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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, 2021 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, 2021 at 21:02

3 Answers 3

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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, 2021 at 22:30
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In your first position the Ne2 seems misplaced. Not so much because of the pawn structure: it would make sense against hanging pawns if it could jump to f4 and pressure d5, it would also make sense with a closed center if it could sneak to the kingside via g3 and f5; but because it is coordinating badly with your Bh4: both 12.Nf4? and 12.Ng3 lose material to 12...g5.

In the same position with Nf3 instead of Ne2, White has much more pressure against the center (Black always has to reckon with a possible Ne5). In this game of mine, Black erred early (13...Nf8?) and lost material, but most other moves would also have been met by either 14.dc or 14.Ne5.


In the second position Black is already very fine: the exchange of the dark-squared bishops provided space for developing the queen and reduced pressure against their center. They also seem to have benefited from a few tempi in the process. Passive play like 1.b3 Rc8 2.Qb2 c4 3.bc dc 4.Be2 b5 is already dangerous: White probably never achieves e3-e4 and the Bb7 is very active.

Maybe there's a tactical bailout with 1.dc bc (1...Nc5 should be about equal) 2.e4!?, exploiting the Rd1-Qd6 vis-à-vis. 2...d4 3.Bc4 is a mess that must be checked carefully with ideas like 3...Be4 4.Bf7, 3...Ne4 4.Bf7 Kf7 5.Ne4, 3...Nb6 4.e5, 3...Qc6 4.Bd5 Nd5 5.Nd5 f5!? (otherwise 6.Rac1 trying to hold) 6.Nd4 cd4 7.Qc6 Bc6 8.Nc7 Be4/fe4 9.Na8 Ra8 10.Rd4 with an endgame that is certainly a draw at high level, but only Black can hope for more. 3...Rac8 also seems to keep White under pressure. Well, until further analysis thislooks dubious for WHite...

All in all, what you did in the game is not so bad: at the end, even 6.b4 (offering them a protected passed pawn) followed by 7.Qb2 and rook shuffling doesn't leave an easy plan for Black to make progress.

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You can also play to blockade the pawn duo as a whole preparing for either pawn push. The complex will get in the way of enemy pieces while you find safe havens for minor pieces backed by rooks. It may only be practical or possible to blockade the helper pawn. The other will find itself restrained by its partner's inability to aid its advance or become an easy target. Once the structure is firmly stopped then you can look for ways to roll it up or destroy it. The other gentleman's post gives good instructions.

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