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The English Opening

The English Opening

Besides the common opening moves 1.e4 and 1.d4, white's most popular move is 1.c4, known as the English opening. It is called the English because it was introduced and regularly played by the English unofficial World Chess Champion Howard Staunton in the 1840s and 1850s.

Position after white's first move 1. c4
English Opening 1.c4

Although it has its own style, the opening is very flexible and many times transposes into other opening lines. The objective is to apply pressure on the center d5 square without committing the queen pawn or the king pawn. Since it is a flank move, many players like the English opening because of its hypermodern style of play (using pieces from the sides along with minor pieces to apply pressure and control the center).

White's 2nd move depends on black's response. If black does not immediately try to control the center, white can fianchetto his bishop with 2. g3 3. Bg2 and start to apply even more pressure on the d5 square which gives white the control over the light squares. Many English games will start out very slow as both sides build up pressure around the center.

Understanding the English Opening

White has a variety of different ideas in each line. The general opinion is that the English opening is meant for positional and slow play. While it is somewhat true, historically, the English has been implemented by players with a very aggressive approach and amazing games have been produced. Garry Kasparov was a great specialist of the English opening and has played it several times in his career (even in his match against Karpov for the world crown).

This opening has always been challenging and unpleasant for black. The arising positions are often closed and lead to very little simplifications. We may say that it is no surprise that the middlegames are very complex and they demand good skills at strategy and understanding of the plans in each structure. The positional nature of the opening allows you to outplay your opponent by knowing key plans and ideas. Of course, there is also a plenty of theory in the English Opening that you have to be familiar with, however, the character of the opening is a lot less forced.

Most important variations of the English Opening

Against the English opening, there are many possible responses for black. He can go for a symmetrical setup with 1…c5, the Nimzo-English with 1…Nf6 followed by e6 and Bb4, the Four Knights variation with 1…e5 followed by Nc6 and Nf6 and the Reversed Dragon with 1…e5 followed by Nf6 and d5 immediately. Generally speaking, black can also go for Slav-like and King Indian Defense setups but here we will elaborate more on the four above mentioned responses

Symmetrical Defence: 1...c5

Symmetrical English is one of the most strategic openings. In order to successfully incorporate this line in the repertoire, white needs a very good understanding of the typical positional ideas and pawn structures.

1.c4 c5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.g3 g6 4.Bg2 Bg7 5.Nf3 Nf6 6.d4

English Opening, Symmetrical Defence

The main idea for white in this setup is to expand in the center right away and take advantage of the semi-open d-file in the future. Another positive aspect of this move is that it also gives the opportunity to decide whether white wants to continue pushing for the center or even develop a queenside attack depending on black's response.

6...cxd4 7.Nxd4 O-O 8.O-O Nxd4 9.Qxd4


In this position, we can notice the great power of white's light-quared bishop.

The important thing that white needs to have in mind is to control the center with pieces rather than the pawns, while using the pawns for support and at the same time building on the position. Black needs to be careful because the pawnstorm on the queenside is inevitable.

The Botvinnik Setup

Another line that White can choose to play against the Symmetrical Defense, which is equally as good as the previous one, is the Botvinnik setup.

1.c4 c5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.g3 g6 4.Bg2 Bg7 5.e4

English Opening, The Botvinnik Setup

White's main idea in this line is to create a solid center and develop a kingside attack. For the cost of blocking the bishop on g2, White has endless possibilities and a lot of flexibility building up the position on the kingside.

5...d6 6.Nge2 Nf6 7.d3 O-O 8.O-O a6 9.h3 !

Very important move in this line, not allowing black to play 9….Ng4 so our dark-squared bishop can have a nice outpost on e3 square.


As mentioned earlier, White has a lot of flexibility and has the ability to choose what kind of game he wants. Exchanging the dark-squared bishop, opening up the white-squared bishop with f4, e5 and even creating a kingside attack are just one of the options White can choose from. White is building up the experience in this opening while black does not face this line so often.

The Nimzo-English

This variation is a typical response from players who enter Nimzo-Indian setups as black against 1.d4. After moves:

1.c4 Nf6 2.Nc3 e6 3.Nf3 Bb4

English Opening, The Nimzo-English

White again has many options to choose from but we will focus on the main line which is:

4.Qc2

It gives White a possibility, when the piece is exchanged on c3, to not weaken his pawn structure and create a powerful queenside attack in the future starting with pawn moves a3 and b4.

4...O-O 5.a3 Bxc3 6.Qxc3 b6 7.e3 Bb7 8.Be2 c5 9.b4 !


Even though black goes for a soild setup, white can still challenge his pawn structure and continue with his plan to attack on the queenside.

Next few moves are obvious for white, putting his king to safety, developing his dark-squared bishop on b2 and connecting the rooks.

Black's defense is also limited due to mating ideas on the kingside with the queen and bishop, so it is safe to say that white is doing well in this position.

Anglo-Dutch Defense (1...f5)

If you are a Dutch Defense lover, you are going to enjoy this opening.

In the Anglo-Dutch, Black decides to play the Dutch Defense anyway, even though White's first move was not 1.d4.

1.c4 f5

English Opening, Anglo-Dutch Defense

This underappreciated gem from the world of chess is an aggressive, tactical opening that delivers surprise and style in every move.

This audacious strategy subverts the calm waters of traditional openings. As a bold, ambitious player, your message is clear – you're ready to challenge any expectation and overturn any preconceived strategy.

Unleashing the power of your f8-bishop, the Anglo-Dutch Defense grants you the unyielding control of the e4-square while simultaneously eyeing the king-side for a potential onslaught.

The unorthodox, asymmetrical pawn structure on your part promises a high-energy, dynamic middle game, riddled with potential for unpredictable tactical storms.

Though not a frequent guest in the halls of the most prestigious tournaments, the Anglo-Dutch Defense is a secret weapon in the hands of those daring enough to employ it.

A bold blend of the calm strategic understanding and thundering tactical vision, this opening is sure to leave your opponent gasping for breath in the whirlwind of audacity and sophistication that is the Anglo-Dutch Defense.

Caro-Kann Defensive System (1...c6)

Elegance meets endurance in the Caro-Kann Defense System (1...c6).

1.c4 c6

English Opening, Caro-Kann Defensive System

This stalwart reply in the English Opening is a favorite among players who favor resilience and strategic complexity.

The Caro-Kann serves a dual purpose – a bulwark against premature attacks while preparing for an orderly pawn advance with 2…d5.

1.c4 c6 2.Nf3 d5

English Opening, Caro-Kann Defensive System

This compact structure balances risk and reward, ensuring both king's safety and counterattacking opportunities.

Pawns shield the king, pieces harmoniously cooperate, and the queen's bishop finds its perfect diagonal after ...d5 and ...e6.

By choosing Caro-Kann, you're demonstrating sophistication, displaying both a shield and a sword.

It's the strategic choice for chess lovers who seek an ironclad defense that doesn't compromise offensive capability.

Steady, resilient, reliable – that's the Caro-Kann way.

Romanishin Gambit

The Romanishin Gambit is the spicy zest in the English Opening buffet.

Named after Ukrainian grandmaster Oleg Romanishin, it begins with 1.c4 Nf6 2.Nf3 e6 3.g3 a6 4.Bg2 b5.

1.c4 Nf6 2.Nf3 e6 3.g3 a6 4.Bg2 b5


In a dramatic plot twist, Black boldly offers up a pawn with 4…b5.

Not your typical opening gambit, it's like tossing a grenade into the serene chessboard, blowing open the possibilities.

The center suddenly feels like a dance floor at a roaring 1920s party.

The Romanishin Gambit is a high-octane, action-packed adventure, full of tactical skirmishes and dynamic counterplay.

It demands sharp tactics, strategic foresight, and a keen sense of danger. Buckle up, it's going to be a wild ride!

Agincourt Variation

The Agincourt Variation of the English Opening is a chess opening with a historical name, but contemporary appeal.

It starts with 1.c4 e6, hinting at a transposition into the Queen's Gambit, but with 2.Nf3 d5, it blossoms into its own unique flavor.

1.c4 e6 2.Nf3 d5

English Opening, Agincourt Variation

Named after the famous Battle of Agincourt, it's more about strategic maneuvering than frontal assault.

Unlike its historical counterpart, this variation doesn't require longbows; instead, careful pawn structure and strategic piece development take center stage.

Black seeks to challenge White's control over the d4 square, and the game often evolves into a sophisticated ballet of knights and bishops, all dancing around the tension in the center.

The Agincourt Variation – it's less a battle, more a game of chess, but equally fascinating!

Wimpey System

Meet the Wimpey System, an unassuming yet intriguing variation of the English Opening.

Opening with 1.c4 and followed by an early b3 and e3, it may not seem flashy at first glance, but don't be fooled!

1.c4 e6 2.Nf3 d5 3.b3 Nf6 4.Bb2 c5 5.e3


This system allows for a flexible and solid pawn structure, providing the player with a safe and stable position while keeping the center fluid.

This setup leaves room for a wide array of middlegame strategies.

The Wimpey System isn't a wild roller-coaster ride; it's more like a clever riddle, waiting for an astute player to uncover its mysteries.

English Orangutan

Brace yourself for the English Orangutan, an idiosyncratic cousin of the Polish Orangutan in the English Opening family.

This quirky line springs into action with 1.c4 Nf6 2.b4, immediately bringing a twinge of asymmetry and surprise to the chessboard.

1.c4 Nf6 2.b4

English Opening, Orangutan Variation

Much like its namesake, the English Orangutan is an eccentric, agile, and unpredictable beast, swinging from the b-file and challenging the calm dynamics of the opening phase.

It's an immediate bid to unsettle the opponent, disrupt orthodox plans, and create a landscape where creativity reigns supreme.

The English Orangutan isn't your standard opening; it's a quirk-filled journey full of tactical banana peels and strategic vines – a chess jungle, if you will.

Anglo-Gruenfeld

Here's to the Anglo-Gruenfeld, a hybrid creation of the English Opening, giving a head nod to its Gruenfeld Defense cousin.

Beginning with the moves 1.c4 Nf6 2.Nc3 d5, it captures the spirit of the Gruenfeld Defense while maintaining the English Opening's flexibility.

1.c4 Nf6 2.Nc3 d5

English Opening, Anglo-Gruenfeld

Unlike its parent openings, the Anglo-Gruenfeld seeks to provoke an early confrontation in the center.

The characteristic d5 thrust, backed by the knight on f6, is a daring challenge to White's control of the central squares.

Black is prepared to enter a skirmish, poised to undermine White's pawn center, if it dares to grow ambitious.

The Anglo-Gruenfeld is like a clever detective story, filled with plot twists and tactical clues, where the mystery only deepens with each move.

Kramnik-Shirov Counterattack

The Kramnik-Shirov Counterattack is a fascinating subplot in the tale of the English Opening.

It shakes things up right from the get-go with 1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Bb4.

1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Bb4

English Opening, Kramnik-Shirov Counterattack

This daring opening, championed by chess maestros Vladimir Kramnik and Alexei Shirov, challenges traditional opening norms.

Instead of quietly developing, Black boldly places the bishop on b4, aiming to disrupt White's harmonious development.

This early bishop sortie isn't just a provocative move, it's a strategic dare: “Let's play an exciting game!”

The Kramnik-Shirov Counterattack serves a chess cocktail of dynamic piece play, potential pinning motifs, and unusual pawn structures.

It's less of a quiet chat and more of a lively debate on the chessboard – engaging, thought-provoking, and thoroughly entertaining.

The Four Knights

The Four Knights of the English opening is one of the variations of the Reverse Sicilian and is created after the moves:

1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.Nf3 Nf6

The Four Knights

White can either go for 4.e3, immediately playing d4 on the next move, attacking the center, or choose to play in a calm manner, by pushing 4.g3.

4.g3


Developing the light-squared bishop first and castling. Both ideas are solid and give white a lot of flexibility with development and positional play, but here, we will look at the kingside fianchetto line as it is frequently played and gives white maybe more options, while he waits for black to reveal his ideas first. 4...d5


One of the main moves in this line for black that provides him quick development while attacking the center. 5.cxd5 Nxd5 6.Bg2 Nb6 7.O-O Be7 8.d3 O-O 9.a3 !


While engine gives an equal position, white needs to remember the main ideas of the English opening. With good development, patient and steady play, white does not have weaknesses in this line and it is difficult for black to create targets. White can still go for a queenside attack, connecting the rooks and taking advantage of the semi-open c-file.

Reversed Dragon: 1...e5

1.c4 e5 2.g3 Nf6 3.Bg2 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.Nc3 Nb6 6.Nf3 Nc6 7.O-O Be7


We've reached a position which can arise from the Accelerated Dragon or the normal Sicilian Dragon (if White continues to play d3).

Here, white is up a tempo and even has some additional ideas to get an edge with moves like 8.a4!? or 8.Rb1!? Of course, White can also play the main moves 8.d3 and 8.a3.

This variation also shows how solid white's position seems to be and that the ideas are crossing each other throughout the opening, regardless of how black wants to respond.

Illustrative Games In The English Opening




What now?

Explore the different continuations with the Chess Opening Explorer or search our database for more games on the English Opening.

Overview

Games on Database: 259290
Last Played: Apr 2024
Overall score:
37.8% 34.4% 27.8%

Played frequently by:

White  
Wolfgang Uhlmann 1061 games
Normunds Miezis 964 games
Viktor Korchnoi 661 games
Black  
Wolfgang Uhlmann 182 games
Viktor Korchnoi 175 games
Ivan Farago 174 games

Possible continuations:

1... Nf6  79656
39.1 % 33.8 % 27.1 %
1... e5  58725
38.4 % 31.3 % 30.4 %
1... e6  34961
36.7 % 37.9 % 25.4 %
1... c5  30591
37 % 38.1 % 24.9 %
1... g6  20439
33.3 % 34.7 % 32.1 %
1... c6  18066
36.6 % 38.9 % 24.5 %
1... f5  8828
39.2 % 29.9 % 30.8 %
1... b6  3779
35 % 30.6 % 34.4 %
1... d6  2478
41.3 % 27.1 % 31.6 %
1... Nc6  1038
46.6 % 24.7 % 28.7 %
1... d5  489
58.9 % 16.8 % 24.3 %
1... g5  115
44.3 % 20 % 35.7 %
1... b5  53
43.4 % 15.1 % 41.5 %
1... a6  32
50 % 18.8 % 31.3 %
1... a5  12
58.3 % 33.3 %
1... Na6  12
25 % 41.7 % 33.3 %
1... f6  10
50 % 40 %
1... h6  4
75 % 25 %
1... h5  2
50 % 50 %