unclear. 21.g5 Nd7 22.b3 Na3+ 23.Kb2 Qxd3 24.cxd3 What is kind of cool is that even with queens off the board, White has a nice attack. 24...b4 25.Re1 Now the knight is going to get to the square e7 where is has more vantage to attack the black king. 25...a5 26.Ne7+ Kh8 27.Rh2 27.f4!? Nb8 28.f5 Nb5 29.Rh4; 27.Nxc6? Rc8 28.Ne7 Rc2+ 29.Ka1 Rc1+ 30. Kb2 Rb1#. 27...Nb8 27...Nb5 is begging to be played. 28.Rhe2 Rd8 29.Ne3 Nb5 30.N3f5

[FEN "1n1r1r1k/4Nppp/2p5/pn1p1NPP/ 1p1P4/1P1P1P2/PK2R3/4R3 b - - 0 30"]

30...Rd7? The position is difficult whatever Black does but this loses pretty quickly. 30...g6 31.hxg6 fxg6 32.Nxg6+ hxg6 33.Rh2+ Kg8 34.Nh6+ Kh8 35.Re7; 30...Nd6 This is probably best. 31.Nxd6 Rxd6 32.Nf5 Rdd8 33.Re7 White of course has a large advantage. 31.g6! fxg6 32.hxg6 h6 33.Rh2 Re8 34.Nxh6 gxh6 35.Rxh6+ Kg7 36.Rh7+ Kf6 10 Black resigned here. It is mate in three: 37.Rf7+ Kg5 38. Rg1+ Kh4 39. Rh7#. Rodriguez Perez, Angel Mariano (2053) Iagar, Razvan Gabriel (2141) Galapagar Open 2009 French Exchange [C01] It's no accident that these players are about 400 points lower than the players in the previous game. I thought it would be helpful to show a game between strong players and between two players closer to our playing levels. 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 exd5 4.Bf4 Nf6 5.Nc3 c6 A third possible response after 4...Nf6. 6.Qd2 Bf5 7.000 White right away follows the set-up. 7...Bd6 8.Re1+ Be6 9.Nge2 00 10.f3 Re8 11.g4 Bf8 12.Ng3 12.h4 was also a possibility. 12...b5 13.h4 Qa5 14.g5 b4

[FEN "rn2rbk1/p4ppp/2p1bn2/q2p2P1/1p1P1B1P/ 2N2PN1/PPPQ4/2K1RB1R w - - 0 15"]

15.gxf6 This is gutsy.

15.Nb1 is better. 15...Nfd7 16.h5 Qxa2 17.g6 Nf6 18.gxh7+ Nxh7 19.Bd3. 15...bxc3 16.bxc3 Qxa2 17.Qg2 Qa1+? 17...g6 White is okay, but the king is just so exposed. 18.Kd2 (18.h5 Qa1+ 19. Kd2 Qxe1+ 20.Kxe1 Bh3+ 21.Qe2 Rxe2+ 22.Bxe2 Be6) 18...Nd7 19.Bd3 Qa5 It's a complicated game. 18.Kd2 Qxe1+ 19.Kxe1 Bh3+ 20.Qe2 Rxe2+ 21.Bxe2 Be6 22.fxg7 Black's whole sequence is suspect because he is hardly developed on the queenside. 22...Be7 22...Kxg7 23.Nh5+ Kg6 24.Rg1+ Kxh5 25.Rg5+ Kxh4 26.Rg8 Nd7 27.Bg3+ Kh5 28.f4+ Kh6 29.Bh4 Bg7 30.Rxa8; 22...Bxg7 23.Rg1 Kf8 24.Nh5. 23.h5?! (23.Bh6) 23...a5? 23...Kxg7 Now there is no knight check on h5. 24.h6 a4 25.Bd3 Nd7 26.Kd2 a3 27.Ra1 c5 28.Nf5 Bf6 29.dxc5 Nxc5 30. Nd4 a2 31.Nc6 Nd7 32.Nb4 Ra3 33.Nxa2 This works. 33.Kc1 is a little better. 33...Bxc3 34.Nc6

[FEN "6k1/3n1pPp/2N1b2P/3p4/5B2/ r1bB1P2/p1P5/R1K5 b - - 0 34"]

34...Bf6 35.Bd6 Ra8 36.f4. 33...Bxc3+ 34.Nxc3 Rxa1 35.Nb5

[FEN "6k1/3n1pPp/4b2P/1N1p4/ 5B2/3B1P2/2PK4/r7 b - - 0 35"]

White gave up the exchange, but the g7- and h6-pawns are very strong. 35...Ra4 36.Be3 Ne5 37.Nd4 Ra8 38.Bb5 Nc4+ 39.Bxc4 dxc4 40.Nc6 Re8 41.Bc5 f5 42.Bf8 10 White won eventually, although it looks like a tough battle still.

42.Ne7+ Kf7 43.g8Q+ Rxg8 44.Nxg8 Kxg8=. Lessons Learned

Learn the basic ideas: Qd2 and castle queenside with usually a Bd3, Nge2, f3, and g4. If Black changes things up and attacks the center with ...c5, this plan may have to be eschewed in favor of playing in the center. Besides the exchange of the dark-squared bishops, not many other exchanges are forced here. Unless you want a draw (a dangerous attitude to have!), try for attacking chess, which is probably not what your opponent is expecting from this line. The main lesson to take away is that you should play this opening out against friends and decide what move order/plan you prefer, since there is so little theory.

Practitioners These are a little hard to come by since many people use it on occasion for a draw. Even Anatoly Karpov played this once, back in 1970.

ric Pri. The French grandmaster has played this opening a few times. He was French champion in 1995 and is a multiple winner of the Paris championship. Heikki Westerinen. He is a Finnish grandmaster, four-time Finnish champion, and played this opening quite a bit in the 1990s. He is best known for an original and combinative style of play.

Further Reading There is not much out there, which shows that most opponents don't take this seriously.

Play the French by John Watson. Watson is the expert so I would pay attention to what he is recommending.

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