7

Why is the Exchange French considered so drawish since it is very early in the game, so it seems like there would be a lot more play left. A lot of lower rated players play it against me, although I am not that strong myself.

8

Well, first, when you are lower-rated, there really is no opening that can be considered drawish since it takes a fair amount of skill to be able to draw at will. That is often a skill associated more with the Grandmaster ranks, and maybe some solid IMs too.

Assuming that someone has the skill to draw, it really comes down to the ability to exchange pieces to get to an even endgame, mostly the rooks on the e-file, but also the Bc1 might go to f4, when black will want to trade off the well-placed piece rather than keep the B on e7, where it inhibits the rook trades I just mentioned. This trade is advantageous to white since although his B is not super bad, it is still technically a bad B for good B exchange that might be most troublesome for black if they get to certain endgames later.

Another thing that is interesting is that the Exchange French has a quite a number of players, who have overwhelming scores with it. None other than Kasparov played it three times in tournament games against Bareev, Short, and Kortchnoi. He scored 2.5/3. Other undefeated GMs include: GM Najat Abassov was 4/5, Michael Adams 4.5/5, GM Dmitry Andreikin 6.5/9 (and there are plenty more, but it would have been a project to keep going). GM Etienne Bacrot had one loss, but has a record of 13 wins, 1 loss, and 3 draws with it as white. I think that this is because there can be significant danger if your opponent assumes that you are trying to draw, when you are really trying to win.

I played 1.e4 until I was 1935 USCF, and I played a line of the Exchange French with an early Qf3 that I found Kortchnoi had played with success. My OTB record with that was 6 wins, 1 loss (In the very first game with this as a 1700, in a winning position, I let my queen get trapped…oops).

Granted, my opponents were weaker then, but what I found was that black never paid enough attention to the e-file, which was their downfall. The other point is comfort: Many French players do not like this type of position, while white must be reasonably happy since he is playing it. Having “your kind of position” is a major part of winning chess. I would double the pawns on f6, and take the file, and just win; or trade a N for a B on e6, and what was left was bad. Here are examples of each.

[title "Kevin Cotreau 1735 - Terry Messa 1830, Cole Younger Open, 1984"]
[fen ""]

1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. exd5 exd5 4. Bd3 Nc6 5. c3 Bd6 6. Qf3 Qe7+ 7. Ne2 Nf6 8. Bg5 Be6 9. O-O h6 10. Bxf6 gxf6 11. Ng3 O-O-O 12. Nf5 Bxf5 13. Bxf5+ Kb8 14. Nd2 Qf8 15. Rae1 Qg7 16. Re3 Ne7 17. Bh3 Ng6 18. g3 c6 19. Rfe1 h5 20. Bg2 h4 21. Nf1 hxg3 22. fxg3 Nf8 23. Re8 Ne6 24. Rxd8+ Rxd8 25. Ne3 Ng5 26. Qg4 Re8 27. Kf2 Ne6 28. Qf3 Qg6 29. Nxd5 Rh8 30. Nxf6 Rxh2 31. Nd7+ Kc8 32. Ne5 Bxe5 33. Rxe5 Qc2+ 34. Re2 Qg6 35. Kg1 Rh6 36. Re1 Qf6 37. Qxf6 Rxf6 38. Bh3 Kd7 39. Rf1 Rxf1+ 40. Kxf1 Ke7 41. Bxe6 Kxe6 42. Kf2 Kf5 43. Kf3 a5 44. g4+ Kg5 45. c4 f5 46. gxf5 Kxf5 47. Ke3 b6 48. a4 Kf6 49. Ke4 Ke6 50. d5+ Kd6 51. Kd4 cxd5 52. cxd5 Ke7 53. Ke5 Kd7 54. d6 Ke8 55. Ke6 Kd8 56. d7 1-0

and

[title "Kevin Cotreau 1735 - Gary Field 1940, NH Amateur, 1984"]
[fen ""]

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 exd5 4.Bd3 Bd6 5.c3 c6 6.Qf3 Be6 7.Ne2 Qc7 8.Bf4 Ne7 9.O-O Nd7 10.Nd2 Ng6 11.Bxd6 Qxd6 12.Bxg6 hxg6 13.Qg3 Qe7 14.Rfe1 O-O-O 15.Nf4 Qf6 16.Re3 Rde8 17.Rae1 Nf8 18.Nf3 {idea Ng5} 18...Nh7 19.Nxe6 fxe6 20.Qd6 Nf8 21.Ne5 Qf4 22.h3 Rd8 23.Qe7 (23.Qc5! Kb8 24.Rf3 Qd2 25.Rf1+– {The ideas of Rf7 followed by Nc6, or Nf7 are unstoppable.} 25...Nd7 (25...Qxb2 26.Nf7 Nd7 27.Qd6+ Kc8 28.Nxh8 Rxh8 29.Qxe6+–) 26.Qd6+ Kc8 27.Rf7) 23...Qh4 24.Qxh4 (24.Qa3! Kb8 25.Nf7+–) 24...Rxh4 25.Rf3 Re8 26.Rxf8 Rxf8 27.Nxg6 Rff4 28.Nxh4 (28.g3?? Re4) 28...Rxh4 29.Rxe6 Kd7 30.Rg6 c5 31.Rxg7+ Kc6 32.dxc5 a5 33.Rg4 Rh5 34.b4 a4 35.Rd4 Re5 36.Kf1 Re6 37.f4 Re3 38.f5 Rxc3 39.f6 Rc1+ 40.Ke2 Kd7 41.Rxd5+ Ke6 42.Rd2 Kxf6 43.Kd3 Kg5 44.Rc2 Ra1 45.Kc4 Rb1 46.Rc3 {To prevent a2 and Rb2.} 46...Rb2 47.Ra3 Rxg2 48.Rxa4 Kh4 49.b5 Kxh3 50.Ra3+ Kh4 51.c6 Rg4+ 52.Kc5 Rg5+ 53.Kb6 bxc6 54.bxc6 Rg6 55.Kb7 1–0

Ultimately, if you find this to be a real problem, then you might want to just play something else when facing players, who are much lower-rated since most higher-rated players probably will not play it to begin with.

4

The exchange variation of the French defense has symmetrical pawn structures with an open file. Symmetrical pawn structures make it difficult to create imbalances which lead decisive games. Then the rooks and/or queen will get exchanged along the open file. Fewer pieces coupled with a balanced position is drawish.

3

At lower levels, it's certainly not drawish as there is a chance to use the outpost in the open file (as well as some manoeuvering towards the f5 (f4 for Black) square, which is great for knights), and games with opposite-side castles are possible. A c4 (or ...c5) break is also possible turning the position into an isolated central pawn one, which isn't more drawish than any other position

At top-level play, it tends to be drawish because of the symmetrical pawn structure and the open file (where a lot of trades will happen). Many minor piece endgames with a small advantage for either side will often result in a draw.

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