I used to be a fan of the English, but some ultrasymmetrical variations bugged me, especially if a lower rated player decided to play for a draw against me with them. There seemed to be a lot to consider to get any sort of meaningful advantage, if Black really wanted to be annoying. No players ever did, but that's probably because they themselves were worried about slipping and losing a painfully boring game where they never really had a chance.

I played e3 after c4/Nc3/g3/Bg2, so obviously one solution is to play c4, Nf3 and d4...or an entirely different first move.

But I'm wondering, how would someone get around an opponent who deliberately tries to frustrate them with smart copycat moves? Are there a couple lines that give clear convincing edges? I can see how the pawn trades at d4/d5 create a structural imbalance, but I don't see when and where White has an edge.

Fritz evaluates the position as equal below.

[FEN ""]
1. c4 c5 2. g3 g6 3. Bg2 Bg7 4. Nc3 Nc6 5. e3 e6 6. N1e2 N8e7 7. d4 cxd4 8. Nxd4 d5 9. cxd5 Nxd5

In this case, Black finesses the copycat by not playing ...d5 on move 7, which would be bad then, but it can't be stopped on move 8.

And now it doesn't seem like anything White does gets an edge. With Nxd5, Black's pawn is isolated, but Black can return the favor. If White moves the knight, Black has a nice diagonal, and White's QB is bad.

Also, even if a symmetrical position is achieved, as after 10. Nxd5 exd5 11. O-O Nxd4 12. exd4 O-O, what is a good plan to try to shake it up? I think something like Qa4 might work. But it just seems very drawish.

Usually it's White who can force the symmetrical pawn structure e.g. with the Slav or French exchange. But here Black forces it on White.

Is it what White "deserves" for not playing more in the center, and does waiting for ...d5 defuse things for Black, or am I missing possibilities e.g. a way to inject life into this by pushing d4/taking on d4 differently? Or is there a good concrete line with, say, Nf3, where Black can copycat me for only so long? In that case 1. c4 c5 2. Nc3 Nc6 3. g3 g6 4. Bg2 Bg7 5. Nf3 Nf6 6. d4 cxd4 7. Nxd4 d5 looks bad for Black, as does 6. ...d5.


2 Answers 2


In general, the best way to prevent Black from copying you is to go for the d4 push. If you play the e3 system, it is indeed very easy for Black to equalize with no problems at all.

It's best to go for the main line with 1. c4, 2. Nc3, 3. g3, 4. Bg2, 5. Nf3, 6. 0-0. If Black copies you up to castling, then you immediately go for 7. d4! with a slight edge. If Black plays 6...d5 instead of castling on the 6th move, then you just take on d5. Black's now playing the position you would have had with 7. d4, just a tempo down. This tends to allow you to pressure Black with Qb3 / Qa4 ideas, combined with pressure on the g2 - a8 diagonal from your Bishop.

In any case, in this line both options for Black (copying you up until castling and playing d5 first) lead to asymmetrical positions that should be marginally better for you. But most importantly, they are not dead equal like the line you demonstrated above.


The line you give, 1.c4 c5 2.g3 g6 3.Bg2 Bg7 4.Nc3 Nc6 5.e3 e6 6.Nge2 Nge7 7.d4 cxd4 8.Nxd4 d5, indeed leads to an equal drawish position.

Actually, 5.Nf3 Nf6 6.d4, the second line you give, seems to be a better try to obtain an advantage, as 6....d5 7.dxc5 should be better for white. Instead of 5....Nf6, there are probably several ways for black to maintain equality, e.g. 5....d6, 5....e6 and 5....e5, but white successfully avoided a symmetrical position.

Another way in the English to avoid symmetrical positions is 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.d4, as both 3....d5 4.cxd5 and 3....cxd4 4.Nxd4 d5 5.cxd5 Nxd5 6.e4 are better for white.

      [StartPly "2"]

      [FEN ""]
      1.c4 c5 2.g3 (2.Nf3 Nf6 3.d4 cxd4 (3...d5 4.cxd5) 4.Nxd4 d5 5.cxd5 Nxd5 6.e4) g6 3.Bg2 Bg7 4.Nc3 Nc6 5.Nf3 (5.e3 e6 6.Nge2 Nge7 7.d4 cxd4 8.Nxd4 d5) Nf6 (5...d6)(5...e6)(5...e5) 6.d4 d5 7.dxc5

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