Tag Archives: London System

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.

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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 chesspub.com 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 ChessPublishing.com 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.

Learning the (Neo-)London

Danielsen, Henrik.  Pressing Straight Away: The London System 1.d4 d5 2.Bf4Digital download available from Chessbase or your favored chess seller.  €9.90 at Chessbase.com; roughly $13.50 USD.

After the semi-debacle that was the US Open, I decided that I needed to change my opening repertoire and my approach to the opening.  I played 1.d4 years ago as a rank amateur (ha!) but turned to 1.e4 in recent years, thinking that I could force myself to play more actively with King’s Pawn openings.  (The jury is still out on that one.)  What I need, I now think, is some kind of basic opening repertoire that would be solid, stable, and trustworthy, all while keeping me out of immediate opening peril and letting me set the initial terms of the game.  This way I can spend more time working on my attacking skills and endgame play, and less time obsessing about opening preparation.  I can add new variations as I go and as time permits, keeping the ‘solid’ lines as a baseline.

Eventually, I decided to take up the Trompowsky against 1…Nf6 and the Neo-London against 1…d5.  This decision was, in no small part, prompted by the new Trompowsky book by Richard Pert, previously reviewed on this site, and also by Henrik Danielsen’s new video on the London available from Chessbase.

Steadfast readers will remember my admission of mixed emotions regarding chess databases, videos, etc.  I find it hard to read books on the screen regardless of the platform, with the odd exception of fiction on an e-reader.  (This difficulty may be changing, at least for chess books, with the introduction of E+Books; more on that in the coming weeks.)  The study of individual games, however, is not too difficult, and opening work is in fact easier for me in Chessbase.  I was therefore curious to test my reaction to videos viewed through Chessbase, and I thought Danielsen’s effort an interesting test case.

Chessbase has, wisely, added a line of ‘60 minute’ videos to their avalanche of DVDs and digital downloads.  The idea is that 60 minutes should be enough to cover a specific opening variation or, in two videos by Mikhailchishin, a strategic concept.  Most of the usual Chessbase authors appear in the series, and a lower price point makes up for the diminished content when compared to traditional Chessbase DVDs.  I tend to think that this idea is a real winner for everyone involved.  The price is better, the content is more focused, and busy players can spend their limited time learning exactly interests them.

Danielsen’s video sketches a opening system for White after 1.d4 d5.  There is no explicit coverage of 1…Nf6, save those variations where Black combines …d5 and …Nf6, and there are no Dutch lines, etc, so this is not a complete solution for players of the White pieces.  Still, what Danielsen manages to explain in just an hour is rather impressive, even if – as I will discuss – I have a few quibbles.

Danielsen’s fundamental premise in this video is that it is often advantageous for White to play 2.Bf4, thereby delaying Nf3.  This approach, the so-called ‘Neo-London,’ was first advanced by Vlado Kovacevic in the 1980s, and has recently been championed by ChessPublishing’s Eric Prié before his current sabbatical from the site.  (Kovacevic wrote a book on the London in 2005 with Svere Johnsen; see Prié’s less-than-thrilled review.)  Prie’s analysis at ChessPublishing.com is stellar, and anyone wanting to play this system would do well to sign up there and study it.

Over the course of seven short videos Danielsen manages to boil the Neo-London down to its essentials, communicating them clearly and concisely.  I was surprised at how much I was able to retain from the video presentation; for example, in this position

image

Black has two main moves: 6…Be7 and 6…Bd6.  Danielsen explains White’s responses to both in such a way that, even were I to forget the concrete analysis, I would be able to navigate my way to a playable position and perhaps even an advantage.  Danielsen makes good use of graphics on the board (arrows, colored squares) to illustrate his points, and he makes the ideas underlying his recommendations quite clear.

Danielsen packs an admirable amount of content into his allotted hour.  There are a couple of points, however, where he really should have offered viewers a bit more.  Take the key position that arises after 1.d4 d5 2.Bf4 c5 3.e3 Nf6 (or 2…Nf6, 3…c5).

image

Danielsen recommends 4.Nc3!?, a controversial recommendation to say the least.  Johnsen and Kovacevic offer 4.Nf3 in their book, and Prié, for his part, rates 4.Nc3 as ‘?!’ and analyzes 4.dxc5 and 4.c3 at ChessPublishing.  The analysis of 4.Nc3 in the video runs for roughly five minutes, covering up to move seven in the main line and move 10 in one of the variations.  I’m not sure that this is sufficient coverage for such a central variation in the Neo-London, and I would really have like to have seen some additional analysis offered, even if only in a database file.

More analysis in the attached database – or, better, additional analyzed games – would have improved this product.  There is only so much that can be covered in an hour; even though Danielsen really packs a lot into that time frame, some additional study material would have been beneficial.

My experience of the video was, generally speaking, positive.  I was left feeling that I’d learned a lot, and that – after some additional analysis of a few positions like the one above – I could play the Neo-London with confidence.  The real test of the video, of course, is in the results.  How did I do in my games?  The answer is: surprisingly well.

My OTB (slow) rating right now is 1731 USCF.  In rated USCF quick and blitz games, my score with the Neo-London is roughly 80% against players from 1300-2000.  In three standard games, against players averaging roughly 1875, I am at 1.5/3.  The most recent of these games was a draw against former Nebraska State Champion Joseph Knapp, and I offer it (with light notes) below.

http://www.viewchess.com/cbreader/2013/10/31/Game6469096.html

Practical results aren’t everything, but they are something.  We study chess because it’s beautiful, but also because we want to win.  Danielsen’s video gave me another weapon in my arsenal to help me win, and along the way, I think I learned about the game and its nuances.  Seems well worth the price of admission to me.