Comparing the D-Pawn Systems (Part 2)

Comparing the D-Pawn Systems (Part 2)


Last time we started comparing the D-Pawn Systems that you can play after 1...d5, going through the the "Lame Torre", Levitsky Attack, Stonewall Attack, Veresov, and the Jobava Attack. 

This time we'll look at the big three, starting with the...

3-5. Richter-Veresov Attack /Jobava Attack / Colle System (aka the Colle-Koltanowski)

"In amateur play I don't think there's a more popular and useful opening from White's perspective than the Colle System. It's quick and easy to learn, safe, and contains quite a bit of sting." Jeremy Silman (quoted via Palliser's "Starting Out: The Colle").

The Colle System (1. d4, d5, 2. Nf3, Nf6 3. e3) used to be the most popular D-Pawn System. It's named after the Belgian chess player Edgard Colle (1897-1932):


We looked at one of his amazing games here.

Colle is characterized by the following setup:


White has the pawn triangle c3-d4-e3, knights on f3 and d2, and the star of the show, Bd3, aiming unopposed at h7. On the other hand, Bc1 is currently stuck and therefore the main strategy is to eventually play the famous e4 break to release it. White's other ideas are to isolate Black's d-pawn and to obtain a Queenside majority after dxc5.

Before we get to business I want to show an amazing Colle game where a 2350 Carsten Hoi beats a Super-GM Boris Gulko (who is the only ever Soviet + US champion and has a positive score against Kasparov):

A sampling of recent books:





What should Black do? Avrukh recommends the main line with ....e6, together with active development with ...Nc6, ...Bd6, and ...Qc7:

Ntirlis recommends ...e6 as well, but he prefers the QGD-style Be7 and opts for a Taimanov-inspired bishop-killing plan with ...Ba6 (however, White has an option of transposing to the main line a move earlier):

It should be clear that Black has several ways to neutralize White in the main line and to even be better. White's best idea might be to play the unexplored and complex 9. b4, relying on the move being less frequent and his larger experience with it.

One has to also keep in mind the options of 3...g6 (quite annoying), Bf5, Bg4, and ...c5 which radically change the nature of the game. If you want to play the Colle you have to like the play in these Anti-Colle lines as well.

Even though this isn't our main topic, one should also keep in mind that Colle is hopeless against KID style g6-systems and White should meet 1...Nf6 and 2...g6 with Bg5 (Torre) or Nc3+Bf4 (Barry Attack) instead.

Let's summarize what we've learned about 3-5: Veresov, Jobava, and Colle.

The Richter-Veresov Attack is dangerous and relatively unknown. However, if Black knows what he's doing he will end up on top. It might also be a bit annoying that Black can easily transpose to the French or Caro-Kann (and, depending on their response to e4, be on home turf). 

The Jobava Attack is good against 3...e6 and 3...Bf5, but Black can easily and relatively simply equalize with 3...c5, leading to a position with lots of exchanges. It is very good against g6-systems though.

The Colle System leads to interesting middlegame play with lots of pieces on the board, but, again, if Black knows what he's doing he will end up on top. 

2. Rubinstein Attack (aka the Colle-Zukertort)

This opening is usually called the Colle-Zukertort. This is probably because it's related to the Colle system in featuring 2. Nf3, 3. e3, and 4. Bd3, diverging only on the 5th move. Here's the basic setup:


White has again d4-e3, knights on f3 and d2, and the star of the show, Bd3, aiming unopposed at h7. However, instead of c3, White plays b3 and Bb2. This makes the strategy very different in that White is not usually aiming here for the e4 break, but rather plays c4 and gets hanging pawns or, most commonly, aims for the Stonewall or Pillsbury setup of Ne5 and f4 to attack on the kingside, while simultaneously controlling e4 (yes, like in the London).

Now, several authors have remarked that despite the relation, it's bizarre to call it Colle-anything. Grigory Bogdanovich calls it the Zukertort System due to the fact that Johannes Zukertort (1842-1888) sometimes played it:


Here's one of his games against the famous Black Death Joseph Henry Blackburne (1841-1924) who had actually played this opening already a few years earlier:

However, as Bogdanovich pointed out, it was much more frequently played by the legendary Polish chess player Akiba Rubinstein (1880-1961):


Thus, it is sometimes also called the Rubinstein Attack and this is the name I like the most. Here's one of his miniatures:

To be fair to Colle, his own favourite game was also played in this line:

The modern champion of this opening is GM Artur Yusupov, the former world nr 3 after Karpov and Kasparov and the author of a very popular series of chess improvement books. Below is Yusupov with Spassky:


Here's one of his classic games in this line:

However, the discussion of the Rubinstein Attack wouldn't be complete without this famous game:

In the 2000s this opening got a big boost due to two popular repertoire books:



Both advocated a repertoire consisting of the Rubinstein Attack and the Barry + 150 Attack combo against g6.

Then we got three further specialist books on it: 




Kenilworthian's review of Zuke'Em

So what should Black do? Avrukh recommends the main line with ....e6, together with active development with ...Nc6, ...Bd6, and ...b6:

Ntirlis recommends ...e6 as well, but he again prefers the QGD-style Be7 and opts for a Taimanov-inspired bishop-killing plan with ...Ba6:

I think we can see that even though Black can equalize, it's much more difficult to do than in the Colle. Black also doesn't get to be better here. Finally, I suspect that most non-GMs would have trouble playing against the hanging pawns. This is why the Rubinstein's a good choice. However, the basic problem is again that Black can spoil the fun by refraining from ...e6 and playing 3...g6 (quite annoying), Bf5, Bg4, or ...c5 instead, radically changing the nature of the game. Thus, like with the Colle, if you want to play the Rubinstein Attack, you have to like the play in these Anti-Colle lines as well.

See also: Keres's One Move Knockout (Colle-Zukertort against Spassky, Stockholm 1955)

1. London System

The London system used to be considered boring and equal. My first chess book, Sam Collins's very useful (if by now completely outdated...) "Understanding Chess Openings", Gambit, 2005 has a page discussing Colle, Barry, and Torre without even mentioning the London


How things have changed since then. Nowadays London is very popular among both amateurs and GMs. That it is the best D-Pawn System should be clear from the fact that it is really the only one (besides the Trompowsky against 1...Nf6 and Torre against Nimzo and KID) which has GM specialists who pretty much exclusively play it (e. g. Gata Kamsky, Boris Grachev, Nikola Sedlak) while being also played by Super-GMs (e. g. Magnus Carlsen, Vladimir Kramnik, Levon Aronian, Alexander Grischuk). For the most recent cases, check out the Aronian vs Giri Speed Chess match where Aronian smashed Giri at least twice with 2. Bf4.


London is like the Colle in having the c3-d4-e3 pawn triangle. It similarly frequently features the e4 break. However, it's like the Rubinstein in that the dark-squared bishop is active and controls e5. It similarly frequently features the Pillsbury-inspired Stonewall Attack like Ne5-f4 plan.

I've written a lot about the London before, about books, move orders, ...Bf5 and ...Bg4, dealing with the g6-systems and the Benoni, and thematic ideas. Here's a sampling:

1. London System: An Overview of Books

2. London System: 2. Nf3 vs 2. Bf4 (Part 1: Barry Attack vs Jobava Attack)

3. London System: 2. Nf3 vs 2. Bf4 (Part 2: the New Way and Benoni)

4. London System: Dealing with ...Bf5

5. London System: Dealing with ...Bg4

6 Jobava Attack vs. the Grünfeld (Part 1), (Part 2), (Part 3)

7. London & Bf4 against the Pirc

8. London System vs the Benoni: 3. e3 and 3. dxe5

9. London System vs the Benoni: 3. d5

10. London System & the Baltic Defence Idea: Bxb1 / Bxb8

11. London System & the Greek Gift: Bxh7+

I won't therefore give any more games in the London. Let's focus on understanding why it is better than the other systems.

To do this, let's see what Black should do. Avrukh recommends a transposition to the Exchange Caro-Kann which gives a more or less equal, but interesting and unbalanced middlegame. He also recommends the main line with ...e6 (in case Black has played ...e6 earlier). I also include below a different trendy line of Exchange Caro below that was used by So and is recommended by Daniel King:

In contrast, Ntirlis recommends the main line with ...e6, but again with a Taimanov-inspired bishop-killing plan:

As we have seen, Black can reach dynamic more-or-less equality in at least four different ways, depending on his taste. Whether these lines are better for White than the comparable Rubinstein Attack lines is perhaps debatable. GMs certainly prefer these lines, but perhaps below that level playing with the hanging pawns is easier than against them.

So why would London be better than the Rubinstein:

I think the main reason is that you get more thematically unified and better play in the London sidelines than in the Anti-Colle systems (especially 3...g6 and 3...c5).

Another reason is that the 2. Bf4 London is flexible enough to be confidently played against both ...d5,...g6-Systems, and the Benoni (which is considered its theoretically critical test). Of course you can and should couple the Rubinstein with lines like Barry and 150 attack as recommended by Summerscale and Palliser. However, the 2. Bf4 London versions of those attacks are considerably better than the 2. Nf3 versions (see this blog post for comparison). (Of course, the counterpoint here is that the 2. Nf3 Benoni is perhaps better than the 2. Bf4 Benoni)

So all in all, I think our beloved London System comes out on top, but the Rubinstein Attack is a close second and also a good choice to build a repertoire around. Richter-Veresov, Jobava Attack, and the Colle are interesting, but a bit more problematic and the Stonewall, Levitsky, and the Lame Torre should probably be avoided.

Next time I will write up some thoughts about different approaches to choosing the opening with Black (below non-GM level).