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The Rubinstein (4 e3) Variation of the Nimzo-Indian continues to provide such a rich source of new ideas for both sides, and in this month’s update we focus solely on this fashionable opening.

Download PGN of December ’23 Nimzo and Benoni games

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Nimzo-Indian: 4 e3 c5 5 Nge2 d5 [E42]

3 Nc3 Bb4 4 e3 c5 5 Nge2 d5 6 a3 Ba5!?:

We saw 6...Ba5 recently in Grischuk,A-Nepomniachtchi,I/Amsterdam 2023. Since then, Nepo has repeated 6...Ba5, and Wesley So also played it, against Caruana. However, this was one game where So’s renowned opening preparation deserted him. After 7 dxc5 dxc4 8 Bd2 Nbd7 9 Ng3 he erred with 9...b6?, and following Caruana’s powerful reply 10 Qf3! Black was already in some trouble - see Caruana, F - So, W for analysis.

Nimzo-Indian: 4 e3 c5 5 Nge2 d5 [E41]

4 e3 c5 5 Bd3 d5 6 cxd5 Nxd5 7 Nge2 cxd4 8 exd4 0-0 9 0-0 Re8!?:

9...Re8 is a move-order nuance which has been used by Dominguez Perez, and now also by Caruana in a recent game against Abdusattorov. Although ...Re8 is a well-known idea (to allow ... Bf8 after a3), it’s unusual for it to be played quite so early (9...Nc6 10 Bc2 Re8 has been seen on many occasions). After 10 Bc2 Nc6 we transpose to known territory. Following 11 Qd3 g6 12 Rd1 Bf8 13 Qg3 Nxc3 14 bxc3 Bg7, Abdusattorov played 15 h4!:

This is a strong strategic idea, which was supported by 13 Qg3. White uses the h-pawn’s advance to soften up Black’s pawn defence on the kingside. Later on, Abdusattorov gained complete dominance on the dark squares a won a fine game, see Abdusattorov, N - Caruana, F.

Nimzo-Indian: 4 e3 0-0 5 Bd2 b6 6 Nf3 d5 [E51]

4 e3 0-0 5 Bd2 b6 6 Nf3 d5 7 cxd5 exd5 8 Rc1 c5!?:

8...c5 is nowhere near as popular as Black’s main options, but it scores pretty well. Black usually retreats the bishop to safety before advancing the c-pawn, but this immediate action in the centre also has some merit. In particular, Black’s attack on the centre is faster than normal. A recent game continued 9 dxc5 bxc5 10 Be2 Nc6 11 Na4 c4:

The merits of the ...c4 advance when Black has hanging pawns have been known since the classic game Bernstein-Capablanca. Or as Fischer said, “to get squares you have to give squares”. Black is fine here and went on to win convincingly in Ioannidis, E - Bronstein, O.

Nimzo-Indian: 4 e3 0-0 5 Bd2 d5 6 Nf3 Nbd7 [E51]

4 e3 0-0 5 Bd2 d5 6 Nf3 Nbd7 7 Rc1 c6 8 Bd3:

6...Nbd7 is a good alternative to 6...b6. By developing the knight, Black maintains maximum flexibility with the pawn structure. After 7 Rc1 c6 8 Bd3, this is pretty much an e3 Semi-Slav, with a couple of differences:

1) Black will lose a tempo getting the bishop back to its ideal post on d6.
2) White has played Bd2 and Rc1, which are useful but sub-optimal moves.

A typical continuation is 8...Qe7 9 0-0 dxc4 10 Bxc4 e5 11 Qc2 Bd6 and here White plays 12 h3!:

This is a typical move in this type of position, which allows White to meet ...e5 with Ng5, without falling for ...Bxh2+ tricks. From a handful of games reaching this position, White has scored well. See the recent game Moroni, L - Moussard, J for analysis.

4 e3 0-0 5 Bd2 d5 6 Nf3 Nbd7 7 a3 Be7 8 Qc2 dxc4!?:

...dxc4 is a simple solution that Caruana has used in similar positions. Black exchanges on c4 and follows up with ...c5, reaching a QGA formation. Black can argue that White’s set-up with Bd2 isn’t ideal here, and after 9 Bxc4 c5 10 0-0 cxd4 11 exd4 Nb6 Black reaches a playable IQP position - see Nepomniachtchi, I - Caruana, F for details.

Nimzo-Indian: 4 e3 0-0 5 Bd3 d5 6 a3 Bxc3+ 7 bxc3 dxc4 [E49]

4 e3 0-0 5 Bd3 d5 6 a3 Bxc3+ 7 bxc3 dxc4 8 Bxc4 c5 9 Bd3!?:

9 Bd3 is a subtle idea that we’ve seen before. White will need to move the bishop soon anyway, and doing it immediately maintains flexibility over his knight’s development. A typical continuation is 9...Nc6 10 Nf3 Qc7 11 Bb2 e5 12 dxe5 Nxe5 13 Nxe5 Qxe5:

Previously we considered 14 Qe2 Bf5 in Indjic,A-Caruana,F/ 2023. In a more recent game, White instead tried 14 Qb3!?, which offers a pawn sacrifice - see the notes to Vitiugov, N - Martirosyan, H.

Nimzo-Indian: Karpov Variation [E54]

4 e3 0-0 5 Bd3 d5 6 Nf3 c5 7 0-0 dxc4 8 Bxc4 cxd4 9 exd4 b6 10 Qe2 Bb7 11 Rd1 Nbd7 12 d5!?:

12 d5 is a forcing line which Black often avoids by exchanging on c3 a move earlier. 12...Bxc3 13 dxe6 Bxf3! is generally considered to be critical, but it’s noticeable that a few high-level grandmasters played 12...exd5 in 2023, even though after 13 Nxd5 White has an excellent score from this position. The main line runs 13...Re8 14 Qc2 Bxd5 15 Bxd5 Nxd5 16 Rxd5 Qe7:

Here 17 Bg5! is the only way to test Black. This was played in the recent game Sarana, A - Deac, B, which Sarana won in convincing style. The position certainly looks much easier to play for White.

Till next time, John

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