The Hybrid Zukertort Retort

By Michael Goeller

In reviewing David Rudel's excellent Zuke 'Em: The Colle-Zukertort Revolutionized, I thought I'd take a closer look at a line which he analyzes at greater depth than any previous writers and which seems an important and principled retort to the Zukertort. Rudel discusses this line in Chapter 11 and again in Chapter 12 (the "Extra Analysis" section), calling it "the Hybrid Zukertort" because "Black combines the Classical line with the Bogolyubov by putting the Knight on d7 and the Bishop on d6" (231). I think the critical idea also involves playing Qc7 (which Rudel and most previous writers think is dubious) and delaying castling in order to gain a tempo for pushing forward in the center. With Qc7, Black simultaneously threatens two potentially equalizing pawn advances with c4 and e5. The c4 advance is actually not so critical (though it seems to gain enough space on the queenside to claim equality), but if Black can win control of e5 and play the e5 pawn push then he has basically dismantled the cornerstone of the Zukertort strategy. A couple of drawn GM games suggest that this method might squelch any White initiative and close analysis mostly supports that conclusion--though White has a few options to explore in search of an edge (especially in the lines following 8.Nbd2). Of course, equality is no refutation, but this line may be one reason why the Colle-Zukertort does not enjoy wide support at the highest levels, where a forceful equalizing line for Black can end GM interest in the White side, except as a way of securing the occasional "Grandmaster draw." For the rest of us, though, an equal position is no reason to stop playing, and White just needs to be prepared to deal with this method of defusing the Zuke.

Ognjen Cvitan - Leonid Gofshtein [D05]

Zagreb Zonal Tournament/Zagreb (6) 1993


1. d4 e6 2. Nf3 c5 3. e3 Nf6 4. Bd3 d5 5. b3

This move is characteristic of the Zukertort, preparing to develop the dark squared Bishop at b2, eyeing the long diagonal. What some players forget is that this move also prevents 5... c4, kicking the Bishop at d3. The more traditional Colle move 5. c3 instead prepares a retreat square for the Bishop at c2 so it can remain on the b1-h7 diagonal and support an e4 push, e.g.: 5... c4?! 6. Bc2.

 

5... Nbd7

The basic set-up we are going to look at can arise by various move orders, the most interesting involving an early Qc7:

 

a) 5... Qc7!? immediately renews the threat of pushing with c4 while simultaneously reinforcing control of e5. White's best here may well be 6. c4!

(a) 6. Bb2!? is certainly playable, but it does allow Black to follow through on the "threat" 6... c4!? (Black also has 6... Nbd7 followed by Bd6 which should transpose to lines we look at later, and White can't really get anything from 7. Ne5?! cxd4 8. exd4 Bb4+ 9. Nd2 Bc3) 7. bxc4 dxc4 8. Be2 b5 9. c3 (9. a4 b4) 9... Bb7 10. O-O Bd6 11. a4 a6 and Black has space on the queenside -- though White will eventually win control over e4 and get his central pawn majority going, e.g.: 12. Ba3! Nbd7 13. Bxd6 Qxd6 14. Na3 Qd5 15. Qb1! Bc6 16. Ne1!? (16. Qb4!) 16... O-O 17. Bf3 Ne4 18. Nec2 Qg5 19. Qe1 Ndf6 20. Nb4 Bd7 21. Bxe4 Nxe4 22. f3 Nd6 23. axb5 axb5 24. e4= 1/2-1/2 Georg Salwe-Paul Saladin Leonhardt/Carlsbad it, CZE 1907 (63).

 

(b) 6. Nbd2 Nbd7 7. Bb2 Bd6 8. O-O e5! transposes to the discussion of 8.Nbd2 below and is fine for White but close to equal.

6... cxd4 7. exd4 Bb4+ 8. Bd2 Nc6 9. O-O Bxd2 10. Qxd2 O-O 11. Nc3 Rd8 (11... dxc4 12. bxc4) 12. c5!? b6 13. b4 (13. Nb5!) 13... bxc5 14. bxc5 Rb8 15. Nb5 Qe7 16. Rab1 (16. Nd6! Ne8 17. Ne5 Nxe5 18. dxe5) 16... Ne4 17. Qf4 Ba6 18. a4 g5 19. Qe3 f5 20. Bxe4 dxe4 21. Qxg5+ Qxg5 22. Nxg5 Bxb5 23. axb5 Nxd4 and Black went on to win 0-1 (though White could clearly improve) in Dragasevic,A - Chelushkina,I / SCG-chT1 (Women) 2005 (55).

 

b) 5... Qa5+!? (which should be called "The Patzer Variation") 6. Bd2! ( Rudel's recommendation; Summerscale gives 6. c3) 6... Qc7 7. c4! gains nothing for Black and only speeds White's chances of pressuring the Qc7 by Nc3-b5 or Rc1 etc.

 

6. O-O Bd6 7. Bb2 Qc7!?

Summerscale, Lane, and Palliser focus on games where Black castles before Qc7, which is too slow to allow for a successful e5 push: 7... O-O 8. Nbd2 Qc7 9. c4! e5?! 10. cxd5 exd4

(a) 10... Nxd5? is an error: 11. dxe5 Nxe5 12. Nxe5 Bxe5 13. Bxh7+ Kxh7 14. Qh5+ Kg8 15. Bxe5 Qc6 16. Nc4 Be6 17. Rac1 b6 18. Bxg7! ("A brave decision, as White is completely winning without any need for fireworks, but this sacrifice is highly thematic" notes Summerscale) 18... Kxg7 19. Qg5+ Kh8 20. Ne5 Qc8 21. Rc4 Bf5 22. Rh4+ Bh7 23. Qh6 1-0 Minarelli,G-Pastorini,M/Forli op 1989 (23).

 

(b) 10... cxd4 might be best: 11. exd4 exd4 12. Rc1 Qb8 13. Bxd4 Nxd5 14. Qc2 Summerscale.

11. exd4 Nxd5 12. Rc1 Nf4 13. Ne4 Nxd3 14. Qxd3 Bf4 15. Rc2 b6 16. dxc5 Nxc5 17. Nxc5 (17. Qd4 Palliser) 17... bxc5 18. Qc3 f6 19. Qxc5 Qxc5 20. Rxc5 Ba6 21. Re1 Rfc8 22. Bd4 Rd8 23. Ra5 Bb7 24. Rxa7 Bxf3 25. gxf3 Rac8 26. Be3 Bxe3 27. Rxe3 Rd1+ 28. Kg2 Rd2 29. Ree7 h5 30. Rxg7+ Kh8 31. Rh7+ Kg8 32. Rag7+ Kf8 33. Rd7 1-0 Rubinstein,A-Berger,J/Karlsbad 1907.

 

 

8. c4

According to Rudel, this is the thematic reaction to Qc7 (hoping to open the c-file and play an eventual Rc1), but it may not be the best move on close inspection. White probably should do something to stop Black from playing the c4 advance (which is the secondary idea behind Qc7). Rudel (following Gary Lane) also considers the natural 8.Nbd2, which I now think is probably White's best move:

 

8. Nbd2 e5!? (8... O-O 9. c4 transposes to lines considered above) 9. dxe5 Nxe5 10. Nxe5 Bxe5 11. Bb5+

Rudel, following Lane, leaves this as "+=" which may be accurate but requires analysis. In a note to me, Rudel also suggested the simple 11. Bxe5 Qxe5 12. c4. He writes: "The idea with 12.c4!? is that White wants to preserve use of the light squares c2 {for his Queen, setting up a battery against h7}, c4, and b5, so he aims to exchange the pawn. The deeper tactical consideration is that anything landing on d5 {recapturing the pawn after the exchange} can be hit with tempo with Bc4, e4, or {if the Knight has gone to f3} Bb5+, unveiling the Queen down the d-file." For example: 12... Bg4! (12... O-O 13. cxd5 Qxd5 14. Qc2 Rd8? 15. Ne4!) 13. Nf3!? (13. Qc2 Rd8) 13... Qh5 14. cxd5 when perhaps 14... Nxd5 15. Rc1 (15. Bb5+ Ke7!) 15... b6 16. Bb5+ Kf8 17. Be2 yields White an edge. I'd say that 11.Bxe5 followed by c4 OR 11.Bb5+ followed by Bxe5, Be2 and c4 are clearly critical and may represent White's only tries for an edge against the Hybrid Zukertort Retort.

11... Kf8!

11... Bd7?! 12. Bxe5 Qxe5 13. Bxd7+ Nxd7 14. c4 Nf6 15. cxd5 Qxd5 16. e4 Qe6 17. e5 Nd5 18. Nc4 O-O 19. f4!

12. Bxe5 Qxe5 13. Be2!

13. Qe2 g6 14. Rae1 Kg7 15. e4 dxe4 16. Nxe4 Qxe4 17. Qxe4 Nxe4 18. Rxe4 Be6 19. Bc4= 1/2-1/2 Artur Yusupov-Murray Chandler/Hastings 1989 seems an important game for challenging Lane's assessment.

13... g6 14. c4 (14. Nf3 Qc3!=) 14... Kg7 15. cxd5!

Not as strong seems 15. Nf3 Qe7! 16. cxd5 Rd8 17. Bc4 Be6!= (17... Bf5!?) 18. e4?! Nxe4 19. Re1 Nc3 20. Qd2 Nxd5 21. Bxd5 Qf6

After 15.cxd5, White can try for an eventual e4 and f4 pawn advance or try to make something of his slight lead in development, e.g.:

 

15... Qxd5 16. Bf3 Qf5 17. Nc4 and White seems to have something but Black still has good chances of equalizing.

 

8... e5!

This has to be the critical test of Black's set-up, as his pieces seem poorly placed in other lines. The Black Queen is exposed to attacks by Rc1 and Nc3-b5; the Knight at d7 blocks the Bishop's natural development and does not help to shield the Queen from c-file threats; and White can sometimes gain a critical tempo on the Bishop at d6 by dxc5, Ne4, or Nb5 in some lines. It is hard to find well-played games to illustrate these problems, but here is one example:

8... dxc4 9. bxc4 cxd4 10. exd4 O-O 11. Qe2 Rd8 12. Nc3 Bf8 (12... a6 13. Ne4!?) 13. Rfe1 a6 14. Rad1 Bb4 15. a3 Bxc3 16. Bxc3 b5 17. Ng5!? (17. Ne5) 17... bxc4 18. Bxc4 Nb6 19. Ba5 Rd6 20. Rc1?! (better 20. Qe5!? or 20. Bxb6 Rxb6 21. d5!) 20... Qd7 21. Nf3 Nxc4 22. Qxc4 Bb7?! 23. Ne5! Qb5? 24. Bb4?! (24. Qc7! wins outright: 24... Qd5 25. Qxf7+ Kh8 26. f3 Qxa5 27. Qxb7) 24... Qxc4 25. Rxc4 Rb6 26. Rec1 Nd5= and though White clearly missed some winning lines, the game ended in a draw 1/2-1/2 in Utkin, A-Bets,A/Petrovskaya Ladya 2005 (40).

 

9. dxe5 Nxe5 10. Nxe5

White has to beware the veiled threat to h2: 10. cxd5? Nxf3+! 11. gxf3 (11. Qxf3?? Bg4) 11... Bxh2+ 12. Kg2 Be5.

 

10... Bxe5 11. Nc3!

The only way for White to try for an edge. The simplifying 11. Bxe5 Qxe5 12. Nd2 O-O= is practically a reversed Rubinstein French and at least equal for Black, if not very slightly better.

 

11... dxc4!

Rudel gives the following analysis: 11... Bxh2+ 12. Kh1 Be5 13. Nxd5 Nxd5 14. Bxe5 Qxe5 15. cxd5 which Fritz thinks is about "=" but which I think Rudel more correctly rates as "" since White's central majority and passed d-pawn can easily become very dangerous, e.g.: 15... O-O 16. e4 Qg5 (16... Rd8 17. f4 Qe7 18. e5 Qh4+ 19. Kg1 Bg4 20. Qd2 Rac8 21. d6) 17. f4 Qh4+ 18. Kg1 Rd8 19. Qe1 Qh5 (19... Qxe1 20. Raxe1) 20. f5! f6 21. Qg3.

 

12. Bxc4 Bg4!

 










Also playable, it turns out, is 12... Bxh2+!? 13. Kh1 Bg4 14. Nd5!

(a) 14. Qc2 Be5 15. f4

 

(b) 14. f3 Qg3!! {Rudel actually suggested this idea in our discussions of the line; he also gives a great piece of analysis in his book showing that White wins after 14... Rd8 15. fxg4! Rxd1 16. Raxd1 Qg3 17. Nd5! Nxd5 18. Rxd5 O-O 19. Rdf5 Qh4 20. Rh5 Qxg4 21. Rxh2} 15. Nd5 Qh4 16. Bxf6 gxf6 17. Nxf6+ Qxf6 18. fxg4 {18. Kxh2 Bd7 or 18. Bb5+ Kf8 19. Kxh2 Qh6+ 20. Kg3 Bf5 are fine for Black} 18... Qh4 19. Bb5+ Kf8 20. Rxf7+ and White forces a draw, as we examine below.

14... Bxd1 15. Nxc7+ Bxc7 16. Raxd1 Ke7 17. Bxf6+ gxf6 18. Bxf7 Rab8 19. Bd5= with a likely draw due to Bishops of opposite color. A similar position, but with Black up a pawn, occurs in the game.

 

13. Nd5?!

a) 13. f3! Bxh2+! (13... Bd7?! 14. f4) 14. Kh1 Qg3!! (A critical move suggested by Rudel when I sent him my initial analysis of this line) 15. Nd5!

Not 15. fxg4? Qh4 16. Rxf6 Bg3+ 17. Kg1 Qh2+ 18. Kf1 Qh1+ 19. Ke2 Qxg2+ 20. Kd3 Rd8+ 21. Nd5 Rxd5+ 22. Bxd5 Qxd5+ 23. Kc2 Qg2+ 24. Qd2 Qxd2+ 25. Kxd2 gxf6 26. Bxf6 Rg8

15... Qh4 16. Bxf6 gxf6 17. Nxf6+ Qxf6 18. fxg4

This move achieves a draw by force. If White wants to continue playing, he might try another idea of Rudel's that emerged from our discussion: 18. Bb5+!? Kf8 19. Kxh2 Qh6+ 20. Kg3 Bf5 21. Kf2 Qh4+ 22. Kg1 Rd8; but less good seems 18. Kxh2 Bd7! 19. Qd5 Qh6+ 20. Kg1 Qxe3+ 21. Kh1 O-O-O!?.

18... Qh4 19. Bb5+ Kf8 20. Rxf7+ Kxf7 21. Qd5+ Kg7 22. Qd7+ Kg6 23. Qf5+ Kh6 24. Qe6+ Kg7 25. Qd7+= is a forced draw. So this line is certainly no "refutation" of the Colle - Zukertort since White can force a draw at will. But finding a way of gaining an edge for White after 8.c4 is harder than after 8.Nbd2.

 

b) 13. Qc2!? Bxh2+ 14. Kh1 Be5 15. f4 Bxc3 16. Bxc3 gives White some compensation in the two Bishops and open lines.

 

13... Bxh2+

13... Nxd5! looks even better: 14. Bxe5 (14. Qxg4 Bxb2 15. Bxd5 Bxa1) 14... Bxd1 15. Bxc7 Bxb3!. For this reason, I think 13.Nd5 is actually dubious.

 

14. Kh1 Bxd1 15. Nxc7+ Bxc7 16. Rfxd1 Rd8

16... Ke7!? 17. Bxf6+ gxf6 18. Bd5 (18. Bxf7?? Be5) 18... Rab8 19. Rac1=

 

17. Rxd8+ Kxd8 18. Bxf6+ gxf6 19. Bxf7=

1/2-1/2

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Copyright © 2009 by Michael Goeller