New Zealand Chess Magazine, October 2018

The Schlechter Variation, by Scott Wastney


This article aims to give the reader a general overview of the Schlechter variation against the French Defence. I first became aware of the variation while skimming through an old book at the Wellington Chess Club. I think it was a survey of the year 1910, or thereabouts. There was a game with Carl Schlechter playing White which started 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Bd3!? I wondered if this was a serious move? And wouldn't it be nice to get French players out of book so early? Up until then I had only played the Tarrasch variation (3.Nd2) in which Black trots out his endless lines of theory.

A Pleasant Endgame (Queenless middlegame)

My first game using this new idea was sometime in October 2011, round 1 of the Julian Mazur at the Wellington Chess Club. The game quickly saw the Queens exchanged.

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Bd3 dxe4 4.Bxe4 Nf6 5.Bf3 c5 6.Ne2 cxd4 7.Qxd4 Qxd4 8.Nxd4

Moves are clickable

This endgame is comfortable for White due to the Bishop on f3 making the development of Black's queenside more difficult. As usual, in the French Defence the c8 Bishop is his problem piece. As someone who doesn't play the French myself, my favourite quote about the opening is "Playing the French is the sign of a troubled childhood". No idea where the quote originates. Here is a nice example of Black struggling to get developed in this endgame (or rather Queenless middlegame). Rather than present my game, here is a more interesting game by a stronger player.

Golubka, P. - Musial, Tomasz Krakow Rapid Championship 2018

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Bd3 dxe4 4.Bxe4 Nf6 5.Bf3 c5 6.Ne2 cxd4 7.Qxd4 Qxd4 8.Nxd4 Bc5 9.Nb5 Na6 10.Nd2 (10.a3! ) 10...O-O (10...Nb4! ) 11.a3 Rb8 12.Nb3 Bb6 13.Be3 Bxe3 14.fxe3 Bd7 15.Nd6

Moves are clickable

15...Bc6 16.O-O-O Bd5 17.Na5 b6 18.Bxd5 Nxd5 19.Nc6 It is really interesting how the two White knights are paralysing Black's pieces.  19...Ra8 20.e4 Ndc7 21.b4


21...Nb8 Struggling for room Black allows a pretty checkmate  22.Ne7+ Kh8 23.Nxf7+ 1-0

An improved version of the Tarrasch

Many of my opponents play 3...Nf6.

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Bd3 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.Nf3 c5 6.c3

Moves are clickable

But this seems to be just a better version of the Tarrasch variation for White because he hasn't committed to Nd2. Compare the line to 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.Bd3 c5 6.c3

Grandmasters Angel Arribas and Pepe Cuena recommend 5.f4 here (I've played both 5.Nf3 and 5.f4 myself). Here is a game from the recent Olympiad following the Spanish grandmasters' recommendation.

Cruz, Cr - Otawa, Yuto 43rd Olympiad 2018

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Bd3 Nf6 4.e5 Also an option is (4.exd5 exd5 5.Nf3 going into the exchange French, and just maybe you've tricked him out of the Bd6-Ne7-Bf5 set up. ) 4...Nfd7 5.f4 c5 6.c3 Nc6 7.Nf3 Be7 8.O-O g6 9.Be3 c4 10.Bc2 b5 11.g4 Nb6 12.a3 Qc7 13.Nbd2 Bd7 14.f5! O-O-O 15.Ng5

Moves are clickable

White is already clearly better.  15...Rdf8 16.fxg6 Bxg5 17.Bxg5 hxg6 18.Bf6 Rhg8 19.Nf3 Kb7 20.Ng5 a5 21.Qd2 Nc8 22.Rf2 Nb8 23.Raf1 Bc6


24.Nh7 Re8 25.Qh6 Nd7 26.Bh4 g5 27.Bxg5 Kb6 28.Rxf7 Na7 29.Nf6 Rh8 30.Nxe8 1-0

The Trap (that maybe isn't?)

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Bd3 dxe4 4.Bxe4 Nf6 5.Bf3 c5 6.Ne2 Nc6 7.Be3 Nd5

Moves are clickable

I first reached this position against Krstev in the 2012 MIT Rapid. I castled, he exchanged the Knight for Bishop and I came out of the opening slightly worse. Afterwards I learned it is better to play  8.Bxd5! Qxd5 9.Nbc3! Qxg2 10.Rg1 Qxh2 11.Bf4 followed by 12.Nb5 with a strong attack. 

So why the "that maybe isn't" in the title? Recently grandmaster Jan Gustafsson in his opening clinic (Number 22 Part 5, September 2018) on chess24 commented that he didn't think the 3.Bd3 line was very dangerous and even in the trap that White hopes to get Black to fall into, Black is still ok.

Vachier Lagrave, M. - Van der Lende, I. PRO League Group Stage 2018

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Bd3 dxe4 4.Bxe4 Nf6 5.Bf3 c5 6.Ne2 Nc6 7.Be3 Nd5 It's not a good idea to go for the b2 pawn with (7...Qb6?! 8.Nbc3 Qxb2? 9.Rb1 Qa3 10.O-O Qa5 11.dxc5 and White has a clear advantage. Note that  11...Bxc5?? is not possible  12.Rb5 ) 8.Bxd5 Qxd5 9.Nbc3

Moves are clickable

9...Qh5? Trying to dodge the trap. The trap is meant be (9...Qxg2 10.Rg1 Qxh2 11.Bf4 Qh3 12.Nb5 No-one has played the strongest move against me  12...f6! 13.Nc7+ Kf7 14.Nxa8 cxd4


and even though a Rook down Black gets enough play according to Gustafsson. Looking at my old notes I have the same line (engine use is a great equaliser in opening preparation): My notes from around 2016: 11...Qh3 12.Nb5 f6! anything else is simply horrible for Black 13.Nc7+ Kf7 14. Nxa8 cxd4 Black has compensation for the rook sacrifice, but his position is very difficult to play. The most straight forward line  15.Nxd4 Bb4+! 16.c3 Bxc3+ 17.bxc3 Qxc3+ 18.Kf1 Nxd4 19.Rg3 Qc4+ 20.Rd3 e5 21.Rc1 Qd5! 22.Qh5+ g6 23.Rc7+ Bd7 24.Qh3 Ke7 25.Be3 Rxa8 26.Bxd4 exd4 27.Qxh7+ Kd8 28.Rxd7+ Qxd7 29.Qh8+ Kc7 30.Qxa8 Qb5 31.Ke2 and Black has perpetual check. White has other options to explore here, but this would be an impractical variation for Black to play without excellent preparation with the aim of walking a fine line to get a draw. ) 10.Nb5 Rb8 11.O-O Be7 12.d5 exd5 13.Bf4


13...O-O 14.Bxb8 Nxb8 15.Nf4 Qxd1 16.Raxd1 d4 17.Rfe1 Bd8 18.Nd6 Bg4 19.f3 Bc7 20.Nxb7 Bxf3 21.gxf3 Bxf4 22.Nxc5 Be3+ 23.Kg2 Rc8 24.c3 Nc6 25.Nb3 f5 26.Nxd4 Nxd4 27.Rxe3 1-0

The Trap (that really is!)

From one of my club games played in 2014

Wastney, Scott - Farrington, Lawrence Julian Mazur Memorial 2013

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Bd3 c5 4.exd5 Qxd5 5.Nc3 Qxd4? Even worse is (5...Qxg2?? 6.Be4! and the Queen is trapped. ) ( The best move is 5...Qd8 Here I will give one short game for inspiration  6.Bf4 Nf6 7.dxc5 Bxc5 8.Qf3 O-O 9.O-O-O Qa5 10.Nge2 Bd7 11.Rhg1 Bc6 12.Qh3 Nbd7 13.g4 e5 14.g5 exf4 15.gxf6 Nxf6 16.Rxg7+ Kxg7 17.Rg1+ Kh8 18.Qh6 1-0 Onischuk,V (2601)-Vusatiuk,V (2344) Lutsk UKR 2017. ) 6.Nb5 Qe5+ If (6...Qd8 7.Bf4 Na6 8.Qe2 +/- I once had a win against an IM playing internet blitz that went  8...Nf6 9.O-O-O Nd5?? 10.Be4! and Black loses a piece because of the threats of either c4 or Bxd5. ) 7.Ne2

Moves are clickable

Threatening Bf4. And g5 won't help as I'll play f4!  7...Na6 8.Bf4 Qf6 Also (8...Qxb2? has happened my internet Blitz games, but loses to  9.Rb1 Qf6 (9...Qxa2 10.Nec3 Qa5 11.Ra1 Qd8 12.Rxa6 bxa6 13.Nc7+ ) 10.Nd6+ Bxd6 11.Bb5+ Bd7 12.Bxd7+ Kxd7 13.Qxd6+ Ke8 14.Rxb7 ) 9.Nd6+ Ke7?? (9...Bxd6 10.Bxd6 +/- ) 10.Bb5! simply threatening Nxc8 followed by Qd7 mate  10...e5 11.Nxc8+ 1-0

Alternatively Black can play

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Bd3 c5 4.exd5 exd5 claiming that they are reaching a position that could be reached in the exchange variation of the French. This was Tony Dowden's approach against me in the NZ Championship 2016. While it is true, to reach the exact position from the exchange variation requires both sides to play minor lines so in practice the position is quite specific to the 3.Bd3 variation. White plays  5.Nf3 waiting for Black to move his f8 Bishop before taking on c5 giving a favourable isolated Queen's pawn position For example  5...Nc6 Black usually avoids the IQP position with (5...c4 6.Be2 Nf6 7.O-O Bd6 8.b3 cxb3 9.axb3 O-O 10.c4 Nc6 11.Nc3 which is a common position to reach from this opening. ) 6.O-O Nf6 7.Re1+ Be7 8.dxc5 O-O 9.a3 Bxc5 10.b4 Bd6 11.Bb2

Moves are clickable

and White is slightly better in Wastney,S (2345) - Dowden,A (2088) 123rd ch-NZL Open 2016 Auckland NZL (7.10), 08.01.2016 

The Mainline Battle against the Aussie FMs

I consider the mainline to be 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Bd3 dxe4 it is logical to exploit Bd3 by gaining a tempo with an attack on the Bishop 4.Bxe4 Nf6 5.Bf3 c5 6.Ne2 Nc6 7.Be3 cxd4 8.Nxd4 Ne5. We have already looked at the 7th move alternative 7...Nd5. I also put a lot of time into studying the line with 7...e5!? which leads to tricky positions. White's development is a little awkward but long term hopes to exploit Black's queenside pawns. In practice I found this position difficult to play as white in blitz games, but here is an example by a stronger player than me.

Fedorchuk, S. - Repka, C. 25th TCh-CRO Div 1a 2016 2016

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Bd3 dxe4 4.Bxe4 Nf6 5.Bf3 c5 6.Ne2 Nc6 7.Be3 e5 8.Bxc6+ bxc6 9.dxe5 Qxd1+ 10.Kxd1 Ng4 11.Nd2 Be7 12.h3 Nxe3+ 13.fxe3 O-O 14.Nf4 Rd8 15.Ke2 f6 16.Rad1 fxe5 17.Nd3 e4 18.Nxe4 c4 19.Ne5 Ba6

Moves are clickable

20.Nxc6 Re8 21.Nxe7+ Rxe7 22.Nc3 Rae8 23.e4 Bb7 24.Rd4 Bxe4 25.Rxe4 Rxe4+ 26.Nxe4 Rxe4+ 27.Kd2


27...Rf4 28.Re1 Kf7 29.Re3 Rf2+ 30.Re2 Rf6 31.Kc3 Rf4 32.a4 h5 33.a5 Rf5 34.Kb4 a6 35.Kxc4 Rxa5 36.Kd4 Ra1 37.c4 a5 38.c5 a4 39.c6 a3 40.bxa3 Rxa3 41.c7 1-0

Now onto the mainline with 7...cxd4 8.Nxd4 Ne5

Wastney, Scott - Zelesco, Karl George Trundle Masters 2015

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Bd3 dxe4 4.Bxe4 Nf6 5.Bf3 c5 6.Ne2 Nc6 7.Be3 cxd4 8.Nxd4 Ne5 9.Nc3 Another option is 9.0-0 which was used successfully by Maxim Vachier Lagrave against Wesley So in the Norway Blitz 2017.  9...Be7 It's considered a mistake to play (9...Bb4 10.Nb5! ) 10.Qe2 (10.Ndb5!? is recommended by GM Angel Arribas and GM Pepe Cuenca. ) 10...O-O In my preparation I had looked at the following game (10...Nxf3+ 11.Qxf3 O-O 12.O-O-O Bd7 13.g4 Qa5 14.g5 Nd5 15.Nf5 Nxc3 16.Nxe7+ Kh8 17.Bd2 Nxa2+ 18.Kb1 Qd8 19.Bf4 Qxe7 20.Bd6 Qe8 21.Rhe1 Rg8 22.Rd4 Bc6 23.Qh5 f6 24.g6 h6 25.Bf4 e5 26.Bxh6 Bf3 27.Bxg7+ Kxg7 28.Qh7+ Kf8 29.Rd7 Qxd7 30.Qxd7 Rxg6 31.Qf5 1-0 Onischuk,V (2618)-Harika,D (2509) Abu Dhabi 2015 ) 11.O-O-O Qc7 12.Ndb5 Qa5 13.Bf4 Nxf3 14.Qxf3

Moves are clickable

White is slightly better, but now follow a couple of mutual mistakes.  14...e5? 15.Qe2? (15.Bxe5! Bg4 16.Qxb7 Bxd1 17.Qxe7 and White as a decisive advantage according to the engine. ) 15...a6 16.Qxe5 axb5 17.Qxe7


17...b4?? Losing on the spot. Better is (17...Re8 when Black is slighter better. ) 18.Bc7! b6 19.Rd8 Nd7 20.Bd6 Bb7 21.Bxb4 Qf5 22.Rxd7 Rfe8 23.Qd6 Bxg2 24.Rg1 Qxf2 25.Qd4 Qf5 26.Rd5 Qxd5 1-0

One year later...

Wastney, Scott - Wallis, Christopher George Trundle Masters 2016

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Bd3 dxe4 4.Bxe4 Nf6 5.Bf3 c5 6.Ne2 Nc6 7.Be3 cxd4 8.Nxd4 Ne5 9.Nc3 Be7 10.Qe2 Bd7 This was Chris's pregame preparation. It was a bit ridiculous of me to play the exact 10 moves from my game from last year.  11.O-O-O 11.Bxb7 is critical and of course Chris had studied this deeply with a computer engine.  11...Rc8 12.Bf4 Chris told me after the game that the computer hadn't given Bf4 as one of the main choices.  12...Nxf3 13.Qxf3

Moves are clickable

13...Rxc3 And in all his prepared lines this exchange sacrifice was a common theme.  14.bxc3 The price I have to pay for the exchange is the damaged pawn structure. Not (14.Qxc3?? Nd5 15.Qf3 Nxf4 16.Qxf4 Bg5 pinning the Queen. ) 14...Nd5 15.Bd2 Qb6 16.Nb3 Qa6 17.Kb1 O-O 18.c4 Qxc4 19.Qd3 Qxd3 20.cxd3 Bb5 21.d4 b6 22.Kb2 a5 23.a3 Bf6 24.Be3 Rd8 25.Nd2 Bd3 26.Nf3 Be4


After suffering in a clearly worse position for a long time, it now seems I am ok, but I quickly go wrong.  27.Bg5? Bxg5 28.Nxg5 Bxg2 29.Rhe1 (29.Rhg1 When playing 27.Bg5 I complete overlooked that here  29...Nf4! is winning ) 29...Nf4 30.Ne4?? And now the fight is over. Better was (30.Re3 though Black is better. ) 30...Bf3 With the idea of (30...Bf3 31.Rd2 Ng2 winning material ) 0-1

What else can you play?

I'm at the 2016 Olympiad and preparing for my opponent from El Salvador. Our team's method was for each player to have half an hour with our coach, grandmaster Dejan Bojkov, to discuss our preparation the morning before the game. I had discovered from the database that my opponent had previously played the French, but over the last few years had switched completely to the Sicilian. Naturally my preparation had focused on what to play against his Sicilian. After discussing the intended Sicilian lines with Dejan, we had a brief discussion on the French. To the best of my memory it went something like this.... Dejan: "What do you plan to play against the French?" Me: "The 3.Bd3 line". Dejan: "What else can you play?" Me: "I used to play the Tarrasch" Dejan: "Play that then".

It turned out my opponent did indeed play the French and I quickly played 3.Nd2 before I could talk myself out of it. My opponent slumped in his chair and stared at one of his team mates, then turned to his team mate on the other side and stared at him as well. It couldn't be more obvious he was annoyed. Did his team mates convince him to play the French with the promise I would play 3.Bd3? After a while he refocussed on the board and the game continued and I eventually won the game. While I can advocate 3.Bd3 as a good opening - there is nothing like being practical for getting results.


Perhaps Dejan's advice had more to do with recent games of mine being readily available in databases to my opponents rather than a condemnation of 3.Bd3. It served me well for a while until I fell into the trap of becoming too predictable and walking into Chris Wallis's preparation in the 2016 Trundle Master's wasn't the brightest thing to do. Overall my results were very good with the opening.

A decent number of GMs have played the variation, including Magnus Carlsen and Vladimir Kramnik (admittedly in blitz). Then there is a core trio of 2600+ GMs: S.Fedorchuk, V.Onischuk and P.Ponkratov who play it often. The variation also scores just as well as the mainlines Nc3 and Nd2 and better than e5 or exd5.

I hope this article has provided a broad overview for any prospective new students of the opening. For those who wish to take this further I can recommend a video series (in Spanish) and e-book (in English) by the Spanish grandmasters Angel Arribas and Pepe Cuena published on the in 2016.