Last month, in between doing my Chrimbo shopping and wishing it wasn't quite so cold, I spent a fair bit of time nosing around Chess Pub courtesy of site owner Tony Kosten. Naturally, faced with a database of 16,000+ annotated games that ran across the whole spectrum of chess openings, the first thing I did was bypass the dull stuff - your Dragons, Grunfelds, King's Indians, Marshall Attacks and so on - and dive straight in to that prince of chess openings, the French Exchange.
To be honest I didn't expect to find that much as, for some unaccountable reason, most sources tend not to give ECO code C01 their fullest attention. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find more than thirty games in the chess pub collection - and a little more than half of those were fully-fledged TIFEs as opposed to Exchange Winawers (or Winawer Exchanges if you prefer). Even better, while they had Gurevich-Short, Manila 1990, most of the collection was new to me. I didn't know, for example, that Kramnik had ever played an IFE, let alone against Polgar. Apparently he did though - at Novgorod in 1996.
Top marks for quantity, then. What of the quality of the games? Suffice to say that the ChessPub TIFEbase contains games from such renowned French Defenders as Bareev, Uhlmann, Shirov, Short, Psakhis and Stefan Kindermann. There's also a game each from Ian Rogers and Vallejo Pons, both top GMs, but neither of whom, as far as I knew, were famous for playing the French.
One game I particularly enjoyed was Moskovic - Short from the 4NCL some years back. Adopting the early 4 Bd3 c5 plan that I've been experimenting with since watching Simon Williams' Killer French DVD, Nosh gives a convincing demonstration of how to go about outplaying a much lower-rated opponent.
I also liked seeing no less a figure than Garry Kasparov getting a TIFE spank, even if it was only in a simul. TIFE addicts will recall that back in the early 90s Gazza even played 3 exd5 in real games.
I hate it when opening books make one side win all the games - even when we're talking about the French Exchange. Happily, Black doesn't have things all his own way in Chess Pub's TIFE coverage.
In his notes to Short's game, for example, McDonald mentions how he once played Moskovic in the exact same line, but lost after impatiently throwing his kingside pawns forward in an attempt to obtain winning chances. I also found Tregubov - Belov (Chigorin Memorial, 2002), a real warning for Black that s/he should not be lulled into the belief that since White has played 3 exd5 he must only be interested in playing quietly for a draw.
The three games cited here, and indeed all the others in the collection, are fully annotated, the vast majority (over 90%) either by Neil McDonald or John Watson. The latter has recently taken over the running of the Chess Pub French section and since JW also has a strong history as a writer on all things French, I think we can assume the quality of TIFE coverage will not diminish under his watch.
I'm definitely a fan of Chess Pub's coverage of the French Exchange. If I have any criticism at all it is only that the classics, Gurevich - Short aside, are rather neglected. Even that is possibly not such a serious drawback: perhaps I flatter myself, but I believe the interested student can find many of the great historical TIFE encounters right here in this very series, e.g.:-
Tal-Korchnoi, 1955 [TIFE III]; Tatai-Korchnoi, 1978 and Kovacs-Korchnoi, 1969 [TIFE IV]; Winter-Alekhine, 1936 and Apsenieks-Alekhine, 1939 [TIFE VI]; Capablanca-Alekhine, 1927 [TIFE XII]; Enoch-Nimzowitsch, 1927 [TIFE II] not to mention games from renowned GM Frenchies such as Uhlmann [TIFE V], Moskalenko [TIFE VIII] and Williams [TIFE X].
This one reservation notwithstanding, ChessPub is without doubt the finest single resource I've yet to find on the French Exchange and I commend it to anybody interested in exploring this most wonderful of chess openings. For those who don't find this reason enough to take out a subscription to Chess Pub, a full review will appear here in the next week or two.
The Interesting French Exchange Index