english opening pawn
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English opening

The English opening is one of the most interesting openings in chess there are, and one of the most flexible. This opening can lead to infinite variations, and there are so many transpositions that it seems to be a labyrinth.

Playing the English opening means that you will normally go into positional and highly precise variations. However, if you know the plans and ideas, the English opening becomes so easy to play, you can confuse your opponent really quickly.

Plays with one of these long term ideas of giving up a little of central control for a better piece development. The ideas you play with in the opening are simply beautiful, and one can be surprised with the potential of such opening.

We could say that most of the great chess grandmasters have used the English some time. That includes the world champion itself, Magnus Carlsen, that has shown great results playing the English opening.

If you want to master the ideas of this interesting opening, you should read this post until the end. We are going see an in-depth analysis about the English opening, some variations you can play, and the ideas behind it.

The main lines of the English opening

english opening

There are three important variations that we need to know before going into the English. Even so we have to know that the English opening does not put too much pressure on black’s position.

So black can actually go for many different setups here and in many move orders, so you have to be prepared. The first move to be in the English opening are the following:

1.c4 and black could go for many different setups, let’s see the first nad most common approach by black: 1… e5. Black can also play Nf6 or Nc3 first, and either way reach the same position.

The main line: 1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.Nf3 Nc6 4.g3 d5 5.cxd5 Nxd5 6.Bg2 Nb6 7.O-O Be7 8.a3 O-O 9.d3. And we get a somewhat equal position where there are many plans for both sides.

1… c5 is the second move that is in the most common list, which is the English Opening but with the Sicilian. Black reach these positions too by playing d6 first, and we would have the same system.

The main line of the English Sicilian is: 1.c4 c5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.Nf3 e6 4.g3 b6 5.Bg2 Bb7 6.O-O Be7 7.d4 cxd4 8.Qxd4 d6 9.Rd1. Here you have a good position where you can do many things, develop your bishop through b2, and put pressure on the d-file.  

Lastly, 1… g6 it’s the king’s indian against the English opening, of course, you can always transpose to a pure king’s Indian with d4. However, if you want to stay loyal to the English spirit you can play this way:

1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.d3 d6 5.g3 O-O 6.Bg2 e5 7.O-O Nc6 8.Bg5. And you get a position with good chances for both sides, with the difference that black can’t attack like normal in the king’s Indian. Due to the strong bishop and structure we have in the king side will be a lot difficult.

Plans and ideas of the English opening

english opening knight

Something that we all have to understand about the English opening is that the game for white will always be on the queenside. The pawn advances for both sides are so important, and you have to be careful when playing the pawns.

There are many set ups that both sides could go to, however, the English opening is known for being highly drawish. The fight on the English opening is very subtle, and it relies in an 80% on prophylaxis and pawn weaknesses.

The English opening for white

english opening king

In case of white is easy, there is kind of a universal way to play with white when it comes to the English opening. The best piece of white in this opening is the g2 bishop, g3, Bg2, and castle is the characteristic of the English opening.

This is important, because white will combine this idea with the advance of the b-pawn to molest the c6 knight and breakthrough. White relies on a queenside attack, so he needs to keep the center static to attack the flank.

This will be done by putting a low number of pieces on the center, with c4 and d3, and that will be it. Rb1 is a pretty common move to support the b-pawn, a4, b4, b5, along with the g2 bishop, this will destroy black.

Of course, you should always be preparing for black’s plan, because he also has some tricks up his sleeve. Remember, in the English opening prophylaxis is so important, and you must never block the g2 bishop with moves like e4.

However, d4, e4, and f4 are moves that you can do in case you decide to play on the center, which is also possible.

The English opening for black

In 99% of games white goes for the attack on the queenside, and you should definitely prepare to endure that. You can also counterattack, remember the principle: To a flank an attack you should react on the center.

So your objective will be to block the g2 bishop and to react in the center with pawn breaks so you gain the initiative. A good way to do that is by playing d5 and e4 early, or with some preparation.

Realistically, white will always be first to put pressure along the great diagonal, and try to win a pawn. You can also try to put pressure along the central files, and push the pawns forward.

An important idea is to go against white’s best piece in the position. A typical plan is to play Be6 and Qd7 to exchange the light-squared bishops with bh3. This is an idea that really hits white hard, and releases a lot pressure, but requires time.

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