The Comeback Trail, Part 3

In my previous article I looked at some broad categories of openings and why it makes sense to select some over others. This time I’ll look at another useful concept for those wanting to come back to the game, a chess version of the Zulu Principle.

The Zulu Principle was first espoused by the British financier and chess sponsor, Jim Slater. After seeing how his wife had acquired an exceptional knowledge of Zulus after reading a Reader’s Digest article on them, he started to apply the same concept to investing. By specializing in particular investments he could know more than almost everyone else about them.

This idea can be applied to chess openings. If you specialize in particular lines that nobody else really bothers with you can become a leading authority on them with relatively little effort. So instead of playing something like the popular Breyer Variation of the Ruy Lopez (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.O-O Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 O-O 8.c3 d6 9.h3 and now 9…Nb8) why not consider something that nobody else touches? I’ve played 9…Be6 in a few games with pretty decent results and 9…Nd7 is another good move.

Black can also deviate much earlier on, for example with 5…d6 or 4…d6. Very few players pay much attention to these moves because they occur so infrequently, and this in turn gives someone who bucks the trend a Zulu Principle edge in knowledge.

Of course this is not what most players do, they just have to play the most fashionable lines. But with these being so topical there will be far more people who know them and know what to do, not to mention the fact that there’s far more to learn in fashionable lines.

So I think it makes sense to go slightly off the beaten track, but here I’d also like to issue a word of caution. Any openings that one chooses to play should follow sound principles and not just be different for the sake of it. This is partly because well principled openings will cultivate a player’s strategic understanding, especially if clear strategic themes are present. Those which lead to chaotic positions do not have this benefit.

Nigel Davies

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About NigelD

Nigel Davies is an International Chess Grandmaster living in St. Helens in the UK. The winner of 15 international tournaments he is also a former British U21 and British Open Quickplay Champion and has represented both England and Wales on several occasions. These days Nigel teaches chess through his chess training web site, Tiger Chess, which has articles, recommendations, a monthly clinic, videos and courses. His students include his 15 year old son Sam who is making rapid progress with his game. Besides teaching chess, Nigel is a registered tai chi and qigong instructor and runs several weekly classes.