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I play the Exchange Variation against the QGD, but I'm really struggling against the Tartakower style setup in the QGD, when black plays b6 and c5. As White, I just don't really know what I'm supposed to be doing against this setup. In the normal Carlsbad structure of the Exchange QGD, I play for f3 and e4 or a minority attack but neither seems to work in these Tartakower structures.

Here's a position that I've reached several times:

r2q1rk1/pb1nbpp1/1p3n1p/2pp4/3P3B/2NBP3/PPQ1NPPP/R4RK1 w - c6 0 12 

Do I play on the queenside? It seems pretty difficult since black frequently plays c4, a6, b5, and is better on the queenside. Do I play in the center? This just seems impossible. I don't really see how I'm supposed to do anything on the kingside either, since pushing pawns would only expose my king. Taking on c5 doesn't seem to help since after black recaptures with bxc5, I still don't know what I should be doing.

Here's an excerpt from a game of mine (opponent and I both about 1900 FIDE) arising from an 3...a6 QGD:

r3r1k1/1b1n1ppp/pp1q1n2/2pp4/3P4/2NBPN1P/PPQ2PP1/R2R2K1 w - c6 0 14 

1.Bf5 c4 2.a4 Rac8 3.Ne5 g6 4.Bxd7 Nxd7 5.Nxd7 Qxd7

At the final position in the diagram, I feel like I've already messed up. Black has a space advantage on the queenside, attacking prospects on the kingside with g5, g4, rook lift to h6, etc. I reached this position thinking it was okay because of Black's "bad" bishop, but the bishop can just be rerouted to f5 and be situated on an excellent diagonal.

What are some of the plans/strategies that White has in these types of positions?

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    I play queen's gambit exchange as white whenever I can. I have not encountered this type of position. Maybe because I play Nf3. Could you provide a game that reaches that position? Rather than ask how to play this position it may be better to avoid it if possible. Aug 11 at 13:18
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    In general, I would suggest you go for play against the hanging pawns (or IQP) by taking on c5 at some point. With a few pieces traded off, this tends to go well for white, as they act more like targets than dynamic powerhouses. If I find some free time this weekend, I can write up an answer and expand. Aug 13 at 21:02
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+100

The position you give looks like you have developed your pieces to suit the Carlsbad pawn structure where black has pawns on b7 and c6 instead of b6 and c5. So, the first thing to say is that you probably need to be less formulaic in your opening moves. You need to react to how your opponent is developing their pieces and place your pieces accordingly.

For instance, in this pawn structure the knight belongs on f3 not e2. As you say, the plan f3, e4 doesn't look so good now. The queen also doesn't belong on c2.

Your opponent gave you clues by playing b6 instead of c6. You needed to adjust your play at that point. Maybe Nbd7 instead of c6 was also an early clue.

In general in this kind of position you cannot let your opponent play c4 and b5. Life will become very difficult if you do. You need to take immediate action and transform the pawn structure with dxc5 and play against the resulting "hanging pawns". Follow up with b3 to stop the hanging pawns from advancing. If either of them does then take and leave your opponent with an isolated pawn which you can target.

Meanwhile bring your rooks to the c and d files. Rearrange your minor pieces to attack the hanging pawns and prepare either e4 or b4 to break them up.

There is an excellent book by Ivan Sokolov called "Winning Chess Middlegames: An Essential Guide to Pawn Structures" which you would find very useful at your level. It has 4 chapters:

  1. Doubled Pawns: 12 essential structures
  2. Isolated Pawns: 10 essential structures
  3. Hanging Pawns: 4 essential structures
  4. Pawn Majority in the Centre: 7 essential structures

Chapter 3 will obviously have much useful material and advice but all 4 chapters are excellent.

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    Great answer. For what it's worth, I found Sokolov's book a dull read, and would personally instead recommend "Chess Structures" by Flores Rios. They theoretically cover the same topics, but I found that "Chess Structures" provided more actionable advice once you see the overall themes of the position, whereas "Winning Chess Middlegames" didn't summarize the ideas that well, especially when faced with so many subtly different positions (10 essential structures just for isolated pawns??). Aug 16 at 22:30

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