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Nimzo-Indian: Rubinstein Variation
1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 e3 0-0 5 Bd3 d5 6 a3:
While it's clearly true that 6 a3 is neither critical nor the latest trend (just look at the dates of the games and the game references!), I do feel it's one of those lines where if White knows the positions inside out he can still cause his opponents some problems.
It's worth noting that both Vadim Milov and Ivan Sokolov have a soft spot for 6 a3, and it's fair to say that these guys know a thing or two about playing the White side of the Nimzo!
These days, the main line after 6 a3 is regarded as 6...Bxc3+ 7 bxc3 dxc4 (I plan to revisit 7...c5 8 cxd5 exd5 at some point; nowadays this is seen less frequently at GM level) 8 Bxc4 c5:
Previously here I've covered only 9 Nf3 but in this update I'm focussing on White's alternatives, which based on the evidence are probably just as significant: 9 Ne2, 9 Bd3 and 9 Bb2.
Starting with the most popular, 9 Ne2, Black now has a key decision to make:
a) 9...Qc7 is the most common choice for Black. If the queen is going to settle on c7, it makes sense to do so now because it sets up an X-ray attack on the c4-bishop and White has to deal with this straight away.
Aleksandrov - Polgar, Dresden Olympiad 2008, sees 10 Bd3 Nc6 11 0-0 e5. This is a game that all Black players should be trying to copy, as it's seems an almost effortless win, although admittedly White's play was pretty toothless.
In Sokolov - Miroshnichenko, Kemer 2007, White instead chooses 10 Ba2:
The strength of keeping the bishop on the a2-g8 diagonal is that Black's main pawn break, ...e6-e5, would really bring the bishop to life. Evidently Miroshnichenko isn't deterred by this, and after 10...e5?! he soon finds himself under pressure. 10...b6!, as played in Nguyen - Adams, Dresden Olympiad 2008, looks much wiser to me.
b) 9...Nc6 is the main alternative to 9...Qc7. Black more or less commits to the ...e5 break and hopes to gain by not spending a tempo on ...Qc7.
10 0-0 e5 11 Ba2 is seen in Knaak - Lukacs, Leipzig 1983, whereas other 11th moves are covered in Groszpeter - Ehlvest, Saint John 1988. In either case Black should be fine, as long as he knows what he's doing.
Perhaps a more challenging option for White is 10 a4!?:
when the idea of Bc1-a3 discourages Black from playing an immediate 10...e5 (see Sokolov - Leko, Odessa 2007).
Finally, in Carlsen - Fenwick, ICCF email 2007, we look at 9 Bd3!? and 9 Bb2!? which have been tried by Milov. Both are tricky, in that if Black isn't careful he could easily wind up in a line he wouldn't normally choose to play.
Till next time, John