London Calling

This review has been printed in the November 2016 issue of Chess Life.  A penultimate (and unedited) version of the review is reproduced here. My thanks to the good folks at Chess Life for allowing me to do so.


Romero Holmes, Alfonso, and Oscar de Prado. The Agile London System: A Solid but Dynamic Opening Choice for White. Alkmaar: New in Chess, 2016. ISBN 978-9056916893. PB 336pp. List $29.95.

Sedlak, Nikola. Winning with the Modern London System: A Complete Opening Repertoire for White after 1.d4 d5. Niepolomice: Chess Evolution, 2016. ISBN 978-8394429096. PB 224pp. List $27.95.

The opening theory arms race never ends. It used to be that a novelty played one day could be used for weeks; now, with the transmission of games via the Internet, today’s hot new move is almost instantly in tomorrow’s databases. So increasingly we find even super-GMs ‘opting-out,’ preferring to play less studied variations instead.

Nowhere do we see this phenomenon more clearly than with the explosion of interest in the London System. Once considered suitable only for amateurs with little time to study, today the London is being played at the highest levels, with Carlsen, Kramnik, and Kamsky (among many others) championing its cause.

That the world’s elite are playing the London has not escaped the notice of chess publishers. No less than three books and one DVD devoted to the London have appeared in recent months, leading one sly wag at to win the Internet when he proclaimed:

…I can no longer keep up with the deluge of dense theoretical material published on the London System on a weekly or monthly basis. … I have decided to cut my theoretical workload by switching to the Ruy Lopez.

This month we look at two of these new London titles: The Agile London: A Solid but Dynamic Chess Opening Choice for White by GM Alfonso Romero Holmes and Oscar de Prado, and GM Nikola Sedlak’s Winning with the Modern London System: A Complete Opening Repertoire for White against 1.d4 d5.

Some might wonder how the stodgy old London could rightly be described as agile or modern. The answer lies in the move order. Following pioneering work by Eric Prié at and Johnson and Kovačević in Winning with the London System, today’s Londoneers play 2.Bf4 first, keeping Ng1-f3 in reserve. This allows them to avoid a few problematic lines, but it does not solve the problem of what to do against the King’s Indian, a traditional bugbear for London players.

Sedlak so fears the King’s Indian that, in his Preface, he explains he can only recommend the London after 1.d4 d5. This seems slightly overwrought to me. The standard London setup is no worse against the King’s Indian than other variations, and changing plans with an early Nc3 could transpose to the Barry Attack or the Pirc. Both options are covered in The Agile London, along with heterodox lines like the Jobava and Pereyra Attacks.

Here we see one of the main differences between the two books. The Agile London is encyclopedic in scope, offering readers a complete London-style repertoire, and often with multiple options. It consists of 71 densely annotated games leavened with both game and chapter summaries, making the intimidating-looking analysis slightly less frightful. 60 tactical and strategic puzzles are also included.

Winning with the Modern London System is a breezier, more personal book. Sedlak plays the London regularly and advocates for it here, using many of his own games along the way. Each chapter begins with a summary of repertoire choices, and the analysis is presented through complete games that are followed by ‘lessons to be learned.’

While I think both books good and useful, I suspect that different players might gravitate towards one or the other. Romero Holmes and de Prado have written an objective book that maps out numerous paths forward for the Londoneer. Sedlak’s book is an optimistic call to arms, quite suitable for new London players.

It might be argued that the only drawback to Sedlak’s book is his optimism. Sometimes he sees advantages for White where none exist. Take, for instance, one of the current main lines of the London – and one recommended by Boris Avrukh in Grandmaster Repertoire 11: Beating 1.d4 Sidelines.

[Note that an extended version of this analysis is available in replayable format.] 

After 1.d4 d5 2.Bf4 Nf6 3.e3 e6 4.c3 c5 5.Nd2 Nc6 6.Ngf3 Bd6 7.Bg3 0–0 8.Bd3 b6 (the key tabiya) 9.Ne5 Bb7 10.f4 Ne7 11.Qb1

Sedlak says this is White’s only chance for an advantage, but there are options. Most notably, White can play 11.Qf3 Nf5 12.Bf2 Be7 when Romero Holmes improves on Sedlak’s 13.g4 with 13.0–0!? Nd6 14.dxc5N (Avrukh only gives 14.Rad1) 14…bxc5 15.Qh3 Qc7 and the position is equal.

11…g6 12.Bf2 cxd4

12…Nf5!? looks reasonable, and Romero Holmes says 12…a5 13.0–0 Ba6 is equal, while Sedlak prefers White.

13.exd4 Nh5 14.g3 f6 15.Nef3

Following Grischuk-Wang Hao, Beijing, 2014. This position is evaluated as equal in The Agile London; Sedlak gives the moves but no evaluation. Either way, it’s hard to see how 11.Qb1 leads to an advantage.


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