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For this month's update I've produced a mini-survey on the sharp Nimzo-Indian line 4 Qc2 0-0 5 e4!?, which, after a period in the relative doldrums, is making a real comeback and causing Black more than just a few problems.

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 '11 Nimzo and Benoni games

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Nimzo-Indian: 4 Qc2 0-0 5 e4

Only a couple of years ago it seemed to me like Black had more or less solved his problems against this ambitious line, in a theoretical sense at least, with both 5...d5 and 5...d6 holding up pretty well. But since then White has been fighting back, and fighting back hard, with some new and interesting ideas strengthening his chances.

While it's certainly too early for Black to be hitting the panic button, I do feel he has to tread carefully after 5 e4, and some preparation is required to stay afloat in these ultra-sharp positions. In this update I'll touch upon some of the recent developments.

A) 5...d5

Most players now consider the main line to be the following: 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 Qc2 0-0 5 e4 d5 6 e5 Ne4 7 Bd3 c5 8 Nf3 (this move and 8 Nge2 - which usually transposes - have completely replaced 8 cxd5) 8...cxd4 9 Nxd4 Nd7 10 Bf4:

Here Black's commonest choice has been 10...Ndc5, but 10...Qh4!? is an interesting alternative. After the more or less forced 11 g3 Black's queen makes a nuisance of herself on the light squares, trying to disrupt White's smooth development. The flipside is that she may also become blocked out of the action, or even vulnerable to being trapped.

Black has to decide whether he wants to prevent kingside or queenside castling. In Holt - Milman, Berkeley 2011, Black chooses 11...Qh3, whereas in Sethuraman - Venkatesh, New Delhi 2010, he opts for 11...Qh5.

Returning to the usual move, 10...Ndc5, the main line runs 11 0-0 Nxd3 12 Qxd3 Bxc3 13 bxc3 b6 14 cxd5:

Typically Black has chosen 14...Qxd5 here, as he did in Holt - Rensch, Berkeley 2011. After 15 Rfd1 Black tried 15...Rd8, a move with which Gashimov had previously equalised with some ease (see Inarkiev-Gashimov in the archives). Holt's play, however, provides much more of a challenge to Black.

I've previously preferred 14...Qxd5 to 14...exd5, but after looking through the game Bhat - Kaidanov, Saint Louis 2010, I might have to think again. Kaidanov's light-squared treatment of the position after 15 Rfd1 Re8 16 Rac1 Qd7! is well worthy of study, and suddenly to me this looks like an attractive option for Black.

B) 5...d6

The main line with 5...d6 is still 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 Qc2 0-0 5 e4 d6 6 a3 Bxc3+ 7 bxc3, and a critical sequence from here is 7...e5 8 Bd3 Nc6 9 Ne2 b6 10 0-0 Ba6 11 f4 Nd7:

12 Be3 was White's original choice in this line, but recently Eljanov has enjoyed success with the far more aggressive 12 Rf3!?. White hopes to save a tempo for his kingside attack by not moving the c1-bishop, and plays in typical Sämisch Nimzo-Indian style, gambiting the c4-pawn for attacking chances on the kingside. Despite only being a blitz game, Eljanov - Carlsen, Moscow 2010, is an excellent example of the problems Black faces against such aggressive play.

In Lupulescu - Efimenko, Bundesliga 2010, Black instead chooses 7...c5. White normally builds up slowly with 8 Bd3, but Lupulescu's 8 e5!? looks like a challenging alternative, with good chances for an advantage for White.

C) 5...c5

The popularity of this move has dropped in recent times, with very few games in the last two years. I suspect this is because most Black players feel that the sharp 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 Qc2 0-0 5 e4 c5 6 e5 cxd4 7 a3 Qa5 8 axb4 Qxa1 is too risky for the second player, and previous evidence seems to back this up.

Black does have a safer option in 7...dxc3 8 axb4 Ng4!, as played in Gonda - Csonka, Zalakaros 2010. Despite the result of this game, I feel that Black has reasonable chances of equalising, although that is clearly the height of his ambitions.

Modern Benoni: Modern Main Line

A bonus for this month! Many thanks to fellow ChessPublishing columnist Richard Palliser, who has kindly provided annotations to a recent Modern Benoni game of his. See Palliser - Kononenko, European Club Cup, Plovdiv 2010, for up-to-date coverage of a critical line.

Till next time, John

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