An Anti-London System based on Chigorin’s Defence: Part 2

A few weeks a go I published an article highlighting the idea of fighting the London System using principles derived from Chigorin’s Defence.  Given the prevalence of the London system in amateur circles and its reputation for being stodgy, I wanted to try to showcase a line that was more tactical and open in nature. The article proved very popular and promoted a lot of conversation, particularly around the 4. Nc3 lines.  Today we revisit this line to update our analysis and build upon this blossoming approach to fighting the London.

First of all, if you haven’t read my first article on this anti-London system then I strongly recommend that you do as it introduces the wider system and the four major lines of 4. Nf3, 4. e3, 4. cxd or 4.Nc3 and their respective merits. The rest of this article will not make much sense otherwise…

It was the 4. Nc3 lines that caused the most conversation online. IM Frendzas from Greece rightly questioned and then found a much superior line in the Nc3 variation that I had overlooked in the first article.  Lets take a look.

1.d4 d5 2. Bf4 Bf5 3. c4 Nc6 4. Nc3 e5?! 5. cxd5 Nb4

AL1

IM Frendzas puts our initial choice of 5…Nb4 in jeopardy

Previously I had suggested 6. e4 for white with a messy position but IM Frendzas found a nice alternative leading to a clear advantage for white, 6. Bxe5!

AL2a

“Go ahead, I don’t care about the c2 square!”

At first it seems astonishing that white can play this and voluntarily leave his king in the centre but as we will see, whites king is more than safe and ends up running to the queenside.

6…Nc2+ 7. Kd2 Nxa1 8. e4!

AL3

Black has won a rook and forced whites king to the centre yet unbelievably is in an inferior position

As IM Frendzas points out:

  • white has two pawns and a massive centre for the rook;
  • The knight on a1 is ultimately doomed;
  • The white king can run to the queenside (probably being the one to gobble the a1 knight)
  • Black is sorely lacking good squares to develop his pieces too.

Having debated the merits of the above position (the computer agrees too, giving an evaluation of between +0.7 and +0.9 for white) its hard to find much pleasure in the position for Black, no matter how great it initially looks.  The initial recommendation of 5…Nb4 doesn’t seem to be holding up  in the Nc3 lines so we need to find an alternative if our anti-London system is to survive past its infancy.

Line #4a – 4. Nc3 e5 5. cxd5

Having looked extensively at 5…Nb4 its too good for white.  Our subsequent discussions and analysis shows that the best line for black in this variation is likely to involve accepting weak pawns with the interesting move 5…exf4

AL4

Black accepts weak pawns to remove whites annoying black squared bishop

This leads to the almost forced line of 6. dxc6 bxc6 7. Qd2 Bd6 8. g3!

AL5

Black retains the bishop pair and has a clear plan of development

The position is unusual (something we wanted to achieve in our anti-London philosophy) and whites black squared bishop is no more.  The computer evaluation of this position gives us +0.3 so it would seem to give a playable position for black.

Conclusion

So our anti-London Chigorin system is still alive and kicking albeit with a necessary re-evaluation of the tricky Nc3 lines.  My thanks to everyone who has commented and contributed thus far but especially to IM Frendzas for his insight and analysis. So what is next?

Well despite almost all theory and top masters agreeing that after 2…Nf5 whites best response is 3.c4, I have still received a lot of comments from London players wanting to stick to their system with c3, e3 and the traditional London structure.  It seems that a third article may be required to look at blacks options in the event of the player of the white pieces proving particularly reticent to push the c pawn two squares.


mecircle

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.

Using chess.com explorer to prioritise opening study

For most of us in the amateur club scene we regularly purchase books or trawl YouTube for the latest “Win with Black with the Bonecrusher Opening” (editors note – This is not a real opening). Many club players spend ages reading and nodding along with the main line of their new opening only to discover that hardly anyone plays it against them.  Thus the big dirty secret of amateur chess emerges – the frequency of mainline theory is far far lower in amateur chess circles. Often the lines covered as an afterthought at the back of opening books, DVDs and YouTube under the “Other sidelines’ title are the very lines that we encounter most often. Lets look at how we can overcome this problem using a great feature on chess.com called MyGames Explorer.

For a while now I have been interested in the differences between professional and amateur chess players with regards to opening choices.  Fortunately, chess.com contains a lovely feature that does just that! Lets first look at what this feature is and where to find it and then we will look at an example using the Nf6 Scandinavian.

Looking at My Games with the chess.com opening explorer

When logged into chess.com go to “Explorer” in the navigation:

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The Explorer option is underneath the weird blue and white icon with an arrow on it…

You will see the following page:

Screen Shot 2018-02-03 at 09.34.00

The main Explorer page on chess.com.

At the top of the Explorer page are two dropdown menus. Change the first dropdown from “Master Games” to “My Games”.  And you will get a full breakdown of statistics for all your games.  The second dropdown menu allows you to view your games with black or white.

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With MyGames and black selected I can start to look at the opening statistics of different lines that my opponents play against me online.

Now you know where to find this great feature, lets start to use it to understand how amateur chess players differ from professional and thus aid ourselves in directing our study efforts.

Comparing Profesional to Amateur Opening Statistics – An example

Ive been playing the Nf6 Scandinavian for almost 18 months and like most players who want to learn a new opening I bought a book and started playing loads of blitz games.  I highly recommend Smerdon’s Scandinavian by GM David Smerdon if you are interested in this opening, it really is one of the best opening books I have ever read. One feature I love (which is sadly missing from most opening books) is a diagram outlining the likelihood of facing each line out of every 100 games.

Screen Shot 2018-02-03 at 09.46.22

The diagram (editors note – taken from Amazon’s preview feature, I don’t know why its grey and blue?!) at the start of Smerdon’s Scandinavian showing the likelihood of each line occurring. A wonderful feature for all opening books.

Im not going to dwell on Scandinavian opening theory in this article.  What I want to look at is the percentages of common lines occurring amongst professional / strong players according to GM Smerdon:

1. e4 d5 2. exd Nf6:

  • 3. d4 – 47% 
  • 3. c4 – 19%
  • 3. Bb5+ – 17%
  • 3. Nf3 – 11%
  • 3. Nc3 – 10%
  • All other lines – 6%

This all looks nice and normal right?  It would seem that I would be sensible to prioritise looking at d4, c4 and Bb5 lines as part of my study. Now lets compare these statistics to my own experience in online games against 1300 – 1900 rated opposition.  The MyGames Explorer feature on chess.com shows me that I have played 340 games of (admittedly blitz) in the Nf6 Scandinavian and my opponents have responded in the following way:

1. e4 d5 2. exd Nf6:

  • 3. Nc3 – 26%
  • 3. c4 – 18%
  • 3. d4 – 17%
  • 3. Nf3 – 13%
  • 3. Others – 8%
  • All other lines – 18%

Comparing the predicted occurrence of a line in the book to amateur occurrence shows some interesting insight:

  • The d4 mainline occurs a whopping 30% less of the time compared to predicted theory.
  • The third best line for white, Bb5, is not even on the radar of most amateurs with a measly 7 occurrences from 340 games or 2% of the time.
  • The fifth most common line at professional level, Nc3, is the most popular line at amateur level occurring 2.5 times more often.
  • Almost 20% of players don’t take on d5 on move 2 (compared to 6% of professionals).  A response widely regarded by theory as leading to inferior positions for white.
  • The propensity of greed (i.e. keep the d5 pawn) amongst professionals and amateurs is about the same (editors note – this is a joke before anyone kicks off!)

Screen Shot 2018-02-03 at 09.59.47

Amateur chess players seem to demonstrate an annoying obsession with 3. Nc3…

To back these numbers up in over the board play, in the last 18 months I have played the Nf6 Scandinavian 12 times with the following breakdown of white responses:

1. e4 d5 2. exd Nf6:

  • 3. Nf3 – 25%
  • 3. d4 – 25%
  • 3. Bb5 – 25%
  • 3. Nc3 – 25%

Admittedly 12 games is not a large sample size but the percentages are certainly close to the amateur statistics observed online (with the exception of Bb5).

This is not the first time I have spoken about the differences between amateur and professionals in their opening choices. My article from last summer comparing responses to Larsen’s Opening has become one of the most popular blogs I have written and highlighted stark differences again. To me it is becoming clear that there is a demand at the amateur chess scene for opening statistics for the club level player to help prioritise which lines to study, especially given how time poor your average club player is with regards to study. This is exactly the gap that I see chess.com’s MyGames Explorer filling.

 

Conclusion

Whilst we all recognise that below 2000 ELO, opening study is unlikely to yield big changes in rating compared to studying tactics and endgames, we can’t get around the fact that we all love playing with our opening repertoires. Using the My Games Explorer has the potential to identify differences that we didn’t even know existed and allow us to plug valuable gaps in our knowledge at the amateur level.

I remain fascinated by the differences in move choice between amateur and professional levels and am certain that many publishers and producers of opening content could benefit from thinking about and recognising these differences.  In my opinion, we can’t ignore the fact that when it comes to amateur chess the sideline is the new mainline.

The MyGames explorer on chess.com could prove an invaluable tool to the average club player in terms of prioritising which lines to study or atleast which lines to have a response too. For example, I am now very comfortable with my response to 3. Nc3 in the Scandinavian scoring a respectable 53% with black. No I’m not telling you what it is, I need some secrets!

Thank you for reading and do let me know if you discover any other interesting differences in your own opening repertoires and if that changes which lines you study.


mecircle

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.