The amateur chess world has been flooded recently with the London System, thanks in no small part I expect to GM Simon Wiliam’s excellent three part series on this opening (his three videos on “learn the London System have amassed 180,000 views on YouTube). If like me you are tired of facing this frustrating system as Black, then today I want to share an approach I have been working on based on principles taken from another of GM Simon William’s opening choices, the Chigorin Defence.
The approach I am advocating in this article is based upon the “copycat” sideline (as nicknamed by GM Williams) where Black initially mirrors White with 2…Bf5.
GM Simon William’s advocates that in this sideline of the London, Whites best response is to play 3. c4 with plans to play a quick Qb3 hitting b7. Indeed, 2..Bf5 is the one move where GM William’s is advocating playing c4 (rather than c3).
So basically after 2…Bf5 White is left with two choices:
- Continue with the usual London System setup with c3, e3 and Bd3 leading to (in my opinion) a one way ticket to a boring line where Blacks moves are easy and Whites core plan is neutralised;
- Transpose into a Queens Gambit style position with 3. c4.
It was this “admission” to abandon the traditional London setup and enter a Queens Gambit type position that inspired me to try a response based on Chigorin’s Defence.
The move order I am advocating involves transposing into a type of Chigorin defence with 3..Nc6 quickly followed by a later e5 break.
White is faced with four choices of which three score highly in practice for white, hmm.
From ChessBase, White scores the following:
- Line #1 – nf3 – 77 games with a score of 67% and a computer eval of +0.20;
- Line #2 – e3 – 49 games with a score of 71% (bare with me readers!) and a computer eval of +0.24;
- Line #3 – cxd – 0 games (?!) with a computer eval of 0.00;
- Line #4 – nc3 – 11 games with a score of 54% and a computer eval of +0.08;
Lets look at the main lines.
Line #1 – 4.Nf3
Chigorin would be proud (if not slightly unsound…)
Played twice on Chessbase with a win and a draw for Black!
5. Nxe5 Nb4 6. Na3 f6?! 7. Nf3 dxc
Not exactly the nice closed systemic approach that most London players are hoping for out of the opening.
8. e3 Nd5 9. Bg3 Bb4+ 10. Nd2 c3!
The style of game and position is open and dynamic. In the amateur chess world where the London is so pandemic at the moment, I would certainly like my chances of scoring well from here.
Line #2 – 4. e3
Again we stick to our Chigorin Principles with 4…e5
Played five times on ChessBase with a score of 60% for White:
5. dxe dxc
6. Nc3 (not 6.Bxc4 when the following equalises: 6…Qxd1 7. Kxd1 Rd8 + 8. Nd2 Be4 9. f3?! Bb4 fxe4 Rxd2+ =) 6… Bd3 7. Bxd3 cxd3 8. Nf3 Qd7 9. 0-0 Ne7
White has a pawn, and although not exactly the type of game that most London players want I’m not convinced by this line for Black. A better alternative to 5…dxc we can also look at 5… d4!
Whites best response here is 6. Nf3 followed by:
6…dxe 7. QxQ+ Rxd8 8. Bxe3 f6?! 9. exf Nxf6
A nice open board where Blacks loss of a pawn is compensated by open lines and great development. The computer gives an evaluation 0.00 in this position.
Line #3 – cxd
Unbelievably no-one seems to have played this line. The key seems to be the removal of the b1 knight before it gets chance to jump to c3. As below:
4. cxd Qxd 5. Nf3 (protecting d4) Bxb1 6. Rxb1 e5!
This line appears to be the strongest so far for Black, breaking up the centre and resulting in very unlike London formations.
7. Nxe5 and the game can continue in a relatively equal position.
The mistake 7.dxe leads to advantage Black with the following two lines: 7. dxe Bb4+ 8. Bd2 Qxa2 OR the very nice line 7.dxe Qe4! 8. Qc1 Nb4 9. Ng5 Nd3+ 10. Kd1 Nxf2+ 11. Ke1 Nd3+ 12. Kd1 Qxf4 with a clear advantage to black (see below)
7. dxe appears to be a mistake as demonstrated with the resulting position above.
Line #4 – 4.Nc3
The lowest scoring line for White but it seems a sensible plan. Lets strike again with e5 and see what happens:
4…e5 5. cxd Nb4 6. e4?!
White is provoked into a very un-London like e4 leading to a messy position
6…exf5 7.exf4 Nxd5 8. Qb3 Bb4 9. Bc4 Nf6
In this line both sides get a game as they say with active piece development. But at risk of sounding like a broken record, how many London System players envisage this kind of position at the start of the match?
Obviously there is a greater level of depth required to this analysis in all these lines. For the sake of this article I have ventured only a handful of the most obvious positions. At the time of writing I have only tried this approach in online chess with modest / good results. However, I am excited by its potential and the reason for this is threefold:
- In the world of amateur chess where the London System has become so prevalent, psychology and clock time play a huge part in leading to mistakes. By forcing confrontation in the centre of the board with an early Nc6 and e5, Black is ultimately saying to white “I will not play on your terms“. I would predict this approach to the London will leave the amateur white player atleast feeling uncomfortable, if not worse on the clock as well.
- From move two you are forcing the player of the white pieces to make a choice. Either accept that their conventional setup of c3, e3 and Bd3 will be immediately contested in a dry boring, drawish opening line OR go into a range of tactical lines involving high-levels of early calculation. This choice is not one that I would predict most players of the London System are thrilled about, particularly in amateur club circles.
- I admit that their might be some queries around theoretical soundness but even the initial analysis shown in this article indicates that white is at best only half a pawn ahead in the best lines. Personally a cost I am prepared to pay in order to gain the psychological and time advantages mentioned above.
When you put the above three points together, you can see that here we have a potentially interesting line against the London System with strong practical chances. Just like the real Chigorin Defence, another advantage is that many of Blacks moves are thematic in nature such as nc6, e5, Nb4 and Bb4.
I hope you have enjoyed this line and if you have any thoughts, or better still, venture this line in one of your games then please let me know. I would love to develop the theory on this Anti-London System further!
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.