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I've faced the London System several times so far, and just don't know what strategy to adapt against it (I exclusively play Nf6 in response to 1.d4). I'm a highly tactical player, so I try following up with d5, c5, Qa5, Nc6, Rc8 etc. in order to break open the queen side when possible. But white just plays c3, e3 and curls up into an unbreakable shell. Then I end up getting outplayed positionally because I get frustrated and sac a pawn or two to get some activity.

So, is it possible to play both soundly and aggressively as black, with 1. ...Nf6 against the London System? Is there a way to entice white into doing something reckless? Or does white have complete control over keeping the game boring? What are the main strategic ideas for black (in general, with preference to aggressive options)? Also, I heard that the Colle system has the same reputation as the London system, and they are quite similar strategically as well. Is there a common way to deal with both of these systems?

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For reference: My rating is 1650 USCF, but I'm better at tactics than my rating would suggest. –  chubbycantorset Dec 28 '12 at 21:52
7  
Patience, grasshoper, you needn't sac too much in order to get activity, and if W plays well to achieve a draw, and neither attacks strongly, nor shows any weaknesses, maybe draws are acceptable. Nevertheless, you'll notice that when you become patient as B, and seem to be happy with a draw, W will become reckless and desire for more. This is when you shall strike with no mercy. -- Also, please present what's the London system, I'm 2k Elo but don't remember having ever heard about it ; Tonny Ennis' diagram is wonderful. –  Nikana Reklawyks Dec 28 '12 at 23:47
    
+1 just for saying grasshoppper :) :) –  chubbycantorset Dec 29 '12 at 5:03
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10 Answers 10

up vote 12 down vote accepted

The goal for Black in breaking the London System is to remove White's dark bishop from the game. This is present in almost every losing London System. Hikaru Nakamura plays the London, and makes it very clear he is not willing to trade his dark bishop - even going so far as to play h3 with the sole intention of hiding the bishop on h2.

To break the London, trap / trade the dark bishop.


Warning: This may contain multiple diagrams to display a progression of attacks and also possible positions

Your Example

With regards to your exact example,


[fen ""]
1. d4 d5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Bf4 c5 4. e3 Qa5

Let me just stop you there. You are down a decent amount in this position, and are looking at dropping a pawn. I understand that you want to get into a game which is not closed, but that is still possible without being hyper aggressive.

My Suggestion

Lets get back to where you have a chance to start being aggressive and make a move which is subtly aggressive. I know it may not seem like it, but e6 here is very strong


[fen ""]
1. d4 d5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Bf4 e6

e6, but whhyy

e6 allows you to begin to exert some control over the dark squares (which are White's weakness as their bishop cannot contest on them). It allows for a responsive aggression. Let us look at a few of the responses available.

...

4. c4


[fen ""]
1. d4 d5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Bf4 e6 4. c4 Bb4+

Nice, White tried to play into the Queen side and you got in a check (potentially White will trade their dark bishop in defense, but don't count on it). More than this, you gained a tempo, and can castle before White can; all while White's kingside is all locked up.

4. e3


[fen ""]
1. d4 d5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Bf4 e6 4. e3 c5

White was trying to keep a closed position but this actually results in a torn open one. Now if White defends with 5. c3 Black can begin to really open this up, and hopefully trade off White's dark bishop. 5. c3 Nc6 will open the board up and still be in Black's favor positionally.

Remove White's dark bishop

Consider this situation:


[fen ""]
1. d4 d5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Bf4 e6 4. e3 c5 5. c3 Nc6 6. Nbd2 Be7 7. Be2 Nh5

White's dark bishop is toast, the game is open, and you have sacrificed neither material nor position. Game on!

Even if you do not choose to be so aggressive here, you have most certainly opened the board up and prevented a closed position.

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Excellent answer =) –  Nikana Reklawyks Dec 29 '12 at 12:26
    
Indeed. I'll certainly explore e6 from now onward. –  chubbycantorset Dec 30 '12 at 22:26
    
If you trade black squared bishops after playing e6 and d5, you will be left with pawns on the wrong colour. This means trading is not necessarily a good plan, even though it probably is solid. Trapping White's black squared bishop is a better plan, but easily avoided by playing an early h2-h3, which is recommended in most (if not all) books on the London system. In the last diagram, for example, Nakamura would probably have played 7.h3, and so would most London system players. Then what are you left with? –  Halvard Jul 13 '13 at 12:25
    
This is indeed one of many strategies to counter the London System, but in my opinion this is not the most accurate. If you're planning on playing c5, the bishop shouldn't be trapped with an early e6. In fact, playing 3...c5 is considered to be more accurate, with black following up with Qb6 and Nc6. This is the main line of the London System. –  Andrew Ng Jul 13 '13 at 22:47
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The London System is ECO D02.


[fen ""]
1. d4 d5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Bf4  

I'm liking c5 as it helps you clear some of White's pawns, offers the pawn in a sham-sacrifice sort of way (Qa5+ followed Qxc5) or allows the Bishop to move with tempo (Bxc5, similar to the Queen's Gambit.)

Here's a sample game by Erik Lundin and Hans Ek, from 1963. Doesn't look too awful:


[fen ""]
1. d4 d5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Bf4 c5 4. e3 Qb6 5. Nc3 Bd7 6. dxc5 Qxc5 7. Bd3 e6 8.  O-O Be7 9. Ne5 Bc6 10. a3 Nbd7 11. Ne2 Qb6 12. b4 Nh5 13. Nxf7 Kxf7 14. b5 Bxb5  15. Bxb5 Nxf4 16. Bxd7 Nxe2+ 17. Qxe2 Qc7 18. Ba4 Rhd8 19. Bb3 Kg8 20. Qg4 Qe5  21. a4 Kh8 22. Rad1 Bc5 23. Rd3 Rf8 24. c4 dxc4 25. Bxc4 Rf5 26. Qd1 Bb6 27. g3  Raf8 28. Rb3 Qf6 29. Qe2 Rf3 30. Bd3 Qe5 31. Rb5 Bc5 32. Qb2 Qxb2 33. Rxb2 b6  34. Be4 R3f7 35. Rd1 g6 36. Rd3 a5 37. Kg2 Kg7 38. h4 Re7 39. Rc2 Rff7 40. Bc6  Rf8 41. Rc4 1/2-1/2


Black has the option of accepting the poisoned-pawn at move 6 which could be a lot of fun. That's why I chose this variation for you to look at.

EDIT - Why did Ek play 9. ... Bc6 ? I believe that after 10. Nxd7 he didn't want to recapture with the decent Knight on f6, he surely didn't want to recapture with his King, and he didn't want the b Knight sitting on the passive d7 square; he wants it on c6. The white-squared Bishop is fairly limited so he's willing to trade is for a Knight. With his move, if Lundin captures, he develops his Knight to the c6 square with tempo.

That being said, Stockfish calculated the following variation with an even game:



[fen "rn2k2r/pp1bbppp/4pn2/2qpN3/5B2/2NBP3/PPP2PPP/R2Q1RK1 b kq - 3 9"]

1... O-O 2. Qf3 Nc6 3. a3 Rfc8 4. Qg3 Qb6 5. Rab1 Be8 6. Be2 Qa5 7. Rfe1 a6 8. Red1 Kh8 9. Bd3 Nh5 10. Qh3 g6 11. Nxc6 Bxc6 12. Be5+ Kg8


I entered Ek's 9. ... Bc6 and let Stockfish calculate the continuation. There was no substantive difference between the score for this continuation versus what was actually played.



[fen "rn2k2r/pp2bppp/2b1pn2/2qpN3/5B2/2NBP3/PPP2PPP/R2Q1RK1 w kq - 4 10"]

1. Ne2 Nbd7 2. Nd4 O-O 3. c3 Nxe5 4. Bxe5 Bd7 5. Qb3 b6 6. Qc2 h6 7. h3 Rfd8 8. Rfd1


Finally, I entered the 10. Nxc6 into Stockfish to gain some insights into what would happen had Lundin taken the Bishop. The resulting score was about the same, with a slight improvement for Ek. The moves look very computer-generated; White's response is actually very sharp and seems to be intended to trap Black's Queen. I am betting the position is actually razor sharp; we see that Black's Queen is relocated to the side of the board where nothing is happening. In some variations White's Queen goes to b3 and, backed up by a Knight and both Bishops, begins an attack which wins material.



[fen "rn2k2r/pp2bppp/2N1pn2/2qp4/5B2/2NBP3/PPP2PPP/R2Q1RK1 b kq - 0 10"]

1... Nxc6 2.Bc7 Rc8 3.Na4 Qb4 4.c3 Qg4 5.Be2 Qf5 6.Bg3 O-O 7.Bd3 Qg4 8.Be2 Qf5


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+1 for the first diagram alone, which made me understand what the question was about. –  Nikana Reklawyks Dec 28 '12 at 23:48
    
Good answer! Could you explain why black played Bc6 on move 9? –  chubbycantorset Dec 29 '12 at 6:24
1  
@chubbycantorset Good question. Post updated. –  Tony Ennis Dec 29 '12 at 15:19
    
The intro is slightly incorrect as the London system can arrive in more ways than described here. D02 will therefore not always be the ECO code. See my answer for more details. –  Halvard Jul 13 '13 at 13:37
    
Sorry if this is obvious, but in the Lundin-Ek game, why doesn't black play 5 ...Qxb2? –  TKR Nov 24 '13 at 2:54
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Look through some games where black wins against the London System. Some of these are won using a King's Indian Defense type setup.

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+1 Just because I'm a big fan of Indian systems. –  Dennis Jan 5 '13 at 4:48
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The London system is a system for White where the dark squared bishop is brought out early to f4 after d2-d4. There are several ways in which it can appear:


[fen ""]
1. d4 d5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Bf4

and


[fen ""]
1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3 g6 3. Bf4

and


[fen ""]
1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3 e6 3. Bf4 

This means it is very hard to avoid meeting the London system after White starts with 1.d4.

The question was for a solid and aggressive option for Black after answering d4 with Nf6. One such system is to play it the King's Indian way. It is solid in the way that your King is safely tucked away early and it is aggressive as it keeps the options of both c7-c5 and e7-e5 to attack White's centre.

This way is recommended by Boris Avrukh in the new Beating 1.d4 Sidelines.

One of Avrukh's lines goes:


[fen ""]
1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3 g6 3. Bf4 Bg7 4. e3 O-O 5. h3 d6 6. c3 c5 7. Nbd2 Nc6 8. Bc4 cxd4 9. exd4 e5

This is one of the more aggressive variations and entails a pawn sacrifice.

Not all variations are this exciting, but in general Black's plan is either to push through e7-e5, often with the help of Qe8, or to play c7-c5 followed by b7-b6 to find a good square for Bc8 on b7, always attacking d4 and White's centre.

Some additional ideas:

  • If White plays an early c2-c4 then c7-c5 (and often Qb6) to attack the weaknesses on the dark squares on the Queen side is often good.
  • If White plays c3-d4-e3 and sticks his light squared bishop on d3, then the e7-e5 break grows in strength.
  • If White avoids an early h2-h3 then Nh5 followed by h6 and g5 to catch the bishop is often worth it, despite the weakening of the King side.
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The London is mostly an attempt to play the Slav in reverse. It is very solid and flexible. Black should be careful not to overreach.

Kaufman recommends a King's Indian with a c7-c5 break like Avrukh.

I have had luck with the e7-e5 break from the KID.

A difficult problem for the original question is if your opponent does not play the London, you have to play Gruenfeld, KID, or Benoni.


[FEN ""]
1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 g6 3.c4

For those that do not play with a King's fianchetto, this may not be the best choice. (i.e Nimzo family). It might be best for you to be patient and just go with the Slav in reverse, build up tension on the d4 pawn and queenside pressure with c7-c5, Nb7-c6, Qd8-b6, Ra8-c8, Bc8-d7 while developing and castling on kingside with e7-e6, Bf8-e7, O-O.

One could also close the center with c5-c4 and pawn storm the queenside. If you do, you need to be prepared for his kingside attack, and might want to bring the Be7 back to f8. Look to a well timed e6-e5 break even if it sacrifices a pawn to open the center at the opportune moment.

For instance:


[FEN ""]
1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 e6 3.Bf4 d5 4.e3 c5 5.c3 Nc6 6.Be2 Be7 7.h3 O-O 8.O-O Qb6

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The weakness is b2 with the absence of the bishop. This is James Rizzitano's recommendation against the London system in his book "How to Beat 1 d4":

  1. d4 d5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Bf4 c5 4. e3 Nc6 5. c3 Qb6 6. Qb3 c4 7. Qc2 Bf5 and the bishop is immune due to the b2 weakness (the took on a1 will drop).
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this is why a lot of people recommend Bf4 before Nf3 –  boobyWomack May 15 at 13:08
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One of the benefits of the lines shown by Travis J are the transpositions for helping folks like me who do not play 1. d4 d5. I play the Nimzo-Indian and after 1. d4 Nf6 2. Bf4 e6 I can play the d5 push and be in the systems he mentions.

An even more aggressive option is available with this move order and that's 3. Nf3 c5 to deviate early. Of course, that's great for me but if one is starting 1 d4 d5 that isn't really there.

This leaves a lot of ways to enter the system described by Travis J. I can now simply transpose into the systems he shows.

The move order 1.d4 Nf6 2.Bf4 e6 3.Nf3 c5 isn't better than the other lines he showed and will certainly transpose in many cases but it really cuts down on the options for white.

I haven't played the KID for years and don't particularly like it. So this is a great way to get into an assertive, if not aggressive, response to the London System.

The only real advantage to it is that it really marks the character of the game and it is likely to take white out of the lines to which he's accustomed.

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_wh5MspHH8A

I play this against the London and have had much success with it. In fact, one of my opponents simply stopped playing the London against me because he never won. As in previous posts, I often find white plays a gruenfeld against me instead of the London, but this has not presented me with any problems as black at all. Check the video about 6 minutes in.

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against the KID white can get a good game, although I agree it is the best fighting response. The Nfd7 lines are tricky for white. –  boobyWomack May 15 at 13:11
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I would recommend looking at games of Eric Prie as white. He plays the London a lot.

http://www.chesspub.com/cgi-bin/yabb2/YaBB.pl?num=1122821205 is a long thread and agood introduction to its issues.

There is an article by Prie, where he outlines the issue with Bf4: http://www.chesspublishing.com/content/8/feb06.htm

However, Nf3 also has the issue of the Qb6, Bf5 lines where white gets a bit tormented. So I do not know how to avoid both :)

The best book I have read is by Cyrus Lakdawala. I find it tricky against the Benoni as I don't like Benoni , despite its reputation at high level. (I am 1800 only)

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You should counter the London System with 1.d4 g6 2. Nf3 Bg7 3. Bf4 c5 4. dxc5 Bxb2. Or 1. d4 g6 2. Nf3 Bh6 (Reverse Guatemala Defense). Since white usually loses without his dark squared bishop, you should trade it as soon as possible. Another solution is 1. d4 h6 2. Nf3 g5. This prevents white from moving to f4.

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In the first variation white shouldn't take on c5. If black wants to trade bishops, then d6 is a better square. The last suggestion is a proper anti-London set-up, I'll give you that :) –  Dag Oskar Madsen Apr 6 at 22:13
    
I owuld just play a Catalan against this latter line, totally silly! –  boobyWomack May 15 at 13:09
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