The English Opening 1.c4: The Ultimate Guide

What Is The English Opening?

  • a chess opening for White
  • characterized by the move 1.c4
  • named after the English unofficial World Champion Howard Staunton
  • first played in the 1840s by Howard Staunton
  • a hypermodern, dynamic and flexible chess opening

The English Opening: The Ultimate Guide To A Dynamic Chess Opening

The English Opening is one of the most popular chess openings for White thanks to its flexibility and many ways to play for the win.

Not only has the English Opening been frequently played by the best grandmasters of the past – Garry Kasparov, Anatoly Karpov, Mikhail Botvinnik and Bobby Fischer – but also it is played by many leading grandmasters today – Levon Aronian, Magnus Carlsen, Fabiano Caruana, Peter Svidler, Hikaru Nakamura, Vassily Ivanchuk and many more.

The English Opening: The Ultimate Guide To A Dynamic Chess Opening

The English Opening is a chess opening for White which occurs after the move 1.c4. The opening is called the English Opening because it was introduced and regularly played by the English unofficial World Chess Champion Howard Staunton in the 1840s and 1850s.

It’s a flank opening, meaning that White starts off by pushing the c-pawn instead of the typical e- or d-pawns.

Why Play The English Opening?

There are several reasons to play the English Opening:

  • First of all, the English Opening is considered to be one of the most successful openings. That means by playing it, you are automatically maximizing your winning chances statistically.
  • Secondly, playing the English Opening can be a vital alternative for all 1.e4- and 1.d4-players who are tired of repeatedly entering the highly theoretical terrain of all the main lines Black can choose from.
  • Thirdly, the English opening leads to plenty of unforced variations. Direct contact between the pieces is often delayed in the opening and both sides often have a wide range of moves. Therefore, White can avoid premature simplifications, keep many pieces on the board and go for the full point.
  • Moreover, the English is fairly flexible and enables you to become a very versatile player. You can often transpose into other openings like the 1.d4-complex or the Reti Opening (1.Nf3). That said, you can start building your White repertoire by playing the English Opening exclusively and adding more and more variations step-by-step.
  • If you’re a 1.d4 player, the English Opening allows you to avoid a lot of unpleasant lines like the Slav Defense, the Nimzo-Indian or the Grunfeld Defense.
  • Thanks to the theoretical developments over the last years, the English Opening definitely carries a lot of theoretical bite in many lines. It is a common occurrence that club players try to develop naturally against the English Opening and soon find themselves in a strategically lost position. They lose the game without even understanding why they lost.
  • The English Opening is an opening which has been successfully used by the greatest players in the most important games in their life. Think of Garry Kasparov’s World Championship Match against Anatoly Karpov in 1987, where he had to win the last round with White in order not to lose his title. Think of Bobby Fischer who played it in the famous game six of his World Championship Match with Boris Spassky in 1972. Both Garry Kasparov and Bobby Fischer won these key games.

To start with, let’s go for a little journey through time and take a look at this inspirational game by the pioneer of this opening:

Staunton, Howard – Horwitz, Bernhard: London 1851

English Opening: Basics and Key Concepts

The English Opening: The Ultimate Guide To A Dynamic Chess Opening
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First of all, it is key to understand that, even with a long history, the English Opening is a hypermodern opening. White does not try to control the center early on with his pawns but spends some time fianchettoing the light-squared bishop. In many lines, White aims to control the center with his pieces, rather than his pawns.

Secondly, the English can often lead to complex strategic fights. White more relies on slow maneuvering than on a direct attack against Black’s army. Thus, it is even more important to be familiar with the most important strategical and tactical motifs.

However, at the same time, this does not mean that you don’t have to be familiar with any theory at all. Of course, there is also plenty of theory in the English Opening, but, in general, the character of the opening is a lot less forced.

The positional nature of the opening allows you to outplay your opponent by knowing key plans and ideas. If you’re willing to put in the work learning the English Opening, you’ll surely get rewarded.

Apart from that, learning the English Opening will definitely improve your positional and strategical understanding as well as your technical abilities.

English Opening: Most Important Variations

Generally speaking, Black has three main ways to play against the English Opening. He can go for a symmetrical setup with 1…c5, for a reversed Sicilian with 1…e5 or for other setups like a Slav-like setup with …c6 and …d5, a Queen’s Gambit-like setup with …Nf6, …e6, and …d5 or a King Indian Defense setup with …Nf6, …g6, …Bg7, …0-0 and …d6.

Let’s investigate them step-by-step:

The Reversed Sicilian (Dragon):

If Black plays …e5 on move 1, we reach a Sicilian Defense with colors reversed and an extra tempo for White.

In his excellent book “The Dynamic English – The aggressive player’s guide to a traditional chess opening”, the famous English GM Tony Kosten writes about this approach:

“It has often struck me as strange that so many players are happy to reply to 1.c4 with 1…e5 and yet are unwilling to play 1.e4 themselves. It appears very odd that they are happy to play the black side of a Reversed Sicilian and not the white side of a normal Sicilian, a whole tempo up.”

The Symmetrical English:

The Symmetrical English begins with 1.c4 c5. With this move, Black stops White from playing d2-d4, gaining space in the center and transposing to a 1.d4 opening.

Other Variations (Slav Setup, King’s Indian Setup, Queen’s Gambit Setup, Dutch Setup)

Opening Experts in the English Opening:

The English Opening: The Ultimate Guide To A Dynamic Chess OpeningIf you want to become an expert on your chess opening, it is a wise decision to regularly check the games of the world’s leading experts in the chess opening.

You can watch their approaches against different opening setups and become familiar with the latest trends, fashionable move orders or opening novelties. If you choose to play the English Opening, you have several opening experts to follow.

Nowadays, the biggest expert in the English Opening is most probably Levon Aronian, who frequently plays it against all the best players in the world.

The English Opening: The Ultimate Guide To A Dynamic Chess Opening
Click here to get instant access with 50% off.

Other strong players to follow are Magnus Carlsen, Hikaru Nakamura, Alexander Grischuk, and Vassily Ivanchuk.

Apart from these world-class players, GM Mihail Marin (who wrote three excellent repertoire books on the English Opening for the publishing house Quality Chess) is an expert.

Finally, Anatoly Karpov and Garry Kasparov frequently used the English Opening in the 80s and 90s. It’s instructive to study their games, too.

Greatest Games In The English Opening

Many great games have been played in the English Opening and it’s definitely worth studying them. Here is one of the greatest games in the English. You can play through it and simply enjoy it:

Garry Kasparov – Anatoly Karpov, Seville 1987

Conclusion – Master The English Opening

The English Opening: The Ultimate Guide To A Dynamic Chess Opening
Click here to get instant access with 50% off.

The English Opening is one of the best openings for club players, and you should consider giving it a try to expand your horizons.

Many great players including Bobby Fischer, Anatoly Karpov, Garry Kasparov, Vladimir Kramnik, Levon Aronian, and Magnus Carlsen have played this opening with great success.

In his comprehensive 8-hour Deep Dive course, GM Damian Lemos builds up your knowledge of this powerful opening weapon, demonstrating how to combat each of Black’s main variations in turn. After covering all reasonable setups for Black, GM Lemos shows you how these ideas play out in practice through the analysis of instructive games, making sure you’re always ready with the strongest reply! This is the course for anyone serious about adding the English Opening to their repertoire. Click here to get instant access with 50% off.

Other interesting articles for you:

If you are an iChess Club member, these in-depth video analyses on various lines of the English Opening should be of interest to you: 

  • Theoretical Developments in the variation after 1.c4 c5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5. Click here to watch the video and see the corresponding article.
  • Latest Ideas in the variation after 1.c4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.g3 d5. Click here to watch the video and see the corresponding article.
  • New Trends in the variation after  1.c4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.d4 cxd4 5.Nxd4. Click here to watch the video and see the corresponding article.

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2 comments on “The English Opening 1.c4: The Ultimate Guide

  1. fcbarcelonaforever says:

    this is by far the best tutorial you can find of Google for the English

    really nice how you can move the pieces yourself o many different openings without having to open new tabs!

    I visit this space everyday the English is a very fun opening and my favorite at the moment

    thank you for making this page!

  2. Garceo Segree says:

    It’s a very great tutorial.

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