An Interview with Simon Williams - Grandmaster, ChessBase author and attacking expert

by Johannes Fischer
5/16/2017 – English Grandmaster Simon Williams is a popular commentator and author who recently published a DVD about the London System with 2.Bf4. In an interview with ChessBase he explains why this seemingly quiet line is dangerous and also talks about effective opening study and reveals why it is sometimes a good idea to break rules.

Dear Simon, you just published a DVD on the London System with 2.Bf4. After dealing with the sharp King’s Gambit you now seem to cruise calmer waters. How did you get interested in this system?

Nowadays I have far less time to study all the latest developments that occur in opening theory. I wanted an opening that was perfect for a lazy player with little time to study, enter the London System.

Why does White play the bishop to f4? What are the ideas behind this move?

The main positional idea to Bf4 is to follow with e3 when the bishop will not be trapped in behind the pawn structure. This early move also leads to unique and unexplored territories.

“Knights before bishops”, I was told as a beginner. Is this rule no longer valid?

Rules are there to be broken.  In all seriousness, general rules like this are ok, but as our skills in chess advance we will find numerous examples when it is a good idea to break some of these rules.

Though White develops his bishop before the knight, violating old and established rules, 2.Bf4 does not really seem to be a wild move. But is it really as harmless as it looks?

2 Bf4 has a lot of bite to it. I wouldn't be able to play an opening myself that simply leads to a boring and dull game. Like anything in life, it is what we make of it and the DVD I presented shows just how exciting and dangerous this move can be.

Magnus Carlsen has played 2.Bf4 in a couple of games. But do you think 2.Bf4 will become a regular guest in (top) tournaments or will the move be just a passing fashion?

Magnus Carlsen on the cover of the new Fritztrainer DVD which analyzes the play of the World Champion

I expect that this move will continue to be used at top level. It has a good solid positional foundation so why not play it?

How useful, do you think, is it for amateurs to imitate the opening choices of the world’s top players?

I actually think it is often a stupid thing to do. Why would a lower rated player want to try and play a vastly complicated opening that requires  a tremendous amount of work behind it, when they can play something much more simply, time efficient and easier to play. Like the London System. We should take things example to example and not try to generalise.

And how useful is it for amateur players to follow the latest opening trends?

It can be useful, but I think it is much more important to try and understand the concepts and ideas behind the moves that are being played in the opening. Rather then thinking along the lines, " if he plays 21 Nxd4 then I must respond with ...Nf4" etc a player would improve much more thinking along lines such as, "The idea of playing 4 c3 is to reinforce my centre and allow me the option of playing Qb3. Qb3 can be a good move if my opponent moves his light square bishop on c8 away from the defence of b7." etc - Keep asking yourself 'Why?' - Why play that move, why did my opponent play that move. etc.

With a move like 2.Bf4 White seems to be determined to avoid theoretical lines. And though a lot of players profess an unwillingness to learn concrete lines, knowing your theory gives confidence and saves time on the clock. But with a move like 2.Bf4 that avoids theory you might simply not know how to continue with White, where to put your pieces, which piece to develop first, and so on. What do you think?

The main aim of my DVD is to explain to the viewer just how they should be thinking from the opening. I want them to understand and know the concepts behind the opening, then if they are surprised they will still know how to think in the correct way.

You made DVDs about relatively rarely played openings such as the King’s Gambit, the Evans Gambit, the “Black Lion” but also DVDs on more popular openings such as the Queen’s Indian, the Queen’s Gambit and the Slav. What is the attraction of playing main lines and what is the charm of a rarely played opening?

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Both approaches have their time and place. I really try to teach what I preach. If it is an opening that I play and understand or an opening that I have spent a long time studying then I am happy to share that knowledge with people. 
I would also like to mention that deciding on the opening depends a lot on the individual, a lot of chess enthusiasts just do not have much spare time to study all the latest theory. In that case it makes a lot more sense to play openings that are sound but also slightly off beat.  Hence why the London System is such a great choice for these players.

Personally, I have always found it tedious and boring to study openings. But judging from your DVDs, you seem to enjoy it. Where’s the fun in studying openings?

Lol! Lets be honest, I find a lot of opening work boring, but some work on it can be fascinating as well. I try to teach in a manner that explains and helps, but also keeps the viewer awake rather than putting them to sleep.

Do you remember a particular game or a particular moment when your opening study proved to be rewarding and satisfying?

I try to learn openings in a more general way rather then going for a specific 'one move crush'. This helps me in the majority of my games understanding such things as, 'what pawn structure I should be aiming for' 'where my pieces should move to' 'when to attack'. So learning with a very strong foundation, rather than just basing my knowledge on cheap tricks.

How important is it for amateurs to study openings?

It is important, but they must also not forget to keep an eye on other areas of the game. Of course watching my DVDs will automatically help them improve 200 elo points... (smiles)

Last question: what is your favourite game with 2.Bf4 and why?

Let me pick two games for different reasons.

1) Even though not officially starting with 2 Bf4, this only came a move later, the moves often being interchangeable. Carlsen vs Tomashevsky, 2016, was a masterful positional display from the world champion. With Magnus exchanging pieces with perfect timing.

 

On a more aggressive level the following Greek Gift idea has occurred on numerous occasions. Again White plays the bishop out one move later, but like I mentioned before it is the idea that is important not the specific move order.

2) Vladimir Kovacevic vs Hans Ree, Maribor, 1980.

 

The London System with 2.Bf4 - Sample Video

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A ChessBase feature with Simon Williams

 


Johannes Fischer was born in 1963 in Hamburg and studied English and German literature in Frankfurt. He now lives as a writer and translator in Nürnberg. He is a FIDE-Master and regularly writes for KARL, a German chess magazine focusing on the links between culture and chess. On his own blog he regularly publishes notes on "Film, Literature and Chess".
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czzling czzling 5/17/2017 10:46
One has to love Simon Williams.
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