I'm looking to study the English opening. To cut down my homework, I would like to focus on one or two variations.

Why am I interested in the English opening, I hear you cry? Mostly because I want to vary my games a bit*. I'm a fan of 1. d4 and 1. c4 has transpositional possibilities to 1. d4 openings.

Can you recommend a variation of the English opening that suits my playing style?. Any references to books, videos, top players who employed the line etc. are appreciated too.

Player background

  • Rated 2100 Elo
  • Technical playing personality. Preference for positional, intuitive moves and the endgame
  • Currently using queen pawn openings, e.g. Slav Mainline Dutch, Queen's Gambit Accepted: 3. e4, Queen's Gambit Declined: Lasker Variation
  • As Black I use the Caro-Kann and Slav
  • Have experimented with the English Botvinnik system, but I don't like how Black can get easy equality

*Oh, I'm also English too...

  • 2
    It's going to be hard to give one single variation (just like you can't play a single variation as white after 1.e4 either). There's at least 1...e5, 1...c5 and others to deal with. If you want to transpose to 1.d4, are you looking to avoid any specific 1.d4 move orders? Nov 7, 2016 at 20:29

3 Answers 3


It's a good question. Just a quick answer with some thoughts to give you some starting ideas, hopefully to be improved later.

I've always liked the English exactly for its rich transpositional possibilities, they're endless aren't they?

Your intent to divert towards d4 lines via the English is very common. For example Magnus Carlsen often employs it to avoid main theory lines (it's very hard to prepare against 1.c4). So make sure you look into his games on 1.c4. Some exemplary games off the top of my head:

One of the 2013 world championship matches (specially because you're a d4 player and you seem to like endgames): Notice how by move 7 we've reached a completely off-book position, though very natural to play for white:

[FEN ""]
[Event "WCh 2013"]
[Site "Chennai IND"]
[Date "2013.11.15"]
[Round "5"]
[White "Carlsen, M."]
[Black "Anand, V."]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "D31"]
[WhiteElo "2870"]
[BlackElo "2775"]
[PlyCount "115"]
[EventDate "2013.11.09"]
[EventRounds "10"]
[EventCountry "IND"]
[Source "Mark Crowther"]
[SourceDate "2013.11.18"]

1. c4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 c6 4. e4 dxe4 5. Nxe4 Bb4+ 6. Nc3 c5 7. a3 Ba5 8. Nf3 Nf6 9. Be3 Nc6 10. Qd3 cxd4 11. Nxd4 Ng4 12. O-O-O Nxe3 13. fxe3 Bc7 14. Nxc6 bxc6 15. Qxd8+ Bxd8 16. Be2 Ke7 17. Bf3 Bd7 18. Ne4 Bb6 19. c5 f5 20. cxb6 fxe4 21. b7 Rab8 22. Bxe4 Rxb7 23. Rhf1 Rb5 24. Rf4 g5 25. Rf3 h5 26. Rdf1 Be8 27. Bc2 Rc5 28. Rf6 h4 29. e4 a5 30. Kd2 Rb5 31. b3 Bh5 32. Kc3 Rc5+ 33. Kb2 Rd8 34. R1f2 Rd4 35. Rh6 Bd1 36. Bb1 Rb5 37. Kc3 c5 38. Rb2 e5 39. Rg6 a4 40. Rxg5 Rxb3+ 41. Rxb3 Bxb3 42. Rxe5+ Kd6 43. Rh5 Rd1 44. e5+ Kd5 45. Bh7 Rc1+ 46. Kb2 Rg1 47. Bg8+ Kc6 48. Rh6+ Kd7 49. Bxb3 axb3 50. Kxb3 Rxg2 51. Rxh4 Ke6 52. a4 Kxe5 53. a5 Kd6 54. Rh7 Kd5 55. a6 c4+ 56. Kc3 Ra2 57. a7 Kc5 58. h4 1-0

But it must be admitted that Magnus makes these endgames look easy when for us it's a nightmare to convert.

Personally I really like the Catalan and Larsen transpositions, so I would definitely recommend those. The Catalan and all its variants are very natural to play (with sound endgame structures, because you always have a choice how you commit your central pawn strcuture, unlike most other d4 lines).

Two other examples that come to mind, are the two times Magnus employed 1.c4 vs Nakamura in classical chess:

One leading to a Catalan with a delayed d4:

[FEN ""]
[Event "8th Tal Memorial"]
[Site "Moscow RUS"]
[Date "2013.06.22"]
[Round "8.5"]
[White "Carlsen, M."]
[Black "Nakamura, Hi"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "A13"]
[WhiteElo "2864"]
[BlackElo "2784"]
[PlyCount "93"]
[EventDate "2013.06.13"]
[EventRounds "9"]
[EventCountry "RUS"]
[EventCategory "22"]
[Source "Mark Crowther"]
[SourceDate "2013.06.24"]

1. c4 e6 2. g3 d5 3. Bg2 c6 4. Qc2 Nf6 5. Nf3 dxc4 6. Qxc4 b5 7. Qb3 Bb7 8. O-O Nbd7 9. d4 a6 10. Ne5 Qb6 11. Be3 c5 12. Nxd7 Nxd7 13. d5 e5 14. a4 b4 15. Nd2 Bd6 16. Nc4 Qc7 17. f4 O-O 18. Rac1 exf4 19. Bxf4 Bxf4 20. gxf4 a5 21. e4 Rae8 22. e5 Ba6 23. Rfe1 Kh8 24. Nd6 Re7 25. Qe3 Qd8 26. b3 g5 27. Kh1 Qb8 28. Qf2 gxf4 29. Qxf4 Bd3 30. Re3 Bg6 31. Rf1 Rxe5 32. Rxe5 Qxd6 33. Re8 Qxf4 34. Rxf8+ Kg7 35. Rxf4 Kxf8 36. d6 Ne5 37. Bf1 Bc2 38. Bb5 f5 39. Kg2 c4 40. Bxc4 Be4+ 41. Kg3 Nxc4 42. bxc4 Ke8 43. c5 Bc6 44. Rxf5 Bxa4 45. Re5+ Kd8 46. Re7 Bc6 47. Rc7 1-0

The second leading to a Larsen (1.b3) type of middlegame: (with black playing the Dutch)

[FEN ""]
[Event "2nd London Chess Classic"]
[Site "London ENG"]
[Date "2010.12.11"]
[Round "4"]
[White "Carlsen, M."]
[Black "Nakamura, Hi"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "A10"]
[WhiteElo "2802"]
[BlackElo "2741"]
[PlyCount "117"]
[EventDate "2010.12.06"]
[EventRounds "7"]
[EventCountry "ENG"]
[EventCategory "19"]
[Source "Mark Crowther"]
[SourceDate "2010.12.13"]

1. c4 f5 2. g3 Nf6 3. Bg2 d6 4. Nc3 g6 5. e3 Bg7 6. Nge2 O-O 7. O-O e5 8. b3 Nbd7 9. d3 c6 10. Ba3 Qc7 11. Qd2 Re8 12. Rae1 Nc5 13. h3 e4 14. dxe4 Nfxe4 15. Qc2 Nxc3 16. Nxc3 Be6 17. Rd1 Rad8 18. Bb2 Bf7 19. Rd2 a5 20. Rfd1 Be5 21. Ne2 a4 22. b4 Nd7 23. Bd4 Nb6 24. Bxb6 Qxb6 25. Rb1 Qc7 26. Nd4 Rc8 27. Rc1 Qe7 28. Rd3 c5 29. bxc5 Rxc5 30. Qxa4 Rec8 31. Rb1 Rxc4 32. Qd1 b6 33. Nb5 R4c5 34. Nxd6 Bxd6 35. Rxd6 Bxa2 36. Ra1 Rc1 37. Rxc1 Rxc1 38. Rxg6+ hxg6 39. Qxc1 Qd6 40. h4 Bf7 41. h5 Kh7 42. hxg6+ Kxg6 43. Qc2 b5 44. g4 Qe5 45. gxf5+ Kg7 46. Qe4 Qd6 47. Qh4 Bc4 48. Bf3 Qf6 49. Qxf6+ Kxf6 50. Be4 Ba2 51. f4 b4 52. Kf2 b3 53. Bd5 Kxf5 54. Kf3 Kf6 55. e4 Kg6 56. Ke3 Kh5 57. Kd4 Kg4 58. f5 Kg5 59. Ke5 1-0

Here's another 1.c4 into Catalan, though it was only a rapid: Notice how white intentionally delays the pawn to e3 committment until black has made a decision with the b4 bishop (8...Bc5 now you repond with e3. Otherwise, with the black e4 pawn, a preemptive e3 would weaken your light squares). This is a good example of what I meant earlier with "not committing too early" with the pawn structre you want to achieve.

[FEN ""]
[Event "Amber Rapid"]
[Site "Nice FRA"]
[Date "2008.03.22"]
[Round "7"]
[White "Carlsen, M."]
[Black "Anand, V."]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "A20"]
[WhiteElo "2733"]
[BlackElo "2799"]
[PlyCount "95"]
[EventDate "2008.03.15"]
[EventType "rapid"]
[EventRounds "11"]
[EventCountry "FRA"]
[EventCategory "21"]
[Source "Mark Crowther"]
[SourceDate "2008.03.24"]

1. c4 e5 2. g3 c6 3. d4 e4 4. d5 Nf6 5. Bg2 Bb4+ 6. Bd2 Qe7 7. Nc3 O-O 8. a3 Bc5 9. e3 d6 10. Nge2 cxd5 11. Nxd5 Nxd5 12. cxd5 Nd7 13. O-O Nf6 14. Bc3 Bg4 15. Bxf6 Qxf6 16. b4 Bb6 17. Bxe4 a5 18. bxa5 Rxa5 19. Bxh7+ Kxh7 20. Qb1+ g6 21. Qxb6 Rfa8 22. Qd4 Qf3 23. Nc3 Re8 24. h3 Bf5 25. Qf6 Kg8 26. Rab1 Rxe3 27. Rxb7 Bc8 28. Qd8+ Kg7 29. Qxc8 Rxc3 30. Rxf7+ Kxf7 31. Qd7+ Kf6 32. Qd8+ Kf5 33. Qxa5 Rxa3 34. Qb4 Ke5 35. Qd2 Rd3 36. Qg5+ Qf5 37. Re1+ Kxd5 38. Qxf5+ gxf5 39. Kg2 Ra3 40. h4 Kd4 41. h5 d5 42. h6 Ra7 43. Kf3 Rh7 44. Re6 Kc3 45. Rc6+ Kd3 46. Kf4 Rf7 47. Kg5 Ke2 48. Rd6 1-0

Here's a crazy one: a 1.c4 turning into a Caro-Kann leading into a IQP middlegame:

[FEN ""]
[Event "Corus A"]
[Site "Wijk aan Zee NED"]
[Date "2009.01.31"]
[Round "12"]
[White "Carlsen, M."]
[Black "Smeets, J."]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "B10"]
[WhiteElo "2776"]
[BlackElo "2601"]
[PlyCount "57"]
[EventDate "2009.01.17"]
[EventRounds "13"]
[EventCountry "NED"]
[EventCategory "19"]
[Source "Mark Crowther"]
[SourceDate "2009.02.02"]

1. c4 c6 2. e4 d5 3. exd5 cxd5 4. cxd5 Nf6 5. Nc3 Nxd5 6. Nf3 Nc6 7. Bb5 e6 8. O-O Be7 9. d4 O-O 10. Re1 Bd7 11. Bd3 Rc8 12. Nxd5 exd5 13. Ne5 Bf6 14. Bf4 g6 15. Qb3 Na5 16. Qb4 Be6 17. Bh6 Bg7 18. Bxg7 Kxg7 19. h4 Re8 20. h5 f6 21. Nf3 b6 22. Bb5 Re7 23. Re2 Rcc7 24. Rae1 Kf7 25. Qd2 Qf8 26. Qf4 Bf5 27. g4 Bc8 28. b4 Nb7 29. Bc6 1-0

The list can go on, but it's up to you to carefully study these games and figure out which ones really suit your style of playing, no one can know it better than yourself. As for the English-Botvinnik system, I'm surprised you don't like it, it's a sharp weapon specially in faster time controls, just watch how Nakamura plays it frequently in blitz. I recently read this article on the Botvinnik variation on chess.com, it may change your mind.

Another very interesting use of the English is to dodge the Grünfeld, as it is also pointed out on the wikipedia page, e.g.: 1.c4 Nf6 2.Nc3 g6 3.e4... But there are many such examples and that's why the English is so much fun to play.
Finally, there's one response that I dislike the most vs 1.c4, and that is 1...e5 leading sometimes to a reversed Sicilian...This is an example of black making use of the versatility of the English. But even if black decides to not play the Sicilian, a simple plan with e5 Nf6 Bc5 d6 a6 and tucking the bishop back to a7 is not obvious to face as white. So make sure you have a line (or at least some ideas) vs this.

This was just to give you some ropes. You will have lots of fun playing the English opening, and the more you play it the more resourceful you'll become with it, and hopefully you'll grow to appreciate its unique potentials. Enjoy!


I started playing the English a short time ago, too. I used to play the London System before, and I found that at a certain level I had to fight for equality as white. I think my playing style fits yours too and I was advised to move to the English opening with g3. I'm currently rated 1912 ELO by FIDE, in case this info is useful for you.

With this repertoire in mind I've found the books by Mihail Marin "The English Opening" from the Grandmaster Repertoire series extremely useful. Despite its name (Grandmaster Repertoire made me think they would be too advanced for me) I found these books fit my needs perfectly, Mihail's explanations of plans and structures are clear and easy to understand and he builds a complete repertoire based in 1.c4 and 2.g3.

  • Thanks for the recommendation. As an aside, I read Marin's 'Secrets of Attacking Chess' a while ago. I liked it, so I'll probably like your recommended book too.
    – user1108
    Nov 7, 2016 at 13:24

Most people try to transpose into their d4 defense to reduce study time and for the most part, if white refuses to play d4 the lines are fine for black.

The symmetrical is probably okay but I try to avoid symmetrical lines.

e5 is the principled "correct" move. Its basically a reversed Sicilian. If you're a 1e4 player it shouldn't be hard to come up with something that mirrors what you play vs the Sicilian. I Usually play a reversed closed or great snake depending on the move order

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