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I enjoy playing the English opening, pushing my pawn to c4, and trying to out flank my opponent. But I have a hard time, outside of playing normal lines, understanding the advantage it gives, and why it leads to fantastic games. Any insights?

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Since I was playing the English myself, I can tell you why I have found it a good opening for me:

  1. Transpositional potential of this opening is stunning! You can lead your opponent out of his/her opening and draw them into the variations they do not know. One small example: 1.c4 c6 Since Black reveals to us that he plans to play Slav/Semi-Slav/Queen's Gambit we can steer the game into Caro-Kann with 2.e4!?. Now, this means nothing objectively--we just left one opening to enter into another--but the psychological effect can be devastating! It can lead to such consequences like deflating their will to play the game since the game is "boring", or you can actually transpose into an opening your opponent does not know and quickly demolish him.

  2. The center remains fluid for a long time. This is truly gold in the hands of the experienced player and answers this part of your question:

why it leads to fantastic games?

You see, since White restrains himself in the center, it is usually safe to play on the wings. Black usually responds by playing on the wings too, but inexperienced players forget about counter attack in the center. This possibility requires good calculation and accurate evaluation of the current position in order for a player to be able to execute this properly. Action on one wing + counter-attack in the center = crazy game. Launch your counter-attack in the center at the proper moment and you will win the game most of the time.

These are the beauties of this opening:

  1. Its intolerance for "robotic play" and opening memorization--it requires of a player true knowledge. You must know how to play chess--opening, middle game and end game--no opening book can save you if you do not know how to play chess.

  2. Its main feature is to give so much space to a "true" player for creating winning chances. If you are creative enough you can win in the opening, middle game and even an endgame. By "true" player I mean player who plays every game with 100% of his strength. The player who plays with knowledge and does not rely on safe patterns/30+ memorized opening moves and so on. The player who is willing to fight for victory to the very end.

Whether you play "normal" lines, or you play some side-line/transposition, the English opening will never be dull and sterile for a player who is prepared to invest all of his mental capacity to win the game.

Hopefully this answer will help you.

If you have further questions leave a comment.

Best regards.

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    Thanks - this is probably the best summary I have ever seen, and it is super helpful in furthering my understanding. – Kelly J Andrews Jan 15 '14 at 16:09
  • @KellyJAndrews: I am so glad I could be of help-if you need further help/advice leave a comment. Best regards. – AlwaysLearningNewStuff Jan 15 '14 at 16:30
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Playing the English opening, you will soon find that there is much more room for creativity in this opening than in many openings starting with d4 or e4. You have many possible ideas:

  1. playing a reversed sicilian with the white pieces
  2. prepare a specific "anti-something" line against your opponent. For instance, you can avoid the Nimzo-Indian and the Grunfeld defense if you want to
  3. there is also the possibility to play very quiet lines, where the center pawn structure remains undecided for a long time:

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Here, this position is very quiet for now, but can soon become very explosive. The big questions being:

  1. will White push d4 and when ?
  2. will Black push d5 and when ? as you have probably guessed, there is not one single good answer to this question and that is also why the English opening leaves more room for creativity.

If you are interested, I have summarized the main strategic ideas of the English opening on the following video: https://youtu.be/wsxYf7fV76c

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In his book on Flank Openings, Raymond Keene made this point. In a conventional opening where both players initially focus on the center, if they play equally well the position may burn out into a draw. If the initial struggle takes place on the flank, even if it does burn out, there is still the other flank to play on.

To take advantage of this possibility, you must make sure that your forces can readily transfer from one flank to the other. This is usually easier for the player who has gained more space.

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    Good answer but I have a question. You note that the player who has gained more space can more readily transfer from one flank to the other. However, isn't space a mild weakness of the English opening for White? If White wants space, then would White not probably have chosen a different opening? – thb May 26 '18 at 23:46
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    Remember that in flank openings you aim to control the center rather than occupy it, and that was what I meant by gaining space. Take for example the square d5. If you have occupied it with a pawn you may have space behind your center, and denied it to your opponent, but you cannot use that square as a transfer point. im not saying that this is a pattern that happens every time, but the object of pawn play in the center is often not to occupy the center, but to create paths of communication. – Philip Roe May 27 '18 at 16:05

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