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Nimzo Indian 4 Qc2 0-0 5 Nf3 c5
Let's begin with Morozevich's stunner: 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 Qc2 0-0 5 Nf3 c5 6 dxc5 Na6:
This position has been seen many hundreds of times before, and White has generally been playing 'mundane' moves such as 7 g3, 7 Bd2 or 7 a3. Morozevich's novelty is creative even by his own very high standards.
What's this? White seems to be wasting a move, just to give up a pawn! (albeit one that was already doomed) This is probably why no-one has thought of playing such a crazy-looking move, but when you look at it a bit more carefully, it becomes apparent that this idea is not stupid at all. Firstly, Black's knight is probably coming to c5 in any case, so that takes care of the 'lost tempo' issue. Also, by playing c5-c6 White forces Black to alter the pawn structure and close the c-file. This can be pretty useful for White, if nothing else because his c-pawn is unlikely to come under the usual pressure associated with the half-open c-file. See Morozevich - Ponomariov, Moscow 2008, for further details.
Nimzo Indian 4 Qc2 d5 5 cxd5 exd5 6 Bg5
It seems to me that in recent times top players have been concentrating more on 5 a3 as a way to fight for the advantage, perhaps because of Black's many resources after 5 cxd5 exd5. The main line is still 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 Qc2 d5 5 cxd5 exd5 6 Bg5 c5 7 dxc5 h6 8 Bh4 g5 9 Bg3 Ne4 10 e3 Qa5:
The very complicated 11 Nge2! Bf5 12 Be5 0-0 13 Nd4 must be the most critical try for White (see, for example, the annotations to Bareev-Carlsen, Khanty Mansiysk 2005), but there haven't been many notable developments here lately. In Ushenina - Kosteniuk, Women's World Ch., Nalchik 2008, White instead opted for 11 Be5 0-0 12 Bd3 Nc6 13 Bxe4 Nxe5 14 Bh7+ Kg7 15 Bd3. Kosteniuk unleashed a novelty here, and a move later she was already winning!
Perhaps in view of Black's solid standing in the main line, White players have been looking to diverge earlier. The 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 Qc2 d5 5 cxd5 exd5 6 Bg5 c5 7 Nf3 h6 8 Bxf6 Qxf6 9 a3 Ba5 10 dxc5!? of Wang Yue-Gashimov,, Sochi 2008, doesn't look too frightening at first sight. But it does contain a bit of poison, simply because it's not that easy for Black to regain his pawn.
A couple of months ago we saw an inventive idea from Iweta Rajlich (who's part of the Rybka team) in the Qc2 Nimzo. In Rajlich - Hansen, Budapest 2008, she again hits the creative button, this time by attempting to resurrect a line that has long been considered dubious: 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 Qc2 d5 5 cxd5 exd5 6 Bg5 h6 (6...c5 7 dxc5 h6 8 Bh4 g5 9 Bg3 Ne4 10 0-0-0!? Bxc3 11 f3! Bd2+! 12 Rxd2 Nxd2 13 Qxd2 was Rajlich's exchange sac- see Rajlich-Sethuraman, Budapest 2008) 7 Bh4 c5 8 0-0-0:
This bold (some might say reckless!) queenside castling has been under a cloud ever since an old Keres-Botvinnik game, which Black won very easily. Hansen avoids the route taken by Botvinnik so I wonder what improvement Rajlich has in mind?
Queen's Indian 4 g3 Ba6 5 Qc2
New ideas are continuing to crop up in the extremely dangerous pawn sacrifice line. After 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nf3 b6 4 g3 Ba6 5 Qc2 Bb7 6 Bg2 c5 7 d5 exd5 8 cxd5 Nxd5 9 0-0 Be7 10 Rd1 Qc8,
White's three main moves up to this point have been 11 Qf5, 11 Bg5 and 11 Nh4. Now there are two others that Black needs to worry about. In Topalov - Anand, Bilbao 2008, the tournament winner played the calm 11 a3!?. At first sight this move looks like preparation for e2-e4 without allowing Black the possibility of ...Nb4, but this isn't entirely true. Of course eliminating any ideas of ...Nb4 is useful, but it's even better when there are still problems with Black's most desirable move (...0-0), and that is the case here. 11 a3 isn't entirely new, but following 11...Nf6 Topalov's 12 Bg5! certainly is.
After the direct 11 e4 you would think that 11...Nb4 would be Black's most logical choice, but so far, albeit in a limited number of game, Black has normally preferred 11...Nc7, as played in Carlsen - Anand, Mainz 2008. This is yet another game where White emerged with an advantage.
Queen's Indian 4 Nc3 Bb4
Finally this month, another look at the rare line 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nf3 b6 4 Nc3 Bb4 5 Qc2!?:
With this move White can try to reach the 4 Qc2 Nimzo while avoiding certain Black lines (most obviously 4...d5 and 4...c5). On the other hand, White also loses some important options. After 5...Bb7 6 a3 (6 Bg5 is White's other main move) 6...Bxc3+ 7 Qxc3 d6 White should probably transpose to 4 Qc2 Nimzo lines with 8 e3 Nbd7 9 Be2 0-0 10 0-0, or 8 g3 Nbd7 9 Bg2 0-0 10 0-0. In Sokolov - Adams, London 2008, White opted for the more ambitious 8 Bg5, but Adams's 8...h6 9 Bh4 g5! 10 Bg3 Ne4 looks pretty convincing to me.
Subscriber Peter Lamoreaux asks which opening I would recommend for Black to go with the Nimzo: the Queen's Indian or the Bogo?
My personal preference is the Queen's Indian. First, I feel it provides more of a challenge to White, who has to work harder to establish any sort of theoretical advantage. Second, I think that Black has a greater choice of lines within the Queen's Indian to find a repertoire that he is truly happy with. Finally, in general I feel that the positions are richer in possibilities for both sides, and this makes things more interesting. On the other hand, the Bogo is in many respects easier to learn, and those who play the Bogo could argue that that the relative lack of development in the theory is a major practical advantage. Overall, I would say that the Bogo is a very solid and dependable opening for players who are not too concerned about yielding a theoretical edge to White and defending slightly passive positions.
That's it for this month. Till next time, John