The London System is a Queen’s Pawn Opening where white develops the dark-squared bishop to f4 early on. A typical move order is 1. d4 d5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Bf4
Like other “System Openings,” white avoids early pawn tension and opts for an easy-to-play set-up that can be used against a wide variety of black responses. White simply develops the bishop actively before playing e3 and c3, and then white can develop his light-squared bishop and get castled.
It’s easy to see the appeal of the London System – white can achieve harmonious piece development against almost anything black throws at him! The simplicity of this set-up greatly reduces the amount of opening theory that the player with white has to memorize (when compared with, say, the Queen’s Gambit or a King’s Pawn Opening)
Let’s take a look at how the game can progress:
Let’s consider the position after 1. d4 d5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Bf4 c5 4. e3 Nc6 5. c3 e6 6. Bd3 Be7 7. Nbd2 0-0 8. h3 b6 9. 0-0 Bb7 10. Qe2
This is a good illustration of white’s ideal set-up in the London System. White has developed all minor pieces harmoniously and connected their rooks, and is finally ready to begin active operations in the middlegame!
White has a couple plans here. One is to try to play for e4 (possibly prepared with Rfe1), trying to open the center. Another is to play Ne5, possibly followed up with f4 at some point, aiming for a kingside attack. An example of white generating an attack from this set-up is shown in the video above!
Black also has a more active way to take on the London System and force white to deviate from his pre-planned ten move sequence of development. 1. d4 d5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Bf4 c5 4. e3 Nc6 5. c3 Qb6
White must deal with the undefended b2 pawn.
The main line continues 6. Qb3 c4. Black is not afraid of the doubled pawns, because after 7. Qxb6 axb6, black will be able to advance this pawn to b4 and exchange it off!
For example, after 8. Nbd2 b5 9. a3?!
Black is still in time to play 9…b4!, exploting the pin on the a-file and ridding himself of this weak doubled pawn.
Black might later enlist the help of the other b pawn to pry open lines on the queenside as well, where black has a space advantage. After white finishes development, white will often play for a central strike with e4. With the center being locked up, the game is likely to develop slowly.
White can also employ the London against other black set-ups besides 1…d5. For example, 1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3 g6 3. Bf4 Bg7 4. e3 0-0
Without the rigid pawn center, black has some additional options for countering the London System. For example, black might later prepare …d6 and …e5, blunting white’s bishop and kicking it away with tempo.
For this reason, the London isn’t as popular against non-…d5 set-ups from black, but it remains a viable option. White can harmoniously develop their pieces, and can always provide a retreat square for this bishop with h3 if needed (allowing a later Bh2). Both sides retain a great deal of flexibility.
1. d4 d5 2. Bf4 Nf6 3. Nc3
I wanted to mention this tricky sideline of the London System before we wrap up, as I almost for a trap in this line in a tournament once!
At first, it looks anti-positional for white to block in the c-pawn in a Queen’s Pawn Opening, as this pawn can often be very helpful on c3 or c4. But this knight may help white to play e4 at some point early on, and also sets a trap if black plays the popular set-up with 3…c5
After 4. e3, black can go very wrong by playing the very natural 4…Nc6?, after which 5. Nb5! is nearly winning for white.
Black is left without a good way to defend the c7 square. 5…e5 has to be tried, but this is far from an ideal pawn sacrifice.
Instead the main line has become 4…cxd4 5. exd4 a6!
It’s not often correct to play a move like this in the opening instead of continuing with your piece development, but in this line it’s worth it for black to prevent white’s pieces from using the b5 square.
This move highlights the downsides of white’s knight being on c3. In rigid d4/d5 pawn structures (with no pawn tension and with neither player’s d-pawn being an isolated pawn), a knight on c3 is often misplaced. Black’s pawns restrict this knight very well!
The London System is an easy-to-learn opening that promises white a comfortable game without much effort.
The appeal of such a system is obvious, but I generally don’t recommend the London to developing chess players. If you play this opening, you’ll likely see the same sorts of middlegames and pawn structures again and again, and variety is important when developing your chess intuition and knowledge!
That said, if you want the surest possible path to a comfortable middlegame, the London System might be for you.
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