Chess Openings: The London System – IM Alberto Chueca

the london system

The London System

When we learn to play chess, our teachers teach us the opening and its basic principles. Simple things like control the center, develop your pieces, castle, etc. The uphill battle from here is which opening to choose from. There are so many choices! In this article, I want to recommend you the London System.

Many players chose prestigious opening lines like the Najdorf Sicilian, Italian Game, maybe even King’s Gambit, and spend hours of our lives memorizing theory and learning every trap in the book.

Although, what if I told you that there is an opening out there very simple to learn. The theory is not essential, the primary emphasis is piece setup, not very much memorization. Unlike a good old King’s Gambit with all the wild sacrifices and combinations out there, you are pretty much solid throughout the game unless either of you makes a moronic blunder. Allow me to introduce you to the London System.

System vs. Theory

One logical question you might ask possibly is what is an opening system compared to opening theory? The opening theory requires a ton of memorization to get a decent position out of the opening. A system is a sequence of opening moves almost relative to any position where barely any theory is required to get a good game.

Granted, there will be a few details to remember as not to mess up in the opening, however, we believe the London System is a good opening for beginner and intermediate players to learn because this opening does not require loads of memorization like a Dragon Sicilian will.

Allow me to show you the type of position we are aiming for in the London System:

As we see above, we have a nice pawn chain on c3, d4, and e3. The Bishops are nicely developed on d3 and f4, Queen on c2, White castled, and the Rooks connected. This sounds exactly like what you would want out of your typical opening.

Although, we may see a few exceptions to this exact setup. For instance, the light-squared Bishop is sometimes on d3, sometimes on e2, and the Queen might not belong on c2. The position above is what most London players strive for out of the opening. It is solid and flexible, hence the popularity.

Finally, let's now talk about some of the exact moves and plans behind the setup. Again, just because the London is a system does not mean there is no memorization. There are still a few key ideas to know, though you will find that the opening is much simpler to learn than other theoretical battles are.

The London System Moves

The first three moves for White generally, whatever Black plays, are 1. d4, 2. Bf4, and 3. Nf3. It's simple to remember, and the order does not really matter (however, you obviously can't play Bf4 before playing d4!). Most people play it in the order listed in the first sentence. Part of how a system works is that the move order is not of sole priority. 1. Nf3, 2. d4, and 3 Bf4 is also an acceptable way to play. Either way, you get the position below.

Of course, Black must make some moves too! Let's follow a hypothetical game, and say the game went something like 1. d4, d5 2. Bf4, Nf6 3. Nf3. Again, what Black plays within the first few moves does not make a huge difference. Just like White, he is playing within his own system and developing fluidly. We see the position below.

What to do against c5?

Oftentimes, in the position above, Black will opt for the thematic 3… c5.

It can be a bit weird to face especially if you are new to chess. It seems that Black is giving away a pawn for free. My advice to you: don't take the pawn. If you take the pawn, for one, as a result, you are breaking the “London System bond” with the pawn d4, Bishop on f4, and Knight on f3. Now the loyal pawn is stranded into Black's camp on c5. Taking the pawn simply does not work anyway, because Black plays e6 to win the pawn back through his f8 Bishop. Every Queen's Gambit player knows that playing b4 to further protect the c5-pawn is extremely risky and dubious.

When Black plays 3… c5, he is obviously targeting the d4-square. This is a perfect time to reinforce that square with 4. e3, because after 4… Nc6, 5. Nbd2 (I'm suggesting this move first to avoid any inconvenient Qb6 tricks by Black), e6 6. c3, we reach our desired set up from White's point of view in the London System. White will develop the Bishop to d3, and castle shortly with a simple and easy game. In summary: Black plays c5 to try and crack the center, although, White will remain rock solid if he plays e3 and c3.

We have our desired setup. A game from here might go 6… Bd6 7. Bg3 (a thematic move. If 7… Bxg3 8. hxg3 will be useful for us due to the open h-file), O-O 8. Bd3 and White is ready to castle shortly. White has a solid position with Ne5 and Ndf3 as possible plans to hold tight the center.

A Quick Word on Why 5. Nbd2 before 5. c3

As we stated earlier, while the London System is about fluid development and piece-placement, there will be a few details that you should know.

A few paragraphs ago, I recommended that White develop the Knight to d2 instead of going for c3 immediately. The issue is that after 5. c3, Black has the very annoying 5… Qb6!. The natural way to defend the b2-pawn is with 6. Qb3, though after 6… c4 7. Qc2, Black can throw 7… Bf5! at White's face.

On top of being an inconvenience for White, 7… Bf5 is tactically justified. This is because if White takes the Bishop, b2 falls, and the Black Queen traps the a1-Rook in the process.

The London System Against a KID Structure

Before I end this article, I think it would be appropriate to discuss a little bit how to properly develop if Black goes for a King's Indian Defense Structure (g6 instead of d5). So the hypothetical game might go 1. d4, Nf6 2. Nf3, g6 3. Bf4, Bg7 4. e3, O-O.

As we see in the above diagram, White normally goes Bd3 in the London System, although, now that the pawn is on g6, he controls the f5-square, which would be one of the Bishop's advance points. Therefore, against this structure, 5. Be2 is more appropriate here. And the game can continue normally.

In summary: While the London System is not the most theoretical and sharp opening, it's very playable and popular since White relies mostly on setup rather than memorization to get a comfortable game. Learning the London does not take very much time, and now, you can focus your studies on middlegames and endgames!

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