How I created Beating the English (with a little help from Fabiano Caruana)

By GM Dejan Bojkov / On / In Chess openings

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The world is changing. The chess is changing. We live in the era of mass communication. Tonnes of information are poured on our poor heads. Weekly, daily, hourly. We have more and more things to study. And less chances to explore and surprise.

The chess world is witnessing more and more thoroughly prepared lines. Lines where everything is decided with the help of the engines and deep preparation.

It did not come as a surprise to me to see the top players slowly shifting into less explored grounds. Openings which have never been popular come into fashion nowadays. Even if objectively they do not promise much to the players, at least they give them a chance to start a battle when a battle is needed.

Beating the English is GM Dejan Bojkov's reversed Sicilian repertoire
Beating the English is GM Dejan Bojkov’s reversed Sicilian repertoire

Say for example, what is the London System? Very often it is just a reversed form of the Slav defense. Or the reversed Reti opening.

The reversed Sicilian: Are you prepared?

Another such system was invented long time ago. The English opening! Those of you who like to play the Sicilian as Black already know how easy it is to get into familiar waters after 1.c4.

The first player already has “their” Sicilian with an extra tempo. And the Sicilian is a great opening itself – aggressive and powerful. Then why not just 1.c4?

Many people adopted this opening for their own use. Even if they were not Sicilian players.

It did not come as surprise to me to see the world champion Magnus Carlsen using it in his last match against the contender Fabiano Caruana. After all, Magnus even tried the reversed Dutch defense at a top tournament. At the same place – London, against the local hero Michael Adams. And the world champions are the people who create the chess fashion.

Caruana responded with a deeply prepared line after:

 1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.Nf3 Nc6 4.g3 d5 5.cxd5 Nxd5 6.Bg2 Bc5

The reversed Sicilian in Carlsen V Caruana
The reversed Sicilian in Carlsen V Caruana

The challenger held on his own and secured the black color.

But are you as well prepared as him?

Fabiano’s influence

His lines inspired me for the first chapter of this repertoire. Caruana indeed wrote the history of the major part of the whole system that he exploited in the match.

Alas, the move order that the world champion chose was not the only one. Then, the logical question came to my mind. How to react to the equally popular move order with:

1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.g3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.Bg2

For very long time I was feeling safe and successful in this line by simply answering with 5…Nb6. I even wrote a DVD on the line for Chessbase. This is still quite playable and solid line. However, I did not want to repeat myself and I hoped to offer you something not that heavily explored.

I wanted to make sure that there will be room for your fantasy and creativeness.

I checked the opening again from the beginning. And then noticed that quite a few players had chosen in the arising position the move 5…Nd5-e7. It sounded a bit passive at a glance, but then I understood that it lies on a very solid positional ground. Black wants to fianchetto his bishop on g7 as quick as possible and achieve solid central control. The arising positions were familiar to me as I was playing the fianchetto line myself for a while.

A quick look at the lines revealed that Black has scored quite well in the suggested reversed Sicilian lines. However, I felt that White did not use all his chances.

I started digging deeper for White and I soon discovered a lot of problems for the second player. Especially if White plays aggressively in the opening and advances his queenside pawns at once. Some of these ideas were not leading him anywhere, but some were pretty dangerous.

Striking gold!

Nevertheless I did not give up the line. After all, those who want to extract something from the opening need to risk. And need to work!

I kept digging and found a lot of gold. For both sides, not only for Black. We surely want to know what to do during and after the opening, but we also need to anticipate the opponent’s ideas in advance.

A new chess tool helped me analyze the positions faster and more thoroughly. In my research I used the new chess site decodechess.com. I am very grateful to their team for the invaluable support which made my analyzes much more fun and required less efforts by me. Very often, whenever reaching a critical position I would simply put it on the website and leave the program there check it thoroughly. And even explain it.

This is more or less how the repertoire has been born.

I tried to make it as simple as possible and stick to the Fianchetto line whenever possible. In some of the move orders by White we need to be trickier and sometimes even avoid it, but this is normal. Chess has never been a simple game.

Being a long-term player and coach myself I have noticed that very often players are completely unprepared of what to do after the opening. I tried to save you from this sin by offering a scheme of what to do once that the first moves are over. Every line ends with evaluation and a further sketch of what will/should happen and on which side of the board we need to play.

And since I know that we are different I tried to give additional, alternative choices to pretty much every single line, so that the readers finds for themselves what suits best for their styles.

Thank you all for your support too, dear readers!

I hope you will enjoy Beating the English, my reversed Sicilian repertoire!”

About GM Dejan Bojkov

Dejan's trainer's title is the highest FST (FIDE Senior Trainer) and he was the former coach of women's world champion Antoaneta Stefanova. He's currently the coach of the New Zealand team and one of chess.com's most popular presenters.
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