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This month I return to some sharp lines of the Nimzo-Indian, and in particular an alternative option for Black against the ambitious line 4 Qc2 0-0 5 e4, which has become quite fashionable even amongst very strong grandmasters.

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Download PGN of March '09 Nimzo and Benoni games

Nimzo-Indian 4 Qc2 0-0 5 e4

1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 Qc2 0-0 5 e4:

The main move for Black here is considered to be 5...d5, and for good reason given its reliable reputation. However, recently White has been challenging Black in that line with some new ideas (see, for example, the notes to Fridman-Wells). Furthermore, it's interesting that Anatoly Karpov, who's had numerous games with 5 e4 with both White and Black, still prefers 5...d6. Here I try to cover some recent developments with that move, covering all three of White main responses.

In Bhagwat - Lalith, New Delhi 2009, White plays what could be regarded as the main line: 6 a3 Bxc3+ 7 bxc3 e5 8 Bd3 Nc6 9 Ne2

9...b6 has been the most common move here, but Lalith tried 9...h6!? taking prophylactic measures against Bg5, and this was also Karpov's choice in his most recent game with this line.

In Goh Weiming-So, Vung Tau 2008, White opted for the razor-sharp 6 e5, but it has to be said I found Black's response to be very convincing. It looks like White must find something new here or else 6 e5 will have to be ditched.

Finally, White can also play the sensible-looking 6 Bd3. This can actually transpose to 6 a3, but in Olszewski - Moranda, Warsaw 2008, Black chose a different path with some success. In the notes to this game I also cover independent possibilities for White.

Nimzo-Indian 4 Qc2 d5 5 cxd5 exd5 6 Bg5

I'm indebted to Igor Kragelj for pointing out some new developments in perhaps one of the most critical lines for the whole 4 Qc2 d5 variation, 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 Qc2 d5 5 cxd5 exd5 6 Bg5 h6 7 Bh4 c5 8 dxc5 g5 9 Bg3 Ne4 10 e3 Qa5 11 Nge2 Bf5 12 Be5 0-0 13 Nd4 Nxc3 14 Nxf5 Ne4+ 15 Kd1 Nc6 16 Bd4:

I have fond memories of this position because it brought me a nice win in a 2005 4NCL game against Maxim Devereux. Is this line still playable for Black? I think so, at the very least on a practical level, although not necessarily for the reasons that first came to mind! Certainly the game Eames-C.Flear, Hastings 2009, provides more food for thought.

White avoids the main lines in Dreev - Khairullin, Moscow 2009, with 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 Qc2 d5 5 cxd5 exd5 6 Bg5 h6 7 Bh4 c5 8 dxc5 g5 9 Bg3 Ne4 10 Bxb8!? Qf6!:

Although it had been known previously, this move was first officially sighted in a brilliant miniature between Ivan Sokolov and Levon Aronian, at the 2006 Turin Olympiad: 11 Bg3 Nxc3 12 a3 Bf5 13 Qd2 Ba5 14 b4? Ne4! 15 Qc1 Rc8!! 16 Ra2 Rxc5 17 Qa1 Qc6! 18 Qe5+ Kd8 19 Qxh8+ Kd7 and White resigned (see the annotations to that game for full coverage of the many complex lines).

Since that game there have been very few players willing to repeat 10 Bxb8. Dreev chose 11 e3 aiming for a quieter position but his choice is slightly baffling. Not so much because he avoids the bewildering complications of Sokolov-Aronian, but because his move seems to offer Black some extra possibilities he shouldn't really get after the similar 11 Nf3!. Khairullin chooses to avoid these possibilities but gets a decent enough position anyway with 11...Bxc3+ 12 bxc3 Rxb8.

Nimzo-Indian: Sämisch Variation

Many thanks go to Joachim Iglesias, who kindly provided some detailed notes to the fascinating game Brethes - Iglesias, Nancy 2009. These notes are reproduced here, and I've just added some theoretical observations to the line 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 e3 c5 5 Bd3 0-0 6 a3 Bxc3+ 7 bxc3 b6 8 e4!?:

Queen's Indian: 4 g3 Ba6

Franck Steenbekkers points out a promising possibility for White in the complex line 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nf3 b6 4 g3 Ba6 5 b3 d5 6 Bg2 dxc4!? 7 Ne5 Bb4+ 8 Kf1 Bd6:

This has been played as Black by the likes of Kasparov, Leko and Gelfand, but none of their opponents chose 9 Nxf7!?. After 9...Kxf7 10 Bxa8 c6 White is the exchange up, but his bishop is trapped on a8. I can find hardly any over-the-board examples of this position, but there are some correspondence games. This sort of makes sense, because if you are going to play with an entombed bishop, you'd probably want to have all or most of it worked out first!

So is 9 Nxf7 good for White? Tentatively, yes! But it would be interesting to see what if anything Kasparov, Leko and Gelfand had planned against it, see Dudi - Szaron.

Till next time, John