I have recently taken a liking to the French Defence as black because I enjoy the counter-attacking options that black has to undermine white's center in the Tarrasch, Advance, and 3. Nc3 variations. However, when met with the exchange variation I'm not sure what the best plan of attack because I find the position rather dull due to the relieved central tension. My preferred line at the moment is 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. exd5 exd5 4. Nf3 Nf6 5. Bd3 c5 to immediately get some queen-side counter-play but I would like to know if there are any other lines that give black aggressive attacking options.

[FEN ""]

1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. exd5 exd5 4. Nf3 Nf6 5. Bd3 c5

3 Answers 3


Unfortunately, there is nothing you can do. You will have to adapt to White's play and that is it. Only White can sharpen the game, by entering the line with isolated pawn ( by playing c4 at some point ).

The line you chose gives White minimal advantage, according to ECO C ( 2006 ), so I would stay away from it. The position is symmetrical, White is slightly ahead in development, e-file is open, and White has no weaknesses whatsoever. Meanwhile, you are behind in development, you will not castle soon, and now you create isolated pawn without reasonable compensation ( isolated pawn gives you free development, but you are not cramped here so you do not need this! ) which will put you in a long defense.

I hate being "passive" in this line as much as you do, since I play the French and QGD, but reality will not change -> White has a pleasant situation where he can win or draw, if he doesn't blunder, while for Black the only reasonable result is a draw, providing he plays accurately.

You must use your creativity in this line, to outplay the opponent. Set him difficult choices to solve, something along these lines:

  • Offer him exchanges that are bad for him ( offer your bad piece for his good one );
  • Offer him to enter into endgame, but try to trick him so the endgame is better for you;
  • Try to generate mating attack with pieces ( f4 square is very useful for this );

The point is that heavy pieces will be exchanged on the e-file so the only option is endgame. You could exchange only one pair of rooks and try for mate with Qf4 + Ng4 setup, but that requires a lot of maneuvering. Still, it is a thought... The point is to keep trying to invent a plan, don't just fall into stereotypical "exchange all and draw" mindset.

Finally, instead of the line you listed, I would rather go with something like this:

[Title "French defense, Exchange line"]
[fen ""]

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 exd5 4.Nf3 Bd6!

This will prevent Bf4 so White will have slightly passive position. This is a thematic idea for both sides ( remember that in symmetric positions everything counts ). If he responds with c4 you have your sharp position ( according to ECO ), but if he goes for the same idea of stopping ...Bf5 then you play ...Nge7! so you can still get ...Bf5. This way you get free development and active position. This is the best you can do in this line. Now is the time to give you the full lines:

[Title "French defense, Exchange line"]
[fen ""]

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 exd5 4.Nf3 ( 4.c4 $13 ) 4...Bd6! 5.c4 ( 5.Bd3 Ne7! 6.O-O O-O 7.Bg5 f6! 8.Bh4 Bf5 9.Bg3 Bxg3 10.hxg3 Nbc6 11.Nc3 Qd7 12.Ne2 Bxd3= ) 5...Nf6 6.Nc3 c6 7.c5 Be7 8.Bd3 b6 9.cxb6 axb6 10.O-O Ba6 11.Bxa6 Rxa6 12.Qd3 O-O $13

You can still outplay the opponent in this position... If you need help or you have further questions leave a comment. Best regards.


Former World Champion Jose R Capablanca felt that 3... Qxd5 was superior to 3... exd5. It once led to a sharp, complicated game which he lost (as White).

If White plays 4. Nc3, then 4... Bb5. If White tries to chase the B with 5. a3, then 5... Qa5 pins the a pawn. Note that with the Q off the diagonal, White cannot pin a N on f6 with Bg5 (nor can he play it without e.g. a preparatory Nf3).

  • 3
    OP wants an aggressive line, you really should provide at least some moves ( 5+ would be nice in my opinion ). Commented Jun 25, 2014 at 21:23
  • 5.a3? is a bad move, but it should be met by 5...Bxc3. After 5...Qa5? instead, 6.Bd2 gives a nice advantage to White.
    – Evargalo
    Commented Aug 20, 2018 at 14:28

Black can play for a win against the Exchange French by aiming to castle queenside. After 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 exd5 4.Bd3 Nc6!? 5.c3 Black has a high class 'waiting' move that actually develops a piece. 5...Bd6! Now if White plays 6.Nf3 Black has 6...Bg4 with castling queenside to follow, whereas 6.Ne2 can be met by the pestilential 6...Qh4! with dynamic equality.

But what to do if White plays 4.Nf3 instead? An interesting idea would be to try 4...Bg4, still aiming to castle on opposite sides. If White develops his light squared bishop now you can proceed with ...Nc6, similar to the lines above.

The critical test is 5.h3 and if Black plays 5...Bh5 then 6.Qe2+ with Qb5+ and pawn snatching a possibility. However, against the kind of players who would play the Exchange French I'd be very comfortable in such a wild, gambit line and it's in any case a fairly sound one where the development compensation is pretty clear. The whole line scores okay for Black in actual play.

Anyway, you wanted something that unbalances the position and isn't boring and this way of playing certainly achieves that without conceding too much of an edge.

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