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I'm still trying to improve my repertoire and building more towards aggressive openings which I find to better fit my playing style.

Colle-Zukertort seems like a popular one and I've seen it recommended a couple times for beginners.

What are your thoughts on this, should I really include this as part of my regular play? Are there some other moves I could add to this to make my formation more robust?

  • 3
    This opening doesn't look "aggressive" to me... – Landei May 4 '12 at 22:27

15 Answers 15

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The Colle is definitely not an aggressive opening in the classical sense. If you like the positions that you get with the Colle, by all means, play it to your heart's content.

The Colle is a very conservative opening because white plays d4 and then really doesn't make any other moves to occupy the center. Playing for theoretical equality as white might be okay if you just want to get a familiar position, but there are other openings that promise white a greater advantage, which is why top level games rarely, if ever, feature the Colle.

System openings like the Colle don't really teach you how to play chess, they teach you how to play the Colle. The reason that the Colle is recommended to beginners is that the ideas and plans are simple, and it works fairly well against any kind of play by black. White does frequently get an attack on black's kingside, which can be decisive if black does not defend accurately.

The biggest downside to the Colle is this: other openings, like e4 e5, will teach you concepts and themes that will apply to all parts of chess. For instance, how to maneuver your knights and bishops in order to improve the position. In the Sicilian (as either color), you can learn how to attack and defend - always useful. The Colle is really limited to learning how to free the dark square bishop and how to stir up an attack on h7. If black is on top of things, the attack will never come to fruition, and black will get a good game after striking with c5.

So my personal opinion if you want to win lots of games: learn the Colle, study all the possible positions, and memorize the moves. If you want to improve your chess, which will lead to more wins down the road, then play main line openings and only play the Colle occasionally for a change of pace.


Some common "system" openings:

  • Colle (d4, e3, c3, Bd3)
  • Colle-Zukertort (white plays the Colle with b3 and Bb2 instead of c3)
  • Stonewall Attack (d4, e3, f4, Bd3)
  • King's Indian Attack (e4, d3, g3, Bg2, Nf3)

Notice that these openings don't try to occupy the center. By not occupying the center, white avoids confrontation until later in the game. This means that white can develop in a known fashion before initiating contact and only then follow the prescribed plans.

  • That's a great and comprehensive answer @Andrew, thanks ! – Charles Menguy May 5 '12 at 6:35
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    I think that there is also some value in using a 'system' opening just to get out of the opening with a reasonable position. Very very few games among anyone up to master level players are decided by the choice of opening. This way you can spend more of your chess study time on the meatier areas of the game. – Diisciiple Sep 30 '15 at 22:15
  • I agree with everything you said, except "the attack will never come to fruition, and black will get a good game after striking with c5." Getting black to play c5 is helpful for white's attack, because dxc5 opens up the diagonal for white's bishop--or maybe this is mostly true of the Colle-Zukertot. – GoalBased Mar 1 '16 at 14:07
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It looks like a reasonable system to me as the structure, and the ideas behind the moves look fairly easy to understand.

As for being aggressive, it's the type of aggression that slowly builds up with an aim towards the kingside, successfully doing this might be the hard part of this system. If you don't follow through and restrict Black in some way, there is the danger that Black could get ahead of White in activity, especially on the queenside.

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Having read The Colle Move by Move by Cyrus Lakdawala, Zuke 'Em-The Colle Zukertort Revolutionized & The Moment of Zuke by David I. Rudel, Killer Chess Opening Repertoire by Aaron Summerscale, Starting out: d-pawn attacks by Richard Palliser, Starting out: The Colle by Richard Palliser, played countless blitz and OTB games vs strong players 1800+, I can categorically say that the Colle is far from a one trick pony bud.

The Zuke is not designed to open up the centre, as I have said. Sometimes it happens when the Queen is on c7 and a rook on c1, but the idea is to fix the centre with Ne5 and then attack on the kingside. That is the basic plan of the "mainline". However, in meeting moves like Bf5/Bg4, Nc6, g6, b6, you will encounter quite mainline Slav, Chigorin and Queens Indian Defences.

I think the stereotype people have towards the Colle is based on the simple old main lines of the Colle-Koltanowski variation, which is pretty much a different beast despite starting the move e3 and the Ne5 plan.

In the write up to the excellent book Colle Move by Move by Cyrus Lakdawala, the promo blurb says,

White typically builds on solid foundations before unleashing an attack on the enemy king. This straightforward plan makes it particularly popular at club level, but the Colle is played successfully by Grandmasters too. Lakdawala covers both the main lines and the more aggressive Colle-Zukertort Attack.

I wouldn't suggest that the Colle Zuke or K are the greatest thing since sliced bread but they are perfectly sound, lead to some interesting attacking positions and are benefited practically by the stereotypes expressed on here. I recently played a 1900+ Fide-rated player and they explained that since I would be looking to open the centre with e4 they played c x d when the fact is, it is almost never played in the Zuke! Just goes to show!

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After reading a few of the answers on here, it does seem to me that the Colle is a little misunderstood. Despite the outward, superficial appearance of e3 being a quiet move, the Colle Zukertort or Zuke is actually a pretty attacking weapon. It doesn't perhaps involve the double edged attacks of say the Yugoslav Dragon with Bc4 or Traxler in the 2 Knights, kill or be killed but it is a principled opening. The centre tends to be fixed or semi fixed and this helps facilitate attacks on the wing and white is better equipped to attack the black kingside with ideas based around Ne5, f4, Rf3 - Rh3, Qh5, dxc5 - Bxf6, Bxh7, Nd2 - Nf3 - Ng5... black does not, certainly in the earlyish phase of the game have the same counter chances against white. If black can weather the storm then his chances on the queenside are quite promising but not overwhelming as white has a solid pawn structure and good piece coordination. White actually has chances earlier in the game, usually vs a Qc7 to play c4 and Rc1 also so it perhaps isn't as simple a system as people seem to think. I guess quite a few here are confusing the the Colle Zuke with the Colle K which is a more solid system in someways but again White can often generate strong chances on the kingside with a well timed e4 and the mainline has been resurged to an extent by the Phoenix attack. In my opinion the colle is a good choice for players who have experimented with a few openings first, looked at some on the classics and want to settle on a sensible repertoire that will give them good chances of an attack at little risk. It must also be said that getting into the colle itself help vary the play as you will also experience other positions to the standard "mainline" set up to help your chess development, also, you will need something else vs Kings Indian, Grunfeld, Dutch set ups as the Colle is ineffective vs those openings. I recommend Killer Chess Opening Repertoire by Summerscale and Starting out d pawn attacks by Richard Palliser. Hope thats of use to u

  • no, just hope thats of use to you – Richard Aug 10 '15 at 17:55
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To answer the question at the start of the post, I would say no. The system is easy to learn and play but that won't help you to improve. You want an opening that leads to sharp tactics. I just had a game on ICC against a slightly above average player and as soon as I saw the opening I thought, ok draw. It was. White risks very little but often gains very little. I was happy with a draw with black against a slightly higher rated player, but honestly I don't think I learned anything or feel like I was pushed, just traded things off and offered a draw. If you want to beat up your friends in chess games then you need to know and understand tactics, and I feel the easiest way to do that is with sharp opening play.

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I think the Colle-Zukertort is great as part of a white repertoire, but isn't appropriate against all black responses, especially stuff with ...g6 or a queen's indian setup with ...b6 and no ...d5.

I usually open with 1. d4 and 2. Nf3. If black responds with ...d5 on the first or second move, then I go for the Colle-Zukertort.

After 1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3 g6, I go 3. c4 and play the KID or Gruenfeld (Makogonov h3 vs KID and e3/Qb3 vs Gruenfeld)

After 1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3 e6 3. e3, I'll get either a Colle-Zukertort if black plays ...d5, or a classical QID if black plays ...b6.

Obviously, you need something against the dutch (1. d4 f5), and stuff like 1. d4 c5, 1. d4 e5, etc.

I prefer this method of mixing a few d4/c4 lines (versus KID, QID and Gruenfeld) with a system opening, to reduce the theoretical workload while still having enough variety of positions to keep improving as a player. You just have to choose your lines carefully to avoid getting move-ordered into an opening you don't want to play.

If you don't want to play c4 vs the KID and Gruenfeld, you could always try the Tarzan Attack (1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3 g6 3. Nc3 d5 4. Bf4 Bg7 5. Qd2) where the idea is to castle queenside and go for a quick kingside attack with h4-h5.

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The Colle Zukertort is a very simple opening, and can serve as a complete white opening reportoire. It was recommended by FIDE Trainer Jason Ciano, as well as many former top US players.

It teaches the white player how to activate the pieces in an ordered function, and, in some lines, achieve equality with a slight pawn center. It teaches good endgame skills and piece positioning.

Sharp positions like the Sicilian Dragon teach theoretical memorization, and it does not improve positional understanding. Nowadays, with computer analysis, sharp positions have theoretical improvements every few months, causing the player to constantly have to memorize new opening variations, leading to a dependency on memorization, not understanding.

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    I disagree unequivocally with your assessment of the Dragon. I got to 1700 knowing only to play f3 and g4 against it with White and it vastly improved my understanding. No beginners memorize cutting-edge theory because they literally are unable to. Their chess brains aren't developed enough yet. – Cleveland Jul 24 '14 at 14:09
  • Please double check your statement. I'm not sure what you mean by 'no beginners memorize... because they are literally unable to". With your double negative (not trying to be picky, I just don't understand), I don't want to guess what's in your head. – CodeSammich Jul 25 '14 at 17:11
  • Beginners are literally unable to memorize cutting-edge opening theory. Or, if I'm trying to be 100% clear with what I'm saying: No beginners are able to memorize enough cutting-edge theory that anything past move 5-ish is likely to show up in their games. – Cleveland Jul 25 '14 at 17:19
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    There are no 1000s out there sitting down and memorizing more than 2 lines of Dragon theory up to the 15th move. The branching factor is much easier to overcome as you improve and actually understand what is going on. – Cleveland Jul 25 '14 at 17:23
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I only play Colle system kind of openings (Classical colle, Colle-Zukertort, Stonewall etc.,) I somehow am very comfortable with the structures it creates on the board. They are not aggressive at all, compared to the other stuff, which is why I have adopted it. On the contrary, the primary advice given to an improving chess player is NOT to stick to a particular class of opening, as though it "belongs" to you and you have some emotional attachment towards this.

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"Aggressive" is a vague word that's usually meaningless when applied to an opening. It's quite possible to be either aggressive or passive in the Colle, or in pretty much any other opening. Aggression lies in how you play the opening, not the opening itself.

In the Colle, yes, you can bank everything on the attack on h7 (beginners with the system generally do) but if that's all you do, you'll miss out on a lot. The basic idea of the Colle, stripped of frills, is to break open the center to create free play for your pieces. Sometimes that results in the h7-assault, sometimes it's a central breakthrough, and sometimes it's simply trading down to a won endgame (this typically happens after swapping the white e- and d-pawns for the black c- and d- pawns -- the offside pawn majority this creates for white can quite often win all by itself). The point is you pay attention and take the course that best suits you.

The main strength of the Colle for beginners lies in the almost granite move order; white makes pretty much the same moves, builds pretty much the same tabiya, the same starting formation, no matter what Black does. That means a beginner has less to think about when the game starts, just bring out your pieces and then start looking for targets. But what makes it more useful for a beginner than a Stonewall, for example, is in how easily the beginner can use it to learn other types of positions. It's easy to start out in a Colle, and switch into a Queen's Gambit variation when it's advantageous to do so -- until you play c3, you're typically no more than two moves away from a queen's gambit at any point in the Colle. And, in fact, a lot of the "anti-colle" systems out there prove quite vulnerable to those transitions. When you see the defender starting to fortify against an attack you haven't committed to, it's quite profitable to pick other targets.

The Colle is only a one-trick pony if you play it that way. It's up to you. It does make an interesting "home ground" for players just learning how to handle middle game positions -- it's a place to stand while working on other ideas. For example, you start out playing for the rapid king-side attack. As you gain knowledge about those positions, which ones are favorable and which aren't, you add in playing for the isolated d-pawn positions (they usually come when Black trades d-pawn for white's e-pawn, then forces both c-pawns to capture on d4) learning which ones of those work well for you and which don't. Once those positions become familiar, try making the transition to the offside majority endgame positions and learn them.

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    Aggression lies in how you play the opening, not in the opening itself? I am not sure that this is useful advice. For example, after 1. e4 e5, surely 2. f4, the King's Gambit, is far more aggressive than 2. Nc3, the Vienna Game. But, you may object, is it not possible to play the King's Gambit less aggressively? Answer: many things are possible, but to deny that certain openings have a much more aggressive character than others have does not seem like useful advice to me. It's just confusing, and inaccurate, in my view. It's putting the exception in place of the rule. – thb Oct 31 '16 at 22:50
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Many people who disparage the Colle have never really studied it. It is solid and has a very clear objective that is easy to understand. The Colle is about accumulating small advantages and this may not fully be appreciated until move 30 or 35. Someone made a comment that learning to play the Colle won't teach you how to play chess, it will only teach you how to play the Colle. That is absolute absurdity. Get a good book on the Colle and take some time to really learn it. Make sure you understand WHY you are making the moves you are making and not just MEMORIZING the opening moves. You'll be glad you did.

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It doesn't matter if you win fast or win slowly. A win is a win and the Colle will give you the wins you're looking for. You can tell because people are playing all sorts of anti-Colle lines just to avoid this "passive" opening. It's far from passive. White develops his pieces, giving black no targets and then at the precise moment, opens the game with the thematic e4 thrust.

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We all start as beginners, as we all start on a small bicycle - not driving a car. The Colle or the London are good places to start and learn how and what along with some wins. As we grow and mature as chess players, then we can move on to more challenging or "sharp" openings. Ones that fit our chess personality. Some past grandmasters were attacking players, some were defensive. Whatever fits the persons chess personality.

There is no one be-all/end-all opening that promises a win. That comes down to the skill and experience of the player.

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In addition, i believe that if you play the Colle passively you will simply let Black equalise or better, the whole system is based on a kingside attack from solid foundations.

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The Colle is about building very small advantages over a long period of time. In fact, you may not see the fruits of all your labors until move 30-35 in many cases. Bear in mind there are two methods for playing the Colle, the Koltanowski and Zukertort. The Koltanowski is a slow, precise system where White focuses on d4 and then frees his dark-squared bishop for the rest of the game. The Zukertort does have more of an attacking flair and will give White more excitement.

  • Can you give the moves of the Koltanowsky? – Dag Oskar Madsen Oct 28 '16 at 18:36
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Colle-Zukertort is a good way to advance beyond beginner. The whole purpose of the opening is to teach you how to play "sound," chess, and to beat people who don't play that way.

Once you've advanced beyond beginner, you will want greater variety of openings and games. Colle-Zuckertort is a "slow" system, and once you've reached a certain level, you will want openings that give you a chance to win faster.

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