Ten "System" Openings


Hi all -- wrote this article for my middle school chess team, hope it's helpful.  



So you have good Opening Principles memorized ("Connect Your Rooks!") and now you want to learn a specific opening for White.  If you don't want to invest a lot of time and memorization into openings, then an opening "system" might serve you well.

A "System" opening, normally for the player with the White pieces, is a series of beginning moves that leads to a certain opening formation.  Usually you don't have to react to what your opponent is doing. You memorize a certain piece and pawn formation, and most games, no matter what your opponent does, you can move the pieces to build your formation and complete your development.

System opening advantages:  Saves time on the clock.  You reach positions that you are comfortable with, and you might know the middlegame plans also. Less memorization of specific move orders, just memorization of the formation you're aiming for. You know where the pieces usually go.

System opening disadvantages:  Sometimes not the most aggressive openings. Can lead to stale opening play. That is, you get used to "not thinking" about the first seven moves or so.

All of the following are fine openings that fulfill good opening principles:  They fight for control of the center, they aim to develop all your pieces quickly and harmoniously, and they don't forget about king safety.  (The first five systems are somewhat similar.)

  1. London System
  2. Colle System
  3. Colle-Zukertort System
  4. Stonewall Attack
  5. Torre Attack and Trompowsky Attack
  6. English Opening - Botvinnik System
  7. Barcza System
  8. Vienna Game System
  9. Bird-Larsen Attack
  10. Blackmar-Diemer Gambit



Play the following seven moves, in various move orders: d4, Nf3, Bf4, e3, c3, Bd3, Nbd2.

In many games, if your opponent castles short, you delay castling on purpose because you have a plan. You'll put your knight on e5, and if Black takes the knight, you recapture with a pawn, which drives away his knight on f6, and BOOM! You have a delicious attack against the Black king. Sometimes your h-pawn and rook can help out. FUN!


Play the following eight moves, in various move orders: d4, Nf3, e3, c3, Bd3, Nbd2, 0-0, Re1.

Popularized back in the day by the Dean of American Chess, George Koltanowski, and played a lot by Coach Kaech, it's nothing fancy, just a sturdy setup.  With the rook on e1, White has prepared the pawn push e4 and will play it next move with a solid game.  


Aim for the following moves:  d4, Nf3, e3, Bd3, b3, 0-0, Bb2, Nbd2.

Has grown in popularity in recent years, with good books on the opening and a few Grandmasters playing it.  White fianchettos the QB, and envisions a possible kingside attack -- the black king's knight will be either traded off, or driven off with the advance e4-e5.  With the knight no longer guarding h7, the classic bishop sacrifice on h7 is an idea to look out for.


Aim for the following moves, usually in this order: d4, e3, Bd3, Nbd2, c3, f4, Nf3, 0-0.

White's first four moves are aimed at keeping the Black knight out of e4.  White's KN is headed for e5, and White has kingside attacking ideas like Rf3-Rh3, g4, with the Queen helping out somehow.


The Torre Attack starts with 1.d4 2.Nf3 3.Bg5. The Trompowsky Attack is similar and starts with 1.d4 2.Bg5.  Options abound, but you can build a formation similar to the London System with moves like e3, c3, Bd3, Nbd2.

Like the London System, the KN is headed for e5, and White might want to delay castling if the kingside attack idea of h4, h5, h6 looks good.


Botvinnik was a computer scientist and World Chess Champion in the 1950s and 60s. Here's a true "system" opening. You can play the first ten moves, game after game, and then you can choose your middlegame plan after that. Play the English Opening with 1.c4, and then the Botvinnik System with Nc3, g3, Bg2, e4, Nge2, 0-0, d3, Be3, Qe2.

White has a lock on d5.  White's KN goes to e2 in this system -- Black can't pin the knight (you have f3 to block the bishop) and you have kingside expansion options with e4-e5.   Possible plans for White include queenside expansion with Rb1, a3, b4, b5, or kingside expansion with f4, f5.


In GM Yasser Seirawan's great book "Winning Chess Openings", he tells the story of how he started to adopt the Barcza System in order to avoid all of his opponent's opening preparation.  "Against nearly every Black defense, White's first four moves were always the same."  1.Nf3 2.g3 3.Bg2 4.0-0.

You've built a nice safe house for your King, protected behind the Bishop and Knight.  Now you can go for any of three options, depending on what your opponent is doing and what you'd like to do.  With 5.c4, the game often transposes into an English Opening.  With 5.d4, you might be in what's called the Catalan Opening.  Or with d3 and e4, you're in the King's Indian Attack.  In all variations, don't trade off your fianchettoed Bishop without good reason, it helps protect the King.


The only opening system here that starts with 1.e4, you play the Vienna Game formation.  Make the moves e4, Nc3, g3, Bg2, Nge2, d3, 0-0, h3, Kh2.  Next, launch a kingside attack by pushing the f-pawn.

You do have to watch your move order depending on which opening Black is playing.  The above sequence is best against the two most popular replies to 1.e4 (1...e5 and 1...c5).  Against the French and Caro-Kann (1.e4 e6 and 1.e4 c6) Black is forcing ...d5 on move two, so the right move order and slightly modified scheme is e4, d3, Nd2, Ngf3, g3, Bg2, 0-0 with a King's Indian Attack.


Good surprise value.  There are different ways to play Bird's Opening (1.f4), but you can play it as a System, and usually reach your type of position after f4, b3, e3 (this move order gives you the option of playing Bb5 to pin and exchange a Knight on c3 in certain lines), Bb2, Be2 (if you didn't play Bb5 earlier), Nf3, 0-0.

Now a common plan is to complete queenside development with d3 and Nbd2, then take aim at the kingside with Qe1, Qh4, Ne5, g4, g5.


Not like the other system openings, this one is a very aggressive gambit system. You may not reach similar positions as often as the other systems, but the central pawn lever and the idea is the same each game: White is going to gambit a pawn on e4, develop his pieces very quickly, and hopefully use the open lines to ambush the opponent before he gets out of bed.  The most common Blackmar-Diemer opening sequence is 1.d4 d5 2.e4 (gambit!) dxe4 3.Nc3 Nf6 (trying to keep the extra pawn) 4.f3 (gambit!) exf3 5.Nxf3.  (Also common is 1.d4 Nf6 2.Nc3 d5 3.e4 dxe4, same position as earlier.)

Develop all of your pieces real fast, consider castling on either side, get aggressive, use those open lines and attack!


Thanks for the article.


very nicely written,,some how everyone thinks black doesn't have a brain wink.png

Nice article, thanks! Maybe post this as a blog in the future with how-to-counter commentary for black?

Your middle school chess team is lucky to have you as a coach.   


good stuff, exactly what i was looking for tbh!




Very nice; pity the diagrams don't work anymore, but my magnetic analysis set solves that problem.  Nothing I haven't seen before, but it's nice to have them all gathered together for comparison.  Thanks!


awesome!! just what i was looking for!




Can't you try the King's Indian set-up? I don't see anything worng with it.

It can be used on both sides of the board


BOTVINNIK SYSTEM - is that the last move is Qd2?


Correct, Qd2, my typo, thanks for the catch.  Our KN is already on e2.

Thanks for sharing!

Trying to learn Ruz Lopez but not exchange variation, any recoures you would recomend?


I only see the starting position in each example, is the site broken?


The positions worked originally, but altered the diagram coding.  Finally got around to fixing it -- the diagrams should be fine now.


Check out my articles on London System, Stonewall Attack and Vienna Game & Gambit here...

MooseMouse wrote:

Usually you don't have to react to what your opponent is doing. You memorize a certain piece and pawn formation, and most games, no matter what your opponent does, you can move the pieces to build your formation and complete your development.

Systems are fine, but this statement above is something a more advanced coach is just going to have to "unteach" later on...

Players that choose systems merely to avoid having to understand openings at all are just hamstringing their own development.

Maybe something like:

"Systems are a way to flexibly handle a number of openings you may face.  You need to understand the reasons for the developing moves made, so that when your opponent deviates from what you expect, you can decide how to handle things.  Systems are always a guide, and never a memorized crutch."