Colle, Caro, Top 10 List

Colle, Caro, Top 10 List

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Jahnknight asked:

Could you tell me your honest evaluation of the Colle system as a whole. Is it effective at the sub 2000 level? 

Dear Jahnknight:

First, let’s clarify the difference between the Colle and the Colle - Zukertort:

Colle - Zukertort: 1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.e3 e6 4.Bd3 c5 5.b3 when White intends to set up a strong attacking position via Bb2, Nbd2, 0-0, Ne5, and f2-f4 – White’s move order depends on how Black reacts to 5.b3.

Colle (Koltanowski System): 1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.e3 e6 4.Bd3 c5 5.c3 Nc6 6.Nbd2 Bd6 7.0–0 0–0 8.Qe2 with dxc5 followed by e3-e4 to follow when White gets serious attacking chances.

Both lines are fully playable, and quite effective against a wide range of rating groups. Excellent books on these lines are THE ULTIMATE COLLE by Gary Lane (which covers both), ZUKE EM by David Rudel (this only covers the Zukertort System and is, in my view, only for non-masters and players under 1800 in particular … I don’t feel his recommendations will hold up at master levels, but non-masters really love it), STARTING OUT: d-PAWN ATTACK (Features the Colle - Zukertort, Barry, and 150 Attacks), STARTING OUT: THE COLLE by Richard Palliser (my personal favorite! This only covers the Koltanowski System). For those that read German, Das Colle - Koltanowski System by Bronznik is also excellent.

These Colle lines can appear after several different move orders, but the most common is 1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.e3 e6 4.Bd3. One problem with the Colle is that Black doesn’t have to dance into this position. Instead, he can play 3…Bf5 when 4.c4 c6 5.Nc3 e6 6.Nh4 transposes into a topical line of the Slav (not more than a shade better for White, but a solid positional player will win many games with it).

Other than avoiding Colle positions by 3…Bf5, Black can also give 3…Bg4 a punt when 4.c4 e6 5.Qb3 Qc8 6.Ne5 Bf5 7.Nc3 c6 leads to interesting (but rather quiet) positions, and 4.h3 Bh5 5.g4 Bg6 6.Ne5 creates more imbalanced situations: 6…Nbd7 (the odd looking 6…Nfd7 is black’s best) 7.h4 h6 8.Nxg6 fxg6 9.Bd3 is quite unpleasant for Black.

Since I suspect you’re referring to the Koltanowski System, that’s what I’ll discuss.

1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.e3 e6 4.Bd3 c5 5.c3 Nc6 6.Nbd2 Bd6 7.0–0 0–0 8.Qe2

Also possible is 8.dxc5 Bxc5 9.e4 dxe4 (9…Qc7 transposes back into main lines) 10.Nxe4 Nxe4 11.Bxe4 Qxd1 12.Rxd1 when white’s lead in development and queenside pawn majority give him the superior position. 

8…Qc7 9.dxc5 Bxc5 10.e4 a5?

A couple other choices:

10…e5? falls for a small trap: 11.exd5 Nxd5 12.Bxh7+ Kxh7 13.Qe4+ followed by Qxd5 when white’s won a pawn.

10…Re8? 11.e5 Nd7 12.Nb3 Bb6 13.Bf4 f6 14.Rae1 Ncxe5 15.Nxe5 Nxe5 16.Bxh7+ You’ll see this again and again in the Colle! 16…Kf8 (16…Kxh7 17.Qh5+ picks up the Rook on e8) 17.Bg6 Rd8 18.Qh5 Ke7 19.Nd4 Bd7 20.Rxe5 fxe5 21.Bxe5 Qc4 22.Qh3 Kf8 23.Bd6+ Kg8 24.Qh7 mate, Koltanowski - O’Hanlon, Dublin 1937

Better moves for Black are 10…Bd6, 10…h6, and 10…Ng4, but White retains pleasant prospects against all three.

11.e5 Ne8 12.Bxh7+! Kxh7 13.Ng5+ Kg6

13…Kg8 14.Qh5 is more than a tad unpleasant for Black.

14.Ndf3 Rh8 15.h4 f6 16.Qd3+ f5 17.Bf4 Nf6 18.Rae1 Ne4 19.g4 fxg4 20.Rxe4 dxe4 21.Qxe4+ Kh5 22.Nh2 Be7 23.Nf7 Bxh4 24.Nxh8, 1-0, Chemin - Damasceno, Brasilia 2000.

So yes, the Colle can be very effective against strong players, and devastating against amateurs. The main problem for White is …g6 (seeking a King’s Indian or Grunfeld). Thus, 1.d4 d5 (or 1…Nf6 2.Nf3 g6 when White’s Colle dreams have already been shot down) 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.e3 g6 offers a Grunfeld after 4.c4 Bg7 where white’s early e2-e3 means that he shouldn’t expect a theoretical opening advantage, but a hard fight with chances for both sides isn’t a tragedy.


Hoard88 said:

In all honesty, the Caro-Kann is NOT a “play for a win” opening. As an exclusive Caro-Kann player, I know. 

Dear Hoard88:

Tell that to V. Topalov, one of the most aggressive players on Earth, who has done very well with the Caro-Kann against world-class opposition.

In fact, what is a “play to win opening”? In general, the difference in openings is philosophical – you can play a quiet positional game and, after building up your position and outplaying your opponent, reel in the full point (while retaining a measure of solidity so that losses are the exception instead of the rule), or you can play some risky “go for broke” system that might garner a few more victories, but also falls on its face far more than the very sound Caro-Kann.

One can also interject dynamism into the Caro-Kann by using the sharp Bronstein-Larsen system (1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nf6 5.Nxf6+ gxf6), which is far better than its reputation, or stick with the Classical system (with 4…Bf5) which is holding up rather well: 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Bf5 5.Ng3 Bg6 6.h4 h6 7.Nf3 Nd7 8.h5 Bh7 9.Bd3 Bxd3 10.Qxd3 e6 11.Bd2 Ngf6 12.0–0–0 Be7 when Black will usually castle kingside when a very sharp, exciting game results.

In the new (extremely interesting) book, Dangerous Weapons: The Caro-Kann by John Emms, Richard Palliser, and Jovanka Houska, Grandmaster John Emms writes: “It’s difficult to think of another opening which has done more to shake off its ‘solid’ tag than the Caro-Kann. These days, many players who employ the Caro-Kann do so with the intention of reaching sharp dynamic positions, rich in possibilities for both sides and with a guarantee of counterplay for Black.”


BCG1 asked:

In 1964 a young Bobby Fischer published a controversial list of his 10 greatest players which included Morphy, Staunton, Steinitz, Tarrasch, Tchigorin, Alekhine, Capablanca, Spassky, Tal and Reshevsky. What is your opinion about such greats as Lasker, Rubinstein, Pillsbury, Keres, Fine, Karpov and Kasparov in comparison to Bobby’s list? 

Dear BCG1:

A top 10 list is a matter of personal opinion and will always vary from individual to individual. Later in life, Fischer changed his mind about the 1964 list when he realized just how great Lasker was.

Personally, I would offer the following top 6 (in a highly controversial order):

Fischer, Lasker, Kasparov, Karpov, Alekhine, Capablanca. After this (in no particular order) are a jumble of great players: Botvinnik, ChilliLilli, Smyslov, Keres, Korchnoi, Spassky, Tal, Anand, and Kramnik. Hmmmm … I’m a huge Petrosian fan, so perhaps I’d toss him into that final group too. And anyone (you only have a 1200 rating? No problem!) that greases my palm (shhhh ... we can't let anyone know about this) might well find their name right between Botvinnik and Smyslov.

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