Late Fireworks in St. Louis

The annual Sinquefield Cup recently came to a close and considering how the tournament has gone the last few years, we could venture to say that this year’s results were somewhat surprising.

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The Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis, the host of the annual Sinquefield Cup.

In this year’s edition of the Sinquefield Cup, there were three co-champions after nine rounds:  Fabiano Caruana, Magnus Carlsen, and Levon Aronian.  Due to this event being the second-to-last in this year’s Grand Chess Tour, “tour” tiebreaks were held after the main event, where Caruana and So went head to head to decide who would join Aronian, Nakamura, and MVL in the final leg of the Grand Chess Tour in London.  The first two games were rapid time control, and Caruana was able to take 1.5/2 and win first place.  But that wasn’t the surprising part.  They’re all great players.  Rather, it was the fact that two of the ten players finished with nine draws out of nine games in the main event, and two more players finished with eight draws in nine games.  Additionally, no player had more than three decisive games, which isn’t incredibly low by any means, but it’s also not very high.

Of course, that’s not to say there weren’t good games.  There were many good games, and I will share one of my favorites further down in this article.  But, it seems like this tournament will resurface comments about the number of draws in tournaments these days.  Despite the many draws, at least in the first eight rounds of the tournament, all viewers were rewarded with a climactic ending in the ninth round.  Caruana came into the round leading the field by half a point with 5/8, but four players were on 4.5/8, so there was bound to be some drama unfolding.  We were given just that when two of those players, Carlsen and Aronian, won their respective games to jump to 5.5/8.  Carlsen had a nice attack early and rode the advantage to eventually capture the full point.  Aronian gambled against Grischuk with a rook sacrifice and it paid off when Grischuk blundered, allowing Aronian to win.  Meanwhile, Caruana wasn’t able to do much as Black against Wesley So, who didn’t push for much himself.  As a result, we had three players atop the podium in the end.

In an interesting side story, official September ratings came out, and Carlsen (2839) is currently 12 points above Caruana (2827).  The Sinquefield Cup caused some shifting in the top 10, but most interestingly, if Caruana had beat Carlsen when they met in round 7 and the rest of the tournament had gone as it did, Caruana would have overtaken Carlsen for number one on the rating list.  What a story that would have been!  However, winning with Black against the World Champion is a tall order, so Caruana will have to wait for another chance.

And now, probably my favorite game from the tournament:

Carlsen – Nakamura, 6th Sinquefield Cup, 2018

This game was my favorite for a couple reasons.  Firstly, I loved the tactics and attack that Carlsen was able to command in the middlegame, seemingly out of nowhere.  However, perhaps more than that, I enjoyed how he could transition seamlessly from attacking with his major pieces to liquidating to a queen and rook endgame where he ground down his opponent.  For a while, it looked like Carlsen couldn’t make any progress on Black’s a-pawn, but once he decided to trade off queens and could position his kingside pawns optimally, he could march his king all over the board, eventually picking up the a-pawn and infiltrating Black’s kingside to secure the win.

Upcoming tournaments include the World Chess Olympiad at the end of September and the Isle of Man Open in late October, so stay tuned for those!  As always, thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next time.

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Keeping in Touch with Chess

It’s that time of…life?

Yes, that’s right.  As some Chess^Summit authors have reached and passed this part of life, it’s now my turn – college applications.  With college applications has come the unfortunate effect of not being able to play in tournaments very often, if at all.  Frankly, sitting here while writing this sentence, I couldn’t tell you off the top of my head what the last tournament I played in was, or even the last time I played in a rated game in general.  In other words:  It’s been awhile.

Sure, I could tell you that this is a situation could very well happen to anyone, or that it’s inevitable, but that wouldn’t exactly help you.  Rather, I can tell you a few things you can do to stay in touch with chess if playing consistently in tournaments or rated games, in general, becomes impractical.  So, without further ado…

  1. Online Chess

This one kind of goes without saying, but it’s really the closest one can get to playing rated chess, it’s just without the effect that rated games would have on actual rating.  Playing online chess comes with the ability to practice strategies, execute plans, and stay up to date with opening theory, assuming your opponent follows the book line to the end.  The opening theory part, however, might change based on the chosen time control for online chess, and that choice has some pretty significant implications.  There are pros and cons for short and long time controls alike.  Shorter time controls allow for refinement of intuition and quickly spotting tactics; however, they aren’t always ideal, as games can often become nonsensical in time scrambles.  On the other hand, long time controls allow for deep thinking, drawn out plans, and perhaps a better chance at good opening play; these too, however, have their own cons, as the games can take a long time, and sometimes that amount of time just isn’t available.  Either way, playing online if/when possible is one of the best ways to stick with the game when pressed for time.

  1. Solving Tactics

As briefly mentioned already, another well-known way to keep up with chess is to practice with tactics on a daily (or as consistent as possible) basis, as they help with keeping motifs engrained in our minds and calculation time consistent.  The benefit of practicing tactics is that they never become repetitive, as each subsequent problem is typically from a position we’ve never seen, and the motifs from problem to problem almost always change.  In this way, each problem can be engaging in its own way, and, as a whole, the method is very easy to get into.  In fact, my first real chess coach always praised the idea that doing “just ten tactics a day” is good enough to keep up with the game, and if time is a concern, doing only that much likely wouldn’t take all that long.  There are many ways to practice tactics, and one of the best is Tactics Trainer at chess.com.  The system is incredibly interactive – if you don’t find the correct answer on the first try, it allows you to retry with no effect on your tactics “rating,” or you can have it tell you the solution right away; having that choice in the first place is something that many other tactics websites don’t offer.  Overall, practice tactics is a fairly straightforward and less-time-consuming way to keep in touch with chess, and if you believe in the well-known phrase, practicing something that comprises 99% of chess can’t exactly hurt.

  1. Straight-up Think about Chess

This one might not sound all that familiar at first but bear with me, because this is actually one of my favorite ways to keep in touch with chess, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of you do this already.  Thinking through chess moves, games, or crazy tactics is something that I love to do, especially when in situations that some might consider “boring.”  Say, you’re in a waiting room for some appointment and don’t have anything to do.  If I was in that situation, I might just start playing through an opening in my head, testing myself to see how well I remember specific lines.  Or, I might play through a game of mine that I happen to recall at the moment; or maybe even a game that isn’t mine, but I was fascinated with it enough to memorize the moves.  Or, I could try to construct as crazy of a position as I can to make a certain tactical move to work.  For example, I could ask myself, “What’s the coolest position I can come up with where a rook sacrifice leads a win by forcing doubled pawns?” and then proceed to create certain piece combinations and positions where it works.  Doing this on my own has actually helped two-fold: I’ve been able to stay in touch with chess in perhaps a “creative” way, and I’ve also found a way to occupy myself when necessary.

Perhaps, the next time you find yourself not being able to play in a tournament due to timing, you can compensate by keeping in touch in one of these ways, or maybe even others that I haven’t mentioned.  In fact, if any of you have other ways that you keep in touch with the game, feel free to share in the comments!

Somewhat ironically, I still won’t be able to play in tournaments anytime very soon because I’m leaving for Singapore on a field trip in a couple days, and I’ll be gone for about two weeks.  Thus, you probably won’t see me in two weeks, but I should be back in a month or so.  Until then!

New and Old at U.S. Juniors

With another year, another U.S. Junior Chess Championships have come to a close.  The field for both tournaments did not disappoint, even though they were markedly different from years past – another testament to the constantly evolving landscape of junior chess in the country.  In the end, the tournaments were engaging to follow, with action and the title up for grabs all the way until the end (if you remember the Girls section last year, it was decided before the last round!).  They were held from July 11-21 as a nine-player round-robin. 

U.S. Girls Junior Chess Championships 

First, the Girls Section.  After nine grueling rounds, youngster Carissa Yip came out on top by a full point at 7/9.  Although she lost one game later in the tournament, her six (!) wins more than made up for it.  It was evident from the start that Yip was going to be playing for wins all tournament, essaying the double-edged Grünfeld and eventually creating a lethal attack against an uncastled White king.  After winning the first game, she followed up with a second win, dodging and eventually capitalizing on her opponent’s overextension in the middlegame.  She continued to excel at the top of the standings throughout the tournament, winning games wherever possible.  By the last round, she was already up a full point on the rest of the field and just had to draw the last round to clinch the tournament, which she was able to do. 

One of the more interesting points about this tournament victory for Yip is related to the same tournament from last year.  In that event, while Akshita Gorti was able to power through to a convincing tournament victory, Yip somewhat struggled, finishing with only 3.5/9.  As a result, I would have to believe that this victory feels extra special for Yip as, 1) it is already one of the most prestigious junior tournaments in the country, but 2) it’s also a bounce-back performance relative to last year.  All in all, it made for a strong performance this year, and it’ll be interesting to see if she can keep it up next year. 

U.S. Junior Chess Championships 

The Open section of the tournament saw many new faces in this year’s edition, with five of the ten players not having played in this tournament last year.  That statistic comes with somewhat of an asterisk as Annie Wang played in the Girls section last year, but for all intents and purposes, it counts.  After nine action-packed rounds, it was Awonder Liang who came out on top with 6.5/9.  Unlike the Girls section, which had a relatively spaced out distribution of final scores, the Open section was very clogged up in the middle, with five players in the 4-5 point range and seven in the 3.5-5 point range.  This made for many critical games from early on, as every full point made a huge difference.  Even the tournament winner, Awonder Liang, “only” had four wins, compared to Carrisa Yip’s six in the Girls Section.  Still, Liang was able to finish a half point above Advait Patel, who earned second. 

Unlike Yip, who was able to reverse her performance from last year to win the tournament this year, it was sort of the opposite of Liang’s case.  He won the tournament last year, too!  So, this actually marks two in a row for Liang, who must certainly be feeling ecstatic after this performance.  While he faced significant competition in both events, he has been able to weather the storm each time out.  The question everyone will be asking this time next year will be:  Will Liang be able to three-peat?  Of course, only time will tell. 

Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next time! 

 

GM At Last!

After a long, suspense-filled journey, chess phenom Praggnanandhaa has officially become the second youngest to ever achieve the grandmaster title.  To say the least, it was a very long road.  Nevertheless, the achievement is still magnificent, although possibly bittersweet for him.

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Praggnanandhaa at the 2017 World Junior Championships

Let’s take a trip through time to examine how Praggnanandhaa came to reach such an achievement at this incredibly young age.  Praggnanandhaa first broke onto the scenes as a FIDE Master just before turning 8 years old when he won the U8 Open section at the Asian Youth Chess Championships in 2012.  Fast-forward three years later, and Praggnanandhaa became the youngest-ever International Master in 2016 at the age of 10 years and about 10 months after gaining the third and final IM norm at the KiiT International Chess Festival.  At this point, the chase for the GM title was officially on, and to break Sergey Karjakin’s record at 12 years and 7 months, Praggnanandhaa had about one and three-quarters years to gain three GM norms (performance rating of 2600+) and peak his rating above 2500.  Plausible, right?

The First GM Norm

Praggnandhaa earned his first GM norm at the 2017 World Junior Chess Championships.  This was a big story, but it was probably overshadowed by the potentially bigger story – one that never materialized.  This event was (and still is) one of several around the world that offer immediate titles to the top finishers of each section.  In the top section, the first-place prize was, in fact, an immediate GM title.  Unfortunately, Praggnanandhaa fell half a point short with “only” 8/11.  Still, he had finally gotten the first norm that he needed, and he had about five months to gain two more in order to beat Karjakin’s record.

The Second GM Norm

After winning his first norm in November 2017 and with a large number of events coming up, many believed Praggnanandhaa could feasibly gain his last two norms before March 2018, when he would become the same age as Karjakin when he won his title.  Unfortunately, Praggnanandhaa never seemed to catch a lucky break, and he came very close on many occasions, but could never seal the deal.  Thus, the March 2018 deadline came and passed.  But, it definitely wasn’t the end of the world for him, since Praggnanandhaa still had six months to beat the second-fastest time, which was held by Nodirbek Abdusattorov of Uzbekistan.  Indeed, about a month after the deadline in April of 2018, Praggnanandhaa gained his second GM norm at the 4th Heraklion “Fischer Memorial” GM-Norm tournament, finishing in clear first half a point ahead of the rest of the field.  He only had one more to go.

The Third GM Norm

The band Linkin Park has a song that goes: “Night gets darkest right before dawn / What don’t kill you makes you more strong / And I’ve been waiting for it so long.”  Indeed, that seemed to ring true for Praggnanandhaa, who had one of his worst performances in early June at the Schaakweek Apeldoorn GM tournament in the Netherlands, going a frightening 3/9.  Yet, all seemed to work out in the end, as later in the month, he played in the 4th ad Gredine Open in Italy and captured the last GM norm and the GM title in the 8th round of the tournament.  To put on the finishing touches, he won the last round as well and tied for first place in the end.  A fitting finish.  Congrats to Praggnanandhaa!

While he wasn’t able to break Karjakin’s record in the end, Praggnanandhaa’s journey was still fascinating and fun to follow.  And, what’s bad about being the second fastest to GM?!

Some now even call him the 2nd Tiger from Madras, as his hometown is in Chennai, India, and it happens to be the same as former World Champion Viswanathan Anand.  Those are big shoes to fill, but it seems very possible as he is yet to 13.  Once again, congrats to Praggnanandhaa, and I’ll see you next time!

Keeping the Foot on the Gas

This week, I’ll be taking a quick break from the Opening Overhaul series to cover a topic that appeared in my most recent tournament last weekend, and I feel it is important enough to write about it now.

The Continental Class Championships were held from June 15-17 in Falls Church, VA.  Fellow Chess^Summit author Isaac was there, too, and he played in the Open Section.  I decided to play in the Expert (U2200) Section because it was my first tournament in a while and I figured I would perform better overall in my own section.  I went into the tournament as the fourth seed in the 3-day section, so I felt that I would have at least two rounds of playing down before the pairings would become a little more muddled.  Indeed, that’s how the games played out, as we will see.

In the first round, I was paired with an opponent I had beat before with White, but I didn’t particularly enjoy the opening in that game.  Thus, prior to this round, I prepared for that same line; such is my luck, as he played something completely different, and I was back to playing a normal game.

Kobla – Al-Hariri, Continental Class Championships, 2018

A standard Italian game out of the opening, there was mostly maneuvering.  By the time the middlegame came around, there were two distinct focus points on the board.  One of those was the pawn fixture on b5 and the tension between the a and b pawns for White and Black, respectively.  The second focus point was the tension in the center after Black got in d5.  Black arguably won both battles there, but I was able to keep the pressure along the central files. Eventually Black tried to trade material in a fancy way but it was ultimately flawed, and I won a piece.  The conversion was a bit shaky, but in the end, I was able to win the first game of the tournament, which is always nice.

Klenoff – Kobla, Continental Class Championships, 2018

In the second game, the middlegame was somewhat rough as my f6 plan became a failed experiment, but I got somewhat lucky by being able to get in d6 and d5, after which a trade of pawns and minor pieces opened up my position a bit and I was able to do some maneuvering to transfer my bad light-squared bishop to the kingside where it would be of use.  At that point, I was able to capitalize, and after White’s queen ventured a bit too far into my position, I was able to gain a few tempi by attacking the queen, allowing me to gain the initiative.  That initiative carried through to the end when I was able to win material and eventually the game.

The 2-0 start was the best I could ask for considering I hadn’t played in a long time and hadn’t even looked at chess, and it also confirmed that playing in my own section was the right decision.  Still, there were games left to play.  In the third round, I was paired up against a high 2100 who had merged in from the 2-day section.  I had no idea what he played so I went in with general preparation.

Kobla – Theiss, Continental Class Championships, 2018

I went for the quick draw for a couple of reasons.  For one, I figured that I should just take the points I get since I was playing a higher rated player.  I also figured that I didn’t want to risk it since it was my first tournament in some time, but I feel like that was the wrong mindset to have because I had already played two games and for the most part that rust would have been gone.  And, obviously this isn’t the mainline of the Sveshnikov for Black so I could have continued with the declining move Bd3, but in all honesty, I had forgotten the correct way to decline the draw, and that was another reason I took the draw.  In hindsight, if I had known the correct line, however, I probably would have played on.  Either way, this draw meant that I had 2.5/3 and just had to prepare for the next morning.

For the fourth round, I was paired against a good friend of mine in Alex Jian, someone I’ve played a number of times in the past.  Many of our previous games have been in the Grunfeld, so for this game, I decided to prepare something one-off.

Jian – Kobla, Continental Class Championships, 2018

This game is definitely the one I want to spend the most time talking about.  To start, my choice of preparation definitely threw my opponent off, as he prepared for something completely different as he told me afterward.  With that upper hand, I was able to equalize early on and soon in the middlegame I was in the driver’s seat.  I was able to increase the pressure as the middlegame went on, but there were a couple points where I could have cashed in that momentum into better endgames or otherwise better position overall, but I missed them or didn’t think highly enough of those opportunities.  Even in the end, I was still better, but I offered a draw feeling like I had done what I could.  In hindsight, I definitely should have pressed, as I could have in the third game as well.  As a result, I finished this round with 3/4.

I took a bye in the last round as I actually went to a concert with my family that night to see U2!

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It was a great performance!

But I digress.  Overall, the lesson to be learned here is that, if given the opportunity, one should always go for wins, even if already at or near the top of the standings.  As world-class players like Carlsen and Caruana have shown, it doesn’t hurt to press a little for wins when already winning a tournament because they can only help you.  When in a better position, if something happens down the road and that advantage is lost, then it is what it is and one can settle for a draw.  But, if that opportunity to go for a win exists, then go for it.  Especially in my fourth round game, there were a number of instances where I could have either cashed in or just played on and seen what would have happened, and if I could have won, it would have been better for me.  In the end, finishing with 3.5/5 gave me a tie for third, but considering that I started out 2/2, there was definitely room for improvement.

Next time, I’ll probably continue to play in my section with the hope of replicating the success I had in this tournament nevertheless.  But, if there’s one thing I’ll do differently, I’ll definitely press for wins when I can.

Opening Overhaul 2: Grünfeld

Last week, I discussed the London System in the first installment of the Opening Overhaul series.  In that article, I talked about the opening’s characteristic moves, plans for both sides, and some newer ideas that have become popular recently.  That same formula will be used this week in the analysis of the Grünfeld Defense.  

Overview

Although the opening first appeared in a casual game in 1855, the Grünfeld Defense received its name from Ernst Grünfeld, the player who popularized the opening in the 1920s.  In fact, in the first game that he used the opening, he beat future world champion Alexander Alekhine.  Overall, this opening was one of the trademark hypermodern openings at the time due to its lack of adherence to classical principles.  This made for a very dynamic, double-edged opening that procured a large following in a time period filled with traditionalist teachings from the likes of Steinitz and Tarrasch, among others.

The characteristic moves of the Grünfeld are as follows:

  1. d4 Nf6
  2. c4 g6
  3. Nc3 d5

From here, there are a number of continuations that have been tried for both White and black, some of which I will expand upon later.  Additionally, there are a number of possibilities of openings that can transpose into a Grünfeld.  However, overall, this concept of an early challenge to the control of the center (d5 from Black) is the fundamental basis of the Grünfeld Defense.  The general pattern is that White builds up a strong center, and Black tries to break it down with counterplay.

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The characteristic Grünfeld position

The Plans

For White, the typical plans, as aforementioned briefly, revolve around building up a presence in the center.

  1. Pawn center – Many of White’s positions and plans against the Grünfeld are based on a big pawn center, especially after the Exchange Main Line:  1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 d5 4. cxd5 Nxd5 5. e4 Nxc3 6. bxc3 where White has pawns on c3, d4, and e4.  With a large pawn center, White gains a lot of space early, especially in the center.  In optimal circumstances, White can continue to push these pawns down the board, often creating a passed pawn while restricting the movement of Black’s pieces.
  2. Quick use of rook on a1 – Much of Black’s early play hinges on the immense pressure that the fianchettoed g7 bishop exerts on the a1-h8 diagonal.  Although the mini-c3-d4 pawn chain is in the way, the rook on a1 is often targeted in many tactical sequences.  Thus, White can benefit from moving the rook to c1 or d1 early, which could help fortify the center as well.
  3. Attacking black’s king – If the pawn center holds up strong, White can sometimes switch focuses and attack the Black king.  This can be accomplished a few different ways, such as with a leading f2-f4-f5 push or even an h2-h4-h5 push.

For Black, the typical plans, as aforementioned briefly, revolve around trying to break down whatever White builds in the center.

  1. Attacking with flank pawns – the c5 and f5 pawns play a crucial role in Black’s attempts to liquidate White’s initial advantage in the center.  The c5 pawn usually exchanges on d4 at some point, transforming the focus on d4 to pieces-only and slightly weakening White’s center in the regard that the d4 pawn no longer has pawn support.  On the other hand, an f5 push from Black almost always forces White to react in the center by either pushing d5 or e5.  This can sometimes give Black more holes to occupy in the center.
  2. Pressure with minor pieces – the minor pieces play a huge role in pressuring the center.  Since the king’s knight is often traded off early (Nf6 – Nxd5 – Nxc3), Black has three minor pieces left, and they all play an integral role.  The g7 bishop obviously targets d4 and pressures the a1-h8 diagonal.  The queen’s knight often sits on c6 and attacks d4, and sometimes moves to influence other squares.  The light-squared bishop often moves to g4 and threatens White’s king’s knight, which usually plays an important role in protecting d4.
  3. Utilizing semi-open files – the c- and d-files are often open or semi-open for Black in the Grünfeld.  Thus, it typically benefits Black to put his rooks on c8 and d8.  In fact, in the exchange main line, Black usually gets his kingside rook to d8 very quickly, which increases the pressure on the center.  Additionally, the White queen is often one of the last pieces moved from its original square, so it behooves Black to place a rook opposite the queen on the d-file.

Games

One of the most important games in the Grünfeld Defense was the very first one, because a significant victory against a very strong player set the bandwagon rolling and led to many players taking up the opening.

Of course, there’s the Game of the Century played between Donald Byrne and Bobby Fischer when he was a mere 13 years old.  While this game technically transposed into a Grünfeld, it is still considered one in the record books, and the ideas used in the middle game are somewhat reminiscent of Grünfeld play anyway.

 

 

I’ve played the Grünfeld throughout my chess career as well, so there are a number of games that I’ve played that could be of interest.  I’ll show one here.

 

 

 

New Ideas

The exchange main line has somewhat decreased in popularity from the White side as Black has different ways to both limit the pressure White’s pawn center creates and create counterplay.  Thus, White has come up with a few different ways of approaching the Grünfeld.  One of these ways is a line that’s become more popular recently.  It goes:

  1. d4 Nf6
  2. c4 g6
  3. Nc3 d5
  4. cxd5 Nxd5
  5. Bd2!?

It’s a rather unorthodox-looking move, but the idea is quite simple.  In normal lines, when Black trades knights on c3, White recaptures with the pawn, which adds temporary support for the d4 pawn but is often negated if Black plays c5, cxd4.  But, in this situation, if Black trades on c3, White can recapture with the bishop, the difference being that the bishop can directly contest Black’s g7 bishop, and the d4 pawn is still protected.  As a result, Black typically doesn’t trade on c3 but rather retreats to b6 when attacked with e4.  This line, therefore, leads to a slightly different type of Grünfeld.

Meanwhile, Black has had some new ideas of his own that have increased in popularity recently.  One of these entails not trading on d4 after playing c5, but rather keeping the tension and at some point playing b6 to just protect the c5 pawn.  The difference in these positions is that Black can still create pressure on d4, but he can also safely move his queen to c7 now since, in the exchange lines, the queen would be in a precarious position on the open c-file.

And, with that said, thanks for reading!  I hope this article provided you with something useful, even if you don’t happen to play the Grünfeld yourself.  Next time, I’ll likely be covering another opening, but I don’t know which one just yet, so I will have to figure that out myself.  See you next time!

Opening Overhaul 1: The London System

As promised, today’s article will be the first installment of the Opening Overhaul.  In case you haven’t read the preview I posted last time, I will quickly summarize what this series is going to look like.  Each article will focus on a specific opening.  These articles will start with a brief discussion of the opening’s origins and its defining moves, positions, and//or ideas.  Afterward, I will go into some of the newer ideas in the opening, illustrating how the opening has evolved since it first appeared on the board.  Of course, notable and/or recent games from renowned players or even myself (where applicable) will be included as well.

d4

Overview

This week, we’ll be starting with the London System, a solid system for White that has been around for a long time.  The name of the system has its origins in the 1922 tournament in London when players began employing the line as a way to meet any Black response, especially the newer, hypermodern setups.  In the first few decades of play, this was the essential motive behind playing the London System – playing an opening with not much theory as the plans stay fairly constant with any Black response.  Some may have called it “playing for a draw.”  But, as the opening stuck around, the amount of theory in the opening increased, eventually to the point where people would consciously play the London System with the intent of playing for a win.

Classically, the defining moves for the London System are d4, Nf3, and Bf4 as the first three moves.  Sample starting move orders include, but are not limited to:

  1. d4 d5
  2. Nf3 e6
  3. Bf4 Nf6

Or:

  1. d4 Nf6
  2. Bf4 g6
  3. Nf3 Bg7

And so on.

LondonSystem1
A textbook London System position

The Plans

Typically, late opening/early middlegame ideas for White revolve around a few things:

  1. An e4 pawn break – when the d4 pawn is adequately supported, many times with pawns on c3 and e3, White builds up for an e3-e4 pawn break. This central break often leads to at least one minor piece trade, which opens up White’s somewhat cramped position.  It also allows the rooks to focus on the oft-open e-file.
  2. Control of the dark squares – by supporting the d4 pawn with pawns on c3 and e3 and having a bishop on f4 and a knight on f3, White often decides to focus on dark square control in the center. If White is able to establish dominant dark square control, the player is often able to maneuver pieces to holes in Black’s position and attack other sides of the board.
  3. Early queen trade – Black sometimes plays for lines with c5 and Qb6 ideas, aiming at the unprotected b2 pawn. However, White can sometimes challenge this attack by playing Qb3, offering a trade of queens.  If Black trades on b3, White recaptures with axb3, opening the rook on a1 and giving White a favorable endgame.

Interestingly enough, Black’s ideas in the London System revolve around somewhat similar concepts:

  1. An e5 pawn break – Just as White sometimes aims to break with e4, one of Black’s common ideas against the London System is to break with e5 before White can accomplish his own break. The advantage of this break for black is that, with White’s bishop on f4 and knight on f3, the push with e5 can come with great effect by gaining tempi on those minor pieces.  It can also help Black untangle his position as well, depending on how Black organizes his pieces before the break.
  2. Attacking the queenside – Since White moves his dark-squared bishop away from protecting the queenside fairly early, Black has a couple ways to try to exploit that in the opening and middlegame – namely, with the queen and with a pawn storm.
    • With the queen – As briefly mentioned earlier, the combination of c5 (hitting d4) and Qb6 is typical for Black as it activates the queen and hits the weak b2 pawn. This can sometimes create problems for White in regards to how to protect against the threat, especially if White has not played c3 yet since he wouldn’t be able to challenge the queen with Qb3.
    • With pawns – The other method of attacking the queenside is with a pawn storm. Depending on whether Black pushes his d-pawn to d6 or d5, the pawn storm can be organized differently.  If Black pushes d6, then he can follow with an eventual c5, a6, and b5 with the idea of b4, if allowed.  If Black pushes d5, then he can follow with c5, a6, c4, b5 with eventual b4, if allowed.  Either way, the goal of the pawn storm is the same – undermine the pawn support of the center and open lines.
  3. Trading off minor pieces – In a way, in the London System, White only uses half of his minor pieces in the opening phase of the game. White has the bishop on f4 and a knight on f3 which are directly involved in the fight for the center, but the light-squared bishop and queen’s knight are not.  Thus, Black often tries to get rid of the dark-squared bishop, either by using a knight with Nf6-Nh5-Nxf4(g3) or by challenging with his own dark squared bishop (Bd6).

Games

One game that exemplifies the second plan for White (as elaborated on, above) is actually from London 1922, between two very strong chess players in Akiba Rubinstein and Savielly Tartakower.

Rubinstein – Tartakower, London, 1922

 As we saw in this game, Rubinstein was focused from the start on trying to control the dark squares in the center and eventually on the flanks.  This control that he builds on allows him the luxury to eventually shuffle pieces around, including his king, and prepare for an attack, while all Black can do is scramble to defend while not having much mobility for any of his pieces.  While the end result isn’t directly connected to the opening, the fact that Rubinstein was able to establish dark square control in order to facilitate his later attack is a testament to the dangerous potential of the London System.

New Ideas

As with any opening, though, the London System has evolved over the years.  In my opinion, in fact, the London System may be at the forefront in terms of examples of openings that have evolved recently.  I have seen an uncountable number of games over the past six to twelve months where new ideas have been played and experimented with.

While I’m obviously no expert on this opening as I don’t play it myself, my observations have deemed that, in these new lines of the London System, White is focusing more on the dark square control plan and somewhat moving away from the e4 break plan.  While streamlined opening ideas can sometimes be bad as a player’s moves may become more predictable, it seems as if the aggressiveness of White in these new lines offsets that negative.

These new ideas revolve around an early Bg3 retreat (from f4), an early Ne5, and sometimes even f4 for White if given the time.  If Black doesn’t play well or does not know how to play against this plan, White can slowly build up, at which point the position becomes a more favorable version of the Stonewall for White as his dark-squared bishop is already outside the central pawn chains.

LondonSystem2
A possible position arising from newer London System ideas

With new ideas like this continually changing the face of the London System, I expect the opening to continue as one of the most popular chess openings.  While it is sometimes given a bad reputation for being a draw-ish opening, the potential exists for it to become a dangerous weapon, and thus, chess players will continue to play the opening for many years to come.

And, with that said, thanks for reading! I hope this article was enjoyable as it is something different than what I’ve written recently.  Next time out, I’ll be covering another opening, but you’ll have to wait for the details :).