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Considering the present state of theory of the London system, I finally find 1.d4 d5 2.Bf4 Nf6 3.e3 c5 4.dxc5!? to be the most interesting alternative to the traditional London triangle policy, c3-d4-e3, and we will further examine that move here.

Download PGN of February '13 d-Pawn Specials games

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The London System 2 Bf4, 3.e3 c5 4.dxc5!? [D00]

This move goes well with a more dynamic approach to the London System, much like the Morris Gambit, that aims to confuse the issue and make the opponent feel less comfortable than in the usual formulaic variations.

Now 4...Qa5+ 5.Nc3 transposes into the topical line 3.Nc3 (and then 3...Qa5 4.dxc5) which we have been focusing on in the last two updates, with the crucial difference, however, of not allowed the structural exchange ...c5xd4-e3xd4 which is favorable to Black.

Prior to recapturing the pawn 5...a6! is the critical line we examined last month. Nevertheless, Black may also recuperate his investment immediately by 5...Qxc5 6.Nb5 Na6 hoping that his free queen (in comparison to 3.Nc3 e6 4.Nb5 Na6, for instance) will help him get rid of the annoying knight on b5. This seems right, actually, for after 7.a3 Bd7 8.b4 Qb6 9.Qd4 Qxd4 10.exd4 g6:

is the most simple attempt towards a dangerous equalization regarding White's backward c-pawn, with the idea ...Bg7, ...0-0, ...Rfc8 and only now ...Bxb5 followed by ...Nc7-e8, ...Nb8-d7 or ...Nb8-c6 as appropriate.

In Game 1, however, Black opted for 9...e6!? instead, to leave the Nb5 somehow hanging. In order to rectify this White would have had to exchange on b6 and provide his opponent with important counter-play down the semi-open a-file, because the b-pawn is on b4 rather than b2 as often in the d-Pawn Specials.

For this reason, White opted for the engines' favorite 7.c3 in Game 2 with the idea 7...e6 8.Qd4, which only led, by force, to a slightly superior ending following 8...Be7 9.Qxc5 Bxc5 10.Nd6+ Ke7 11.Nxc8 Rhxc8 12.Bxa6 bxa6 13.Ne2:

However, the main problem with this game, the previous one, and consequently the whole variation, is that White got it wrong concerning the way he should handle this position!

Actually, it is not the queen that should go to d4, but the London bishop, beginning with 7.Be5!:

This idea makes it a really powerful set-up (as glimpsed through occasional previous analysis where the White knight was able to jump to b5 and force his less fortunate counterpart to divert to a6), and with the Black queen on c5 the possible threat, therefore, of simply grabbing the a7-pawn.

Depending on one's mood, 6.Bxb8!? Rxb8 7.Bb5+ may also represent a playable option at the end of the day. There are many players, indeed, who orientate themselves better in slightly worse endings than when having to cope with a rampant opposing initiative after losing their right to castle...

Instead of the 7...Kd8 8.Qd3 of game 3, the most promising for White, regarding this preoccupation, is probably 8.Nf3 Bg4 and the Novelty 9.Be2 with the idea Nf3-d4:

A radically different approach for Black is 4...Nc6, where White signals his firm intention to hang on to his new possession on c5 by 5.Bb5. Now 5...Qa5+! 6.Nc3 a6 7.Bxc6 bxc6 8.Qd4 e6 9.b4 and 9...Qa3 with the undermining ...a6-a5 idea appears to be the only path towards equalization. I was the first to mention it a couple of years ago (in relation to the Tromp at the time, and with the order of moves 1.d4 Nf6 2.Bg5 d5 3.e3 Ne4 4.Bf4 c5 5.Bd3 Nf6 6.dxc5 Nc6 7.Bb5.)

Significant victories by Black, including one of Cornette over specialist Stefanova which then appeared in the Informator (as well as in the PGN Archive!), seemed to have sent this line to the oblivion of refuted variations provided that White hangs on to the pawn.

Unveiled in game 4, however, recent discoveries with the help of powerful engines show that there are still impediments to overcome for Black before achieving a well deserved draw, although this is probably the most likely result with correct play from both sides.

Actually what was already perceptible at the time when theory was still in progress (until it brutally stopped because of the previous game continuation!) is that other options for Black may lead to complex play but are ultimately just bad. For instance, this is the case of 5...e6 6.b4 a5 7.c3 Nd7?! with the threat of ...axb4, followed by ...Qf6, as with such a lead in development, and considering the sharp character of the position... 8.Ne2 (a standard move in this line in order to both control d4 and close the a6-f1 diagonal in order to enable kingside castling against ...Bc8-a6) proved good enough in game 5.

Nonetheless, 8.Qa4! pinning Black's a-pawn, and possibly threatening to win a second pawn, utterly disconcerted Black in game 6 when he worked out that 8...Nxb4 9.cxb4 Qf6 10.Nf3 Qxa1 11.0-0 with the immediate threat of Be5 was lethally perilous:

Instead 7...Bd7 8.Qb3! seems more normal. On the other hand if Black does not have anything like the most challenging 8...Ne5!? now:

, it is clear that moves such as 8...Be7 are bound to leave him with little compensation for the pawn, a pawn in the black camp that played a genuine role in restricting the opposing activity in game 7.

8...Nh5 9.Ne2! Nxf4 10.Nxf4 does seize the pair of bishops and eliminate an asset of the opposing position, but here again 10...Be7? found Black struggling in game 8 against White's massive queenside majority.

Instead, 10...Qf6 11.0-0! axb4 12.cxb4 Qxa1 13.Nc3 Qxf1+ 14.Kxf1 Be7 15.Qb2! 0-0 16.Nh5 f6 (now the bishop will not activate via this square) 17.a4 looks pleasant for White, but no more:

8...cxb4 9.axb4 Ne4 is Black's aggressive last option. It was serenely repelled in game 9 without having to trade both rooks for the enemy queen after 10.Ne2! Qf6 11.Nbc3.

8.Nf3? revealed in game 10 why 8.Qb3 deserved an exclamation mark following 8...axb4 9.Bxc6 Bxc6 10.cxb4 b6:

Thematically winning the pawn back.

See you soon, Eric

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