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London System Opening Complete Guide

London System Opening Complete Guide

The London System (1.d4 d5 2.Bf4) is one of those chess openings you 100% should know how to play.

London System Opening 1.d4 d5 2.Bf4

Why?

Because it's sound, solid, and popular...

Which means that everybody is playing it nowadays.

Even the 5-time World Champion, Magnus Carlsen, is playing it.

The London System is easy to learn and allows you to almost always play under your own terms.

If you are interested in learning how to play it the right way, keep reading.

Which Are the First Moves of the London System?

The moves that define the London System are 1.d4 d5 2.Bf4, usually followed by e3, c3, and Nbd2 by White (diagram):

London System First Moves

This is the current way to play it, but you can also do 1.d4, 2.Nf3, and 3.Bf4 instead.

The move 2.Bf4 is preferred nowadays because it makes it harder for Black to avoid the London System.

Take a look at the video below to learn more about the London System general ideas:

This free preview is part of a longer course by IM Milovan Ratkovic on the London System.

Main Plans in the London System

The main plan for White when playing the London is to create a super-solid center and bulletproof general structure in general.

After this, one of the main themes is to create an outpost on the square e5 with the knight (diagram):

Main Plans in the London System

Another of White’s main plans in the London System is the thematic sacrifice on h7 when given the chance.

This tactic can be clearly seen in the famous game Kamsky vs Shankland in 2014:

Should You Play the London System?

That’s a question only you can answer, but we will give you some clues.

You should learn how to play the London System if you:

  • Prefer chess openings that require you to learn only a little amount of theory.
  • Enjoy playing solid openings.
  • Prefer to play closed positions rather than open positions.
  • Rather play positionally than tactically.
  • Like systems in which you can always play the same moves, which gives you the edge over your opponent.

In fact, the London System is so sound, that even the Super Grandmaster Ding Liren used it in one of his games against Ian Nepomniachtchi during the 2023 World Chess Championship match.

See the game below:

Ding Liren not only won that game with the London System, but he also became World Chess Champion a few days later.

The London System Structure Explained

The first thing that becomes obvious in the London is that the dark-squared bishop is freed immediately (diagram):

London System Structure

This means the bishop is active right away, instead of having to wait until the middlegame like in the Colle System in order to see some action.

Usually the c and e pawns are placed on the third rank, supporting the d4 pawn, which consolidates White’s center (diagram):

London System White center

The light-squared bishop will usually be placed on the d3 square and directly pointing to h7, although in some lines e2 is the most accurate option (diagram):

London System, light-squared bishop

Finally, the b knight typically goes to the d2 square, and White castles to complete its development (diagram):

London System, the b knight

Check out Milovan Ratkovic's full 10-hour course on the London System.

Main Lines in the London System

The main line in the London goes like this:

1. d4 d5 2. Bf4 Nf6 3. e3 c5 4. c3 Nc6 5. Nd2 Bf5 6. Ngf3 e6 (diagram):

London System Main Line

This is the most popular line among masters.

Of course, you can reach this same position in multiple ways.

The Jobava-Rapport System is another of the main lines in the London System.

Even though it’s considered an opening by itself, it shares too many similarities with the London.

The Jobava London System is defined by the moves 2.Nc3 and 3.Bf4 (diagram):

The Jobava London System

We’ll see it more in deep later in the article, but the main idea of the Jobava London is to quickly push e4 and gain space in the center.

Another interesting line in the London System you should know is when Black plays 3.Bf5 (diagram):

London System, Black plays 3.Bf5

The main continuation at Grandmaster level is 4.c4 e6 5.Nc3 Bb4 6.Bd3 (diagram):

London System, 4.c4 e6 5.Nc3 Bb4 6.Bd3 variation

However, even though this is an acceptable line, it won’t probably come up too much when you are playing the London System.

Black can also go for the kingside fianchetto with …g6 (diagram):

London System, the kingside fianchetto with …g6

Here, the main line is 3.e3 Bg7 4.h3 O-O 5.Nf3 d6 6.Be2 c5 7.c3 (diagram):

London System, 3.e3 Bg7 4.h3 O-O 5.Nf3 d6 6.Be2 c5 7.c3 variation

Finally, Black can choose to play a Slav setup with 3…c6 (diagram):

London System, Black plays a Slav setup with 3…c6

In this case, the main line goes like this: 1.d4 d5 2.Bf4 c6 3.e3 Bf5 4.Nf3 e6 5.c4 Bd6 6.Bg3 Nf6 7.Nc3 (diagram):

London System, 1.d4 d5 2.Bf4 c6 3.e3 Bf5 4.Nf3 e6 5.c4 Bd6 6.Bg3 Nf6 7.Nc3

London System vs the King’s Indian Defense

Black can choose to play an Indian setup, and as a London System player you need to be ready to face this.

1.d4 Nf6 2.Bf4 g6 3.e3 Bg7 4.Nf3 O-O 5.Be2 d6 6.h3 c5 7.c3 Qb6 8.Qb3 Be6 (diagram):

London System vs the King’s Indian Defense

Black is trying to force a King’s Indian Defense but White will certainly not allow it.

By playing c3, e3, and eventually Nbd2, White is clearly stating its intentions of sticking to the London System plans.

An alternative continuation at master level for the moves shown above is:

7…b6 8.O-O Bb7 9.Nbd2 Nbd7 10.a4 a6 11.Bh2 (diagram):

London System vs the King’s Indian Defense

11.Qb3 and 11.Qb1 have also shown good results for White.

White’s plan is to consolidate the center with e4 and Black can go for an exchange of pawns to open the c file and play on the queenside.

London System vs the Grunfeld Defense

In the Grunfeld Defense, Black also goes for the fianchetto with g6 but the main difference is that it’s followed by d5 instead of d6 (diagram):

London System vs the Grunfeld Defense

The game usually goes on like this:

1.d4 d5 2.Bf4 Nf6 3.e3 g6 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.Bd3 O-O 6.Nbd2 c5 7.c3 (diagram):

London System vs the Grunfeld Defense

Now Black has 3 main options:

  • 7…Nc6
  • 7…Qb6
  • 7…b6
The most played one is the first one, 7…Nc6, and the game might continue like this:

8.O-O Nd7 9.Bb5 Qb6 10.Qa4 (diagram):
London System vs the Grunfeld Defense Varitation

There is a game between Kan and Cherepkov in which the two masters played that exact line:

Another way of playing against the Grunfeld Defense with the London System is by doing an early h3 and Be2 (diagram):
London System vs the Grunfeld Defense Varitation

The London vs the Slav Defense

Black can also choose to play a Slav Defense vs the London, which typically would go like this:

1.d4 d5 2.Bf4 c6 3.e3 Bf5 4.c4 e6 5.Nc3 Nf6 6.Qb3 Qc8 7.Rc1 (diagram):

The London vs the Slav Defense

This is one of the main lines, with Black immediately moving its light-squared bishop to f5.

Black might also decide to play more aggressively by moving its bishop to g4, attacking the knight:

1.d4 d5 2.Bf4 c6 3.e3 Nf6 4.Bd3 Bg4 5.Ne2 (diagram):

The London vs the Slav Defense, 1.d4 d5 2.Bf4 c6 3.e3 Nf6 4.Bd3 Bg4 5.Ne2

The Rapport-Jobava System or Jobava London System

The Rapport-Jobava System was literally invented just a few years ago.

The Rapport-Jobava System or Jobava London System

But don’t be fooled by its young age.

This is an excellent way of taking Black out of their comfort zone.

The main line goes like this:

1.d4 Nf6 2.Nc3 d5 3.Bf4 e6 4.Nb5 Na6 5.e3 c6 6.Nc3 Nc7 (diagram):

The Rapport-Jobava System or Jobava London System variation

There are two main ideas for White:

  • To play an early e4 whenever possible.
  • To attack the c7 square with Nb5.
As we have seen at the beginning of this section, White played Nb5 threatening a fork.

Of course, if Black plays correctly that fork will never actually happen.

But the idea behind the threat is to force Black to play Na6.

After that, the knight will have to either go back to b8 or to c7.

None of these two options are ideal for black.

Other ways in which Black can respond to the Jobava-Rapport System is by playing:
  • 3…g6
  • 3…c6
  • 3…c5
  • 3…a6

If you want to learn more about the Rapport-Jobava System, here is the full course for you.

Best Ways to Counter the London System

Some chess openings are better suited than others to make London System players uncomfortable.

For example, if you know your opponent usually plays the London, you could use the following openings to avoid typical London System setups:

  • Benoni Defense (1.d4 c5)
    This move by Black really challenges White’s ability to force the London System. Black is challenging the center right away and White has to choose its next moves carefully. A possible way to get to a London by transposition is 1.d4 c5 2.c3 e6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Bf4 (diagram):

    London System, Benoni Defense
  • Dutch Defense (1.d4 f5)
    The Dutch Defense is a wise chess opening choice for Black if they are trying to avoid the London System. It doesn’t mean they are going to succeed at it, but the chances of White choosing another opening is high because it is not very common to see White playing the London System against the Dutch Defense. But it can happen and White has perfectly good chances of performing well. For instance, 1. d4 f5 2. Bf4 Nf6 3. e3 e6 4. Nf3 b6 5. Be2 Bb7 6. O-O (diagram):

    London System, Dutch Defense
  • Englund Gambit (1.d4 e5)
    The Englund Gambit is probably the most disrupting opening for London System players. The immediate …e5 means that there is going to be an early pawn exchange in the center, which makes it impossible to even transpose to a regular London System setup. There are, however, ways in which White can play a pseudo-London System, for instance, 1.d4 e5 2.e3 exd4 3.exd4 d5 4.Bf4 Nf6 5.Bd3 c5 6.c3 (diagram):

    London System, Englund Gambit

And then there are some openings that are very effective in annoying London players after they have already played 2.Bf4:

  • King’s Indian Defense (1.d4 Nf6 2.Bf4 g6)
    London System, King’s Indian Defense

    We have already reviewed some of the lines in the King’s Indian Defense, and we know that White can definitely play the London System against it. However, if Black wants to make the London player a little more uncomfortable, choosing the KID is smart.

  • Queen’s Indian Defense (1.d4 Nf6 2.Bf4 e6 3.e3 b6)
    London System, Queen’s Indian Defense

    Again, White will still be able to play the London System, but the Queen’s Indian Defense definitely makes it harder for White to stick to its plan.

  • Chigorin Defense (1.d4 d5 2.Bf4 Nc6)
    London System, Chigorin Defense

    Trust us, the Chigorin Defense is NOT something the typical London player will want to see played on the board. Actually, the Chigorin is something almost no one wants to face as White. It’s barely played and shakes things up immediately. So the Chigorin Defense is a good choice against the London System.

    If you want to learn a bit more about the Chigorin Defense, check out this free preview by IM Milovan Ratkovic:

    You can get the full Chigorin course here.

Notable Games

Thousands of games have been played in which the London System was the opening of choice of the players.

Some of those games are just awesome and very instructive.

Here is a selection of notable London System chess games for you:

Magnus Carlsen vs Hikaru Nakamura (blitz, 2017)

Gata Kamsky vs Vasyl Ivanchuk (2013)

Tigran V Petrosian vs Alexander Chistiakov (1954)

Gata Kamsky vs Sam Shankland (2014)

Conclusion

Are you ready to embark on the exciting London System?

It’s a chess opening that is solid, easy to learn, and full of exciting plans for White.

The London is perfect for those who want to minimize the study of opening theory.

It allows you to study and become an expert on an opening in just a few days.

Some of the best players in the world play or have played the London System, such as Magnus Carlsen, Gata Kamsky, Mamedyarov, and more!

Play the London System now and start winning more games as White!

Here is a course on the London System to get you started!

D02 Sub-variants:

Overview

Games on Database: 12628
Last Played: Sep 2023
Overall score:
34.7%35.1%30.2%

Played frequently by:

White  
Otto Dobos 52 games
Gata Kamsky 38 games
Olaf Heinzel 36 games
Black  
Maxim Matlakov 10 games
Irina Krush 10 games
Daniel Fridman 9 games

Possible continuations:

3... e6  4121
38.8 % 33.8 % 27.4 %
3... c5  3738
27.8 % 35.5 % 36.7 %
3... Bf5  2050
36.1 % 38.2 % 25.7 %
3... c6  1279
31.6 % 40.7 % 27.7 %
3... g6  663
31.5 % 35.1 % 33.3 %
3... Bg4  290
45.9 % 27.2 % 26.9 %
3... Nc6  287
60.6 % 17.1 % 22.3 %
3... Nbd7  105
39 % 20 % 41 %
3... Nh5  47
36.2 % 29.8 % 34 %
3... h6  16
62.5 % 18.8 % 18.8 %
3... b6  13
38.5 % 23.1 % 38.5 %
3... Ne4  8
37.5 % 37.5 % 25 %
3... a6  7
42.9 % 57.1 %
3... e5  2
100 %