The London System is a Queen’s Pawn Opening, where the setup is characterized by the triangle formation of the pawns on d4, e3, and c4 and the bishop on f4, which is outside the pawn chain. A standard way to achieve this setup would be 1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Bf4 or 1.d4 d5 2.Bf4 Nf6 3.e3 c5 4.c3. This opening system is regarded as one of the most solid and flexible setups for white.
The origins of the name “London System” can be traced back to its notable presence in the prestigious London tournament of 1922, where it featured prominently in seven games, including those played by renowned chess players such as José Raúl Capablanca, Alexander Alekhine, and Akiba Rubinstein. Magnus Carlsen, the former World Chess Champion, also frequently employs the London Opening in faster time controls like Rapid and Blitz.
- Winning percentages on both sides
- Main Ideas
- London System Theory
- Main Line (Accelerated London System): 2.Bf4 Nf6 3.e3 c5 4.c3
- King’s Indian Variation: 1.d4 Nf6 2.Bf4 g6 3.e3 Bg7
- Rapport-Jobava System: 1…Nf6 2.Nc3 d5 3.Bf4
- Putting pressure on d4: 1…Nf6 2.Bf4 c5
- Common Traps in London Opening
- Trap №1
- Trap №2
- Pros and Cons of playing the London System Opening
Winning percentages on both sides
|Win for white
|Win for black
The London System offers a relatively straightforward learning experience, as it can be played against a wide range of opponents’ moves. Basically, regardless of what black does, white can almost always achieve the thematic London System Setup with the pawn chain on d4, c3 and e3. While this pawn structure provides white a solid structure that is hard to break, the opening also presents attacking patterns that are easy to learn. All of these factors contribute to the London System Opening being an appealing choice for players at all levels.
We can speak of three stages of achieving the London System: the first step is to get the bishop out to the f4 square so it is not stuck behind the pawn chain. Next, close the pawn chain with e3 and then c3. Finally, white ideally wants to get Nbd2-Bd3. Such placement of the minor pieces is typically followed by Qe2 and Re1 in order to serve white’s one of the main ideas in this opening: the central break with e4. Another active idea for white revolves around the occupation of the e5 square by the knight with the thematic Ne5, followed by f4 sometimes. Due to the control of the dark squares and space advantage, white can transfer other pieces like the queen or rook to the kingside for a dangerous attack.
London System Theory
The theory of the London Opening focuses more on the setup than the precise move orders, resulting in frequent transpositions between variations. There are two main move orders to achieve the London Setup: 1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Bf4 or 1.d4 d5 2.Bf4 Nf6 3.e3 c5 4.c3. The latter one with 2.Bf4 is called the Accelerated London System and is usually preferred over 2.Nf3 due to the difference in finesses. Alternatively, white can integrate an idea from Chigorin Defense and play the Rapport-Jobava System, named after Richard Rapport vs Baadur Jobava: 1.d4 Nf6 2.Nc3 d5 3.Bf4. Since white does not pose any questions or major challenges to black in the opening phase, black has the flexibility to choose a counter-system freely. For example, black can go for the King’s Indian Setup with 1.d4 Nf6 2.Bf4 g6 3.e3 Bg7 4.Nf3 0-0 5.Be2 d6. Instead of developing calmly, black can also put early pressure on the d4 with 1.d4 Nf6 2.Bf4 c5, without giving white time to complete the thematic pawn chain setup of the London System.
Main Line (Accelerated London System): 2.Bf4 Nf6 3.e3 c5 4.c3
The classical way of playing the London System is to start with 1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Bf4. By playing 2.Nf3, white does not give away the cards, as they are not committed to any system yet. But at the same time, this move delays the process of reaching the core setup of the London Opening, which might yield potential issues in certain lines. That tempo is better spent on Nd2 instead of Nf3, as the knight on f3 is not an essential part of the London setup. An example line that demonstrates the issues with 2.Nf3 is as follows: 1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Bf4 c5 4.e3 Nc6 (Nf3 also allows 4…Bg4, pinning the knight) 5.c3 Qb6, hitting the undefended pawn on b2, 6.Qb3 c4 7.Qc2 and now black can play the annoying 7…Bf5 and white’s queen is forced to retreat 8.Qc1, as 8.Qxf5 Qxb2 wins the rook.
The mainline of Accelerated London System with 2.Bf4 avoids black’s tactical idea with …Bf5 as after 1.d4 d5 2.Bf4 Nf6 3.e3 c5 4.c3 Nc6 5.Nd2 Qb6 6.Qb3 c4 7.Qc2 Bf5?? white can simply capture the bishop 8.Qxf5. Here we can see the main difference between 2.Nf3 and 2.Bf4: Nd2 creates a room for the rook to escape the queen’s attack after …Qxb2. So instead of 5…Qb6, black will usually play either 5…e6 to continue kingside development or 5…Bf5 to prevent white from playing Bd3. In the case of 5….e6, white can comfortably follow the plan of central break with e4: 6. Ngf3 Bd6 7.Bg3 0-0 8. Bd3 b6 9.Qe2 Bb7 10.e4 and white threatens to fork with e5 next. This position is an example of an ideal setup for white in the London Opening.
However, 5…Bf5 gives black better chances to equalize the position, sometimes even getting a slight advantage: 6.Qb3 attacking the undefended b7 pawn, 6…Qd7 7.Ngf3 c4 8.Qd1 e6 9.Be2 b5, black is seeking counterplay on the queenside with …a5 and …b4, 10.0-0 Bd6 11.Ne5 Qc7 with a balanced position for both sides. White will try to make progress on the kingside, while black will try to create weaknesses with an expansion on the queenside in order to undermine white’s pawn chain.
King’s Indian Variation: 1.d4 Nf6 2.Bf4 g6 3.e3 Bg7
An effective option against the London System for black is to aim for the King’s Indian setup: 1.d4 Nf6 2.Bf4 g6 3.e3 Bg7 4.Nf3 0-0 5.Be2 d6. Black’s last move, …d6 not only prepares a pawn break in the center with …e5 later on but also threatens …Nh5 with the idea to exchange white’s powerful dark-square bishop as …d6 is preventing Be5 now. Therefore, white will play 6.h3 to make room for the bishop. 6….c5 is a thematic idea to seek counterplay in the King’s Indian Setup. After 7.c3 Qb6 8.Qb3 black can harass white’s queen with 8…Be6 since there is no pawn on d5 now. 9.Qxb6 ruins the pawn structure of black’s due to doubled pawns, but it also opens the a-file for black’s rook. After 12.a3 the position is relatively quiet.
It is possible for white to play more aggressively against black’s Kings Indian structure: 1.d4 Nf6 2.Bf4 g6 3.Nc3. The idea is to gain control in the center with e4, as black has not played d5. If black insists on continuing with the usual fianchetto setup and ignores white’s active development, white gets comfortable attacking opportunities: 3…Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.Qd2, with the intention to castle queenside as well as exchange black’s main defender of the black king with Bh6. 5…0-0 6.0-0-0 c6 7.Bh6 b5 8.f3 Qa5 and we get a position reminiscent of the Pirc Defense, but in this version, white’s attack is more dangerous. So, it is best for black to not allow 4.e4 at all and play 3…d5 instead.
Rapport-Jobava System: 1…Nf6 2.Nc3 d5 3.Bf4
In the Jobava-Rapport System, regardless of what black does, white develops with Nc3 (instead of pawn c3) and Bf4, and the system is a relatively more aggressive approach than the standard variation of the London System. It not only avoids main line theory but gives white good attacking chances; for example, if black is not careful, c7 square might be a target after Nb5: 1…Nf6 2.Nc3 d5 3.Bf4 Nc6? 4.Nb5 and black loses a pawn. But the major idea of Nc3 is not only to threaten Nb5, but also to support e4 after f3 to control the center in the future. So it is a logical option for black to play 3…Bf5 and after 4.f3 e6 5.g4 Bg6 6.h4 h5 7.g5 Nfd7, white can now realize his goal to play 8.e4. White has some activity and control in the center but has weakened his kingside significantly, so the game can still go in any direction.
But since the knight on c3 is in the way of the c-pawn, black might try to exploit this by trying to challenge white’s pawn chain directly: 3…c5 4.e3 exd4 5. exd4 a6, preventing Nb5, 6.Nf3 Nc6 7.Ne5 Bd7 8.Be2 e6 9.0-0 Qb6, hitting both d4 and b2, so 10.Nxc6 Bxc6 11.Rb1 with a relatively balanced position for both sides.
Putting pressure on d4: 1…Nf6 2.Bf4 c5
Black can even accelerate the process of striking at the center by playing 1.d4 Nf6 2.Bf4 c5 without having to wait for Nc3 or c3 by white. With 2…c5, black not only puts pressure on the d4 and the so-called “London pawn triangle” but also enables …Qb6 to exploit white’s early development of the bishop, which leaves the pawn on b2 undefended. 3.e3 Qb6. Instead of defending the b2, white can seek counterplay with 4.Nc3 because now, after 4…Qxb2 5.Nb5 becomes something to deal with for black. Therefore, 4…d6 or 4…a6 is necessary to prevent these tactical ideas. 4…d6 closes the diagonal for white’s bishop. Standard continuation is 5.Bb5 Bd7 6.a4 a6 7.a5 Qc7 8.Bxd7 Nbxd7. Now white can try to gain space in the center with 9.d5 g6 10.e4 Bg7.
We can see that 2…c5 structurally can lead to Benoni Defense-type positions. If white prefers, instead of sticking to the London Setup, they can force this structural transposition by playing 3.d5 as well.
Common Traps in London Opening
1.d4 Nf6 2.Bf4 e6 3.c3 c5 4.e3 d5 5.Nd2 Nc6 6.Ngf3 Bd6 7.Bg3 0-0 8.Bd3 Re8, with the idea to support …e5 break, 9.Ne5 9…Qc7 10.f4, it is easy to blunder with the natural-looking move 10…Nd7, which aims to challenge the knight on e5 with …f6. White now has a thematic sacrifice with 11.Bxh7! Kxh7 12.Qh5+ Kg8 13.Qxf7+ Kh7 14.Qh5+ Kg8 15.Qxe8+ with a decisive advantage for white.
1.d4 d5 2.Bf4 Nf6 3.e3 c5 4.c3 Nc6 5.Nf3 Bg4, pinning the knight, 6.Nbd2 e6 7.Qa4, white gets out of the pin and pins black’s knight. Now the natural development moves 7…Bd6?? is a blunder due to 8.Ba6! 0-0 (8…bxa6 9.Qxc6+ Ke7 10.Qb7+ Qd7 11.Bxd6+ Kxd6 12.Qxa6+ + –) 9.Bxb7 Bxf4 10.Bxc6, wins material as black’s bishop and rook are under attack +-
Pros and Cons of playing the London System Opening
|Easy to learn, so it is great for quick, short term improvements.
|Black gets to choose the setup they want and can dictate the trajectory of the game.
|Solid pawn structure and risk-free attacking chances on the kingside
|Sometimes regarded as slow and passive.
To sum up, while the London System is relatively quieter than the Queen’s Gambit, it provides structural stability with a comfortable middlegame and clear attacking patterns, particularly on dark-square control. Its simplicity and ease of learning make it appealing for players of all levels, allowing them to focus on understanding key concepts rather than memorizing specific move orders.