The London System is a flexible opening which White can use virtually against any of Black’s setups. It starts with the moves 1.d4 and 2.Bf4.
This makes it the perfect choice for busy club players who prefer to understand key strategic and tactical ideas instead of having to memorize an endless number of theoretical variations.
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For a long time, the London System was considered to be a dry and boring opening, used by players who just wanted to get a playable position out of the opening.
In recent years, however, World Champion Magnus Carlsen and many other world class players have discovered plenty of new and spicy possibilities to make the London System a deadly opening.
In this video, a free preview of his full 14-hour in-depth course on the London System, the American grandmaster Ron W. Henley shows how the London system originated, and how it has evolved into the opening we know today.
By understanding the ideas and principles at the very core of the opening, you’ll be better equipped to formulate your own plans in your own games when your opponents go off-book, or when you just can’t remember theory.
In general, there are many nice attacking games in the London System from which we can learn a lot. GM Henley states that it is key to learn from such games.
If you want to play a new opening, it is key to study the classics and to get some ideas of the historical development. As GM Henley points out: “Those that don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” In the old games, you usually see a master playing against a weaker player and you can often see the attacking idea in a pure form.
History of the London System
The early history begins with James Mason, an Irish-born chess player and one of the best chess players of the 1880s. In the early years, the London System was known as the Mason Variation.
James Mason played it several times during the 1880s. In 1922, the British Chess Federation Congress was organized in London. It was won by the third World Champion Jose Raul Capablanca with an undefeated score of 13 points out of 15 games.
The opening which was previously named “Mason Variation” was quite popular in the tournament and as a result, became known as the “London System.”
White’s plan of playing 1.d4 2.Bf4, followed by e2-e3 and having the bishop developed “outside” the pawn chain is positionally motivated and very logical.
In these games, Black players usually replied in a classical way with …d5, …e6, …Nf6 and either …Be7 or …Bd6.
Once Black brings his dark-squared bishop to d6 to challenge White’s bishop on f4 (see the diagram on the left), White has three major possibilities:
- Exchanging bishops on d6
- Retreating the bishop to g3
- Leaving the bishop on f4
All three possibilities have their pros and cons and it depends on the concrete position which option is best. Generally speaking, the first option is the safest. White keeps his pawn structure intact and exchanges his nominally bad bishop.
Due to the fact, however, that the bishop is already outside White’s c3-d4-e3 pawn chain, this bishop is not simply a “bad” bishop. You should think twice before exchanging it.
The second option (retreating the bishop to g3) keeps the tension on the diagonal and allows Black to exchange bishops. One key idea of this retreat is that after …Bxg3 hxg3, the h-file opens and sometimes White can put pressure on Black’s position with his rook along the h-file.
The third option is the most committal choice. White gives Black the chance to create an imbalance by playing …Bxf4 exf4. In this structure, White has doubled pawns on the f-file, but also the half-open e-file and, most importantly, strong control of the important e5-square – a potential outpost for one of White’s knights.
In this structure, White often gets good control over the key central dark squares d4 and e5 (see the game Rubinstein – Tartakower, London 1922).
In addition, it has to be mentioned that White sometimes has a fourth option in removing his bishop from the h2-b8 diagonal by playing Bf4-g5, pinning the knight on f6.
If Black develops his bishop to e7 and goes for a setup with moves like …0-0, …Nbd7, …b6, …Bb7, White often has good prospects to launch an attack on the kingside.
He can move his knight to e5 and thus make room for the queen to come to the queenside via f3. Sometimes, White can even consider leaving his king on e1 and pushing his h-pawn up the board.
Not only is the h-pawn a potential attacking unit, but also the rook on h1, which can join the attack via the maneuver Rh1-h3-g3.
The position on the right illustrates White’s attacking chances on the kingside with a typical position White can achieve from the London System.
London System Reloaded
The London System has come a long way in recent years. New discoveries have turned it into a serious weapon, suitable for both positional and tactical players.
And when Magnus Carlsen starts playing it regularly, you know you’re in good company.
Now GM Ron Henley has put together a huge, 14-hour course that revisits his earlier work on the London System, bringing the theory bang up to date with recent games, novelties, and his own meticulous research.
Whether you’re new to the London or just want to go from “good” to “expert”, this course will make you a natural by taking you through the evolution of the opening, letting all the ideas and themes sink in until even the high-level moves become obvious. Click here to get instant access to the London System Reloaded with 50% off.
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