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After a glut of online events, one seemingly running straight into another, the 2020 Altibox Norway Chess tournament saw a welcome return to over-the-board elite-level chess. This month we feature Nimzo-Indian games physically played by Carlsen, Caruana and Aronian. Don’t worry though, for online addicts there’s still some banter blitz included too!

Download PGN of October ’20 Nimzo and Benoni games

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Nimzo-Indian: 4 Qc2 0-0 5 a3 Bxc3+ 6 Qxc3 d5 7 Bg5 [E32]

4 Qc2 0-0 5 a3 Bxc3+ 6 Qxc3 d5 7 Bg5 dxc4 8 Qxc4 b6 9 Rd1 Ba6 10 Qa4 h6 11 Bh4:

This key position was reached when Carlsen had the white pieces against Caruana in Norway. Carlsen doesn’t normally play 4 Qc2, so it was interesting to see his take on it. Previously, Caruana had played 11...Qe7, but here he chose the alternative 11...Qd7 12 Qc2 Qc6 13 Qxc6 Nxc6 14 Bxf6 gxf6:

Earlier games reaching this position had ended in draws, but in Carlsen, M - Caruana, F the World Champion demonstrated that after 15 e3! Black’s position isn’t completely comfortable, and he went on to score his first classical time-limit win against Caruana following 19 consecutive draws.

Nimzo-Indian: 4 f3 c5 5 d5 b5 [E20]

4 f3 c5 5 d5 b5 6 e4 d6 7 Bd2:

The 5...b5 6 e4 d6 move order continues to gain interest at the highest level. There have been two recent game involving Aronian, with the Armenian GM willing to take both sides in the battle.

In Norway, he reached this position as Black against Caruana. Aronian chose 7...Bxc3, the move he previously faced when playing this line as White against Carlsen. After 8 Bxc3 b4 9 Bd2 0-0, Caruana was the first to diverge with the new move 10 Ne2:

Aronian reacted energetically with 10...Nh5 11 Be3 f5! and a sharp battle followed in which Black gained plenty of activity - see the notes to Caruana, F - Aronian, L.

A few weeks earlier, Aronian had the same line, this time with the white pieces against Grischuk. Instead of 7...Bxc3, the Russian GM chose 7...a6. White’s most popular response to this is 8 a4, but Aronian preferred 8 Nge2 0-0 9 Nf4, reaching a position we’ve previously discussed via a different move order (5...0-0 6 e4 d6 7 Nge2 b5 8 Nf4 a6 9 Bd2).

Following 9...exd5 10 Ncxd5 Nxd5 11 Nxd5 Bxd2+ 12 Qxd2 the pawn sacrifice 12...Nc6! proved to be very promising for Black - see the notes to Aronian, L - Grischuk, A.

Nimzo-Indian: 4 Nf3 c5 5 g3 Bxc3+ 6 bxc3 Qa5 [E20]

4 Nf3 c5 5 g3 Bxc3+ 6 bxc3 Qa5 7 Bd2 b6 8 Bg2 Bb7 9 0-0 0-0:

Against the Kasparov Variation, in the past I’ve suggested 5...Bxc3+ 6 bxc3 Qa5 as an option for those who are looking for a line with a typical Nimzo approach: give White doubled c-pawns and then play against that weakness. At the highest level, however, it seems that Black has problems achieving a fully equal position, and a recent engine vs engine battle has only strengthened this claim. Stockfish - Ethereal continued 10 Re1 Be4 and now the novelty 11 Bg5!?:

This sacrifices the c3-pawn in order to force a weakness around Black’s king, and following 11...Qxc3 12 Rc1 Qb2 13 Bxf6 gxf6 14 d5! White gains a long-term initiative that Ethereal was unable to withstand.

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

4 e3 0-0 5 Nf3 d5 6 a3 Bxc3+ 7 bxc3:

We looked at this line a couple of months ago, and since then there’s been some more action, with Magnus Carlsen trying it three times in a banter blitz match against Giri.

In the similar line with the bishop on d3 and the knight back on g1, Black normally exchanges on c4 and then plays ...c5 to reach the desired set-up. The difference here is that ...dxc4 would effectively lose a tempo, so Black usually plays 7...c5 first. In one of the games, however, Giri preferred 7...c6, preparing ...b6 and ...Ba6, and the game continued 8 a4 b6:

This position has been seen in a handful of games, with the most popular continuation being 9 cxd5 cxd5 10 Ba3 Re8 11 Bb5 Bd7. Carlsen preferred to push on with 9 a5!? - see Carlsen, M - Giri, A for analysis.

Nimzo-Indian: 4 Qc2 0-0 5 e4 d6 [E32]

4 e3 0-0 5 Nf3 d5 6 Bd2 b6 7 cxd5 exd5 8 Rc1 Bb7 9 Bd3 a6 10 0-0:

There’s no sign at all of Bd2 losing any popularity, with many games occurring in the last few months.

9...a6 is normally associated with retreating the bishop back to d6 without allowing Nb5. If Black is planning on playing ...Bd6, this is the right moment to do so. It’s true that 10...Nbd7 is also perfectly fine, but 11 Ne5 Bd6?! (11...Nxe5! is critical) doesn’t fit in well with ...Nbd7, as Black isn’t able to sufficiently pressure the d4-pawn. After 12 f4! White achieves a favourable Pillsbury-style set-up, and the resulting kingside attack can prove to be irresistible. This is a common mistake by Black and I couldn’t resist including another example, not least because of a delightful finish to the game - see the notes to Dragun, K - Schmakel, S.

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 Bg5 Bb7 11 Ne5:

11 Ne5 is probably the most direct try by White against the Karpov Variation, and a tempting option as Black can easily go wrong if unaware of the critical lines. If Black wants to play ...Nbd7, it’s probably most accurate to play it here. It’s tempting to insert 11...Bxc3 12 bxc3 first, and only now 12...Nbd7, as has been played on many occasions and by very strong GMs. However, 13 Nxd7 Qxd7 14 Bxf6 gxf6 15 Qg4+! isn’t completely safe for Black - see the notes to Bajarani, U - Vazquez, G.

Till next time, John

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