Wednesday, March 03, 2010

The Interesting French Exchange XII

A rose by any other name?

Forgive me for I have sinned; it’s been six months since my last TIFE. This post is long overdue and given that the series has now reached its twelfth post, and has just acquired its own Index, it’s also probably about time I got around to having a look at the thorny question of what a French Exchange actually is.

Which positions are lucky enough to be classified as an IFE and which must be considered to come from less thrilling openings? It might seem obvious that we should be looking for games that start 1 e4 e6, 2 d4 d5, 3 exd5 exd5 but Short – Heine Nielsen (TIFE VII) didn’t begin this way and that game certainly makes the cut. For much the same reasons that being born in a barn doesn’t necessarily make one a horse, we're going to have to move beyond the superficial cataloguing of opening move sequences if we really want to discover what counts as a French Exchange.

At last Saturday’s Essex v Surrey u-180 match for example I played a game as Black that kicked-off with 1 e4 c5, 2 c3 e6, 3 d4 d5, 4 exd5 and now 4 … exd5 and boomshanka

we’ve got ourselves an IFE haven’t we? Via the classical move order, I admit, it’s not immediately obvious why White would play 4 c3 but nevertheless to my eyes this is a position that can most definitely be thought of as a French Exchange.

Opening classification, for the Exchange French as elsewhere, can be surprisingly tricky. Consider the first game of the Alekhine-Capablanca World Championship match.

Is this an Exchange, a Winawer, an Exchange-Winawer or perhaps a Winawer-Exchange? Opinion seems to be divided with Uhlmann including the similar Evil Uncle Ernie - Uhlmann (see TIFE V) in the chapter of his book dedicated to the Exchange whilst John Watson treats such positions as Winawers. Whatever the precise technical classification though I suspect that most people, in the unlikely event that they gave a rat's arse in the first place, would consider this position

to be either a genuine French Exchange or at least close enough to be considered as one.

So why not this then?

1 e4 e6, 2 d4 d5, 3 Nd2 c5, 4 exd5 exd5 ?

I suspect that most people would argue that this is not an Exchange because an existing variation, the Tarrasch, has a prior claim and yet thematically speaking it seems to be very similar to an IFE. Obviously there’s the balanced pawn structure, the open e-file and the potential for an IQP (see Kasparov-Korchnoi and Tatai-Korchnoi in TIFEs IX and IV respectively) but there’s also the conventional wisdom that such positions are dull for Black and offer few winning chances. True, 4 Nd2 is even less likely than 4 c3 after 1 e4 e6, 2 d4 d5, 3 exd5 exd5 but does that really matter?

I’m not sure I’m going to convince the rest of the world that these lines should be C01s rather than C09s but they make sense as a variation of the Exchange to me. Curiously, just like the Exchange, once I stopped worrying about what I’d read about the IQP Tarasch and started to actually to play it I found that I rather liked the positions that arose. The ‘conventional wisdom’, for club players anyway, seems highly questionable to me.

Here’s an email game I played about a year ago. It ends prematurely and is not the most accurate encounter ever to grace a chessboard but I enjoyed sacrificing the pawn for a general lead in development rather than for specific attacking chances and I also liked my opponent’s pithy post-game conclusion: “Your activity was annoying”.

So, Blue or Red Pill moment … is this game an IFE or not? I say a most definite “Yes” and when I finally come to write my definitive tome on the variation - coming to a vanity publisher near you some day soon - I’ll be sure to include a chapter on the Exchange (Tarrasch). I'm sure there's plenty of people who'll say I'm wrong but perhaps the French Exchange, like all other forms of beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

The Interesting French Exchange Index


ejh said...

I wouldn't refer to either of them as Exchange variations - they're much more likely to arise from Tarrasch or Winawer move-orders and that seems to me to be the main criterion.

Anonymous said...

I'm with ejh on this one. Sorry JB.


Tom Chivers said...

You could call your book French Exchange Variations, thus permitting the inclusion of these comparable openings.

Jonathan B said...


Anonymous said...

Controversial quote from Adam Raoof, the ECF's Home Director of Chess:

"There is nothing more invigorating than a good swim and a quick tumble down the flume to break the tedium of another Exchange French".


Jonathan B said...

Adam Raoof, along with the other commenters thus far, will be first against the wall come the revolution.

an ordinary chessplayer said...

I think the Winawer version is an Exchange French, and the Tarrasch version is not.

At one time Winawer's 3...Bb4 was considered incorrect by some authorities precisely because white could transpose to a "good" Exchange Variation. I forget where I read this ancient opinion but am pretty confident that I did read it. The idea was overturned by Nimzowitsch and Alekhine amongst others.

The IQP positions are in my opinion Queen's Gambits (or Reversed): 1 d4 d5 2 c4 dc 3 e3 e5 4 Bc4 ed 5 ed etc. Again the wheel turns. These were once considered always bad for the isolee, thus 3 Nf3(!) instead of 3 e3(?!). But now they are considered good for white but not good for black, solely a question of tempo.

Below master level both types of position are interesting enough.

Jonathan B said...

O CP has saved himself from the wall but will probably have to have a spell in a re-education camp.