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This month's update includes coverage of the ...c4 push in the 4 f3 Nimzo, the Tal Variation, the Keene Variation, and a special guest appearance from Jonathan Rowson.

Download PGN of December '13 Nimzo and Benoni games

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Nimzo-Indian 4 f3 d5 [E25]

1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 f3 d5 5 a3 Bxc3+ 6 bxc3 c5 7 cxd5 exd5 8 e3 c4!?:

We begin this month with a hot topic - the ...c4 blocker in the Nimzo! Unsurprisingly it didn't take long - just eight days - for Carlsen's successful plan to be tried out by someone else. Unfortunately for Black, he wasn't quite as successful this time round. 9 Ne2 Nc6 10 g4 0-0 11 Bg2 Na5 12 0-0 Nb3 13 Ra2 a5 14 Ng3 b5 and here Volkov varied from Anand's 15 g5 with the novelty 15 e4!? offering a pawn sac:

See the notes to Volkov - Smirnov, Khanty-Mansiysk 2013, for analysis.

The old main line after 8 e3 is 8...0-0 9 Bd3 b6 10 Ne2 Ba6:

Forcing the exchange of light-squared bishops is clearly desirable for Black, but despite this the general consensus is that White, with his potentially very strong centre, holds the upper hand. However, Black's plan in Volkov - Del Rio de Angelis, Vrachati 2011, challenges this long-held view and is certainly worthy of consideration.

On the other hand, 8...0-0 9 Bd3 Nc6 10 Ne2 c4? is something to avoid for Black:

This is the worst-case scenario for the pawn push. Not only does White still have his light-squared bishop, it's also on its favourite diagonal and is able to remain there. See Pacher - Zwardon, Vychod 2013, for a typical demolition job on the kingside.

Nimzo-Indian: Tal Variation [E52]

1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 e3 0-0 5 Bd3 d5 6 Nf3 b6 7 0-0 Bb7:

This was christened the "Tal Variation" by Gligoric in his Nimzo-Indian book, as Tal was one of the first elite players to regularly adopt this line. Black's combination of a queenside fianchetto and ...d5 gives him a very solid footing in the centre.

The main line runs 8 cxd5 exd5 9 a3 Bd6 10 b4 a6 11 Qb3:

White's plan is a4, b5 and Ba3! to swap off his bad bishop for Black's good one. If these bishops are exchanged, Black's position loses much of its dynamism and attacking chances on the kingside are minimised.

Sokolov - Akobian, Antalya 2013, continued 11...Nbd7 12 a4 Re8 13 Ba3! and is a model game from White's viewpoint.

A more challenging option for Black is 11...Qe7! which slows down White's a4, Ba3 and b5 plan. White responds with either 12 Rb1, as in Michalik - Navara, Czech Republic 2013; or with 12 b5, which is covered in Vitiugov - Wang Hao, St Petersburg 2012.

Nimzo-Indian: 4 Qc2 Keene Variation 6...Qe8 [E32]

1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 Qc2 0-0 5 a3 Bxc3+ 6 Qxc3 Qe8:

In a recent update we covered Raymond Keene's 6...Qe8, which is enjoying a bit of a revival at the moment. However, the game Akobian - Labib, Antalya 2013, won't be persuading players to join the cause. Black doesn't seem to do much wrong but gets crushed anyway!

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

1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 Qc2 c5:

A special bonus for subscribers this month, as Grandmaster Jonathan Rowson has kindly provided annotations to his game against Stephen Gordon at the 4NCL weekend in November (Gordon - Rowson, 4NCL 2013).

Wishing everyone a Merry Christmas. See you all in 2014!

Till next time, John

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