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This month widens and exhausts the subject of the symmetrical queen's bishop sortie against the Neo-London, by integrating lines and defences more usually originating from openings at the border of the d-Pawn Specials, such as the Baltic Defence 1.d4 d5 2.c4 Bf5 3.Nc3 e6 or its once quite popular cousin 1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Bf5 3.c4 e6.
In both cases White should try to develop his bishop to f4 (at the appropriate moment) while Black should, conversely, avoid any transposition into the London system like the plague (by being ready to meet Bf4 with the exchange proposal ...Bd6).

Download PGN of June '12 d-Pawn Specials games

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The symmetrical London System 1...d5, ...Bf5, deferred ...Nf6 [D00]

1.d4 d5 2.Bf4 c6 3.e3 Bf5 4.c4 e6 5.Nc3 Nd7 6.Nf3 is a standard move order, when now comes 6...Be7!?, a refinement (possibly intending ...g7-g5) that is apparently well known to Baltic defence followers (Rausis, Milos Popovic, Sermier...) for whom this is an essential defence... but one that I failed to know!

After 7.Qb3 Qb6 8.c5 Qxb3 9.axb3 a6 10.b4 Rc8 11.Nd2 the move 11...Bd8 is the original feature of the black move order:

intending to exchange the bishops on c7 before white brings his knight to a5, keeping interesting flexibility for the Ng8 which can sometimes be developed on e7 rather than on f6.

White completely missed out in game 1 following the natural 12.e4? and was happy when his generous opponent accepted his draw offer... Instead, objectively best must be 12.f3!, intending e3-e4 (even though it is in two goes).

Transferring the knight to the queenside by 12.Nb3 (to threaten Na5) looks a bit stupid now in view of 12...Bc7 13.Bxc7 Rxc7 defending b7 laterally, although White can now play the sacrifice 14.Bxa6! Bxa6 15.Rxa6 - I like this idea because it is direct and I would strongly recommend it if you feel your opponent is being hesitant about the opening. Actually, even if the result of it is unclear at the end of the day after the far from obvious continuation 15...Rc8! 16.b5 cxb5 17.Nxb5 Rb8 18.Nd6+ Ke7 19.Na5 Rxb2:

it puts Black under continuous pressure on the cheap. Besides Black played the natural 15...Ne7? In game 2 and ended up quickly lost after 16.b5.

White postpones e3 [D00]

In the typical move order where the 3 openings (The London, The Baltic and 1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Bf5 ... where I don't know the name!) meet up, 1.d4 d5 2.Bf4 Bf5 3.c4! e6 4.Nc3 c6?! 5.Qb3 Qb6 6.c5 Qxb3 7. axb3 Nd7 8.b4 a6 9.Nf3 Rc8, White can play 10.Nd2! - not having committed his pawn to e3 seriously improves his chances by enabling e4 in one go in case of 10...Be7.

Following 10...Nf6, however, 11.h3! Is the approved path towards a nice white opening advantage but he may also show an even greater ambition by 11.Nb3!? Nh5 12.Be3 allowing 12...e5, an ambition that was rewarded in game 3.

When Black privileges development to the detriment of queenside prophylaxis, as in the case of 8...Nf6, we have seen that rushing forwards with 9.b5?! may not so good because of 9...e5. So prior to this White should add further control to the e5 square by 9.Nf3 not fearing 9...Nh5 because of an additional device in the white arsenal, 10.Be3!:

Intending h2-h3 and then back to f4 after passing the b5 lock, similar to the previous game, and this proved just as effective in game 4, the point being 9...Be7 10.b5! (before Black castles) 10...Nh5 11.Bc7! Rc8? 12.bxc6 and Rxa7 defending the bishop.

Symmetrical London - ...Bf5, ...c6, endgame with ...h6 [D02]

Back now to the main move order as in the beginning of the first two games: 6...Nf6 7.Qb3 Qb6 8.c5 Qxb3 9.axb3 a6 10.b4 Rc8, when, as the white pawn already stands on e3 we have seen that it is now the right time to protect the London bishop against ...Nh5 (prior to Nf3-d2) with 11.h3 Be7 12.Nd2 Bd8 13.Nb3.

Now comes the new idea 13...h6!?, which makes sense at this stage (when played before by fear of Nf3-h5 it is just an inaccuracy) 14.Na5 Bxa5 15.bxa5 Kd8 Thus the g5-square is guarded, which has its importance with the king on d8, and Black plans ...Ne8-c7-b5 or ...Re8, ...e6-e5 or a combination of the two. Unfortunately for Black in game 5 the tempo lost allowed White to install the 'magic set-up' beginning with 16.f3!:

Intending g2-g4, Kd2. Etc. against which Black was powerless.

15...0-0 resulted in much the same in game 6, though even more dramatically, whereas 15...e5!? 16.dxe5 Ne4 might have been a touch better, as in game 7.

However, the refinement 14.Bd6!?, with the idea 14...Be7 15.Bh2 Bd8 16.Na5 Bxa5 16.bxa5 e5 17.f3!, just cuts this out. Against it Black is only left with 14...Ne4 before White plays f2-f3, but after 15.Nxe4 Bxe4 16.f3 Bg6 17.Na5 bxa5 18.bxa5:

we reach a position none of the strong grandmasters managed to hold as Black in game 8, or the similar game 9.

Besides all this, my Novelty 14.Ra3! (profiting from the fact that 14...Bc7? is still impossible due to the 'classic' 15.Bxc7 Rxc7 16. b5!, similar to game 10) practically wins by force.

The conclusion is final: the move ...h7-h6 (generally provoked by the fear of Nh4xf5, which is in fact the least of Black's worries, as actually, White's king's knight has a much more gratifying job to accomplish on the other edge of the board!) does not improve Black's chances in this structure.

Actually it just makes things worse not only because of the valuable tempo wasted but also as it weakens the kingside by creating a lever on this wing.

The white expansion there is the key indeed:

  • His king's bishop often turns out well placed on h3 especially as the closure of the London diagonal by advancing his pawn to e5 is part of Black's plan... especially if he is enticed to back it up with ...f7-f6, weakening the second key diagonal h3-c8, for instance as a logical continuation to ...Nf6-e4.
  • It also provides a generally superior retreat for the Bf4 in case of attack, on g3 behind the g-pawn, rather than h2.
  • When realized opportunely, it does not normally impact the king security as he will find a better shelter on d2, or f2 after the move f2-f3, than on g1.
  • Finally it just prevents the opposing counterplay by occupying the field first!

game 11 features a specific, though relevant, move order where neither of the two camps has moved his e-pawn. In this case trying to prevent the transfer Nf3-d2-b3-a5 by ...Nf6-e4 is more interesting.

As for game 12, it features a common if imperfect handling of the position by White, resulting in the opponent holding the b5 square by linking his rooks after short castling without having to play ...Rac8. This provides Black with supplementary defensive resources, although against further best play by White his position remains unpleasant.

In conclusion: at the end of the day Black might be able to hold with the symmetrical queen's bishop sortie, however his task to do so is so difficult and unrewarding that this sometimes recommended way of handling the Neo-London is definitely not the one for the 1...d5 player to question White's 'special' second move.

London 3...c5 [D00]

But why this relentlessness against this ingenuous black approach?

Because, if not being a matter of life or death (as it is for Black above), understanding the mechanisms of this structure is this vital for White this time, when searching for an opening advantage in the case of 1.d4 d5 2.Bf4 Nf6 3.e3 c5! 4.c3 Nc6 5.Nd2!:

The advantage of the ingenious...Neo-London over the transposition into the ancient way of playing the System by 5.Nf3?! which would allow Black a good move here: 5...Qb6?!, except that it is too early in this case. Actually, in order to get a chance to obtain the same favourable pawn structure with reversed colours as in the previous games, Black needs to first post his bishop on f5. This will be the theme of the next update.

Following 6.Qb3 c4 a couple of grandmasters have, for some reason, gone for the ending 7.Qxb6?, whereas 7.Qc2 contains the idea which represents the core of the 'new school' system by preventing Black's bishop developing to f5 (with good statistics for White, incidentally), 7...axb6 8.a3 b5:

9.Rd1 was a whim that only deprived White of some opportunities in game 13

Still, it was instructive to see the better rated player succeeding in grinding out an edge in this structure rather than settling for a draw, actually demonstrating that it is possible. If White scored so massively in the previous games, it is only because I have tried to exhaust every opposing defence against optimal play on his part!

Nevertheless one should not underestimate the complex nature of the struggle ultimately leading to a victory for the non-defective structure as I personally could have experienced above... and cruelly did the last time!

9.Rc1 is normal, with the idea Be2-d1-c2. White probably opted for this inferior line in game 14, rather than the favourable complications issued from 7.Qc2, thinking that he was being quiet and solid, and probably aiming for a draw against a better rated opponent.

This is symptomatic of the gain in confidence generated by the extra tempo as well as an imperfect knowledge of this capital d-pawn specials structure by the 1st player, who is nevertheless an alleged London specialist!

See you soon, Eric

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