World class chess coach Joseph Dorfman in his book “Method in Chess” discusses the importance of exchange in a chess game. He came up with a method that can be applied to evaluate any position. The method is easy to apply and consists of four steps. When looking at any position one has to 1. evaluate the static position of the kings, 2. calculate the material, 3. take away queens from the board and evaluate who is better in the resulting position, 4. identify who has the better pawn structure. While the method is easy to apply and is rather straight forward, it was both praised and criticized (especially by another world class chess coach Mark Dvoretsky). I will not concentrate on the details of Dorfman’s method but rather show what role exchanges play in it. Second step, calculating material involves taking into account possible exchanges. Third step is all about exchanges of queens. So, I will concentrate on those two steps and show some examples from his book.
Lets evaluate the following position by Dorfman’s method. 1. White’s king is slightly better because the pawns in front of him did not move, while black king’s would be vulnerable especially after an exchange of the bishops. 2. The material is equal. 3. and 4. black is better without queens because of a passed pawn on the queenside, which makes his pawn structure to be better. Thus, black should try to exchange into the endgame because his king is worse and because he has a better pawn structure.
The next position is from the World Championship match between Botvinnik and Tal. Once again, let's apply Dorfman’s formula. 1. White's king is not castled but black does not threaten anything, thus the king's position is about equal. 2. Equal material. 3. Without queens the position is about equal. 4. the pawn structure is better for white because the pawn on c7 is a weakness that d5 holds. Therefore, white is better, exchanging pieces to put pressure on c7 would favor him. With the last move Ng5 white threatens Nge4 to exchange the knights.
The following two examples that I want to use are from very recent play and contain sharp positions. One can use Dorfman’s Method not only for clear well-defined positions, but also for unbalanced positions. The challenge here is to identify which positional element matters the most and which one is secondary. For example, one side might have a badly placed king but a better pawn structure, which element is more important? It all depends on the stage of the game, on the attack that the opponent has, etc. The following example shows this type of idea. Let us first evaluate who is better. 1. White has a small advantage in king’s position, but since it is an endgame it shouldn’t matter much. 2. Black stands better with material because he has two bishops 3. We skip, since there are no queens on the board. 4. White has a better pawn structure, due to the isolated c-pawns. So, white is better because he has two advantageous elements vs. black’s one. Does this mean white needs to slowly improve his position and play based on long term advantages? Yes, possibly but there is another solution.
The following game is hard to follow or to understand what is going on. I chose it because Friedel’s play impressed me and because the game is very sharp and fits my purpose of applying Dorfman’s method to complicated games. Let us evaluate the position: 1. White’s king is just 100% better than Black’s king. 2. Black is up two pawns. 3. Black is winning without queens 4. The pawn structure favors black because of more pawns and because of outside passed pawn on the queenside. So, who is objectively better? It is hard to say, because white has 4 pieces in play to attack the black king, thus all black advantages can go down the drain if white has enough time to checkmate. What black must to is exchange queens or grab the d6-pawn to castle.
Overall, Dorfman’s method is an interesting avenue to follow when dealing with exchanges. It is easily applied to stable positions, but can be successfully applied to more hectic positions as well. There are two books published in Russian that I know, and there is "Method in Chess" written in English. I hope that by applying this method one can get a better feeling of what to do, what pieces to trade or keep.