8. Make use of Transition Lines!

Most readers will know my opponent, since he is a Grandmaster today. With young age, he achieved something quite amazing. He became German Junior Champion with the age of 16! Since Lucas had a Swiss passport, but was raised in Berlin, he enjoyed a double status and was able to play for both federations. In the second half of his chess career, he represented Switzerland, being the best native Swiss for many years. At some point he changed from professional chess to a career in the financial sector which turned him into a manager of Credit Suisse.

Image result for stepping stone

Now I want to talk a bit about the Spanish Exchange Variation. It is a sound alternative to the main move 4.Ba4. It serves as an example for a good pattern opening, since play is rather slow with pawn structures being the dominant factor. This quality alone gives it a lot of value, since good pattern openings is what you want to include in your repertoire. But there is more. The Spanish Exchange Variation could also serve as a transition opening. As you remember, I started out playing the Italian Opening (game 1 and 3). But when I matured as a chess player, I had the desire to switch to the Spanish Opening, which undoubtedly is the Mercedes after 1.e4 e5. The problem however was the amount of theory I had to learn here. And so, I decided to go about in steps, by using the Exchange Variation as a transition line. The body of theory here is very small compared to 4.Ba4. So all I had to do was to study the Exchange Variation and all the small side lines such as 4..Nf6, 4..d6, 4.. f5, 4..Nd4, 4..g6 and 4..Bc5. This is already quite a lot for a start and would have to be digested first. After that, the way was free for diving into the huge ocean of theory and structures, the move 4.Ba4 would provide.

[Event "Hamburg"]
[Site "Hamburg"]
[Date "1985.??.??"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Wahls, Matthias"]
[Black "Brunner, Lucas"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "C69"]
[WhiteElo "2285"]
[BlackElo "2290"]
[PlyCount "81"]
[EventDate "1985.??.??"]
[EventType "tourn"]
[EventRounds "9"]
[EventCountry "GER"]
[EventCategory "4"]
[Source "ChessBase"]

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4.Bxc6 $5 dxc6 5. O-O f6 6. d4 {
Diagram [#] White's basic plan in the Exchange Variation is to create a
kingside pawn majority by exchanging the center pawns. Black also receives
his own majority on the queenside, but that is devaluated by his doubled pawns.
All pawn endings would be lost, because Black wouldn't be able to create a
passed pawn, which White is very well capable of with his healthy majority.
Moreover, also endings with bishops of the same color and knight endings are
lost most of the time. Hence, White already has an inbuilt and straight
forward winning idea: exchanging pieces in order to enter a favorable ending.
Black's plan is to avoid unfavorable exchanges and to look for active piece
play, making use of his two bishops.} Bg4 (6... exd4 7. Nxd4 c5 {is considered
the main line.}) 7. c3 (7. dxe5 Qxd1 8. Rxd1 Bxf3 9. gxf3 fxe5 {is an
alternative variation. White now has doubled pawns himself, but could get rid
oft hem by playing f3-f4 later on.}) 7... Bd6 8. Nbd2 {A look at today's
statistics reveals that the move 8.Be3 was played almost 6 times as often. A
strong hint of its superiority. An argument for 8.Nbd2 from the practical
point of view might be the opening traps which are delivered as an appetizing
bonus.} Nh6 $6 {The knight is heading to f7, from where it will defend the
king's pawn. However, it enables White to continue with a slightly annoying
queen sortie. The correct move here is} (8... Qe7 {with the intention of
queen side castling:} 9. Nc4 (9. Qb3 O-O-O) 9... O-O-O 10. Qe2 exd4 11. cxd4
Qe6 $11 {with the idea of Bxf3}) ({Two years later, I received the same
position. My opponent wanted to prepare queenside castling, but used a
faulty execution:} 8... Qd7 $2 9. h3 {Diagramm [#]} Be6 $2 ({Also} 9... Bh5 $2 {runs into a
tactical refutation:} 10. Nxe5 $1 Bxd1 11. Nxd7 Bc2 12. Nc5 $16 {Black was forced
to give up his bishop pair with}) (9... Bxf3 {, but that would mean losing the
positional compensation for his bad pawn structure.}) 10. dxe5 Be7 {Here my
opponent realized his mistake and refrained from testing me, because the solution would have been just too simple for that.} (10... fxe5 11.
Nxe5 {[%cal Gd1h5,Gh5e8,Gh5e5]}) 11. Nb3 O-O-O 12. Qxd7+ Bxd7 13. Be3 b6 14.
Nbd4 c5 15. Nf5 Bf8 16. Ng3 Re8 17. exf6 Nxf6 18. Nd2 Bc6 19. f3 {and I could enjoy a
solid extra pawn. Wahls,M (2460)-Neunhoeffer,H (2235), Germany 1987}) 9. Qb3 $1
{A move with three benefits: attacking b7, preventing 0-0 and unpinning the
knight.} b6 $2 {The invitation for a tactical blow due to the weakness of the
pawn on c6. Sure, it is never a great aesthetic feat to defend such a pawn
with a rook, but it would have lead to an acceptable position:} (9... Rb8 10.
h3 Bh5 11. Re1 $14 Bf7) 10. h3 Bh5 $2 {Diagram [#]} (10... Bd7 $14) 11. Re1 $2
{Oh dear! I was playing an opening trap without knowing it. And to my bitter
shame, this very trap snapped shut in the two other games with this position.}
(11. dxe5 fxe5 12. Nxe5 $1 Bxe5 13. Qe6+ Qe7 14. Qxc6+ Kf7 15. f4 Bd6 16. Qd5+
{That's the point. Once more, it's an unprotected piece which enables the
tactical blow.} Kg6 17. g4 $18) 11... Qe7 (11... Bf7 12. Qa4 b5 13. Qc2 $14)
12. Qc4 Qd7 13. dxe5 fxe5 {[%csl Ye5] Diagram [#] This is one of the pawn
structures you have to study when playing the Exchange Variation. By itself it
clearly favors the White player. The pawn e5 is weak and there is the
possibility of creating a passed pawn in the ending. On the other hand, Black
enjoys a structural space advantage due to the half open f-file which he might
use for launching an attack against White's king.} 14. Ng5 {The idea is to
interfere with Black's plan of playing Bf7 followed by 0-0. In case of 14..Bf7
15.Nxf7 Black would be deprived of his bishop pair. However, correct play by
Black might have shown, that} (14. Nh4 $5 {was more sustainable here:} Bf7 (
14... Be7 15. Ndf3 Nf7 16. g4 Bxh4 17. Nxh4 Nd6 18. Qd3 Bf7 19. Qg3 O-O-O 20.
Nf3 Kb7 21. Nxe5 Qe6 22. Bf4) 15. Qe2 O-O 16. Ndf3 $14) 14... b5 (14... Nf7 $6
15. Ne6 Nd8 16. Nxd8 Rxd8 17. Qxa6) 15. Qb3 c5 $6 (15... Nf7 16. Ngf3 (16. Ne6
Nd8) 16... O-O 17. Nh4 Kh8 18. Nf1 Bc5 19. Ng3 Nd6 20. Be3 Bxe3 21. Rxe3 Bf7
22. Qc2 Qe6 $13 (22... Be6 23. Nf3 $14)) 16. c4 $1 {Blocking Black's pawn
phalanx is essential, of course.} Nf7 17. Nf1 Nxg5 18. Bxg5 Bf7 19. Ne3 O-O 20.
Qd3 Rab8 21. b3 Be6 22. Bh4 $1 {Heading towards g3, from where the bishop
defends and attacks at the same time.} Qf7 23. Rac1 Qg6 24. Bg3 Rfd8 25. Rcd1
h6 26. Qc2 Qe8 27. Qc3 Bd7 28. Nf5 {Diagram [#] The game so far was by no
means flawless and there are still more mistakes to come. But all this is
compensated by my demonstration of how to handle this structure on a broader
positional scale, and that is where the value lays for the beholder. I you think about it, I achieved quite a lot:
1. Preventing active play by my opponent on the king side, 2. Stopping his
expansion on the queenside, 3. Directing my forces towards his weak king pawn
and 4. Centralizing all my pieces. I would consider this as the dream position of this particular pawn structure. And a collection of dream positions is what you want to build up. Dream position = goal!} Qe6 $2 (28... Bc6) 29. f4 $2 {While attacking a pinned
pawn looks like the natural procedure, it is a big mistake. There already was
a forced win:} (29. Rd5 $1 Bc6 (29... Re8 30. Qd2 $18) 30. Bxe5 Bxd5 31. Bxd6 {
[%cal Rc3g7,Rd6c7]} Qf7 32. Qg3 {[%cal Rf5h6,Rd6c7]} Rxd6 33. Nxd6 cxd6 34.
Qxd6 Rf8 35. Qxd5 $18) 29... Bf8 $2 {Again, it was necessary to protect the
square d5.} (29... Bc6 30. cxb5 (30. Rd5 bxc4 31. bxc4 Bf8 32. Rxe5 Qf7) 30...
axb5 31. Nxd6 cxd6 32. fxe5 dxe5 33. Bxe5 Rxd1 34. Rxd1 Re8 35. Rd6 Qxe5 36.
Qxe5 Rxe5 37. Rxc6 Rxe4 38. Rxc5 b4) 30. fxe5 $2 {Winning a pawn is something
nice, but here, it is a blocked double pawn and the pawn on e5 hinders the
activity of his fellow pieces. I should have switched to active piece play on
the ground of my well centralized army.} (30. Rd5 bxc4 (30... exf4 31. Bxf4 c6
(31... Rdc8 32. Be5 g6 33. Qd2 {[%cal Rf5h6,Rd5d7]}) 32. Rd3 Rb7 $2 33. Bxh6
gxh6 34. Rg3+ Kf7 35. Rf1 $18) 31. Red1 $1 cxb3 32. axb3 exf4 33. Bxf4 Qxe4 34.
Nxh6+ gxh6 35. Qg3+ Kf7 36. Bxc7 $18) 30... bxc4 31. bxc4 Bc6 {Diagramm [#]}
32. Rd5 $1 {A good move, but the rook should have entered there earlier on
many occasions.} Bxd5 $2 {Black should have waited passively with a move such
as 32..Re8. This might not be anyone's taste but there is no trivial way for
White to improve his position.} 33. cxd5 Rxd5 34. exd5 Qxf5 35. Qc4 Qg6 (35...
Kh7 36. e6 $18) 36. d6+ Kh7 37. dxc7 Rc8 38. Qf4 Rxc7 39. e6 Rb7 (39... Ra7 40.
Qxf8 Qxg3 41. Re2 Qd3 (41... Rb7 42. e7 Rb1+ 43. Qf1 $18) 42. e7 Qxe2 43. e8=Q
$18) 40. Qf3 Re7 (40... Ra7 41. Bb8 $18) 41. Bd6 1-0

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