A Tricky Line in The Symmetrical English


Table of Contents

We round off this week’s coverage of 1.c4 c5 with a look at a tricky and interesting line in the Symmetrical English.

On Tuesday, when we examined the basics of the opening, I mentioned that Bobby Fischer liked to break the symmetry as Black, which helped him to create winning chances.

1.c4 c5

2.Nc3 Nc6

3.g3 g6

4.Bg2 Bg7

5.Nf3 e6

Here it is. Bobby Fischer famously played for a win regardless of whether or not he was Black or White (not as common as one might think).

Symmetrical English 5...e6

Black intends …Nge7 and …d5, meeting cxd5 with …Nxd5. Depending on White’s response, Black’s d-pawn sometimes takes a smaller step, to d6. The light-squared bishop is heading to b7.

The idea was by no means a Fischer original; it had already been used my many other players, including Viktor Korchnoi and Efim Geller.

Model Game

Fischer achieved the desired set-up against Petrosian in game two of the famous 1970 USSR – Rest of the World match.

Tigran Petrosian - Bobby Fischer

Tigran Petrosian – Bobby Fischer
USSR – Rest of the World
Belgrade, 1970

White to Play

Petrosian had lost in round one in a famous game featuring Fischer’s Exchange Variation against the Caro-Kann. One would expect Petrosian to head for a painless draw with White to recover from his defeat and then to focus on plotting revenge in the last two rounds of the match. However, it didn’t take Fischer long to gain an advantage.


11.cxd5 Nxd5 12.Nxd5 Qxd5 would be the normal course of events.


12.axb4 dxc4


Symmetrical English Tigran Petrosian - Bobby Fischer

This looks fine for White, but Fischer spots the weaknesses in White’s queenside.


Limbering up to harass the c-pawn. 13…a5 is another good option for Black. Fischer, with his trademark ruthless efficiency, duly won a pawn and then the game. 0-1 (66).

During yesterday’s investigation of our new Chessable course, Lifetime Repertoire: Symmetrical English, by International Master David Vigorito, I was pleased to see the author make a reference to a tricky line which has intrigued me for many years.

Cutting Across Black’s Plans

After 1.c4 c5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.g3 g6 4.Bg2 Bg7 5.Nf3 e6, White can cut right across Black’s plans, gambit-style, with 6.d4!?

Fischer English 6.d4

Simple mathematics will inform the reader that White is outgunned on d4. The pawn is attacked three times and defended only once.

Lifetime Repertoires: Symmetrical English

International Master Vigorito mentions the possibility briefly in his course. The brevity of the coverage is explained by the fact that the course recommends 5…e5 for Black, rather than  5…e6. That really does put the mathematical aspect way beyond White’s reach; we can safely say that 5…e5 6.d4 definitely loses a pawn for no compensation whatsoever.

Seeing 6.d4 on the screen brought back various memories. I first became aware of this line when I read Nigel Povah’s How to Play the English Opening (Batsford, 1983) which remains, incidentally, one of my favourite opening books.

How Should Black React?

It is time to refresh some of the lines to see what the gambit is all about. How should Black capture the pawn?


7.Nxd4 Bxd4


Fischer Englisch 6.d4 Nxd4

This does not look good for Black, who clearly has problems here. Allowing the trade of White’s knight for dark-squared bishop is not sensible, as Black will then be at the mercy of White’s own dark-squared bishop. Yet avoiding 9.Nxd4 with 9…Bg7 allows White a winning move in 10.Qd6! and 11.Nc7+ is going to follow, winning at least a rook.

Black can also try capturing with the pawn instead of the bishop.


7.Nxd4 cxd4

Now White has a different knight move.


Black has to be careful about the dark squares. 8…d6 prevents 9.Nd6+ but allows 9.Qa4+ when Black has to move his king to escape the check, as blocking on d7 worthy the bishop or queen runs into 10.Nxd6+.

8….Qc7 9.c5 continues the theme of establishing a trip on the dark squares. White has to play well keep the initiative going but at the moment he has good compensation for the pawn sacrifice.

Alternative Capture

The alternative capture is 6…cxd4 and White returns to the plan with 7.Nb5.

Once again the theme is potential invasion on the dark squares for the cost of one pawn. This is where we find the most interesting lines.

Here is one of them.


To stop 8.Nd6+

8.cxd5 Qa5+

Symmetrical English Tricky Line

A very tricky position. White is not losing the knight because the pawn on d5 attacks Black’s knight.

There are options here, but the most intriguing move for White is:


Black now has nothing better than to allow the unusual trade of knights.



Symmetrical English Tricky Line Nd2



Tricky Line Queen in Danger

The black queen needs to move away from the attack but it also needs to keep defending c6, otherwise 12.Bxc6+ will lead to significant material gains for White.

One of the ideas which first attracted me to this variation occurs after:


12.Nc4 Qb4+

Who is Being Trapped?

Springing the Queen Trap

Does the white knight have to return immediately to d2?


Tricky Line Queen in Trouble

No! Blocking with bishop is the best move. Black is now in big trouble. 13…Qb6 is no longer possible due to 14.Nxb6 and other attempts to protect c6 also fail: 13…Qb7 14.Nd6+ and 13…Qc5 14.b4 being the respective refutations.


Like it or not, this is Black’s best move.


Hobson’s Choice

White Wins Material

With a poor choice of 14…Qa2 or 14…Qa6 it is clear to see that Black is now in terrible trouble. Ruinous material losses are now inevitable.

If nothing else, this tricky line should convince the reader that the Symmetrical English is by no means a dull opening. A little independent research here and there will unearth all sorts of wonderful ideas and opportunities, such as the 6.d4! we have examined today.

For more information about 1.c4 c5, head for the Chessable course: Lifetime Repertoire: Symmetrical English.

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