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.
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”.
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.