London System: A Steadfast Chess Opening

the london system a comprehensive guide featured image

The London System provides white with a safe, secure chess opening. This opening offers something both attacking and positional players will enjoy.

The amount of theory is significantly reduced because the London System is, as the name suggests, a system-based opening. 

One where your better understanding of the position is key to gaining an advantage. Especially in theoretically equal or unclear positions.

Don’t shy away from unclear positions. Use them to make it more challenging for your opponent at the board. 

Although the positions appear very simple at first glance, there are plenty of tactical opportunities for white. Especially when launching a kingside attack against black’s king!

Estimated reading time: 19 minutes

Why Choose the London System?

The London System is a solid, universal system by white which includes the moves d4, Nf3, Bf4, c3, and Nbd2. This is a safe opening for white to adopt against any defensive set-up by black.

London system white piece arrangement with the bishops on f4 and d3, knights on d2 and f3, and pawns on c3, d4,and e3.
The piece arrangement for white in the London System

Top grandmasters like Kamsky, Grachev, and even Magnus Carlsen have taken up this opening. This is in keeping with the trend towards chess openings based on ideas instead of complicated theoretical lines.

The is a sensible choice for people with little time to study openings or who like a safe, solid opening.

White isn’t looking to forcibly obtain an advantage in the London System. Instead, white is willing to respond to what black chooses to play.

This is a chess opening you must play consistently and gain a better understanding than your opponent of the typical middlegame positions. 

A deeper understanding of the position will often turn a small theoretical advantage into a considerable practical advantage.

There’s plenty of opportunity for attacking play later in the game. Learning the typical tactics of the London System will prove a wise investment of your time. 

Always be on the lookout for a mistake early on by your opponent, even in quiet openings. There are chances for white to score a quick victory if he’s alert to the opportunity.

Piece Play in the London System

The bishop on f4 is one of the pieces white must protect and avoid exchanging, even if it means withdrawing it to h2. The other bishop will get developed to e2 or d3 depending on Black’s opening choice.

London System Reloaded – Henley Method #2

There are exceptions to every chess rule, and in the London System, you need to understand when to play c3 or c4 and the correct time to play h3. These are crucial details to know.

The move c3 is often combined with Qb3, putting pressure on b7 and d5. Against a kingside fianchetto, white can opt for c4.

Be2 is the usual move if black plays …g6, and …Bg7. However, it can get developed with Bd3 if white wants to play the e4 advance. 

Bd3 is more commonly played when black meets 1.d4 with 1…d5. If black avoids playing …g6 white’s bishop on d3 can attack the h7 square.

Chess engines can prove a valuable aid in studying the openings. They can show you how to play or defend in an opening and help you find unusual moves to surprise your opponents. Learn more about them in this article.

The Solid …d5 and …e6 System by Black

Safe and sound isn’t a monopoly held by white in the London System. Black develops along classical lines and plays for control in the center.

1.d4 d5 2.Bf4 e6 3.e3 Bd6 4.Bxd6 Qxd6

solid d5 and e6 system

and now white can take a page out of Nimzovitch’s book

  1. Qg4 g6 6.Nd2 Nc6 7.c3 Nf6 8.Qg3
White is playing for a queenless middlegame where he has the better bishop.
White is playing for an edge after …Qxg3. White has the better bishop.

White will look to exchange queens on g3 opening the h-file. In this variation, white is playing with a slight edge thanks to his better bishop.

1.d5 d5 2.Bf4 Nf6 3.e3

london d5 and nf6
Black plays 2…Nf6

White supports his d-pawn and will soon play c3. After c3, if black plays …Qb6 white responds with Qb3.

3…Bf5 4.Nf3 e6 5.Nbd2 Bd6 6.Ne5 O-O 7.c3 c5 8.Be2 brings us to a typical London System position that offers equal chances to both sides.

london system 8.Be2
London System 8.Be2

A more active way for white to meet 3…Bf5 is 4.c4 with play on the queenside.

White doesn’t mind doubled b-pawns in exchange for play on the semi-open a-file and creating further weaknesses by pushing the b-pawn up the board.

Pushing the b-pawn is a good tactic because black hasn’t connected his rooks. This means the a-pawn is pinned.

1.d4 d5 2.Bf4 Nf6 3 e3 Bf5 4.c4 e6 5.Nc3 c6 6.Qb3 Qb6 7.c5 Qxb3 8.axb3 Nbd7 9.b4

london system 9.b4
London system 9.b4

Here is a miniature showing how dangerous this can be for black.

Rusev, Krasimir (2543) – Mitkov, Marjan (2398), 2016.12.08, 1-0

London System Slav Set-Up with 2…c6

1.d4 d5 2.Bf4 c6 3.Nf3 Qb6 4.Qc1

london slav system with 2...c6
London Slav system

Because black has only advanced the c-pawn one square instead of two, white can defend his b-pawn with Qc1. There is no risk of black opening the c-file soon.

And now 4…Bg4 is met with 5.Ne5 Bf5 6.e3.

london slav with ...bg4
London Slav with …Bg4

This is white’s standard reply to an early …Bg4 if the e-pawn is still on e2.

Once again, we reach a common London System position where white can choose to play for the center break or expand on the queenside.

Take a look at how Igor Stohl defeated an opponent rated 180 ELO higher.

Stohl, Igor (2540) – Shirov, Alexei (2720), 2017.08.15, 1-0

London System against the King’s Indian Defense

1.d4 Nf6 2.Bf4 g6 3.Nf3 Bg7 4.e3

London system King's Indian Defense
London system King’s Indian Defense

The King’s Indian Defense set-up is one of the best ways for black to meet the London System.

White is relying on his usual London System plusses of a position that’s slightly easier to play and reaching it risk-free.

It’s not unusual for black to make an error late in the game. The drawish natures of the positions often lead to a careless move.

When playing the London System, be vigilant for the entire game and seize your opportunity.

In the King’s Indian Defense against the London System, the pawn on g6 blocks the b1-h7 diagonal, while the d6-pawn restricts the bishop on f4.

What makes this defensive option appealing for black is he has three sound plans:

  • …Qe8 to support …e5,
  • the double fianchetto,
  • and the most popular …c5

The Natural …e5

White must be vigilant and not play the opening on auto-pilot. If black chooses the …e5 move, your only way to get an advantage is to play c4 and Nc3.

This is in place of the usual c3 and Nbd2. Now, if black advances with …e4, the knight can fall back to d2.

When black plays …b6, white can take advantage of black’s pieces being on the queenside to open the center and attack the black king.

1.d4 Nf6 2.Bf4 g6 3.Nf3 Bg7 4.e3 d6 5.Be2 O-O

london system kid 5...o o
London system King’s Indian Defense 5…O-O

5…Nh5 is met with the standard Bg5 and moving the knight from f3 to attack the black knight after …g5.

6.O-O Nbd7 7.h3 Qe8 8.c4 e5 9.Bh2

London system King's Indian Defense 9.Bh2
London system King’s Indian Defense 9.Bh2

If black advances with 9…e4, white can seek to expand on the queenside after Nd2. The plan is simply to push the b and c-pawns supported by the rooks and knights.

The following game shows how bad things get if black cannot activate the bishop on g7.

Zhang, Zhong (2649) – Nolte, Rolando (2489), 2018.03.22, 1-0

The Double-Fianchetto by Black

The double-fianchetto system is one of black best defenses to the London System. The bishop on b7 supports …Ne4.

1.d4 Nf6 2.Bf4 g6 3.e3 Bg7 4.Nf3 d6 5.Be2 O-O 6.O-O Nbd7 7.h3 b6 8.a4 a5 9.Nc3 Bb7 10.Bb5 with 11.Qe2 to follow

London system King's Indian Defense double fianchetto
London system King’s Indian Defense double fianchetto

Whenever black plays …b6, white should seek to exploit this slight weakness in black’s pawn structure with a4! Black will usually play …a5 preventing the pawn from advancing but conceding the b5 square.

Remember, white doesn’t have to advance his c-pawn. The move Nc3, heading to b5, is a sound plan.

Because black hasn’t played …c5, the d4-pawn does not need protection.

This is why it’s important not to play moves automatically in the opening.

1.d4 Nf6 2.Bf4 g6 3.e3 Bg7 4.Nf3 d6 5.Be2 O-O 6.h3 c5 7.c3 b6

King's Indian Defense variation with  ...c5 and ...b6
London system King’s Indian Defense with …c5 and …b6

8.O-O Bb7 9.Nbd2 Nbd7 10.a4 a6 11.Bh2

King's Indian Defense 11.Bh2
London system King’s Indian Defense 11.Bh2

Against this popular arrangement by black, white employs typical London System moves like Re1, Qb3, and Bh2.

In this variation, white often plays in the center and on the queenside.

One sound approach in the center is to play e4 or c4 to create the opportunity for d5. This splits the board and keeps black’s pieces on the queenside.

Creating a queen and bishop battery to attack f7 is a good strategy for white. The queen on b3 not only supports the bishop but strengthens white’s queenside play.

Take a look at what happens when two players rated over 2700 play the position after 11.Bh2

Vachier Lagrave, M. (2779) – Grischuk, A. (2766), 2020.02.02, 1-0

London System against the Queen’s Indian Defense

1.d4 Nf6 2.Bf4 e6 3.Nf3 b6 4.e3 Bb7 5.Bd3 Be7 6.h3 c5 7.c3 O-O 8.Nbd2 cxd4 9.exd4 d6 10.O-O Nbd7 11. Re1

Queen's Indian Defense variation 11.Re1
London system Queen’s Indian Defense 11.Re1

The Queen’s Indian Defense is often chosen by Nimzo-Indian Defense players facing the London System.

Black intends to keep the a8-h1 diagonal open for his bishop. He will often play …e5, after preparing it with …Re8, and …Bf8.

In this defensive setup, black will often exchange on d4. White can recapture with either the c or e-pawn.

If black captures early in the game with …cxd4, you can consider playing cxd4 and Nc3. White keeps the option of attacking with the e4-e5 advance and developing the knight to c3.

Once again, it’s essential to pay attention to black’s move order. Sometimes black will play …Be7 early.

Whenever you see …Be7 play h3 on the next move because you can no longer meet …Nh5 with Bg5.

These common themes in the London System attract players looking to reduce their opening theory workload.

White can play on the queenside by advancing his queenside pawns supported by Rc1 or safeguard his bishop with Bh2 and play Re1.

Here is Sergey Karjakin showing how effective the queenside expansion can be in creating a dangerous passed pawn.

Karjakin, Sergey (2756) – Leko, P. (2730), 2016.04.15, 1-0

The London System Against the Grunfeld Defense

1.d4 Nf6 2.Bf4 g6 3.e3 Bg7 4.Nf3 O-O 5.Be2 d5

london system grunfeld variation
London system Grunfeld variation

White has three options to choose from for move 6 in the Grunfeld Defense. These are

  • 6.Nbd2
  • 6.h3
  • 6.O-O

If black harasses the bishop with 6…Nh5 white can play 7.Be5 f6 8.Bg3 Nxg3 9.hxg3 and make effective use of the open h-file.

The various options for white are move 6 are very likely to transpose back to the mainline. Play can continue

6.O-O c5 7.c3 Nc6 8.Nbd2 Qb6 9.Qb3

Grunfeld variation 9.Qb3
London system Grunfeld variation 9.Qb3

If black chooses to exchange queens on b3, white will gain the half-open a-file and advance the b-pawn. That’s why black usually plays 9…c4.

Now white can play 10.Qa3 because there is no bishop on the f8-a3 diagonal to harass the queen. White will gain a slight edge after playing b3.

Instead of 8…Qb6, black can attack the bishop on f4 with 8…Nh5. Now play can unfold with 9.Bg5 h6 10.Bh4 g5 11.Ne1 – attacking the knight is a necessary intermediate move to prevent …Nxg3.

 Grunfeld variation 11.Ne1
London system Grunfeld variation 11.Ne1.

In the following game white shows how to make full use of having the bishop pair and goes an exchange up. White returns his extra material to enter a won pawn endgame.

Ilic, Zoran (2293) – Trkaljanov, Vladimir (2241), 2018.05.13, 1-0

London System against the Dutch Defense

Playing the London System against the Dutch Defense often leads to complex, open positions.

london system dutch variation starting position
London system Dutch variation starting position

The Dutch Defense is an aggressive, fighting defense, and white must be willing to take more risks than usual.

Active piece play is the key to winning for both sides.

White doesn’t need to fear …Nh5 or …Nd5 when playing the London System against the Dutch Defense. Any capture on f4 will leave white with a half-open e-file and a clamp on e5.

After the move …f5 black doesn’t want to open the e-file for white since the e6 square is weak. To develop, black will have to play …d6 at some point.

Black can start with 1…e6 offering to transpose into a French Defense and avoiding the Trompowsky.

Classical Dutch

1.d4 e6 2.Bf4 f5 3.e3 Nf6 4.Nf3 b6

london system classical dutch
London system Classical Dutch

When white hasn’t played g3, developing the bishop on b7 is a sound strategy by black.

5.Bd3 Bb7 6.Nbd2 Be7 7.h3 O-O 8.c3 Ne4 9.Qe2 d6 10. Rg1

london system classical dutch 10.rd1
London system Classical Dutch 10.Rd1

Whites’ intentions are clear.

Against the Classical Dutch, the move 7.h3 is played with the idea of a kingside pawn storm and not primarily to provide a safe haven for the bishop.

White often castles queenside and pushes his kingside pawns. This is the active play needed if black chooses the Dutch Defense.

Stonewall Dutch

1.d4 e6 2.Bf4 f5 3.e3 Nf6 4.Nf3 d5

london system stonewall dutch starting position
London system Stonewall Dutch

5.c3 is playable but white can gain a greater advantage with

5.c4 c6 6.Nc3 Be7 7.Bd3 O-O 8.Qc2 Ne4 9.g4!

stonewall dutch 9.g4
London system Stonewall Dutch 9.g4

Remember, there’s no need to move your bishop or exchange it if black develops with …Bd6.

Also, make sure you assess the position objectively and don’t blindly castle long. 

Black can develop several pieces on the queenside – Na6, Qa5, the bishop on e7 aims in this direction, as does the knight on e4.

9.g4 has obviously made O-O unattractive for white, but the white king isn’t in any danger and can always connect the rooks with Ke2!

Nyback, Tomi (2636) – Pridorozhni, Aleksei (2524), 2016.05.01, 1-0

The Leningrad Dutch

1.d4 f5 2.Bf4 Nf6 3.e3 d6 4.Nf3 g6

leningrad dutch starting position
London system Leningrad Dutch

5.Bc4 e6 6.h3 Nc6 7.g4 Qe7 8.gxf5 gxf5 9.Nc3 Nd8 10. Qe2

leningrad dutch 10.qe2
London system Leningrad Dutch 10.Qe2

Another approach for white is to play 7.Nc3 with Qd2 and O-O-O.

The Dutch Defense is a sound defense and you shouldn’t expect your aggressive approach to lead to an early victory.

Adopting an aggressive approach will ensure you reach positions that are easier for white to play. Defending against the initiative is always more challenging than playing with it.

Be alert to your opportunities because if black doesn’t defend well or is unfamiliar with the London System, you can score a quick victory.

London System against the Benoni

Against the London System, black can’t reach the standard Benoni positions because white doesn’t play the d5-advance.

1.d4 Nf6 2.Bf4 c5 3.e3 e6 4.Nf3 Qb6

london system benoni
London System Benoni

Once again, thinking outside the box helps white. The most common move is 5.Nc3, but 5.Na3 might be better because it controls c4 and still threatens Nb5.

5.Na3 cxd4 6.Nb5 Na6 7.exd4 d6 8.Nd2!

london system benoni 8.nd2
London system Benoni 8.Nd2

The only time it’s safe for black to capture on b2 is if he plays 3…Qb6, and 4…Qxb2. White can avoid these complications with 3.dxc5 or once again turn to 4.Na3?!

In Conclusion

When choosing your chess opening, a little self-knowledge goes a long way.

Even with a universal system with the London knowing your preferred chess style helps immensely

Because the London System caters to all chess styles knowing what chess positions you enjoy will guide you to specific variations.

Positional players cannot avoid tactics altogether but knowing this can help you choose quieter lines. 

This knowledge will help you work through the various options you have against the different defenses Black can play.

As with any chess opening, if you stick with it, the more rewarding it will prove. Invest the time, and you will reap many benefits. 

Act now! For a limited time Get 50% Off! 80/20 Tactics Multiplier London System and learn the tactics of the London System for both sides! You get 8 hours of London System tactics for Only $29.95!

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