How to Beat the London System

When you need to beat the London System, there is no need to struggle or complicate matters. There is no need to spend lots of time studying theory, either.

The Most Effective Way to Beat the London System

All it takes to beat the London System is a return to that most classical of openings – the Queen’s Gambit Declined.

By turning to this opening, you place your faith in a defense based upon tried-and-true opening principles. This approach is rock-solid and will bring White’s aggressive intentions to naught.

Whenever a former world champion chooses a line, you can be confident it has merit. Anand has played the Queen’s Gambit Declined set-up against the London System.

Anand chose to use it against GM Le Quang Liem, who was rated 2738. If such a strong player can’t make headway against it, think how well it will fare against your opponents. Aronian even used it to score a win against Magnus Carlsen!

This is, of course, not the only way to beat the London System. Take a look at the video below where GM Hikaru Nakamura destroys the London System in only 11 moves! This could be a good surprise weapon, but White can get great compensation for the poisoned pawn by playing Nbd2.

This makes the Queen’s Gambit Declined set-up the most reliable option for Black.

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

Strategies for Black to Beat the London System

There are many different moves orders for White to use in reaching the London System. The typical starting position occurs after d4, Bf4, and e3.

London System Starting position Black
London System starting position

One of White’s most vital pieces is the London Bishop on f4. Challenging it early in the game makes a lot of sense for Black, so an early …Bd6 makes lots of sense.

White is unlikely to exchange on d6 if Black can recapture with the c-pawn. Bg3 is the most likely response when Black turns his attention to the other White bishop.

…b6 is a multi-purpose move that supports the c5-pawn advance and gives Black the option of playing …Ba6 to exchange light-squared bishops. After …b6, it is common for White to delay Bd3 to save a tempo by exchanging on a6 in one move.

Black is not forced to play …Ba6 and can choose to switch to an alternative strategy with …Bb7. Levon Aronian employed this strategy to beat Magnus Carlsen in only 35 moves as recently as 2019.

Beat the London System When White Plays An Early Nf3

1.d4 d5 2.Bf4 Nf6 3.e3 e6 4.Nf3 Bd6 5.Bg3 0-0 6.Nbd2 b6 7.c3 c5

London with Black 7...c5
London System with Black 7…c5

8.Ne5 Bb7 9.Bd3 Nc6

Black develops his pieces to their mist natural squares
London System with Black 9…Nc6

If Black wants to beat the London System a solid strategy is to develop his pieces to their most natural squares. 9…Nc6 challenges the knight on e5 and is ready to defend against f4-f5 by going to e7.

The maneuver …Nc6-e7-f5 combined with …Be7 is a crucial defensive strategy!

Playing …Be7 allows the knight access to the d6 square when both knights are controlling the e4-square.

In this game played between two 2700 rated players, Black missed an opportunity to obtain a decisive advantage on move 26 but still managed to get a draw. Instead of 26…Qe4 the winning move is 26…a4!

This goes to show you could do a lot worse than choose the Queen’s Gambit Declined set-up if you want to beat the London System.

Beat the London System when White Delays Nf3

1.d4 d5 2.Bf4 Nf6 3.e3 e6 4.Nd2 Bd6

London System with Black 4...Bd6
London System with Black 4…Bd6

5.Bg3 0-0 6.Bd3 b6 7.c3 Ba6

Black plays 7...Ba6 to exchange White's dangerous attacking bishop
London System with Black 7…Ba6

There are two reasons for playing the move 7.c3 to support the d4-pawn and give White the option of avoiding the exchange of bishops with 8.Bc2. By keeping the light-squared bishop on the board White is hoping to make it more challenging for Black to beat the London System.

Black can play on the queenside with the natural moves …c5, Nc6, Qc7, and …Rac8.

If white plays Ne5, black can play …g6, …Nh5, and drive the white knight from e5 with …f6.

The knight can defend the backward pawn on e6 with …Ng7.

In the same way, the bishop on d3 is a powerful piece; Black’s bishop on a6 can become a dominant piece that makes it difficult for White to castle.

The best option for White is to exchange bishops on a6.

1.d4 d5 2.Bf4 Nf6 3.e3 e6 4.Nd2 Bd6 5.Bg3 0-0 6.Bd3 b6 7.Ngf3 Ba6 8.Bxa6 Nxa6 9.c3 c5

London System with Black 9...c5
London System with Black 9…c5

It is essential to remember to meet e4 with …Be7 when Black is doing fine in this position. Black can meet e5 with …Nh5 even though the knight is undefended on h5.

White does not have any dangerous discovered attacks, and Black can generate counter-play on the queenside.

If white captures on d5 instead of advancing the e-pawn, Black can meet exd5 with …Qxd5. The queen is ideally placed to recapture on c5 too!

Strong British grandmaster Michael Adams chose to play the position in this manner and successfully beat the London System. 

…exd5 is also playable and was the choice of IM Felix Blohberger.

Instead of …Nb8, Black can play …Nc7. This line tends to end in draws and is helpful to have in your repertoire if you get paired against a higher-rated opponent.

In Conclusion

The Queen’s Gambit Declined provides Black with a sound defense against the London System. The strategies for Black are simple ones that don’t involve memorizing a lot of theory.

Even White’s most challenging approach involving Bxa6 is easily met. Black has the choice to head into equal positions with …Nc7 or play for a win with …Nb8.

There is not much more you can ask for from an opening with Black than an easy path to equality. Playing for a win from an equal position is a lot better than choosing a risky defense to complicate the game.

You can make the Queen’s Gambit Declined your defense of choice against all of White’s options after 1.d4 and not only use it to beat the London System.

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