After being out of chess for many years, I became interested again. While I never studied in my earlier playing days, I always played e4 openings when white. That was partly due to that being recommended by the one book I read and partly because that is what Fischer (usually) played and Fischer was the world champion and something of an idol at the time.

Now, I'm trying to take chess a bit more seriously. Much of what I've read recommends the London System as an opening for beginners. That has been backed up by a couple coaches (one a National Master, the other an International Master) from whom I've taken instruction.

It seems the London System has a reputation as a "safe" opening. I've read this in several places online and heard it from the coaches I mentioned above. Furthermore, I've even read things that say you can develop in the London without paying attention to what your opponent is doing.

Of course there is a learning curve with a new opening, thus I don't expect to get win after win after win with the opening. However, my results with the London have not left me feeling that it is "safe". In one tournament game against a beginner I lost two pieces because I really didn't pay attention to what he was doing until too late. In a "friendly" against a master, he destroyed me with a tactic I'd never seen, but which he said is well known as an attack against the London. In other games in which I've tried it, I have felt like I'm being forced out of the system very early.

Thus, why is the London System considered safe? Why do proponents say you can utilize it regardless of what your opponent does?


Well, I want to give you a third master's opinion, and most coaches teach the London because they can teach students an opening that the students can, for the most part, be mindless for the first 10 moves (d4,Nf3,Bf4,e3,Bd3,0-0,c3,Nbd2,Qe2,Re1, etc.) or so, against almost any black response. Of course, in chess you can never totally ignore what the opponent is doing, but if you have studied the London System at all, you know what I mean, and to the level I mean you can be "mindless". The coach can then say, "look, you got out of the opening, so I taught you well", when in reality, the problems are just beginning, and the coach has taught you nothing. This seems to be what you are experiencing: You get to the end of those 10 moves, and you are lost.

I do not agree with that approach at all, and it is just a lazy way to teach.

The London, while not a bad opening, is considered "safe" because it is, primarily, a very solid position for white; but it is not particularly ambitious as it does not hit back in the center as successfully as an early c4 does. It can be played against 1...d5 or the King's Indian Defense. Because c4 is not played, it also rules out the Benoni, Benko and Grunfeld. Since black usually wants to play c5, it also, in effect, rules out the Slav, or a tempo is wasted. Limiting black's defensive options is another reason some coaches like to teach this lazy opening, but if you ever get to a certain level, you will find yourself having to learn a whole new set of openings from scratch, and you will have lost years of experience playing against so many mainline defenses. That is not a good thing.

One of the biggest problems with the London for novices is that the resulting positions, where white must get in e4 and try to attack require a lot of positional skill, as well as tactical skill. Against anyone stronger, they are ready for e4, and they are prepared to take c5xd4, and get counterplay. So you get students a solid position after 10 moves, but then what is required from there is often just way over their heads. It does not make sense to teach this way.

Weaker players have trouble with deep strategic play, which is why I constantly talk about studying tactics, tactics, tactics; but these London positions do not bring up the open, or semi-open types of positions that favor that type of tactical play, which is easier to grasp, and thus, easier for novice players to play.

What this means is that this opening either does not really fit in with your ability level or style (you were an e4-player for a long time, after all), or you must learn the plans associated with it, from move 10 on, much better.

I wanted to give you a recommended book, but as I looked at them, there was nothing particularly great at telling you how to play these positions IN WORDS, but this was probably the best of the bunch: "Win with the London System".

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    For Spanish speakers here is a video fron GM Oscar de la Riva, talking about why it's not a good idea for beginners to use this system, exactly for the reasons stated in this answer: youtu.be/lHdUhBrVQGY – emdio Apr 2 at 16:56
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    @emdio Thank you. Frankly, I have never read what I wrote anywhere else, and I do not speak Spanish (although a few other languages, including Russian) so I have never watched that video, but it was nice to have your confirmation. – PhishMaster Apr 2 at 16:59
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    The video is most interesting. GM de la Riva comments two(?) games by Carlsen on the London, and he shows how good you have to be at chess in order to not get into a passive position. In other words, he states these systems are deceptively easy (since you "blindly" play your first moves no matter what the other player does) and hence not a good idea for a beginner repertoire. – emdio Apr 2 at 17:53
  • Very well put! I think the same can be said for KIA positions, I know that they can become aggressive if handled properly, but in the hands of beginners it doesn't happen very often. – Akavall Apr 4 at 4:59

There is a prerequisite to any aspect of playing chess: NEVER EVER IGNORE YOUR OPPONENT AND THEIR INTENTIONS, FOR ANY REASON WHATSOEVER! This is of course not very surprising, but nobody has ever become even a halfway decent player by not paying any attention to their opponent (as you noted yourself, you dropped two pieces by not paying proper attention to your opponent's ideas). It's just not possible, since it will make you walk into simple traps for no good reason.

What the sources mean when they say that the London is safe is that it doesn't require you to learn very many traps and unintuitive sequences of moves to stay out of danger in the opening. Also, you can achieve the main setup (pawns on c3-d4-e3, bishop on f4, etc.) basically no matter what black is up to, and this setup is rather solid and not so simple to attack. As a summary, you are not putting your king in unnecessary danger, and you're not sacrificing material or overextending your position which means that you tend to get a "safe" position out of the opening.

While the London is a safe opening, no opening makes you immune from having to calculate tactics and be aware of positional threats. This is why beginners are recommended to learn about these things before focusing too much on specific opeinings, since this type of general knowledge is what will help you stop bleeding points to your opponents when using (for instance) the London system.

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  • Do you have any good examples of strong attacks from Black if Black can assume White will make the moves of the London mainline regardless of the moves Black makes? – mowwwalker Apr 3 at 1:43
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    @mowwwalker Since the London is quite solid, it is difficult for black to launch an immediate attack without taking great risks. However, if black can assume that white is not going to pay any attention to what black is doing, I would assume that some plan along the lines of 1.d4 e6 2.Bf4 d6 3.e3 h5 (a rather outrageous move, but if white is careless it can become dangerous) 4.c3?? (white is just going for the standard pawn formation) 4...g5 and white's bishop is trapped since e5 is covered by the d6 pawn, and 5.Bg3 h4 doesn't really save the bishop. – Scounged Apr 3 at 12:08
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    An additional reason to pay attention to your opponent is that they may drop two pieces. It would be a shame to miss that. – Michael West Apr 3 at 15:00
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    @Scounged the h5 trap can happen even quicker than that: 1. d4 d5 2. Bf4 h5 3. e3? and the bishop is already toast with 3... e5. Yours is more decisive, but I think people are more likely to fall into this one. – MattPutnam Apr 4 at 20:31

Thus, why is the London System considered safe?

Every opening where white starts with 1. d4 is considered safe compared to 1. e4 (provided white doesn't do anything silly) because the queen protects d4. d4 openings are inherently safer than e4 openings.

Why do proponents say you can utilize it regardless of what your opponent does?

No intelligent, knowledgeable chess player would ever say such a thing. You must always pay attention to your opponent's moves and plans. To do otherwise is to court disaster.

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    "d4 openings are inherently safer than e4 openings." That seems a point of disagreement. One of the arguments I've seen in favor of 1. e4 is that you can castle - and thus get your king to safety - sooner. – GreenMatt Apr 3 at 12:38

I wrote a long thing on Facebook a few days ago about the difference between the London and the Colle. The London is fashionable; the Colle never was, though Koltanowski tried really hard to make it so.

One of the many things that separates good players from not-so-good players is that good players can make so-so moves early, because they know what they have to do later. When the Four Knights was popular during the '80s, good players could get away with such a tame thing because they know how to create life from that tame thing.

The London is a lot like the Four Knights, recommended by bad chess teachers as "something that serves students until they're ready to learn something better". Which is a bunch of nonsense.

Good players can deal with their queen bishop being developed too soon. They can build positions around it. Bad players just have a bishop.

The reason for the "knights before bishops" principle is a subset of the notion that smaller pieces should play before bigger pieces. Knights before bishops, bishops before queens and rooks.

Knights have to head out early because they're slower to get to the other side, whereas the bigger pieces can get there in one or two moves. Also, players don't know where they want their bishops until some feature in the position arises to suggest a bishop development.

The difference between the Colle and the London is one move. In the Colle, White reserves the queen bishop until he's finished developed the kingside, and builds some energy behind e3-e4, opening the position for his pieces. By then, there should be some feature in the position to suggest the right square for the queen bishop: g5, to take an f6-knight that guards h7? f4, to harass a queen on c7?

Because the Colle is actually more principled than the London for that reason, I think chess teachers should be recommending it instead, but like I said, it's all about fashion. The London is fashionable with good players, and bad coaches follow good players like sheep.

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This question is opinion based and subjective.

London is 'safe' because it will take black longer to mate you if you are a beginner. Play a wide open tactical game and you will lose faster.

But for experienced players it is not really safe nor unsafe. Just another opening to play.

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    Honest, you're looking at it backward. Beginners should play wide open games because they have to learn how to coordinate the pieces, and practice tactics, and if they do these things right, they'll checkmate the other person. – friscodelrosario Sep 7 at 7:07

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