The English Opening


The English Opening is a chess opening that starts with the move 1.c4:

The English Opening is frequently played by the best chess players in the world and was played by Bobby Fischer in his world championship match against Boris Spassky.

What is The English Opening?

The English is a chess Opening that happens after the move 1.c4 and can lead to both classical and modern positions.

How To Reach The English Opening

The English happens after White moves his c-pawn two squares: 1.c4

See what it looks like below.

Why Play The English Opening

The English Opening leads to very strategic games.

The English Opening is great to use as a 1.d4 player and want to avoid going against some specific defenses lines and reach the positions you want through a different move order.

You could also just use it to avoid learning any opening theory and just place your pieces on specific squares.

The Idea Behind The English Opening

The idea behind the English Opening: Normally black has a set counter defense when White plays 1.d4.

These defenses could be the Nimzo-Indian Defense.

Queen’s Gambit Declined (QGD)

or Grunfeld Defense..

By White playing the English opening, White can transposition Black away from his set defense into openings he is unfamiliar.

See examples of this here:

And here:

And here:

And here:

White could also play systemically and avoid opening theory by supporting the centre with d3 instead of playing d4.

There are many possible responses to the English Opening.

However, most of these openings just lead to transitions into defenses against 1.d4 (such as Dutch Defense, Kings Indian Defense, Slav, etc.)

The main counters specific to the English Opening are:

  • Symmetrical Defense
  • Reversed Sicilian

In the Symmetrical Defense, Black will pressure the d4-square by going 1… c5.

This variation can also occur in the chess board through different move orders, such as 1. c4 Nf6 2. Nc3 c5.

The reversed Sicilian is a great option for e4-players that enjoy the aggressive sicilian positions.

It is incredibly important to know:

“It is natural to treat the English as a Sicilian reversed, but the results are often surprising—main lines in the Sicilian Defence correspond to obscure side variations in the English, and vice versa.” (Bruce Leverett, Modern Chess Openings)

Every move explained

Symmetrical Defense

How To Reach It

The Symmetrical Defense happens after the following moves:

  1. c4 c5

Check these moves out here:

Why play the Symmetrical Defense

The Symmetrical Defense is a popular response to the English opening.

This move fights for the d4-square and keeps the position balanced.

Even though keeping the position symmetric in general leads to neutral positions: these positions can be transformed into tactical ones if one side advances their Queen’s pawn two squares.

In general, however, most of the games in this opening lead to drawn games.

If you enjoy slow and strategic games, then this could be the right variation for you.

White's Moves

Expand in the centre with d4

Playing d4 is usually a good idea in these positions.

It can be done early in the game, usually in an attempt to transpose to openings starting with the move 1.d4 (like the Queen’s Gambit), or later in the game, only with the purpose of occupying the centre and challenging Blacks c5-pawn.

Support the centre with the move d3

True English players (that don’t want to make any transpositions to other Opening’s variations) will often avoid the early d4 and choose a more solid setup where the d-pawn will occupy the third rank and support the c4-pawn.

Fianchetto the light-squared Bishop

The light-squared Bishop going to the g2-square is a very common plan in many variations of the English Defense.

Since the c4 and d3 pawns are controlling the central light squares it makes sense that this Bishop would be very useful pointing at them.

This could even support a central outpost for a Knight in one of these light squares.

Black's moves

When playing the Symmetrical Defense, Black really has two options here.

One is to fianchetto both of his bishops, which if White also Fianchettos his bishops, leads to very drawish positions (since most pieces can be exchanged off the board).

Fianchetto both Bishops

This is a quite solid line that often leads to drawish positions at grandmaster level - this setup is very difficult to beat since Black can just exchange pieces off the board.

The Hedgehog System

The second option is to play the Hedgehog pawn formation, where Black will try to exchange his c5-pawn for Black’s d4-pawn.

After this is done, Black will try to get his pieces to specific squares.

Black will fianchetto his light-squared Bishop but place his dark-squared bishop on the e7-square.

Then Black will place his pawns on a6 and d6.

Black will try to reach a solid and stable position through maneuvering and then possibly go for a pawn break in the centre.

Click here to see a complete guide on the hedgehog, pawn structures involved, maroczy bind, etc.

Reversed Sicilian

How To Reach It

The reversed Sicilian happens after the following moves:

  1. c4 e5

You can see these moves played out below:

Why play the Reversed Sicilian

The reversed Sicilian is a great option for those who enjoy attacking sicilian positions.

This line creates an asymmetric chess board which leads to imbalances that allow for lots of tactical and attacking lines (that can be used to gain more than equality as Black)

If White likes to play the Sicilian as Black, he should be comfortable: most of the themes are the same as the Sicilian and the extra move just helps him.

White's Moves

Fianchetto the f1-Bishop

Like in other English variations, it is a good idea for White to place his light-squared Bishop in the g2-square, aiming at the centre of the board.

Prepare to go d4

General chess theory says that if black manages to play d5, then he equalize the game with White.

So White wants to go d4, expanding in the centre first before black moves d5.

Black's moves

Prepare to go d5

If you think about the common variations of the Sicilian, you will surely think about Open Sicilian variations.

In the Open Sicilian, White goes d4 early in the game.

Playing that same position with Black pieces, it makes sense for Black to go d5 in the Opening.

Support the centre with c6

The move c6 is sometimes played as a way to support the d5-square and even the d5-pawn advance.

Develop with Bc5

The c5-square is good for the Bishop since it points directly at the opponent’s Kingside, and can help Black to develop an attack here once White has castled.

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