Understanding Le Système de Londres avec 2.Ff4

by Davide Nastasio
5/27/2019 – Chess players in the past spoke many languages to be able to travel to different countries, and to read chess literature, which in that time was scarce. Today, while some still do, with the advent of computers and a globalized age we've witnessed an expansion of English as a lingua franca, much like Latin in its day. However, ChessBase's production of DVDs in different languages (German, Spanish and now French) continues apace, so we can stir our curiosity for foreign languages, and eventually be able to follow a GM teaching a fashionable opening in his own mother tongue. Italian-expat in America DAVIDE NASTASIO tried just that with GM Christian Bauer's London System.

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A review

I didn't study French when I was little. In my brother's time French was even more important than it remains today, as essentially an empire (that tells a lot about how old my brother is!), with countries like Indochina (Vietnam) and of course control over many African countries. The dialect spoken in my native city is a mix of many languages, because Milan has been conquered over and over by different empires: Spain, France, Germany, Austria etc. Many words and verbs are still identical to the languages of those conquerors. One of the things I loved about chess is to have so many nationalities coming together, many different languages, many chess books are printed in different languages. In fact Bobby Fischer, to better learn chess in a period in which he didn't have access to computers, databases etc, taught himself Russian!

However, language comprehension sufficient for chess it is not like learning to speak or write a foreign language — quite a bit harder. The language of chess is limited in numbers, letters, name of the pieces, and evaluations. Hence it is not difficult to pickup the explanations given by the author of a foreign language video series. In the beginning Christian Bauer uses words like "le premiere clip" (often the French are speaking using English words, they love putting the accent on the end of the word. If one remembers this, then it becomes like listening someone speaking English with a different accent!) which probably can be translated as "the first video..."

Previously I watched a DVD authored by Bauer for ChessBase on the Scandinavian (in English). Now I wanted to know how he neutralized few lines played by Black against the London. Perhaps my general familiarity with the London System made it easy for me to understand what he said, but this DVD could also be used to learn more French for those who would love to go on a trip to France, or to connect with French chess players.

I really felt grateful to ChessBase for this DVD, because Bauer began the video showing a line I myself had problems against! (sometimes I really feel someone is spying my games!) 1.d4 f6 2.f4 c5

 

This line is quite active for Black, and poses White many questions immediately.

Will White lose the central pawn for a flank pawn? How should White deal with the weak pawn on b2, a weakness made evident by the opening of the d8-a5 diagonal?
Should White support the d4-pawn with c2-c3 or advance the pawn to d5? If like me, you have been plagued by such questions during tournament games, then obviously you should also want to listen to Bauer!

The French grandmaster is quite pragmatic and easy to follow, because he shows the possible answers by Black, and then gives the plans for both sides, so one already has an idea of what to expect, such as after the moves: 1.d4 f6 2.f4 c5 3.dxc5 a5 4.d2 xc5 5.c3 g6

 

If I understood correctly, the plans are for White to push the e2 pawn to open the lines for the light-squared bishop on f1, gaining some space in the center and developing with castling on the queenside. For Black, the plan is to fianchetto the bishop on g7, castle kingside, and eventually play d7-d6.

Once I have this blueprint in mind, the next step is playing some games with this line against a friend, or the engine, both as White and Black to immediately grasp the problems for both sides (I must admit this particular bit of advice actually came from Judit Polgar).

Going back one step Bauer considers more active for Black the move 3...a6 after: 1.d4 f6 2.f4 c5 3.dxc5

 

And here he begins to show, in true GM-style, how White must fight against such move, which can threaten White's development.

Bauer also shows some improvements, compared to what has been played previously in rapid games, like after the moves: 1.d4 f6 2.f4 c5 3.dxc5 a6 4.d4 a5 5.c3 xc5 6.e3 e6 7.d2 b6, and here, instead of the move ♘b3, Bauer proposes to continue with 8.c4! d5 9.e5 and the plan is to develop the ♘g1 on f3 having more centralized pieces and, consequently, a better central control.

 

I found it interesting Bauer gives also other ways to deal with 1.d4 f6 2.♗f4 c5 which may not be everyone's cup of tea. For example he shows a line where we can advance the pawn, similar to the Trompowsky: 1.d4 f6 2.f4 c5 3.d5 b6 4.c3 xb2 5.d2 b6 6.e4 if one wants to know more about the Trompowsky, ChessBase as another DVD from 'Blindfold King' GM Timur Gareyev.)

 

Bauer gave us a main line to follow (3.dxc5), which is the one we should play and study, but he also offers this line to further our curiosity. I don't watch videos with the idea to memorize the moves given by the author, but rather grave going into unexplored territory using the 'map' given by a trusted source, and the see what happens. I can watch games played by other players, or actually play some myself to gain a feeling. This work, if done over and over with all the lines Bauer shows, will bring rewards in terms of chess understanding.

In the line just mentioned I was curious, because I didn't feel White had enough compensation for the pawn, so I began to examine some games to understand how White should react to such loss of material, and how to take advantage. In this case I found more than 500 games, and began to play through a few, quickly, to improve my understanding, and challenge my disbelief over a line I wouldn't like to play. I found these games played by Vaganian a top player in the end of the 70s, quite fun, for the way he smashed the opposition in Morphy's style. I annotated the first:

 

Advancing the d4-pawn to d5 invites the Benko gambit: 1.d4 f6 2.f4 c5 3.d5 b5 4.c4

 

For Bauer, this is favorable for White, but again I believe one must do some research or at least play some games.

Returning back to other options for White after the moves 1.d4 f6 2.f4 c5 instead of advancing or taking on c5, White can continue in a solid way with 3.e3. I believe this has been discussed also in the DVD made by GM Nigel Davies on the London, because to continue in this way could lead to a transposition into the Caro-Kann, in this case the line: 1.d4 f6 2.f4 c5 3.e3 cxd4 4. exd4 d5:

 

The above position could arise from the moves: 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 cxd5 4.c3c6 5.f4. If the opponent doesn't know how to play the exchange Caro-Kann, or doesn't have a clue about transpositions, this could be the advantage one needs to win the game. The point, as always, is to bring the opponent into familiar territory for us, and unfamiliar for him.

I like the way Bauer covered most lines, not too deeply, but including many possible alternatives from Black's side. He also shows some traps into which Black can fall! For example after the moves: 1.d4 f6 2.f4 c5 3.e3 d5 4.g3 b6 5.b3 b4 — this last move by Black is not so good. White can continue with 6.c3!

Now how does White win after 6...xc3? Try to play against the engine or eventually pickup the DVD, and learn from Bauer!

 

The fact that Bauer spent time to show also some possible traps means he did the homework for me, and then of course it's up to me to practice and put the remaining 50% of the work in order to be successful in my tournament games.

Another video I found important to refresh my knowledge of the London, and update it with the latest theoretical trends is the one in which the ♗f4 bites granite quoting Nimzowitsch, which happens after the moves: 1.d4 f6 2.f4 d6 and now we continue with the move 3.c3

 

Thanks to Bauer, I had the chance to correct some of my bad habits. I generally think only about developing forward, and bring new pieces out, but this behavior is not optimal all the time, in fact one line explained by Bauer 1.d4 f6 2.f4 d6 3.c3 c6 4.e4 a5

 

Here I was thinking the next move should be 5.d3 because I need to defend the e4-pawn which is attacked by the ♞f6, while the ♘c3 is pinned by the ♛a5. But Bauer explains 5.d2! is the correct move to play. One can actually play it against an engine in the diagram above.

During the many videos I've noticed Bauer quotes many of his own games, not only as White but also as Black. Often we forget of the power of having a role model. We don't need to use as role-model only world champions, we can effectively use great players like Bauer, to see their opening prep in action. Here a sample of Bauer's games as White:

 

The DVD comes with a database of 250 games, many of the games are not annotated, and some are well annotated, like the following:

 

One can definitely improve thanks to watching, and studying, many games by top players, like the one selected in the above database, because not all of them are won for White. Some are instructive, because they show us how to react to a strange move by Black, and some are instructive because we need to discover why White lost and how to prevent that from happening to us.

 

As the reader has surely noticed by now, I've treated mainly opening lines where Black answered 1...f6 against 1.d4. Those were covered in the first part of the theoretical videos, and Bauer covered many more lines than the one I can put here. Bauer also covered quite well the theoretical part after 1.d4 d5 2.♗f4:

 

Here there can be some transpositions into the lines beginning with 1.d4 f6, treated by Bauer, but mainly Bauer begins to show lines after 1.d4 d5 2.f4 f5 this answer by Black can be quite common.  We live in a very rich chess age, because I can watch games on this line included in the database which comes with the DVD, or check the latest games played online thanks to my ChessBase Online account via the live database!

One can learn how to query the database, and discover if there are some latest games with the moves of the opening.

Here a sample of the latest games found:

 

The DVD ends with a series of video tests — a total of 13. Bauer presents some positions he explained previously, and asks the reader to find the correct continuation, giving feedback, and explaining when one goes wrong.

Pros and Cons

I don't believe everyone can play any opening they want. There are definitely some taboos in our chess minds, lines we don't want to try or play, because the material disadvantage could be too high for us.

For example this line given by Bauer ends with White being 2 pawns down: 1.d4 f6 2.f4 c5 3.d5 e6 4.c3 b6 5.e4 xe4 6.xe4 b4 7.d2 xe4 8.e2 and here Bauer already says White has enough compensation and shows a possible continuation: 8...xd5 9.xd5 exd5.

You can play it against the engine from the diagram, the next move given by Bauer is 10.c3.

 

As I mentioned, Bauer says White has enough compensation, but is this compensation for everyone? Clearly this is a line one must practice before a tournament or other serious use of the opening.   

And of course there is also another side of the coin. I'm sorry to be pedantic, but there are other lines, which independently from the "language barrier" one must know how to convert for a win. For example after: 1.d4 d5 2.f4 f5 3.c4 (here the idea is to open the diagonal for the queen to take advantage of the weak b7-pawn) 3...xb1 — this is considered dubious by Bauer, and he gives the following refutation: 4.xb1 e5 5.dxe5 b4 6.d2 xd2 7.xd2 the evaluation by Bauer is the following: "et les Blancs ont un avantage clair" (White's advantage is clear).

 

White's material advantage is clear, and I'm sure titled players, like Bauer, know how to bring this position into a won game. But at the same time, we don't know the technical skill level of the public watching this good DVD. Hence some caution is always required, and the prospective tournament player should play lines like this one against an engine or sparring partner to see if he is able to convert White's advantage into a win.  

An error found in the database of 250 games included with the DVD is the following: Game 144 and 145 are identical. Aronian vs Giri, maybe Bauer thought it was a good idea to watch it twice! :-)

Final thoughts

The language barrier, which I thought in the beginning could be insurmountable, in the end wasn't really an important factor, because thanks to colored arrows, highlighted squares, diagrams at critical moments, I was just witnessing the same explanations I would have received if Bauer would have spoken in English or Italian. I was intrigued by the fact Bauer began to explain the lines I had most problems with. I've watched other DVDs on the London, but I couldn't remember how they dealt with those lines. Bauer has done a good job, and that for me was quite important, because the day after watching the DVD I had a tournament, and some players played into those lines Bauer treated. For once I felt prepared at the chess board. It was quite a surreal experience, I was well prepared thanks to a DVD in a language I'm not proficient at all.

Watching the DVD helped me to improve my knowledge of the London system, refresh it for lines I studied but didn't meet in practice, and update my knowledge of the main lines.

I feel chess is great because can connect people from different cultural background, different nationalities, and like in this case with different languages. I wish I could learn German as well, because I've seen ChessBase has also a great production of German titles. Let close the review always reminding ourselves of the great (Latin) motto chosen by FIDE: "Gens Una Sumus".

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Davide is a novel chess aficionado who has made chess his spiritual tool of improvement and self-discovery. One of his favorite quotes is from the great Paul Keres: "Nobody is born a master. The way to mastery leads to the desired goal only after long years of learning, of struggle, of rejoicing, and of disappointment..."
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