Why do masters open 1.d4 more often than they open with the English 1.c4?
According to 365chess.com, 1.d4 is five times as common. Moreover, even if one admits Réti's 1.Nf3 as an English variant (or vice versa), counting Réti and the English together as a single opening family, 1.d4 remains twice as common.
According to the aforementioned source, in master play, White scores slightly better (though indeed almost exactly the same) with 1.c4 as with 1.d4. Réti's 1.Nf3 fares slightly worse.
I ask because, in my own games, the English opening wins for White more than 1.d4 does. That is, I win more with 1.c4 as White and, as Black, probably lose more when 1.c4 is played against me. My strength being a little below FIDE 1300, my games would hardly interest you, so I will refrain from burdening the question with patzer's samples of my own play. However, if the statistics are credited, masters perceive comparative virtues in 1.d4 I do not yet see; whereas, from my limited perspective, 1.c4 just looks like the better move insofar as it leaves Black with three main options that all seem slightly weak:
- Black can let White play a reversed Sicilian, granting an extra tempo to the reversed Sicilian queenside attack;
- Black can transpose to a Queen's Gambit Declined or a Slav, only with fewer options for Black; or
- Black can symmetrically play 1...c5, allowing White the advantages symmetrical openings generally bring.
A fourth option occurs:
- Black can respond to 1.c4 by playing one of the Indian systems. This seems no weaker than playing Indian against 1.d4 but, as far as I can see, seems no stronger, either.
I can see that 1.d4 is not a bad move, but isn't 1.c4 just a better one?
A GRANDMASTER'S OPINION
Paul van der Sterren, a grandmaster, writes that 1.c4 and 1.Nf3 "betray a rather more moderate attitude [than does 1.d4]. While not as yet physically occupying any central squares, White does start taking control over them. White prepares for a fight in the center but does not want to be the one to take the first step."
Van der Sterren writes as though the factors he mentions might be disadvantages. Are they disadvantages, though? And how moderate is 1.c4, really? In my limited experience, 1.c4 seems fairly aggressive in actual play—more aggressive than the Ruy Lopez, for example, at least in games I play.
Of course, the grandmaster will be right and the patzer (me) must be wrong, but for what reason?
Indeed, why do masters open 1.d4 more often than 1.c4?