Seeking asymmetry in an anti-London system

The London System has a reputation for being solid and unexciting.  It can be a very frustrating system to play against as black because white can just adopt a series of system like moves and they will achieve a playable game, in a familiar position. Regular readers will know that I have tried to find ways to combat the London via the move order 2…Bf5 and then using principles from Chigorin’s defence. But what happens if white just decides to continue with their normal set up?  Lets take a look.

I suppose you could say that this article is the third entry in my exploration of fighting the London system using principles from Chigorin’s defence.  For those readers not familiar, my original anti-london article is here, whilst an addendum to the Nc3 lines can be found here.

In these prior articles, my approach to the London had been based on 2…Bf5 and 3. c4.  The move c4 has been recommended by numerous authors in the London system against 2…Bf5 and it was the d4, c4 pawn formation that originally inspired my thinking around an early Nc6 and e5 i.e. Chigorin’s defence.

However, there is an obvious draw back.

Despite 3. c4 being the objectively best response, white is not obliged to play it! Instead, the white player can simply continue to adopt the “classic” London set up as shown below.

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The “Classic” London System setup where the first 6 or so moves can be bashed out and help the Black player with any problems they might have sleeping.

As anyone who has ever faced the London will testify, it is this setup that gives the system its reputation. Rock solid with opportunities to launch kingside attacks if Black ever threatens to exchange off the f4 bishop by exchanging on g3 and opening the h file. If my proposed approach to combating the London with 2…Bf5 was going to work then I would need to find a line that created an asymmetrical structure and a presented a playable plan for Black.

Avoiding symmetry by copying whites moves?

So lets begin.  Obviously when searching for an asymmetrical position the best thing to do is mirror several of whites moves in the early opening (sigh – I know but trust me there really is little else to do that doesn’t give white an edge). The opening line is as follows 1. d4 d5 2. Bf4 Bf5 3. Nf3 Nc6 4. e3 e6 5. Bd3

Its the move 5.Bd3 that irritated me for so long in this position as it just results in swopping off of pieces and leading to symmetrical pawn structures. That was until I noticed the remarkable statistics in my database for the move 5…Ne7. Played in 13 games it scores a lowly 38% for white with a computer evaluation of +0.28.  Surely a move worth exploring further.

There are two moves here for white, either 6. 0-0 or 6. c3 (continuing with the usual London setup).  Lets look at 6. c3 first.

Line #1 6. c3

If white continues to follow the London system by rote then black can unbalance the position with a plan built around an f6, g5 spike, hitting the bishop before castling queenside.

Black clears the way for queenside castling and also has the nice option of a kingside pawn storm with h5 coming.  Not something white is typically used to in the London system.

Admittedly, white could play 8.h4 here to prevent 8…g5 but that leads to 8…Bd6 when the usual white plan of falling back to g3 and then opening the h-file after the exchange on g3 is not available.  The best move then is 9. Bxd6 Qxd6 10. Nd2 and black again castles long.

If white plays to deny the g5 spike then Black can exchange the black bishops and has a choice of recapturing with the c pawn, f5 knight or even queen (as shown) and castling long.  

Lets be clear.  As was often the case in my previous articles on the London, I do not claim a refutation to white in this position.  Rather I like the asymmetrical nature of the position and the ability of this setup to run counter to many of the usual plans that white tries to adopt.  In the final position of this line, the computer evaluation is -0.29 to Black.  Equality.

Line #2 6. 0-0

We have seen that if white tries to stick rigidly to the usual London structure then we can achieve an asymmetrical position and nice attacking chances on the kingside with f6 and g5.  Now lets see if that approach works after whites other most logical move, 6. 0-0.

Again in this line we use the f6, g5 threat to create an asymmetrical position and begin a kingside attack. Objectively the computer evaluation is +0.57 to white but I like Blacks options.  In the two variations explored above we see how in both lines black’s plan remains the same – Castle long and Kingside attack.


It took me a while but I am greatly encouraged by this line for black in our 2…Bf5 anti-London system. Whilst objectively c4 is a good response by white (indeed we see it reappear in the 6. 0-0 lines), our approach of Ne7, f6 and g5 give us a wide of options and a clear plan to reach an interesting and asymmetrical position should the white player insist on sticking to their “classic” London structure.

Most of all, I like the fact that this approach results in whites key attacking plan of exchanging on g3 to open the h file before launching a kingside attack being unavailable.

The London system is not going away anytime soon in amateur circles.  I hope that this article (and my earlier ones) have helped inspire you to tackle this solid white system in a new way straight from move 2.  Do let us know at the Bristol Chess Times if you trial our approach and if you have anymore thoughts on the “theory”.

Good Luck!


Jon Fisher

Jon is the Editor of The Bristol Chess Times and Publicity and Recruitment Officer for The Bristol & District Chess League. He plays for Horfield Chess Club and has been known to play 1. b3 on occasion.


The unlikeliest chess move – revisited

Is there anything left that computers can’t solve? My attempt at beating the machines a few years back resulted in the creation of a very different type of problem. I wanted to know what the least likely move in chess would be. I wasn’t interested in best moves, accurate moves, or stunning moves. Just one that makes you wonder how you got there.

I was pleased with the result – there was much discussion over the puzzle during an annual Christmas Curry evening with my chess club, and it uncorked a few bits of chess magic to appreciate and admire. However, I fell into the other trap of modern creativity – it had already been done before. Four years ago. And solved. By a much better player than me – GM David Smerden’s blog

Okay so it turns out, all was not lost by any means. On deeper inspection (after the initial heartbreak) I realised that my puzzle was crucially different by being much less logical than Mr. Smerdon’s – probably part of the reason he is a GM and I’m not! His answer to ‘The most unusual move in chess’ was still about best moves – about trying to win (or draw) a chess game. In contrast mine is purely about possible strange notations and what they say about a position. The delights and surprises are in mentally constructing ever wackier positions until you find the limit of impossibility (or a simpler way to notate the move).

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GM Smerdon’s composition is a superb idea – the best move for White is actually to promote to a bishop on a8 – utilising the bishop’s weakness to eventually force stalemate

The puzzle

If I could trace back my curiosity for ‘unusual moves’ it would be something like 15 years ago, perhaps a match for my school, where I first had to notate a move like ‘R2e4’. The nuance of having to specify that the rook moved from ‘2’ (2nd rank) to clarify which rook was moved to the e4 square could be viewed as an imperfection of ‘modern’ notation (in the old days you would write ‘e2-e4’ if you moved any piece from e2 to e4). But I do not take this view, as this puzzle and its various gems wouldn’t be able to exist without it.

Going back a step, it was clear that ‘R2e4’ would be less likely than a bog-standard ‘Re4’. Moreover, ‘R3e2’ was even more unlikely, as it implies there is one rook on e3 and one rook on e1 (by the way, if there were rooks on say d2 and e1, you would write ‘Rde2’ to move the one on d2 to e2 – as the files take precedence over the ranks.) But I went a bit further into less and less likely moves. How about Ba8 check? It’s not so clear – the bishop cannot check a king itself by moving to a8 (or any corner square).

So this search is one for the most unlikely move in chess.

Consider a move like ‘0-0-0 checkmate!’ Quite unlikely! Although it has been played before in many real games. This thread shows many of these. Strangely it starts with a miniature from a former world champion actually declining to play 0-0-0 checkmate, instead choosing Kd2 mate, perhaps rather like Ronnie O’Sullivan’s famous 146 break , he was happy enough just to show he could do it.

So to the point – ‘unlikely (but possible) moves’. The question became this:

“What’s the most unlikely move to appear in a legal chess game?”

[Note – we are not including annotations in analysis such as ‘!’, or ‘??’. Nor does it include move numbers, for example ‘7.gxh8=N++’. No – this puzzle is just about what you must physically write on the scoresheet.]

Some themes

This is reverse engineering in a sense – rather than seeing a position, finding the best move and writing it down, we see a move written down with no other context – and figure out what it tells you about the position. Back to our Ba8+ example, we find out that the check must be by discovered check, because a bishop moving into a corner attacks no more squares than it was attacking before.

Setting about this problem in a ‘human’ way, a number of ‘unlikely’ themes spring to mind:

  • Castling
  • Check
  • Checkmate
  • Captures
  • More than one of the same piece able to move to the same square

[Note: As far as I know, there is no official notation needed for either en passant or stalemate – so they don’t make it into this puzzle.]

It stands to reason that a checkmate is always more unlikely than a check – or a non-check. So our solution must be a checkmate. It also became clear to me that the theme of ‘More than one piece able to move to the same square’ had the largest scope for unlikeliness. Especially for queens – because you only start with one.

A solution?

There are too many interesting nuggets here to share in just one article. I have decided on my candidate solution for the ‘unlikeliest move’ – which I will share soon enough. But in checking over my own thoughts and explorations for this puzzle – I found something quite surprising; the unique qualities of each piece make for some very different types of thinking in finding their own unlikeliest move.

Therefore I will structure the rest of the musings on this puzzle by piece – part two will cover Kings, Queens and Rooks, and part three Bishops, Knights and Pawns. But here’s a little taster:


Black to play and mate in one? Easy! Nxh8 mate! But which one?

If a knight on the rim is dim, then a knight in the corner must be… mourned for? (Editors note – Keep smoking whatever you are smoking Mike!). That is, unless, it can deliver checkmate! Which move did you choose? ‘Nfxh8#’? or ‘Ngxh8#’? Because therein lies the unlikeliness of all this. Forgetting the position a moment, if the notated move was just ‘Nxh8#’ then the king could easily be on f7 and just be mated directly with the knight. Not so unlikely – and has undoubtedly occurred before. But introducing a second knight by stating the move ‘Nfxh8#’, suddenly there must be a knight g6 as well (the only other square with access to h8) and so the king must be somewhere else – and must be mated by discovery! Hence the concoction above; there are other variations of course, but it shows how much is implied by a single notated move: The two knights must be on f7 and g6, there must be a piece on h8, the king must be on either f6 or g7, two rooks/queens must be on the same file and rank as the king, and other pieces must block all the other squares around him. Quite a kingdom for a horse move!

If you want to give this puzzle a mulling over during the next few weeks, we’ll be back with parts 2 and 3! If you arrive at any candidate ‘unlikely moves’ – please do send them in!


Mike Harris

Mike is a regular pretender in Bristol’s top division and can also be seen propping up local tournament ladders. He writes a regular column for the Bristol Chess Times and plays a solid 20 openings a season.

How not to play the Icelandic Gambit

Sometimes you play a game, irrespective of the result, that reminds you why you love chess. Ive been playing the nf6 Scandinavian for about 18 months but have yet to play the exciting Icelandic Gambit over the board. Fortunately I found myself facing an open minded opponent who was more than wiling to dive into complications.  I found the game very instructional from a psychological as well as theoretical perspective.  Lets take a look.


Would the Icelandic Gambit offer an exciting tactical mess of a game?  Yes.  If Black knew how to play it…

The game was Board 6 of the Horfield (my team) vs. Clifton match of Division 1 of the Bristol & District Chess League. My opponent was Anton Muller who has virtually the same grade as myself (and attacking mentality).  My thanks to him for the game and permission to share.

So a great escape that highlighted all the great human elements of chess.  Throughout the game the plans and stories that I told myself led to inferior positions as I misplayed the opening and drifted into an inferior middle game.  However, in the end it was clock that was my friend not the position and the old adage of the person who makes the penultimate mistake wins.

Perhaps the most instructive lesson for me was the psychology of realising your position is busted but still has dynamic potential.  In my opinion the move 25.Nxf2 was probably the best move I played in the game and yet it actually results in a +5.00 swing to my opponent in the evaluation.

With regards to the opening, if you are interested in the Icelandic gambit then I hope this example game helps you learn how not to play the 6. Bd2 lines.  I feel I should have played Nc6 early on when he offered a queen swop and after recapturing then I would have had an immediate threat on c2.  it just didn’t feel very gambit like.

My thanks (and apologies) to my opponent for the game.  Fortunately the match result was 3 – 3 so everyone saved face in the end.


Jon Fisher

Jon is the Editor of The Bristol Chess Times and Publicity and Recruitment Officer for The Bristol & District Chess League. He plays for Horfield Chess Club and has been known to play 1. b3 on occasion.

Problems in March with GM Jones

Arguably the greatest of the British problem composers to gain the GM title was Norman Macleod (1927-1991), also a strong player (sometime stalwart of the Gloucestershire team) and one who (probably because of his playing background) aimed to produce problems that were not only aesthetically pleasing but also an enjoyable solving challenge.

One such problem does in fact come close to my aspiration to find problems with game-like positions. This is a mate in 6 problem published in the (then) Yugoslav magazine ‘Mat’ in 1978, where it received 4th Prize:


A lovely mate in 6 from 1978.  Answer below.

It’s only when you do a piece count that you think that Black might perhaps have resigned by now! Still, forcing mate in 6 seems a tall order considering the compactness of Black’s position. Perhaps the composer intends 0-0-0 to be part of the solution? Well, yes, but this is where we diverge from game-like thinking, for the reason for 0-0-0 turns out to be nothing to do with mobilizing the a1R; instead, it is to make the squares a1 and e1 available for the Bishop! (Has this reason for castling ever happened in an actual game??!) The solution (and full marks if, armed with this hint, you’ve been able to visualize how this works) runs: 1.0-0-0! a5 2.Be1 a4 3.Bc3 axb3 4.Ba1! b2+ 5.Qxb2 a5 6.Qxg7!


Once you see the pattern the finish is lovely!

Here is another example of the Macleod wizardry, again from ‘Mat’, this time winning 1st Honourable Mention in 1981:


Mate in 4 with white to play. Answer below.

This time the stipulation is mate in 4. On the face of it, this should make the problem easier, and indeed it does look as though it shouldn’t be too difficult to mate Black in that timescale – indeed, the surprise might be that there is only one way to do this (a prerequisite of this being a sound problem).

The difficulty though is that the black Bishop is a desperado – if it is captured then we have stalemate. If 1.Ra8? then 1…Bb4 and if then 2.R8h8 then 2…Be7. It turns out that the only way to do it is to play 1.Rc8!, threatening 2.Rc4 and so forcing 1…Bd4. Now we play 2.Ra8 and since any other black move fails to 3.Ra4+ Black plays 2…Ba7. Only now can we play 3.R8h8 and mate next move by 4.R8h4.


After 3. R8H8 an unstoppable checkmate is threatened wherever the black bishop moves.


Christopher Jones

Christopher holds the Grandmaster title for Chess Problem Composition and uses his skills to write a regular column for the Bristol Chess Times. He is also a longterm Horfield Chess Club player (where he is acting secretary).

Three times Carlsen took down the Berlin Defence in the World Chess Championship

The World Championship Candidates 2018 starts today in Berlin.  The winner travels to London to face Magnus Carlsen in the World Chess Championship 2018.  I am sure the British chess community must be very excited to have the world crown decided on our fair isles and I am sure lots of South West based players will be traveling to watch the match in November. To celebrate the start of the candidates, The Bristol Chess Times decided to take a look at the dreaded Berlin defence in an attempt to offer some hope to amateur players with the white pieces!

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A strong field of Super-GMs will compete in the Candidates in Berlin but who will make it all the way to London?

The Berlin Defence wouldn’t have the nickname the “Berlin Wall” if it wasn’t rock solid.  Whilst it has been thoroughly examined at the highest circles of chess what is a budding club player to do with the white pieces against such a solid road block? Don’t get me wrong.  Despite being an ambitious amateur, I am not arrogant enough to believe that I can crack the Berlin wall myself!

Instead, and to honour the build up to the world championship in London, I decided to showcase three examples of white victories in the Berlin from the reigning world champion, Magnus Carlsen, in his last two world championship finals.

My hope is that by looking at these games this post will inspire our readership to both remember to get a ticket for the finals in London but also have faith that the Berlin wall can fall (even if you have to be Magnus Carlson to do it!).


World Championship 2014: Game 2

Carlsen drew blood as early as Game 2 in Sochi by adopting a quiet closed approach to the Berlin with an early d3.  He started a kingside attack but it was his control of the e file and battery of heavy pieces that eventually allowed him to crash through.

World Championship 2014: Game 11

Alternatively in the game that sealed Carlsen’s defence of his title, he chose well known lines of the open variation where the queens come off early and white (apparently) has a slight edge with superior pawns. Carlsen won the exchange and a pawn but Anand had dangerous united and passed a and b pawns on the 6th rank.  However, the white king was in time and Carlsen prevailed against the Berlin in a crucial game.

World Championship 2016: Game 10

A marathon game that I believe (editors note – source needed) holds the record for the second longest game in the history of the World Chess Championships (after game 5 of Korchnoi vs. Karpov, 1978).  Carlsen needed to win to level the match and was rapidly running out of whites.  Another quiet and closed choice vs. the Berlin led to a long endgame struggle but Carlsen’s incredible technique eventually ground down Karjakin’s defence.  If this is what it takes to defeat the Berlin then no wonder amateur players struggle!



Jon Fisher

Jon is the Editor of The Bristol Chess Times and Publicity and Recruitment Officer for The Bristol & District Chess League. He plays for Horfield Chess Club and has been known to play 1. b3 on occasion.

Interactive games, updates and next steps for Bristol Chess Times

Its been 8 months and 54 articles since we relaunched Bristol Chess Times in July 2017.  The engagement so far has been great and in previous articles I have spoken about the various statistics that are helping push forward the growth of both the league and our wider chess community.  Today I wanted to talk about some recent changes I am making to help take Bristol Chess Times to the next level.

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Interactive Game Analysis

The biggest change that I have introduced this weekend is the ability to play through games and perform analysis on diagrams within the site.  I gave a hint at this functionality yesterday on our Game of the Month article but today I wanted to showcase the wider functionality we have added.  When we talk about interesting games and positions in the Bristol Chess Times we can now:

  • Play through the whole game, including highlighting of last moves with arrows;
  • Include interesting variations within the body of the game analysis
  • Provide built in diagrams next to comments with target squares highlighted and also threats indicated with the use of arrows.
  • Indicate which colour to play by a small circle on the right hand side of the board.

All in all, we hope you can see that this change takes the Bristol Chess Times games analysis to the next level.  To demonstrate the new functionality I have used a lovely game from Waleed Khan (of North Bristol Chess Club) that was submitted for Game of the Month in February.

Waleed’s home analysis below showcases all the new functionality we can now provide and I hope gets players excited about submitting their games for future articles.

About Page

I have also updated the About page on the Bristol Chess Times to give credit to all the contributors and columnists who have made it a success thus far.  Each person who has contributed, no matter how many times, is now listed and I hope over time this will grow to show the range and depth of our chess community. Only by going out and seeking fresh opinions, games and insights will we continue to keep Bristol Chess Times blossoming.

My thanks to every contribution thus far but also a call out to anyone who wants to provide a voice to their opinion in the amateur chess scene. Get involved!

Next Steps

Hopefully you can see the positive changes occurring on the Bristol Chess Times and I hope that you continue to read and enjoy our efforts!  Moving forward we really want to get a more diverse range of contributors involved from all clubs and backgrounds.

Thus far we have only had contributions from four of the 16 clubs in the Bristol & District Chess League so it would be great to receive some thoughts from some of the smaller clubs especially.

But looking ahead, we also recognise that we want to receive thoughts from the wider chess community across the UK.  British League Chess is a wonderful creature and the life of the amateur club player so sorely under represented in most chess media.  If you are a reader and fan of the Bristol Chess Times but do not live in the South West of England then thats ok! Tell us what you want to read about.  What you are looking for and we will do our best to provide informative engaging content for all!

Finally, If you have made it this far in the article then it just leaves me to say a final thank you for your support.  Even if you do not want to write for us then you can still support the Bristol Chess Times by sharing, liking or retweeting as many of our articles as you can. Every small piece of promotion really does make a difference.

Until next time!


Jon Fisher

Jon is the Editor of The Bristol Chess Times and Publicity and Recruitment Officer for The Bristol & District Chess League. He plays for Horfield Chess Club and has been known to play 1. b3 on occasion.

February 2018: League Review and Game of the Month

We are now approaching the business end of the league season with only two months to go and most teams having only five games remaining.  For many title contenders it was the month they turned the screw on their peers, remaining focused on the top prizes.

Division 1

Horfield A have led for the majority of the season as they chase a first league title in 17 years, but a large chasing pack of five teams has been keeping them nervous throughout.  However, February turned out to be the month when daylight finally appeared at the top.  Despite several close matches, Horfield A continued to grind out the victories whilst the chasing pack slipped up and dropped valuable points with draws and losses to teams lower down the division.  As the month of February closes Horfield A find themselves five points clear (with a very healthy Game Points score).  Its not over but the statisticians amongst our readers will point to a strong likelihood of a Horfield title.

At the bottom of the table both Clifton B and Clevedon picked up some points to close the gap on South Bristol A and maybe even Downend B.  With games in hand, we could be seeing an intriguing 3 or 4 way relegation battle pushing on to the very end of the season.

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Division 2

In division 2, South Bristol B continued to hold onto top spot throughout the month but its much closer with Horfield C one point behind.  The self styled “noisy neighbours” of the Bristol & District League, North Bristol, briefly applied some pressure at the top but it would appear the games played column will be their enemy this season.  With everyone around them having games in hand, it will be hard to stay in the top three.

At the bottom of the league Downend D are unfortunately adrift but Cabot A are still within touching distance of safety.

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Division 3

Yate A finally lost their 100% record, conceding top spot to Keynsham A.  The rest of the division are a long way behind although Clifton C have mysteriously only played 8 games giving them a whopping 3 games in hand. That makes the division slightly harder to call but its fair to say its likely to be a three horse race into the final stretch of the season.

At the bottom of the division, Hanham A, Downend E and Cabot B will be glad that there is no relegation from Division 3 as they have all struggled thus far.

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Division 4

North Bristol B have plenty to shout about in Division 4 as they are joint top with 20pts but with a healthy three games in hand which should be enough to see them claim top spot. In what is an incredibly tight run in its very hard to call who will finish where from third to 10th with still lots of games in the largest division in the Bristol & District Chess League.

There always has to be one team propping up the league and unfortunately at the moment that dubious honour goes to Harambee.

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League KO Cup and Minor League KO Cup

The semi finals for both cup competitions also took place in February.  This time out, it was Horfield’s turn to taste defeat in both cups, losing to Downend and Clevedon respectively.

The final match ups for the last pieces of silverware in the season is as follows:

Minor KO Cup Final: Downend vs. Clevedon

KO Cup Final: Downend vs. Bath / South Bristol (editors note – final semi result pending at time of writing)

Game of the Month

Our Game of the Month for February comes courtesy of Candidate Master Lynda Smith of Thornbury Chess Club. Lynda actually submitted two examples of lovely attacking chess but we have opted for her lovely attacking prowess on the Black side of a Sicilian from the East Devon Congress .  Lynda’s attack starts as early as move 8 with the h-pawn thrust.  Its fitting that the game is ultimately decided on the h-file 19 moves later, demonstrating the successful culmination of a long term plan.

Congratulations to Lynda and our other winners of previous Games of the Month.  We will be compiling all our winners together at the end of the season for a final Game of the Season as well as some prizes.  Until then, enjoy playing through Lynda’s game below.

Finally, regular readers will notice that we have made some edits to the Bristol Chess Times. Most notably we have added the ability to play through games on the site (as demonstrated in Lynda’s game above).  Please do let us know what you think as we are particularly pleased to be adding this really useful functionality to the website.  I will be writing an update soon on the coming changes to the site and how more members of the amateur chess community can get involved with the Bristol Chess Times.


Jon Fisher

Jon is the Editor of The Bristol Chess Times and Publicity and Recruitment Officer for The Bristol & District Chess League. He plays for Horfield Chess Club and has been known to play 1. b3 on occasion.