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?


7 Answers 7


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".

  • 6
    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
    Commented Apr 2, 2020 at 16:56
  • 1
    I certainly agree with all of this, but I will say it's a great system to play in bullet (because you can premove much of the opening if black is not doing something super odd). Some of the strongest bullet players in the world use this opening frequently (eg, Andrew Tang)
    – Fixee
    Commented Jan 21, 2021 at 15:36
  • "you will have lost years of experience playing against so many mainline defenses" Hopefully one has expanded their repertoire after playing for years (or less than a year even). IMHO it's nothing but an easy way to safely develop your pieces to a position from where you can practice your basic playing skills, while giving you clear sense of direction from the start. You can't mindlessly play the moves in a certain order though. You do have to understand the moves you make: why you make them and how black's moves affect the order in which you play them and so on... Commented Mar 2, 2022 at 14:07

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.


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.


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.


As a beginner, I like playing the London system as a general guide to opening. It is easy to set up and easy to remember. However, it does not absolve me from being completely absent minded to what my opponent is doing. I generally play other beginners that do weird shit like brining their queen out too early or moves like a5 or g5 that open up opportunities for me to take advantage of.


It's a lot easier for a beginner to play the first 10 moves of the London System than it is if they were playing a complicated opening with lots of sidelines. If you open on e5, you might have to learn quite a lot of different openings depending on black's response, e.g. the Sicilian for 1..c5, the French for 1..e6, the Ruy Lopez for 1..e5, the Caro-Khan for 1..c6, the Pirc Defense for 1..d6, Alekhine's Defense for 1..Nf6, and so on. For each of those openings, you wouldn't just memorize a single line of opening theory. For example, if you go into the Sicilian, then it ends-up being an absolute forest of sidelines depending on whether the opponent plays the Najdorf variation, the Open Sicilian, the French variation, etc. When it comes to memorizing opening theory, it is a lot easier for a beginner to get good at the London System than it is for a beginner to memorize a dozen moves deep of 10 different sidelines of 15 different openings. Getting practice with e4 openings is haphazard, because in any given game, black is in more control than you are over which opening you go into. With the London System, you can basically force the London System every game in which you're white, and therefore get practice playing it every game. This means you can master the London System a lot faster and more reliably than from studying most other openings. While you can spend 30-60 minutes learning all of the basic moves of the London System and even a few variations that respond to what the opponent is doing, you can then go on to studying what to do on move 10-15, attacking ideas, how to respond to common threats, study grandmaster games of the London, etc. By comparison, you might need to spend several years learning how to play every variation of every e4 opening. So the London System really is a way for a beginner with little time on their hands to learn to play solid and safe for the first 10 moves of the game. If a student is 6 years old and they plan to study chess for 4 hours a day for the next 20 years, then the London System may not be their choice opening in the long-term.

Bear in mind, the London System is not the strongest opening for white. While a lot of top white openings have a computer evaluation of about +0.4 throughout the early game, a well-played London System will have an evaluation of around +0.1 or +0.2, and a very rote, basically-played London System will have an evaluation of around +0.0 or worse. But if a beginner were to spend a month learning the London System, they would be much better in the short term than if they spent a month learning the Sicilian (and heaven forbid the opponent doesn't respond with exactly 1..e5). You could study the London System for 4 hours and already be focusing on what to do on moves 10-15; or you could study e4 openings, and after 30 hours of studying, you're still blanking on what to do in the first 4 moves when the opponent opens with the Nimzowitsch Defense or the Russian Game.

Other than that, your question seems to suggest that you expected magical results in your first few games playing with the London System. In anything you do, you need to expect to start at the bottom and improve over time. In basketball, if you learn good shooting form from an expert, you should still expect your shooting accuracy to be extremely bad at first, and to improve over time, extremely slowly, assuming that you don't get discouraged and quit. If you played any other opening, your first few games playing that opening, you will probably hang pieces even more often than you would in the London, and undoubtedly you'd lose to masters. But, even in the London, you do have to react somewhat to what your opponent is doing, e.g. if they attack b2 with their Queen, if they attack d4 (which pawn do you recapture with?), if they attack your bishop on f4 (drop it back to g3. Or, a less basic system might suggest playing h3 and then dropping your bishop back to h2). If you're hanging pieces in the early game against beginners, then you need to drink some coffee or something, because there aren't really any loose pieces in the London other than b2. There is a video in which Hikaru instructs streamer Fuslie on the London, and this covers how to react to a lot of common attempts to disrupt your structure or attack your pieces.

I also advise studying great games of the London System, as you will get more ideas of how to play the middlegame or how to handle games where you get pulled out of the standard set-up.


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. Commented Sep 7, 2020 at 7:07
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    The question itself isn't "opinion based and subjective"; it is asking why there seem to be many people have a certain opinion.
    – GreenMatt
    Commented Jul 30, 2021 at 1:18

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