The Ultimate Guide to the London System Essential Theory
Chess Openings

Decoding the London System: The Ultimate Guide to Essential Theory

Decoding the London System: The Ultimate Guide to Essential Theory

In chess, the London System has become increasingly popular in the last decade, making it essential for players to learn how to play against it as Black.

However, the simplicity and rock-solid pawn structure of the London System make it an attractive choice for White, who can employ it without needing to study any theory. While it may appear defensive at first, the London System offers several opportunities for sharp attacks, such as when the knight is placed on e5.

Additionally, it includes some deadly traps, including a fascinating one where White sacrifices a bishop to checkmate Black. Even the World Chess Champion, Magnus Carlsen, has fallen victim to the London System’s tricks, as he failed to spot a double attack that cost him material.

In this article, we will explore the London System’s essential theory and analyze several of its most effective traps.

There is some knowledge that you should consider mandatory to learn as a chess player. For example, there are 10 Opening Traps Every Chess Player Should Know! In a similar way, the London System is something you cannot refrain to learn.

What Is the London System?

The London System arises after White’s first move, d4. After that, White’s setup is going to be something like this. Here is how this game was reached.

1.d4 d5 2. Bf4 Nf6 3. e3 c5 4. c3 Nc6 5. Nd2 e6 6. Ngf3

London System setup

White is building a rock solid pawn structure in the center, which really secures them against any early attacks from Black. White’s setup is super simple because they are going to be playing these same moves against virtually any replies of Black. This makes the London System appealing for a lot of players to play it as White, as you don’t need to study any theory really.

You just put the same setup over and over again, and that’s why some people consider this opening a little bit boring for White. White only has one pawn on the fourth rank, so it doesn’t look very aggressive at first. However, there are a lot of hidden opportunities for sharp attacks.

Sharp Attacks

London System, White's knight on e5

The first thing you can notice on this position in the London System is that this setup allows White’s knight to jump to e5, putting the knight on a strong square on the center. From here, it puts a lot of pressure onto Black’s position. It’s not as easy for Black to deal with it.

Black, obviously, cannot just trade here. Taking with the knight is clearly not an option. But capturing on e5 with the bishop is an unfavorable exchange.

You can see in the video lesson  a complete chess game from this position, where White just keeps chasing the king until it is checkmated. Even though the London System setup looks simple, and somewhat more defensive for White initially, in fact White has some hidden chances to begin a sharp attack.

Deadly Trap!

Gata Kamsky
Gata Kamsky – One of the US chess champions

In the London System there is a really unique and fascinating trap ―one of the most beautiful traps I ever saw.

It was seen in a chess game played between Kamsky (playing White) against Shankland. Both of them are really strong grand masters. They have been US chess champions.

From the following position, White starts a sequence of exchanges… It looks like White is just giving up the pressure… White has a big surprise in store for Black. 

The Winning Continuation

It seems that after 10. Nxd7 Bxd7 11. Bxd6 Qxd6 12. dxc5 Qxc5, Black has no problems. But then, it comes 13. Bxh7!

Still, after 13…Kxh7 14. Qh5+ Kg8, it looks like White’s sacrifice made no sense at all and the attack is over. But then, you continue with 15. Ne4!

Beautiful and deadly trap in the London System

This is a very interesting tactical idea. You are taking advantage of a pin along the fifth rank. This is a very unusual pin we should say. Black’s queen is attacked and White knight cannot be captured, due to the pin.

The queen has to go away somewhere. But now, this knight jumps to g5 and, finally, we can see White’s idea. White is simply going to checkmate Black! It’s not easy for Black to stop the checkmate.

Carlsen Fell for This Trap!

Let me show you another London System trap everyone falls into. Their victims include the World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen. White’s first moves are similar to what we already know. Instead of the move which is expected to be played (pawn to c3), you can also go Nc3 (which looks like just a normal development move).

Very often in this position, Black continues by playing the standard move, d5. But, in this position, this is actually a losing mistake!

London System: d5 mistake, Nb5 wins material

White has the winning shot, Nb5! This is really a surprise for Black. They can very easily overlook it. There is no defense for Black against White’s double attack to the king and the rook. Black is destroyed.

The database of chess games show you how deadly this line is for Black. Just look at the statistics I show you in the video lesson.

Trap Black’s Queen

The queen is often the main victim in opening traps. As an example, you can see the trap #2 in the 5 Best Chess Opening Traps in the Budapest Gambit.

If Black does not play d5, sometimes, they go Qb6, taking advantage of the fact that the development of the dark-squared bishop left the b2-pawn unprotected. Black often tries to seize the initiative by attacking that pawn.

London System: Qxb2, queen trapped

Here you can play a3, just pretending that you are unaware of Black’s intention and, if they are naive enough to capture the pawn, you go Na4. All of a sudden, the queen is trapped right there on b2! On the next move, you’re going to simply capture it.

Another Trap if Black Plays Qxb2

A somewhat similar trap may happen in a slightly different variation of the London System. It’s actually even trickier and, therefore, you definitely need to know it.

Black plays Qb6, without playing Nc6 first, or pawn to e6 first. Black is trying to attack you right away, and it seems a little bit uncomfortable for White.

London System: Qxb2 early

Alternatives are passive, but you can go Nc3! You sacrifice the pawn. After Black captures it, you go Nb5. Then, forced continuations come… Finally, you will jump with your knight to c7, forking the king and the rook, and winning material.

London System: Attacks all around

Taking the rook is already very good for White. However, you could play Ng5 too, just to hit the black king from another side. This is deadly for Black. Black is devastated. You’re attacking them all around, and you’re going to capture just literally everything in Black’s position.

Bxh7+ Sacrifice and Tactical Ideas

All chess games are full of tactics! You could learn about the most common tactical ideas by looking at Chess Tactics Galore.

Here is one more common pattern in the London System opening. By the way, we are not learning just traps; these are common ideas that can be used in different lines of the London System.

London System: Bxh7 trap

In this position, Black is attacking the e5-pawn 3 times (with their knights and queen), and White only protects it twice. There is no way for White to provide an extra support for the pawn and, therefore, Black will just happily grab the pawn on the next move. It seems that White is going to get a winning position. But it fails due to another tactical motif, which is Bxh7!

It’s somewhat natural for Black to fall into this trap because all their previous moves were very natural. After this, you just destroy Black’s position. You continue with Ng5+, attacking the king. The idea is that if the black king goes to g8, you continue with Qh5. This is actually a pretty common tactical motif which happens in various different openings not only in the London System. It leads to forced checkmates.

How to Play Against the London System as Black?

If someone uses the London System against you, you just need to know the right way to handle it. I’m going to show you one very simple line which gives you great chances. It could give you a more superior position even though you’re playing Black.

Once you realize that White is going to use the London System against you, you can fianchetto your kingside bishop. We know that White is going to put their bishop in d3, and it will create in the future some potential threats against your king. Therefore, you can just block that diagonal right away just to prevent any chances for White’s attack. After that, if White continues playing the same moves, then you go pawn to c5.

London System: How to play as Black

So, first of all, you just solidified your kingside position making sure there are no threats against your king. After that, you’re going to start attacking White’s center because the drawback of the white setup of the London System is not trying to push their pawns to the fourth rank.

White is allowing you to fight for the control over the center and to try getting a dominating position in the center because, right now, you’re actually having two pawns in the center against White having only one. You’re already a little bit superior in the center and, therefore, you can just try to expand there.

White Takes the Pawn on c5

White should decide what to do against your pawn on c5. A couple of things could happen. This is what happens if White takes your pawn.

London System: Double pin

In this position, if White plays, for example, Qc2 to protect the c3-pawn, you just grab the b4-pawn. This is a fairly beautiful position where, potentially, White could grab the b4-pawn with their pawns, but they can’t do it because the a-pawn is pinned as well as the c-pawn. Whatever White does against the b4-pawn will lose their rook on a1!

White’s pawns are crumbling away and you’re going to pick up all of them in the very near future.

This tells you that it’s not dangerous for you at all if White decides to grab your pawn on c5. Now let’s see what happens if White plays more normal moves.

White Doesn’t Take the Pawn on c5

White could play Nd2 and castle, to just continue with the usual London System setup. After that, there is another key move which you need to remember. Still, you need to play the knight back to d7!

It looks counter-intuitive at first because you’re moving your knight backwards and also you’re locking your other pieces behind. However, it does make perfect sense because you’re going to push your pawn to e5, which White cannot stop really. After the exchanges on e5, your knight will come back into an even more powerful position.

London System: White doesn't take the pawn and Black plays Nd7

The position at the end of the opening for Black is actually superior because you’ve got two pawns in the center, which are well protected against White having no pawns. Also, the b4-pawn is under attack, and it’s not easy for White to somehow protect it. Maybe White would have to put their rook in a very passive position like b1.

All in all, you can just continue playing in the center, and you are having a really great position. That is a simple way for you to handle the London System as Black!

Here is another tricky to way to play against the London system.

Conclusion

The London System may seem like a simple and defensive opening for White, but it holds some deadly traps and sharp attacking opportunities that can catch Black off guard.

As a chess player, it is crucial to learn and understand the London System both as Black and as White, as it is a popular and effective opening in modern chess.

So, whether you are a seasoned player or a beginner, don’t underestimate the power of the London System and make sure to add it to your arsenal of chess strategies.

Final Quiz for You

Let me show you another common trap that you can use in the London System against players who play the King’s Indian Defense. They often play something like this as Black, and in this position: you may play Bc4.

After Black goes Nf6, this is my question to you: How would you play here as White? Notice that White played Bc4 instead of Bd3, which is a subtle difference. However, in this case, it actually makes the difference! So, please think about this position: How would you play here as White, and write it down in the comments below.

This is actually a very common trap. Even grand masters got trapped.

The London System (Essential Theory) – Video Lesson

Below you can go through all the moves on the chessboard and also download the PGN file with the chess games that we analyzed for this lesson to learn the essential theory about the London System.

Masterclass

Right now you know all the essential theory and ideas (even traps) in the London System. On the other hand, if you want to know how to improve your chess skills in general, then let me invite you to join my free masterclass The Best Way to Improve at Chess Instantly!

In this masterclass, I share with you my most effective strategies that help my students to get their chess goals. Like them, you could become a titled player or win national championships, among other things.

I hope you enjoy reading this blog post.

If you want GM Igor Smirnov to help you get better at chess, watch this Masterclass.

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