Quick-Start Guide to the Colle Zukertort, a Chess Opening System for Players of Any Strength

| 13 | Opening Theory

I've noticed there are fewer resources available to those who want to learn about the Colle-Zukertort, a solid, positional chess opening system for White. Thus, I thought I’d make a quick-start guide for anyone who wants to try it out sometime. This opening strategy is ideal for people who do not want to lose a game on move 8 because their memory failed them while, at the same time, allowing White to gain a significant advantage if Black missteps.

Before getting started, I want to point out that the C-Z is not a single opening solution you should lazily play against everything the rest of your life. You can play it against pretty much anything and not come out worse, but eventually you need to learn how to deal with pet defenses Black can throw your way. In the end you might play the C-Z itself maybe 1/3 of the time. The good news is that you don’t have to learn the special solutions to pet defenses all at one time. You can learn the mainline of the Zukertort in literally 15 minutes and safely play it against practically anything, but then to get the most out of the opening you should sew it into a larger chess repertoire.

Luckily, there are books that show these solutions to help you do that.

Okay, let’s get started. The basic structure of the Zukertort variation is shown below. I have shown all of White’s men, but only the pawn structure and castled King of Black.


He has options as to where he puts his pieces, but the above pawn skeleton is more or less forced. You might ask why. The answer comes down to the e5 square. White has three men hitting that square, so Black has a hard time pushing his e-pawn past e6. Thus, Black typically will fianchetto his Q-Bishop to b7 (playing Bd7 ends up causing a lot of problems for Black in general, see my video on the Zukertort on this page.)

The pawn on a3 may seem curious. That pawn is principally designed to keep a Knight off b4, where it would hit your Bishop on d3. If Black develops his Q-Knight to d7 instead of f6, there is little danger of his and White generally would not play a3.

If Black instead plays his Q-Bishop out to f5 or g4 before pushing his e-pawn to e6, things typically become rather sharp, but as I mentioned earlier White can still safely play the C-Z setup, it just is not optimal — More of a comfortable option until you find time to learn the structures and themes of those lines.

If Black fianchettoes his K-Bishop by playing …g6 and then …Bg7, then White will generally want to play something other than the Colle System. There are various solutions given for this. I’ve published a special pet line on the Colle System Players Forum but you can also play the 150 attack or Barry attack. However, you can still play the Colle System without feeling like you are already behind. If you do, I would recommend playing your Bishop to e2 instead of d3 and either playing for Q-side space or castling Q-side and throwing your K-side pawns up the board. (Note this latter option is purely a practical-play consideration. Do not consider it a solid repertoire solution if you are playing an important game with someone about 1700 elo.)

Black typically pushes his c-pawn to c5 in all Q-pawn games, and in the C-Z it is particularly important because the Q-side is generally the only place he will get any hope of play. That explains the skeleton I showed above.

What typically occurs is that Black exchanges on d4 to open the c-file and White puts his Knight on e5 and supports it with f4, leading to the setup shown below.


From here White will launch a K-side attack with moves like Rf3-h3, Nbf3, g4, Qf3,Qg4, or Qh5. Note how the central pawn mass is pretty stable. Since White has not played c4, there are no exchanges or advances that can be done to dissolve the blockade. This means that Black has a hard time attacking White’s King while White has plenty of space to get to Black’s.

Black also has a difficult time defending his King because his space is all on the Q-side. He can have problems transferring his pieces because there is a bit of a bottle-neck in the center of his position.


Now that you have seen the basic setup and strategy of the opening, let’s play the moves in a typical sequence to see how this setup generally comes about.

1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 d5 3.e3

This is the move signally that White is playing the Colle System. White is declining to push his c-pawn and instead opening up his King’s Bishop.


This was Black’s last significant chance to deviate. Once he has followed suit, deciding his Q-Bishop is going to stay on his Q-side, there are far fewer ways for him to mix things up.

4.Bd3 c5

Now that Black has opened up his K-Bishop, this pawn is supported. In truth he could have played it on move 3 or even move 2, but obviously those plays would require him to have a bit more confidence in understanding the outcome since the pawn has no immediate defense.


This signals that White is playing the Zukertort variation of the Colle System rather than the Koltanowski version.  The point of this move is to stop …c4 which would harry the Bishop on d3. In truth, White does not need to play this immediately, but for ease of repertoire study, I recommend playing b3 now so you don’t have to know what to do after 5.O-O c4.

The Zukertort is named after Johannes Zukertort, who played William Steinitz in the first World Chess Championship. The Koltanowski is named after George Koltanowski who championed the c3-version of the Colle for over half a century. In the Koltanowski version, White plays 5.c3 instead, so that if Black plays 5…c4?!, White can just play 6.Bc2, and his Bishop is still on a good square.


Black could play some other move or even play his Knight to d7 instead, but this is the most common play.

6.O-O Bd6

This is the most testing play. It might seem that 6…b6 is smarter since the Bishop is going to go to b7 anyway. Thinking about it that way makes …Bd6 seem overly committal. The issue is that once Black spends a move on …b6, it is very hard for him to mix things up in the center. It more or less allows White to complete his intended setup without any tactical concerns.


This stops ...e5


Arriving at a crucial position below:

From here White typically plays 8.Nbd2, but Black has a tricky way of dealing with that move. I originally suggested 8.Ne5 here, leading to a very interesting attack after 8…cxd4 9.exd4 Qc7 10.f4 Nb4 11.Rf3!??!, allowing Black to take White’s prized Bishop on d3. After 11…Nxd3 12.Qxd3, White has the threat of Rh3 followed by Ng4!

However, as much as I love that attack, it is not impossible to defend against. If White wants to get the absolute greatest advantage (as I showed in a chessville article), he needs to play 8.dxc5! here. However, that requires White to have a good grasp of many different kinds of positions.

8.a3 is fine here, and better than people think. If you are a quiet player willing to get a comfortable position where your opponent has to know exactly what to do even to get equality, then it is the move for you. We’ll go with that one for purposes of our mainline.

8.a3 b6

Black has done very well in practice here by playing …Qe7, but that is mostly because no one has realized the proper way of stopping …e5 is not to play Ne5 but rather 9.dxc5!, after which White has essentially placed Black in a bad QID.


This stops ...Ne4

9...Bb7 10.Ne5

And now White can comfortable launch a K-side initiative. I have placed a board with the first moves in it below so you can play through them.

Zukertort Wisdom

Some general guidelines for playing the C-Z:

1. Never allow Black to place anything on a3, f4, or e5.

2. Don't allow Black to place anything but a pawn on d5 or c5.

3. Often, Black retreats his Knight from f6 to dislodge your Knight on e5. That is often the critical time to attack.

4. Keep a pawn on d4 unless you are beginning, or have already begun, your attack on his King. (Stronger players who know what they are doing after dxc5 can ignore this.)

5.If your opponent dilly-dallies, just continue to train more men on his King. Do not attack too early.

6. If Black moves his K-side pawns or transfers a Knight to g6, use a pawn or two to help your pieces attack him. Otherwise you can probably attack with just your pieces.

More downloads and information can be found on the Zukertort download page.

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Quiet Play can Frustrate Hypermodern Defense

Quiet Play can Frustrate Hypermodern Defense