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I'm talking about the two major alternatives apart from e4/d4, ie c4 and Nf3. It seems to me that a lot of the lines will transpose to a d4 type. Sometimes white plays d4 and transpose. Sometimes black plays d5 and white goes into a Queen's pawn defense with an extra tempo.

So is it possible to learn any of these openings without a solid understanding of 1.d4 first? I feel insecure that black can always trick me into a Queen's pawn opening.

Also a related question. Is it possible to learn the English 1.c4 without first playing Sicilian as black myself?

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The English and/or Reti without knowledge of the Queen's Pawn openings

As others said, there are some "pure" English lines that do not transpose into a Queen's Pawn opening. You are never truly forced to play d4.

However, it makes sense in a lot of situations. After all, even if you play in a hypermodern style, you'll still want to contest the centre sooner or later. Thus, never rule out to play d4 at a later move (or you somewhat cripple yourself).

The sweet thing is that you are the one who decides when that d4 thrust will happen. Thus, if you want to avoid specific Black defenses to 1.d4, you can bide your time with 1.c4 or 1.Nf3 and only play d4 later on when they have become infeasible. That way, you don't have to worry about the huge and menacing 1.d4 complex all at once (don't be foolish to think that 1.c4 or 1.Nf3 will completely absolve you of the need to learn theory though!).

Maybe a good idea is to start with a pure English/Reti setup, and add the Queen's Pawn openings to your repertoire over time by regularly analysing in which additional lines d4 might "fit" in your opinion.

The English without knowledge of the Sicilian

The English and the Sicilian may look similar, but their character differs quite a bit (in most lines, anyway). For starters, if Black choses any other answer to 1. c4 but 1...e5 (like 1...c5, 1...Nf6 etc.), and that probably occurs in the majority of games, you are in completely un-Sicilian territory already.

Even if 1. c4 e5 does happen, you don't really need specific knowledge from the Sicilian. Sure, the pawn structures may tend to look the same, but still the way both colours play around them will often differ a lot! In general, while the Sicilian is sharp and tactical, the English tends to be more quiet and positional. For example, it is very common in the Sicilian that the players castle on opposite sides and White starts attacking Black's kingside with his pawns. That sort of thing does not happen nearly quite as often in the English.

In my opinion, learning 1.c4 e5 does not require you to learn 1.e4 c5 (and vice versa). It's nice to combine them (I do), but by no means necessary.

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There are c4/Nf3 lines where White never plays d4 (such as the reverse Dragon or the King's Indian Attack). They are solid but not top-tier openings. Additionally, they do not feature much diversity of pawn structures, which can impede learning.

Specifically after 1. c4 e5, this is less relevant because the game does not usually return to 1. d4 structures.

My advice to a player that is trying to improve would be to play 1. d4 for a while first, or learn enough of the d4 transpositions that there is no fear of being tricked.

If not trying to improve, then almost anything is a reasonable choice.

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You can play the English/Reti without transposing to d4 lines. Marin's three volume series on the English (Grandmaster Repertoire) is pure English/Reti and has lines against all responses. You can then add d4 transpositions to suit your tastes.

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