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Happy New Year! I wish everyone (okay, except my opponents) every success in their Nimzo adventures in 2009.
There are always ideas cropping up in the Nimzo-Indian, some new, and some forgotten - it's constantly a challenge to keep up with everything.
I've just realised that all but one of the games I've chosen this month share a common theme: White or Black sacrificing at least one pawn in the early stages of the game. Many view the Nimzo as a solid defence to 1 d4, and yet there are plenty of possibilities available for a gambiteer.

Feel free to share your ideas and opinions on the Forum (the link above on the right), while subscribers with any questions can email me at

Download PGN of January '09 Nimzo and Benoni games

Nimzo-Indian 4 Qc2

Chris Ross asks a very good general question about the b2-b4 advance, referring to the lines 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 Qc2 0-0 5 Nf3 c5 6 dxc5 Na6 7 a3 Bxc3+ 8 Qxc3 Nxc5 9 b4? Nce4 10 Qd4 a5!, and much more importantly from a theoretical viewpoint, 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 Qc2 c5 5 dxc5 Na6 6 a3 Bxc3+ 7 Qxc3 Nxc5 8 b4 Nce4 9 Qd4 d5 10 c5 b6 11 f3 bxc5 12 bxc5 Qa5+ 13 Qb4 Qc7 14 fxe4 Rb8 15 Qa4+ Bd7 16 c6.

The general question is does White have time for b2-b4 in these types of lines, and should he be looking to play this advance? It's a great question but one I find impossible to answer in general terms because I feel it all depends on the specifics of the position. I find making any sort of general rule here could be dangerous, as there are always exceptions lurking. I toyed with saying something like "b2-b4 is a desirable advance, as long as the advantages it creates outweigh the counterplay Black can gain by exploiting any new weaknesses" but that's not going to help anyone! It is, at least, fairly straightforward to explain why the second variation compares favourably from White's point of view to the first, and I do this in the game notes.

I'm much happier dealing in concrete variations, and I did like the idea of revisiting the fascinating position arising after 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 Qc2 c5 5 dxc5 Na6 6 a3 Bxc3+ 7 Qxc3 Nxc5 8 b4 Nce4 9 Qd4 d5 10 c5 b6 11 f3 bxc5 12 bxc5 Qa5+ 13 Qb4 Qc7 14 fxe4 Rb8 15 Qa4+ Bd7 16 c6:

I covered this position a few years ago, and my impression then was that Black had at least a forced draw, and more if White erred. In Farago - Csiszar, Balatonlelle 2006, however, White comes up with an incredible defensive resource which forces a reassessment.

White's b2-b4 is certainly justified in the game Flear - Wheeler, 4NCL 2008, which begins 1 d4 e6 2 c4 Nf6 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 Qc2 c5 5 dxc5 Na6 6 a3 Qa5:

I must admit I'm finding it difficult to understand why 6...Qa5 has been played so many times. To me White's response looks pretty natural and he usually ends up with an easy edge. Maybe, though, there are quite a few players who are happy to reach a slightly inferior position as long as they can force the queens off the board.

Nimzo-Indian 4 Nf3

A few years ago I covered the gambit 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 Nf3 c5 5 g3 cxd4 6 Nxd4 Ne4 7 Qc2!? (instead of the usual 7 Qd3) in the game Stocek-Babula, Karlovy Vary 2004.

White's idea is to answer 7...Qa5 with 8 Bg2! Nxc3 9 0-0. There haven't been many developments since, but just recently I noticed that no lesser player than Radjabov has been willing to try 7 Qc2, and more than once. In Radjabov - Gashimov, Elista 2008, I try to work out whether this gambit really does pose serious problems for Black.

Another enticing gambit is seen after 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 Nf3 c5 5 g3 Ne4 6 Qd3 Qa5 7 Qxe4 Bxc3+ 8 Bd2 Bxd2+ 9 Nxd2 Nc6 10 d5!?:

which is covered in Sedlak - Lenic, Murska Sobota 2008. Watch out here for some very interesting variations in a double rook ending, in which White can be a queen down and still win!

Nimzo-Indian 4 a3

1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 a3 Bxc3+ 5 bxc3 c5 6 e3 0-0 7 Bd3 Nc6 8 Ne2 b6 9 0-0 Ba6 10 e4 Ne8:

In this mainline position White almost always plays 11 f4, but in Berczes - Wells, 4NCL 2008, White instead chooses the rare move 11 Ng3!?. Black immediately has something different to think about, because f2-f4 can no longer be met by the automatic ...f7-f5. Of course 11 Ng3 does leave the d4-pawn hanging, but taking this pawn opens things up for the white bishops.

Nimzo-Indian 4 e3

Kasimdzhanov - Alekseev, Elista 2008, turns out to be a very nice win for Alekseev in one of old main lines of the Rubinstein: 1 d4 d5 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 e3 c5 5 Nf3 Nf6 6 Bd3 0-0 7 0-0 Nc6 8 a3 Bxc3 9 bxc3 Qc7 10 Bb2 dxc4 11 Bxc4 e5 12 h3:

A few moves down the line Alekseev impresses with a Petrosian-like exchange sacrifice, which seems to squeeze all the life out of White's position. It's too easy to say that the sacrifice favours Black, but at the very least it takes White out of his comfort zone.

The final game, Estremera Panos-Belezky, Palma de Mallorca 2008, provides a bit of light relief from theoretical lines. Black chooses 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 e3 Ne4!?:

This is a cheeky line I covered in Dangerous Weapons: The Nimzo-Indian. After 5 Qc2 f5 6 Bd3 Black usually gambits a pawn with 6...0-0, but Belezky provides his own twist with 6...b6!? when Black prepares to give up a rook too!

Till next time, John