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'e4 against the Nimzo' is an ironic title, given that the original concept of the Nimzo-Indian is to prevent White’s advance. However, there are quite a few occasions in the Nimzo where Black does allow a quick e2-e4, especially in lines involving an early Qc2 and ...d6, and this month’s update includes some examples. We also continue coverage of the increasingly popular Bd2 lines.

Download PGN of April ’20 Nimzo and Benoni games

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Nimzo-Indian: 4 e3 0-0 5 Bd2 c5 [E46]

4 e3 0-0 5 Bd2 c5:

Bd2 is often played after 4 e3 0-0 5 Nf3 d5, but playing it on move five is equally viable. 5...d5 and 5...b6 are Black’s most common replies, but the natural 5...c5 is also possible, and we haven’t yet studied this position.

As a general rule in Bd2 lines, White should meet ...c5 with an immediate a2-a3, because delaying the attack on the bishop allows Black the possibility of clarifying the central structure with ...cxd4.

6 a3 Bxc3 7 Bxc3 Ne4:

Years ago a position like this would have been dismissed as harmless - take on c3, play ...Ne4, win back the bishop pair and equalise. I’m sure I’ve been guilty of such generalisations, and in recent times nothing seems to be quite as straightforward anymore!

Here 8 Ne2! is a nice idea. After recapturing on c3, the knight will be ideally placed, and this gives White chances of an edge in this line.

In the recent game Petrov, N - Gaehwiler, G Black played the novelty 8...Qf6. The queen move induces f2-f3, but it’s not obvious what Black gains from this, and in the game White soon achieved a considerable advantage and won convincingly.

8...b6 has been Black’s most popular response to 8 Ne2. 9 d5 is logical here, because it’s desirable to block the a bishop likely to be fianchettoed. 9...d6 has been played previously, but Yuffa, D - Aronian, L saw the novelty 9...Ba6!? followed by 10 b3 b5!, the only way to justify 9...Ba6 - without this, the bishop on a6 would be out of the game.

10...b5 is a creative attempt to gain counterplay for Black, but it seems that White keeps an edge here too.

Nimzo-Indian: 4 Qc2 d6 [E32]

4 Qc2 d6:

One of the merits of 4...d6 is that it avoids the long, sharp and increasingly theoretical lines after 4...0-0 5 e4, so 4...d6 is a practical option for those who are willing to play ...d6 lines in general.

5 e4 is still playable, but it doesn’t quite have the same punch as against 4...0-0 if Black responds with 5...c5!. There haven’t been many games in this line, and so far 6 d5 has been White’s most popular choice:

However, Black is at least fine and maybe already a bit better after this move! See Vovk, Y - Bruzon Batista, L for analysis.

5 Nf3 is much more popular than 5 e4, and here Black normally chooses between 5...0-0 (transposing to 4...0-0 5 Nf3 d6) and 5...Nbd7. Here 6 e4!? is a rare choice (6 a3, 6 Bd2, 6 Bg5 and 6 g3 have all been played more often) but it looks like a decent option for White:

A recent game continued 6...c5 7 Bd2 cxd4 8 Nxd4 0-0 9 0-0-0!:

reaching a sharp position where Black soon found himself in trouble - see the notes to Shevchenko, K - Martinez Alcantara, J.

Another natural way to meet 4...d6 is with 5 a3, and after 5...Bxc3+ 6 Qxc3 0-0 we arrive at a position most commonly reached via 4...0-0 5 a3 Bxc3+ 6 Qxc3 d6. After 7 Bg5 Nbd7, White normally plays 8 e3, which we’ve covered on numerous occasions. However, aiming for e2-e4 with 8 f3 also makes sense and was played recently by Navara:

After 8...h6 9 Bh4 e5 10 e4 Re8 11 d5 a5 12 Ne2 Black played 12...a4:

This plans ...Nc5 with the additional idea of ...Nb3-d4. See Navara, D - Balogh, C for details.

Nimzo-Indian: 4 Qc2 0-0 5 Nf3 c5 6 dxc5 [E39]

4 Qc2 0-0 5 Nf3 c5 6 dxc5 Bxc5:

Lines where Black plays ...c5 and recapture with the bishop normally either involve an early ...Qb6 to induce e2-e3, or a2-a3 by White to force a decision from the bishop. For example, 4...c5 5 dxc5 0-0 6 a3 Bxc5 7 Nf3 b6 (the Macieja Variation), or Romanishin’s 5...Bxc5 6 Nf3 Qb6.

After 4 Qc2 0-0 5 Nf3 c5 6 dxc5, however, 6...Bc5 is far less popular than 6...Na6. In effect, we reach the Macieja Variation where White hasn’t yet spent a tempo on a2-a3. Although a2-a3 is always a useful move, in many situations White might well be able to put the tempo to better use.

A recent game continued 7 Bg5 Be7:

Here 8 e4 would be typical, with White having good chances of gaining an opening edge. Gareev, T - Dardha, D followed a different route with the 8 g3 h6 9 h4!?, a creative idea which proved to be successful in the game, although objectively Black should be okay.

Nimzo-Indian: 4 a3 Bxc3+ 5 bxc3 c5 [E26]

4 a3 Bxc3+ 5 bxc3 c5 6 Qc2!?:

Interestingly Magnus Carlsen played 4 a3 quite a few times in 2019. All of these were in rapid and blitz games, but of course these time limits make up a considerable percentage of elite players’ games these days.

6 e3 and 6 f3 are by the most popular replies to 5...c5. 6 Qc2!? is rare but looks logical, with White trying to arrange e2-e4 without having to play f2-f3. After 6...Nc6 I was expecting 7 Nf3 so that White can play e2-e4 in one go. However, the game continued 7 e3 0-0 8 Bd3:

Given that this is a mainline Saemisch where White has chosen Qc2 instead of the normal Ne2, this should be fine for Black, and it is. However, some attention is needed towards the subtle differences. For example, a quick Nf3 / e3-e4-e5 becomes an idea for White. See Balaji, A - Emms, J for analysis.

Till next time, John

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