London System: Slav, Bf5 & Bxb1!?

  • Post author:
  • Post category:General
  • Reading time:6 mins read

(guest post by James)

Hi Goalies!

Like me, I’m sure you have been enjoying the recent London System course prepared by Matt and Jesse. While I have been playing the London System for a few years already, it was great to see the fresh ideas they brought to the opening, and to see them give my pet set-up versus the Queen’s Indian the mark of approval (thanks guys!).

In the spirit of contributing to the great Chess Goals community, I’d like to share with you some more home preparation to bolster the course content.

In the Slav Defense chapter, one line covered starts 1 d4 d5 2 Nf3 Nf6 3 Bf4 Bf5 4 e3 e6 5 c4, where the course covers several Black responses: 5… c6, 5… Bd6 and 5… c5, three of the most popular replies by Club players. There is a fourth popular Club move, 5… Bb4+ which you can meet with 6 Nbd2, consistent with recommendations in other similar positions covered elsewhere in the course.

With that said, this article is over, I hope you found this content very useful.

What?

You want more?

Well… if you insist.

The real move I wanted to cover was the amazing reply, 5… Bxb1!? which is by far the most popular move in the Master’s database. While you may not face … Bxb1 very often (it’s the eight most popular move by Club players), if an opponent knows you play the London System, this would be a very reasonable line for them to prepare against you. Indeed, Black is scoring an impressive 62% in the Club database, so White requires some precision to maintain the balance.

Black’s idea is simple; after either re-capture (Qxb1 or Rxb1), there follows Bb4+ and the White King needs to move, usually to d1 (e2 is available too but disrupts development of the Bishop). For this inconvenience, White enjoys a small lead in development and the Bishop pair. 

My recommendation is the third available response for White, 6 Qa4+. This move comes with a few ideas: it clears d1 for the King and controls the b4 square (preventing Bb4+). It’s the most forcing of the three options, so even if you cannot remember any further theory, you should be able to find your own way. Black has three reasonable continuations which I will cover in order of popularity:

1) 6… Nc6 7 Rxb1 Bb4+ 8 Kd1 (+0.5) 

Now we have three ways Black may continue:

1a) 8… Ne4 9 cxd5 Qxd5 10 Bg3 0-0 11 Qc2 (+0.7)

White will continue with Bd3 and Ke2, connecting the Rooks to finish development. The Bishop pair is an asset in this position.

1b) 8… 0-0 9 c5! Ne4 10 Bg3 e5 11 Bb5 (+1.5)

Black is losing material.

1c) 8… Bd6 9 Bg5 0-0 10 cxd5 exd5 11 Bb5 (+0.7)

With a complicated middlegame to follow.

Some similar themes in these lines are as follows:

  • Look to play cxd5 and open the position up for your Bishops. However, if Black falls asleep with 8… 0-0, then 9 c5 wins material
  • The King usually comes to safety via e2, connecting Rooks and then f1 (after a move like Rook Rd1).

2) 6… Qd7

This was the choice in a recent high level encounter between Gata Kamsky and Ray Robson, which Ray won with the black pieces (in an even final position, so I presume the win was on time).

7. Qxd7+ Nxd7 8 Rxb1 Bb4+ 9 Kd1 Ne4 10 Bg3 (+0.1)

Very similar to the previous variation, but with the Queens off. This position is objectively even but there is lots of play left, so there are still chances for the stronger player to try for a win.

3) 6… c6 7 Rxb1 Bd6 8 Bxd6 Qxd6 9 c5 Qc7 10 b4 (+0.5)

This variation is the easiest for White to play, with the natural plan of b5 coming next. White will need to develop the Bishop (ideally via Bxb5), move the King to e2 and connect Rooks then play down the b-file.

As you have no doubt realised, White is not playing a big advantage in any of these lines, meaning 5… Bxb1 is a solid choice for Black, which can catch the unprepared London System player off-guard.

Thankfully, after reading this article, that won’t be you!

Best,

James