Spicing up the Exchange French

Spicing up the Exchange French‎

GM vbhat
20 | Middlegame

My normal weapon as Black against 1.e4 has been the French Defense for many years. A couple years ago, I started playing the Ruy Lopez as Black as well, but I still tend to choose the French against lower-rated opponents. Unlike the Ruy Lopez where Black is first usually fighting for equality, in the main lines of the French, Black can generate immediate imbalances and easily play for all 3 results. However, there is one problem with choosing the French when you have to win - the Exchange French.

For whatever reason, I seem to face the Exchange French more often than some of my fellow French devotees (like housemate GM Jesse Kraai). While he generally prefers just to copy White's development for a short while and then hope to outplay them in a long struggle, I tend to favor creating some imbalances early. While the imbalances may not alter the general assessment in my view that the French Exchange is about equal, they do present the opponent with more chances to go wrong. So without further ado, here are two games where I didn't develop in the usual manner against the Exchange.

Question 1: After 10.Nce2, what would you play as Black?

Question 2: What would you play after 19.Bf4?

I followed this win up against Arribas Lopez with another win in round 8 against Daniel Alsina Leal (I'll annotate that one in a future article) and went on to tie for first in this tournament.

And for your viewing pleasure, here's the entire game in one viewer:

Actually at the Western States Open in Reno 2008, I faced the Exchange French twice - once against Dana Mackenzie in the 1st round, and then against Viktor Pupols in the 5th round. I've included the Mackenzie game with some light notes to give an example against the traditional Exchange French.

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