Thursday, August 20, 2009

French Defense, Monte Carlo Exchange Variation

The Monte Carlo Variation
I have posted an article on the Monte Carlo Exchange Variation of the French Defense (1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 exd5 4.c4 -- download PGN), which is an ideal short-cut or low-theory line for those who like a wide-open game with plenty of piece play. There are also several themes and tactical motifs that are easy to learn and that will score you many points over the board and in online blitz. I have included a bibliography, reproduced below and kept up to date here.  See also my games collection at which includes games from books and articles on the line and other games important to the theory of the line.

Monte Carlo Variation Bibliography

Avrukh, Boris.  Grandmaster Repertoire 1B - The Queen's Gambit (Quality Chess, 2016).  In his repertoire against the Queen's Gambit Accepted, Avrukh recommends the line 1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 3.e3 which transposes to a weak version of our line after 3...e5 4.Bxc4 exd4 5.exd4, and White has an advantage.  See table of contents.

Baburin, Alexander. "Play on the e-file." Winning Pawn Structures (Batsford 2003): 92-101.
In his contemporary classic on the isolani pawn structure, GM Baburin devotes a chapter mostly to positions where the e-file is unobstructed by pawns. This position can arise from many openings, but especially the Queen's Gambit Accepted (1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 3.e3 e5 4.Bxc4 exd4 5.exd4) or the French Exchange Variation (1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 exd5 4.c4 dxc4 5.Bxc4). Baburin notes that "pressure along the e-file is particularly unpleasant for Black where it is combined with pressure along the a2-g8 diagonal." An excellent book and a very useful chapter.

Burgess, Graham. 101 Chess Opening Surprises (Gambit 2001): 62.
Offers a brief repertoire with the line 4.c4 Bb4+ 5.Nc3 Ne7, focused around the games of Tal Shaked and biased toward Black.

Glek, Igor. "French Defence, Exchange Variation." New in Chess Yearbook 20 (1991): 39-41.
A balanced treatment of the line with an early White c4, focused on the game Klinger - Glek, Werfen Open 1990, which began 4.Nf3 Nf6 5.c4 Bb4+ 6.Nc3 O-O 7.Be2 Ne4?! 8.Qb3! += and was eventually won by White.

Lane, Gary. "A French Farce." Opening Lanes 46 at ChessCafe. (link above goes to Web Archive)

Lane, Peter. "Exeter Chess Club: The Queen's Gambit Accepted/Isolated Queen's Pawn." Exeter Chess Club 1998.
See especially the second half of this survey for discussion of IQP type positions arising from the QGA or French Exchange with c4, which includes the games Timman-Panno, Mar del Plata 1982 and La Bourdonnais - McDonnell, Match (Game 15), London 1834.

Mednis, Edmar. "The Not-so-harmless Exchange Variation of the French Defence." Practical Opening Tips (Cardogan / Everyman 1997): 110-117.
Mednis's book is an excellent treatment of themes in the opening, but this chapter also offers a rather thorough and positive treatment of lines following both 4.c4 Nf6 5.Nc3 c6 (which can also arise via the Slav move order 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nc3 e5 4.e3 exd4 5.exd4 Nf6) and 4.Nf3, which can transpose.

Minev, Nikolay. "French Defense – Exchange Variation: The Potential of c2-c4." (TheChessLibrary 2012).
A nice PDF article offering numerous interesting games with the line, showing interesting tactical motifs for both White and Black.

Pedersen, Steffen. French Advance and Other Lines (Gambit 2005): 104-106.
Focuses on the line 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 exd5 4.c4 Bb4+ 5.Nc3 Ne7 6.Nf3 Bg4 as illustrated by the games of Miezis as White and Shaked as Black. Pedersen's main line goes 7.Be2 dxc4 8.Bxc4 O-O 9.Be3 Nbc6 10.O-O Nf5 11.Qd3 Nd6 12.Bd5 which has occurred in numerous high level games (including at least one of Pedersen's own).

Razuvaev, Yuri. "You were right, Monsieur La Bourdonnais!" Secrets of Opening Preparation. Ed. Mark Dvoretsky and Artur Yusupov. (Olms 2007): 170-180.
A useful article that reinforces my favorite theme in these pages: that there is still a lot of opening knowledge to gain from the great players of even the most distant past. Razuvaev considers the line 1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 3.e3 e5!? as contested in the classic LaBourdonnais - McDonnell match -- a line that typically transposes to the Monte Carlo Variation after 4.Bxc4 exd4 5.exd4. Thanks to reader Jose for pointing me to this article, which I had initially overlooked.

Sielecki, Christof.  Keep it Simple: 1.e4: A Solid and Straightforward Chess Opening Repertoire for White (December 31, 2018)  A solid repertoire for White that recommends this line against the French Defense as White.  See review video (below) which gives a good overview of the lines dicussed in the book and online.

Smith, Axel.  "Exchange French."  e3 Poison: A 21st Century Opening Repertoire (Quality Chess 2017): 345-360.   See table of contents and excerpt.

Van der Sterren, Paul. "Transposition from the Queens Gambit." New in Chess Yearbook 32 (1994). Considers the line 1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 3.e3 e5 4. Bxc4 (Queens Gambit Accepted or Monte Carlo French) 4...exd4 5.exd4 Nf6 6.Nf3 Be7 7.0-0 0-0 8. h3 Nc6, which is now a Petroff, as in Gelfand - Adams Wijk aan Zee 1994. Thanks to reader Jose for this information.

Watson, John. Play the French, 3rd Edition (Everyman Chess 2003): 71-73.
Focuses on the games of Watson's former student Tal Shaked with the line 4....Bb4+ 5.Nc3 Ne7 -- as he notes, "A move this book helped to bring to attention."

Games collection at by kenilworthian

Monte Carlo French Exchange games at Chess Tempo

The best videos show the system that GM Maurice Ashley and IM Josh Waitzkin developed, featuring Nge2 rather than Nf3.


katar said...

This line is also a good antidote to the Skandinavian Icelandic Gambit 1.e4 d5 2.exd Nf6 3.c4 e6 {3...c6 4.d4 is Panov-Botv.} 4.d4.

As for resources, Josh Waitzkin annotates a couple games in this line in the Chessmaster audio tutorials. He plays the line invented by him and Maurice Ashley with Bd3xc4 and Nge2 when black's Bg4 is a mistake due to moves like f3 Bh5, Ng3 Bg6, f4 (threat f5) h6, f5 Bh7, etc. BTW i just posted an opening analysis article at my bloggy blog. :) Cheers.

Chunky Rook said...

Great! That's exactly the kind of opening I was looking for against the French. And Katar's reference to Waitzkin's annotated games (Waitzkin - Lunna) is spot on.

Bibs said...

Interesting article. First time to see a whole article on this line. Previously only looked at it for black. Great resource in what overall is a hugely impressive blog.

But: cannot download - the link for PGN download hits an Error404. Hope this can be fixed! :)

Michael Goeller said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael Goeller said...

Sorry -- I will fix the link this weekend. The problem is that our server for the club does not serve PGN files, so I post them at my own site:

Or click here.

Unknown said...

See in Dvoretsky and Yusupov books an article of Razuvaev. Chebanenko in Moldavia teached this line see Bologan book (sorry for my english)
PD: Great Great page!!!!

Unknown said...

I remember one article in NIC something like "the most amazing transposition" abaut this line:1.d4 d5 2.c4 dc 3.e3 e5 4. Ac4 (Queens gambit to french??) 4... ed 5.ed Nf6 6.Nf3 Be7 7.0-0 0-0 8. h3 Nc6 (!?) now is a Petroff !!!!! see Gelfand - Adams Wijk aan Zee 1994

Michael Goeller said...

Thanks, Jose! I have added your recommendations to the bibliography on the blog and will soon update the article also. I had not considered transposition from the Petroff, though there are certainly a lot of transpositional possibilities.

Unknown said...

Tx Michael
Can I kill your litle Baby?? (haha)
I´m playing the french and I have one simple way to do it!!! The plan is in your bibliography but one must read between lines. Is "just" a plan and =.
PD2: Chevanenko teached the Philidor too, so you must be a Moldavian Player!! (haha)
Again Great page and please keep working !!

Unknown said...

Another book Advanse and other Anti-French Variations Lev Psakhis (pag 40-50)

Latvian Power said...

Maybe the best book is a collection games from Normunds Miezis. He is the expert on this variation.
He plays it with a lot of creativity.

Michael Goeller said...

I would love a book of games from Normunds Miezis -- but does such a book exist? What's its title and where can I buy it... :-)

George Jempty said...

I get the Black side of this, albeit with Nf6 already played, and therefore no possiblity of ...Ne7. if White sidesteps my Budapest 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e5 3. e3 exd4 4. exd4 d5 -- just played a game with this tonight at an OTB tourney in Atlanta. I'm a 1.e4 player and have never been wholly satisfied with various systems I've tried as White against the French, but now I'm thinking, since I have to know these lines as Black, may as well start playing them with White and learn them inside out so to speak.

Anonymous said...

Wondering if Jose I'd still around to elaborate on his plan even if it is =

Anonymous said...

The line is also choosen in Grandmaster Repertoire 1 - 1.d4 Volume One by Boris Avrukh via the QGA 3.e3 e5 4.Bxc4 exd4 5.exd4

Anonymous said...

Great article. You overlooked a great games collection by Minev on the topic:

Michael Goeller said...

Thanks for the note about Minev's article! I did not know about it, but I hardly "overlooked" it, since it was published in 2012, which is a few years after I wrote this.

Minev's other articles and books are definitely worth a look. Thanks for the link.

Unknown said...

Great read and thank you. I have Baburin's book, however, one question: Is there a Tactics Book solely on IQP positions?

Michael Goeller said...

Just discovered this morning that it was probably Marshall - Swiderski, Monte Carlo 1904, that led to the name for the variation. It is a terrible example of the opening, but the ending is one of Marshall's many brilliant swindles.

Michael Goeller said...

Just noticed the comment from August asking about an IQP "tactics" book. An excellent one -- though focused more on the standard IQP positions (with Black pawn at e6) is:
Isolani Strategy: Strengths and Weaknesses of the Isolated Queen's Pawn
by Alexander Beliavsky, Oleg Stetsko, and Adrian Mikhalchishin
Publisher: Russian Chess House, 2012

I actually wrote a review of this book for ChessCafe. It is excellent, but it appears to be out of print or almost unavailable, unfortunately, except on Kindle.

Though a "strategy" book, it features a tactical puzzle with every game and seems to cover all of the major IQP motifs.

Michael Goeller said...

Waitzkin - Lunna from ChessMaster tutorials can be found here:

Michael Goeller said...

The PGN for the analysis can now be found here:

Using that URL as a model, you can also track down all other PGN files given on this site, which have moved to the Kenilworth Chess Club website.

George Jempty said...

Here's a very recent and wild (despite a queen trade) victory I had using the Monte Carlo in a 10-minute game on New Year's Day this year:

I've tried 4.Bd3 in the Exchange before, as well as the Tarrasch, but not that I've started playing the Budapest again as black against 1.d4, the Monte Carlo makes sense, because I could be (and have) playing against it after 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e5 3.e3 exd4 4.exd4 d5 so know it from both sides should make me more proficient with it.

Michael Goeller said...

Thanks for the game and the comments, George. That was a fun game to play over. I love those sharp, knife's-edge type games you can get out of the Monte Carlo. At the amateur level (which is where I play it myself), it tends to come down to tactics.

Funny, I just started playing the Budapest again myself after many years -- the main line with Ng4 (rather than the nuttier Faj with Ne4 that I used to play). I was inspired by Viktor Moskalenko's absolutely fabulous book, "The Fabulous Budapest Gambit," which had been sitting on my shelf mostly unread until recently. Thanks for the reminder that it can transpose into the Monte Carlo, which I had forgotten -- not having read your comment from several years back along the same lines in quite some time!

George Jempty said...

Lately I've been playing 2.c4 against the French, it can lead to similar positions

Michael Goeller said...

Just ordered The Exchange French Comes to Life: Fresh Strategies to Play for a Win by Alex Fishbein

Michael Goeller said...

I just picked up Jerzy Konikowski and Uwe Bekemann's Winning with 1.e4! (JBV Chess Books 2021), available from Amazon:

It offers good coverage of the Monte Carlo Exchange French (1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 exd5 4.c4) in about 20 pages, discussing both the Nf3 and Nge2 approaches, with both a theory section and seven annotated / illustrative games.

The rest of the repertoire would not be bad for amateurs, though the authors like lines where White's queen comes out early, including the Center Game (1.e4 e5 2.d4 exd4 3.Qxd4), a Center Game against the Sicilian (1.e4 c5 2.d4 cxd4 3.Qxd4 Nc6 4.Qe3 -- which is not as good as the Carlsen Sicilian with 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Qxd4 Nc6 5.Qd2!? followed by b3, Bb2, and O-O-O), and the Goldman / Spielmann line against the Caro-Kann (with 1.e4 c6 2.Nc3 d5 3.Qf3). The ideas against minor lines are a little more solid, though also somewhat offbeat, including Tal's line against the Alekhine with 1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.Nc3 Nxc3 4.bxc3, which was what ultimately persuaded me to get the book.

George Jempty said...

Thanks Michael for your continued updates to this page with pertinent information! I've been doing OK with 2.c4 but you're inspiring me to revert to the Monte Carlo

Michael Goeller said...

In my online play, I have gone all-in on the Monte Carlo. This is mostly because I am also playing the French myself quite a bit, and just hate having to face the exchange variation with c4. I still have not figured out the best system. I am also playing the Panov Botvinnik Attack, too, and learning to like the isolated QP positions that result. Fun stuff.

George Jempty said...

Thought people might like this game of mine from ICC this morning, and my sly 14th move:

Michael Goeller said...

The Minev article can still be found in the Wayback Machine:

Michael Goeller said...

An interesting video on traps in the Monte Carlo French Exchange Variation from GM Igor Smirnov:

Anonymous said...

Good stuff. I like these more recent vids: