Updated the how to play the London System section to be more clear and easier to understand. Added a complete and proper introduction. Also added references throughout the article with links that will give you more information on the particular topic.
The London System has become increasingly popular in recent years and for good reason. It’s a “system” opening, meaning it can be played against many different opening lines by the opposing player. It follows the opening principles of Chess nicely and is seen played by all rating levels from amateurs to 2700 FIDE rated Super Grandmasters and even the current World Champion Magnus Carlsen.
Many things have changed in chess over the past decade, and the London System has endured as a historical series of openings that is still solid against even the top Grandmasters. People still tend to underestimate it and can be highly deceptive with flexible breathing room to gain a tactical advantage.
This line became popular on the chess scene during a London Tournament in 1922 as a viable method against the hypermodern approach. Some criticize it for being an older and boring approach to chess, but if you listen to your grandfather and try it out then you’ll find that the old ways can sometimes be the safest in an increasingly aggressive chess metagame. Don’t be deceived by it because it can lead to some highly threatening attacks that most people won’t expect. It establishes a strong central influence right out of the gate and doesn’t require much study to start implementing in your games.
The earliest known history began with James Mason, and it was originally known as the Mason Variation as he played it a few times during the 1880s. Later, Jose Raul Capablanca was the player that popularized it with multiple victories in the London Tournament mentioned earlier. This is how the term “London System” came to being and it has been known by this name ever since.
Before getting started with this opening, this video is highly recommended. It will give you a solid foundation of the London System.
How To Play The London System Opening
The London System is referenced as an opening played with the White pieces, however it could be played with the Black pieces as well. These steps are in order of sequence.
The London system starts with the classic queen’s pawn opening with D4 and then D5 where both white and black are controlling the center equally and it’s up to white to initiate the development.
Both the F3 and F6 knights come into play on the same side and we currently have a mirrored board with equal influence.
This is the defining move of the London system where white boldly places the bishop on f4 and takes control of the center with a bold statement that signifies the London System. Black needs to stay on their toes because it has been reliably executed at the highest level of tournament play with solid results. It looks rather threatening to have both the knight and bishop stacked like that with tremendous influence over the center and the King’s side.
With the London system, white has a clear scheme of development in mind that seeks to stick to the game plan of developing the minor pieces quickly and exercising control over the center. It is important to stick to your plan if you decide to play this system no matter what black plays and you will find it still produces favorable results. The most common response of black is to develop a simplistic approach in development against white and will try to counter this strategy with sound fundamentals. Black will often challenge the intimidating and powerful Bf4 move with their own Bd6 to alleviate the pressure.
It’s just simply too much of a central threat to leave unaddressed. White has a few options from here and the first is to exchange the bishop on d6, retreat the bishop to d3 as a preservation move, or simply continuing development and leaving the bishop on f4. Most experienced players playing this system as white choose to simply exchange the bishops as it is generally seen as the safest route. The second option will keep up the tension on the diagonal, and the third will give black a chance to create an imbalance in their favor. There’s always the possibility that black will attack white’s bishop on f4 with Nf6-h5. An option is to leave the bishop here and let black take it to recapture the pawn and take control of the important e5 square.
This video tutorial by GothamChess is an excellent introduction to this opening.
One of the great benefits and strengths of this system is that you have some solid lines and structures that can limit black in finding active play. This can be incredibly effective at stonewalling their tactics and make you feel very secure overall without worrying about imminent threats.
It is extremely difficult for black to avoid this opening and even the best players will struggle against its ironclad resilience against retaliation. It is a very natural way to transition into a sound middle game without worrying about messing up significantly with complex variables.
You will find that it is a satisfying opening on all levels with a comfort level that serves white well. It’s very limiting for black and is great if you like to have control over the match without a sweat. The middle game will lead to some potentially sharp aggressive attacks while leaving black in a state of panic with little opportunity for an active position.
One of the notable weaknesses to consider is that you won’t have the opportunity to attack black right out of the gate. This means that you might have to meander around a bit to position your pieces properly. However, this is worth the sacrifice if you don’t mind a slower and more patient style of game.
The London System is a defensive opening, so don’t expect to gain a significant advantage immediately when playing. It is commonly known as the “Old Man system” because of the reserved nature of the opening. This doesn’t mean you won’t have the opportunity later when things open up. In fact, the old cliche, “Slow and steady wins the race” comes to mind and should be considered when playing this system. You will bide your time when playing this system and black can’t do much about the strong central position that’s solidified from the beginning. Focus on putting your pieces in the best possible position and then you’ll have the opportunity for sharp lines later on.
System variation with g6
In this variation, the Bishop is safely fianchettoed on g7, the Knight moves to f6, and the pawn to d6. After black effectively develops their pieces and castles, they will want to initiate a pawn break with perhaps c7-c5 or e7-e5. This is where you move a pawn to free up the position and feel less cramped.
System variation with e6-no c5
c3 isn’t played here and instead of fianchettoing the bishop, black will move it to e7 or d6 squares. This is considered to be a more solid and modest play for black respectively. It’s a great variation for quiet and reserved players, and in chess, your personality will reflect how you play.
System variation with e6-c5
The general strategy of this variation for black is for them to set up a counter-attack where a pawn break is initiated in the center. This is often seen as one of the most reliable methods for addressing the London system and gives black a fighting chance.
Frequently Asked Questions
Should beginners use the London system?
The London system is highly accessible to players of all skill levels and it’s an excellent idea to study it for future use. Be aware of black’s counter-attack strategy though and remember they still have an entire army to play after they thwart your opening. It doesn’t require much study to start using, but to execute an attack will take more finesse and you might stagnate at first. Stay patient and look for weaknesses in your opponent’s position by surveying and studying the board.
Is it a reliable system to implement?
Many people have criticized the London System over the years and have attempted to dismantle it simply because they see it as a boring way to play chess. However, when the position starts to open up it actually leads to some exciting lines. It’s utilized by the current world champion Magnus Carlsen in serious tournament play so that should be enough evidence it is a reliable and solid system to play.
Is this system used at the top level?
Grandmasters are still using this system to this very day after taking a beating over the last century. Any system that has been put to the test for this lengthy period of time and stood strong is worth playing and studying. It’s clearly very solid for white, and continues to give the top black players a difficult time. This is why you will see many implement the reliable pawn break as black’s response for a no-nonsense approach to dismantling it.
In closing, if you haven’t tried playing the London System yet, give it a few tries. I was rated 800 when I learned the London and I went to 950 within two days playing only the London. It’s not a complicated opening and is easy to practice. Your main strategy will be organizing an attack with the Bishop, Rook, and Queen towards the side your opponent castles on.