The English Opening is a chess opening beginning with 1. c4


English Opening

Of all the openings that don’t begin by advancing the king’s pawn or the queen’s pawn, the English Opening is among the most popular.  White immediately grabs some central space and takes the d5 square under control.


How to Play the English Opening


Depending on how black proceeds, white may elect to transpose to a Queen’s Pawn Opening or, less frequently, a King’s Pawn Opening.  For example, after 1. c4 Nf6 2. Nc3 e6, white can elect to play 3. d4, transposing to a Queen’s Pawn Opening.

The focus of this article will be on lines that are unique to the English Opening and do not transpose to other systems.  Let’s take a look at three popular continuations:

  • Black grabs the center with 1…e5 (The “Reversed Sicilian”)
  • Black plays 1…c5 (The Symmetrical English)
  • Black prepares to play 2…d5 and challenge white in the center

1. c4 e5 – “The Reversed Sicilian”

Reversed Sicilian

At first this appears to be a Sicilian Defense with reversed colors, but the play often takes on a different nature from a Sicilian.  Black is less inclined to go for some of the sharpest, most double-edged continuations, where every move counts, in this opening than white usually is in the Sicilian Defense, because here white gets an extra move!

One of the main lines is 1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 Nf6 3. Nf3 Nc6 4. g3 Bb4 5. Bg2 0-0 6. 0-0 e4

English Opening e5 main line

At first it may look like black is overextending his e-pawn after 7. Ng5 – white is attacking this pawn 3 times!  But after 7…Bxc3 8. bxc3 Re8 black succeeds in defending it.

The position is highly imbalanced – white has a huge mass of central pawns, but also has doubled pawns, and black’s e-pawn can be a thorn in white’s side if not dealt with.  White also retains the pair of bishops, while black does not.  This could favor white if the position opens up.

1. c4 c5 – The Symmetrical English

Symmetrical English

This is a reliable way for black to meet the English Opening.  Black simply “copies” white’s first move and grabs some central space of his own!

It’s common in this line for the symmetry to continue for a few moves, as both sides have similar plans.  For example, 1. c4 c5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Nc3 Nc6 4. g3 g6 5. Bg2 Bg7 6. 0-0 0-0

Symmetrical English main line

This is a common moment for white to break the copycat game and put their first-move-advantage to good use!  White often plays 7. d4, being the first to create pawn tension.

Whether black exchanges on d4, or allows white’s queen’s pawn to remain in the center, white succeeds in getting a space advantage.  Of course, black’s position is quite solid, and black has no reason to fret either.

Black strikes back with …d5

Another option black has is to prepare to challenge white’s c-pawn by playing …d5

The immediate 1…d5?! Is not considered good. After 2. cxd5, black cannot recapture with a pawn. White will be able to kick the queen away while developing a piece after 2…Qxd5 3. Nc3, and unlike in the Scandinavian Defense (1. e4 d5), white even gets the long-term advantage of two central pawns against one to boot!

Instead, let’s consider 1. c4 e6 2. Nf3 d5

Black strikes with d5

White can, of course, play 3. d4 and transpose to a line of the Queen’s Gambit.  But white also has a couple ways to keep the game in strictly English Opening territory.

White often ignores black’s threat to the c-pawn by playing 3. g3.  If black plays 3…dxc4:, White can either rush to recover the pawn with 4. Qa4+, or simply continue development with 4. Bg2.  Just as in many Queen’s Pawn Openings, the temporary loss of the c-pawn in this manner is often not a concern for white – it will be difficult for black to hold onto this pawn for long without falling behind in development.

Alternatively, white can defend the c-pawn.  For example, after 1. c4 e6 2. Nf3 d5 3. b3 Nf6 4. g3 Be7 5. Bg2 0-0 6. 0-0 c5 7. Bb2:

English Opening b3

White’s playing a double-fianchetto system, where both bishops exert pressure on the center from afar.  White can later strike in the center with their yet-to-be-touched central pawns.


The English Opening is a well-regarded opening system for white.  The c-pawn does a good job of controlling central space, while allowing white to remain flexible in the deployment of their two central pawns.

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