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Beating the Exchange French

Bamber – Greet, Glasgow 2014

Here is a game from a local league match against one of Scotland’s top female players, who also happens to be a world-class triathlete. Recently Quality Chess has published some excellent titles on the French Defence. I was heavily involved in editing both of them, and could not resist giving it a try. The following game shows how Black can play for a win in the Exchange Variation.

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 exd5 4.Nf3 Nf6 5.Bf4

Rather unusual. Ntirlis and Aagaard point out that 5.Bd3 c5! gives Black a pleasant version of an IQP structure if White takes.

I though about 5…c5 here too, but decided the bishop exchange suited me well.

6.Bxd6 Qxd6 7.c3
White already has to waste time guarding against the check on b4.

7…0–0 8.Be2
8.Bd3 Re8+ would be inconvenient.

8…Nc6 9.0–0 Bd7
I wasn’t quite sure where to put this piece. Other squares are also fine.

10.Na3 Rae8
The position is equal, but there is plenty of potential to outplay the opponent.

11.Nb5 achieves nothing as 11…Qe7 hits the bishop.

11…a6 12.Nc2 Ne4
I was perhaps a bit too eager to go on the offensive around this point. In the game I was not able to make the kingside attack work in quite the way I wanted.

If I had this position again I would be tempted to try 12…g6!? intending to creep forwards on the kingside. This works well after the dark-squared bishops have been exchanged.

I had rather lazily assumed that the knight would be tactically vulnerable here, but then realized my d5-pawn was more of a concern than the white knight.
[fen size=”small”]4rrk1/1ppb1ppp/p1nq4/3p4/3Pn3/2P1NN2/PP2BPPP/R2QR1K1 b – – 0 13[/fen]
Anticipating Qb3.

14.Bd3 g6!
I was quite pleased with this and the next move.

15.c4 Nf6!
Admitting that the earlier knight lunge to e4 was premature. Fortunately for me, the black position is solid enough to withstand this loss of time. The position is still objectively equal, but I have achieved my goal of making things slightly more unbalanced.

16.c5 Qd8
I won’t annotate the remaining moves in much detail. The main point I wanted to highlight is that one need not fear the drawish tendencies of the Exchange French. The position may be symmetrical, but with a full board of pieces there will always be ways to make the game interesting.

17.Qa4 Ne7
White was threatening Bxa6.

18.b4 Nh5
Commencing kingside play. The final phase of the game contains a few inaccuracies on both sides, as we were approaching the time control (it was just one hour each to reach move 30).

19.Ne5?! f6 20.Nf3 Nf4 21.Bc2 h5! 22.Qb3 Bg4
[fen size=”small”]3qrrk1/1pp1n3/p4pp1/2Pp3p/1P1P1nb1/1Q2NN2/P1B2PPP/R3R1K1 w – – 0 23[/fen]
Now I get a nice clamp on the kingside. Part of my plan was to establish pawns on light squares to play against the enemy bishop.

23…hxg4 24.Nh4 f5 25.Qg3
The machine points out that 25.Qe3 g5 26.Qd2 was correct, but this is not at all obvious for a human player.


26.Qc3 would have helped by covering the e1-square (see the next note for why this matters) but White’s position is still unpleasant.

26…g5 27.h3
27.Rxe7 Qxe7 28.Ng6 Qe1+

27…gxh4 28.hxg4 Ng7 29.g5 Ng6 30.Rxe8
White lost on time while playing this move, but she could have resigned anyway.


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  1. Gilchrist is a Legend
    February 12th, 2014 at 20:38 | #1

    I noticed that all QC staff have started playing the French since Berg’s books and Playing the French. I wonder what Berg recommends for the Exchange.

  2. Ashish
    February 13th, 2014 at 22:08 | #2

    When presenting a game from the Black point of view, can the diagram and replay board be similarly reversed? Thanks.

  3. Nikos Ntirlis
    February 14th, 2014 at 03:42 | #3

    It is funny that this post had more comments on facebook than here!

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