Review: How to Exchange Pieces, by Elisabeth Pähtz

By Davide Nastasio

Many months ago, while preparing a book review, I was introduced to one of the most amazing ideas of all: the “exchange of pieces.”  Now you are thinking, “What? Is he out of his mind? We exchange pieces all the time.  How is that important?”  Well, I was watching one of Fischer’s games, and of course when watching a game from the best player of all time, one can only be inspired and brought to another level of chess consciousness!




That game showed how important the exchanges are.  Let me show you this game and then explain where you should watch, but keep in mind while watching the game that the topic is the exchange of pieces, and clearly the reasons behind each of them.



GM Bobby Fischer





Now that you have watched the game, let me explain my amazement with Fischer, because I clearly didn’t understand what or why he was doing what he was doing, and it took me a long time.




We are at move 9 of the game; White has just played 9.Be3; Black wants to undermine White’s center.  Can you guess which piece he wants to exchange?

Obviously the Be3, so Fischer plays 9…Ng4; and this was easy to understand.  Now, if you are at my poor level you could think Fischer did it because he wanted to have the bishop pair, and that surely makes sense.  At a lower level than mine, some players may think it’s important to double the pawns in the enemy territory, but in this position that wasn’t the reason, since Black is not going to exploit such an advantage.




Let’s fast forward a little and reach move 14.  White has just played 14.Be2, preparing to castle.  Black has the bishop pair advantage.  What do you think Black is going to play?  And why?

This took me a long time to understand.  Black plays an exchange: 14…Bxf3!   What??  “Why did Black give up the bishop pair?” everyone is screaming!  Well, we must remember that the enemy king is in the center, and Fischer wants to keep it there in the best Morphy style!



GM Paul Morphy


So for him, first he exchanged a knight for a bishop, and then exchanged a bishop for a knight in order to gain total control of … the square D4!!  Now clearly if we would just evaluate the pieces with the same value (a bishop is 3, a knight is 3, a rook is 5 etc.) then we wouldn’t understand anything about this game. But those pieces, in Fischer’s mind, had quite different values depending on their job and the squares they are controlling.

As we can see from this small example, the exchange of the pieces can be of utmost importance.  Obviously from just watching one game, especially with such high quality content like this one played by Fischer, I couldn’t implement such an idea in my own games. This is the reason I’m so happy IM Elisabeth Pähtz came out with this wonderful thematic DVD.



IM Elisabeth Pähtz


Now it may seem that such a DVD is for the advanced tournament player. In my opinion, this DVD is especially important for the beginners, because they can get a taste of what chess is really about. Chess is not merely about tactics, although they are very important; chess is not just about openings or endgames, such as being able to give checkmate with knight and bishop.  Again, those things are important, but they don’t show what is beneath the water of this iceberg we call Chess.




Chess is something subtle, like the evaluation of a certain position, and understanding what is the real value of the pieces. Obviously, in these new times where most players online play bullet games (even those rated 1100 and below), I guess some of these ideas are lost.  But for those players of the past who played mainly with long time controls, they surely needed to delve into the position deeply and into the meaning of each piece.

Now coming to the structure of the DVD, IM Elisabeth Pähtz has made 16 videos which are divided into 4 main topics:

1. Structural aspects of an exchange
2. Exchanging when attacking or defending
3. Exchanging to realize an advantage
4. The exchange of queens

I found this DVD to  be quite good because IM Pähtz continues to ask questions, and if one stops the video and thinks upon the position and what move he would play, then he can get instantaneous feedback. I like to do it on my chessboard as if it were a real game. In this way, IM Pähtz became my coach!

The first game with Botvinnik made me think it was a draw, and seeing the mastery with which he won was extremely interesting. Notice that many of these games are classics, therefore IM Pähtz is not only teaching us how to think correctly or how to evaluate the position, she is also offering us chess culture!

I’d like to show you the game and then ask you some questions.   When you get the DVD, you will discover the answers and will have benefited from such an interactive exercise.



Remember: in order to learn chess we do need to be involved, so now go back to this game at the moves I asked you, and try to answer the questions.  Remember when calculating the lines that you cannot move the pieces, as in a real game.  Set the position on a chessboard, and give yourself 10 minutes for each question.




IM Pähtz begins to comment on the game from move 14.   Black just moved.  Now what should White play? 15.Ne5 or 15.Be7? and Why?




Another question arises at move 17 for White.   Should he allow the exchange in C4 or not?  And why?




In this position White will play 20.Qe3! This move is difficult to understand for an amateur who just feels bad about having double pawns. Botvinnik comments on this game in his book:  “Analiticheskie i kriticheskie raboty 1923-1941″ published in English as: ” Botvinnik’s Best Games: Volume 1, 1925 – 1941.”




Botvinnik writes (I don’t have the book in English, so forgive my poor translation) “This move, not evident, is the strongest one! After the exchange of queens, which one cannot abstain from, the defects of Black’s position become even more evident. It will be more difficult to resist to the pressure on the D file. The Pawn E5 becomes weak, and also the square F7 will need protection. In the first seven years of my chess career, this has been the most precise positional chess move I had the chance to play.”

Returning to the game, you are White.  What would you play on move 25? And what are the reasons?




The following is a position that didn’t happen in the game, but I think it is quite pertinent to the topic: the exchange.   It is also relevant to something we all have trouble with during a game, which is deciding with which piece to re-take after the opponent captured one of our pieces.




You need to decide if it’s better to take with the pawn or with the bishop, and the reasons behind this decision. These questions and many others are treated in the video.  This was just to give a little sample of how important the video can be as training tool.  But I’d like to show you one more position coming from this game.  IM Pähtz stops the game at move 37, saying that White has a clear winning advantage.   Those who want to see how the game ended can consult the database.

Well, this is a very important moment for us.  Are we able to win like IM Pähtz would be able to win?




It’s now Black’s turn to move.  Another important aspect of chess improvement is to learn how to win a won position.  This is likely won for everyone at master level; hence, if we want to reach master level we need to know how to win it.    As you can see, the DVD can be used as a multi-purpose training tool.  I did the above-mentioned exercise in every video where IM Pähtz said it was a “win” or a “technical win.”  I placed the position on my DGT board, and played it against my DGT Pi.





Ending the review: the DVD contains much more.  There are two articles on the exchange coming from Chessbase Magazine, then a database with 53 games, and the main database with the games on which the videos are based on, for a total of 36 games.  Elisabeth Pähtz did a great job of selecting the games for the videos, taking them from quite different historical periods.  But the most important part is the 19 videos of test positions.  There one can see if he understood the topics, and then receive feedback.

In conclusion, I’m grateful to IM Elisabeth Pähtz for making a DVD on this topic, and I hope she will give to us the gift of more of her wisdom with other DVDs on important topics like this one. The only negative aspect of this DVD is it is too short!  The over 4 hours with IM Pähtz passes too quickly, and one finds himself thirsty and wanting more and more knowledge!  Please be warned, since she really treats the material well, I believe it is needed to watch the videos at least 2 times in order to obtain the maximum benefit.  The second time I watched them, I grasped some nuances and ideas that I didn’t grasp the first time.



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