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Trying to find an edge with the white pieces, or even a position where your opponent is under temporary pressure, can be an arduous task at the best of times. This is especially true against such a formidable opening as the Nimzo-Indian. A couple of months ago it seemed like Carlsen had found a small chink in Black’s armoury in one of the main 4 Qc2 lines, but judging by the evidence of this month’s update, even that seems to be a false hope for White. Also this month, we cover new ideas in 4 f3 and 4 e3/Bd2 lines.

Download PGN of December ’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:

There was always likely to be a surge of interest in this line after Carlsen’s recent win against Caruana, and indeed Wang Hao reached this position three times during the Hainan Danzhou event, against Wei Yi, Ding Liren and finally Alexander Grischuk.

The first two games initially followed the Carlsen-Caruana line with 7...dxc4 8 Qxc4 b6 9 Rd1 Ba6 10 Qa4 h6 11 Bh4, but here both Wei Yi and Ding Liren avoided the queen exchange line 11...Qd7 12 Qc2 Qc6 13 Qxc6 Nxc6 and instead preferred 11...Qe7 12 Nf3 Rd8:

Against Wei Yi, the game continued 13 e3 Bxf1 14 Rxf1 c5 15 dxc5 Rxd1+ 16 Qxd1 g5. Here Wang Hao unleashed the novelty 17 Nxg5!?, but Wei Yi’s response was convincing - see Wang, H - Wei, Y for analysis.

On the same day, but two rounds later, instead of 13 e3 Wang Hao tried 13 Ne5 c5 14 f3! and his opening choice was more successful, although the game ended in another draw - see the notes to Wang, H - Ding,L.

The two draws didn’t discourage Wang Hao, who repeated the line once more against Grischuk. The Russian GM, however, chose Wojtaszek’s gambit line 7...c5 8 dxc5 d4:

This line seems to be holding up pretty well for Black, and I’m curious to know what Carlsen had in store for it had he faced it against Caruana. Wang Hao chose 9 Qf3, which we’ve covered before, but White didn’t get any advantage - see Wang, H - Grischuk, A.

In another recent game, Sarana, A - Yuffa, D, White chose the more popular 9 Qg3. Following 9...Nbd7 10 0-0-0 Black played 10...Nxc5!:

This natural pawn recapture is actually a novelty, but it was suggested on ChessPublishing way back in 2011! The b3-square is weak and Black has many attacking ideas here, including ...Nce4, ...Bd7-a4 and ...b5. This looks fine for Black, as does 10 Nf3 e5 which is considered in the notes.

Nimzo-Indian: 4 f3 d5 5 a3 Bxc3+ 6 bxc3 c5 [E25]

4 f3 d5 5 a3 Bxc3+ 6 bxc3 c5 7 cxd5 Nxd5 8 dxc5 Qa5 9 e4 Ne7 10 Be3 0-0 11 Qb3 Qc7 12 Bb5:

Despite the increasing number of diverse possibilities for both sides in the 4 f3 Nimzo, this position from what could be described as the old main line remains a key one. The most common choice for Black here is 12...Nec6 intending to play ...Na5 before committing elsewhere. Recently, however, Wesley So tried 12...e5 13 Ne2 Be6:

This looks like a natural way for Black to go about things, but it’s actually very rare. In Shankland, S - So, W it works perfectly for Black, and it will be interesting to see if anyone follows So’s lead.

Nimzo-Indian: 4 f3 d5 5 a3 Be7 [E20]

4 f3 d5 5 a3 Be7 6 e4 dxe4 7 fxe4 c5 8 d5 exd5 9 exd5 0-0 10 Be2:

7...c5 is relatively fresh and continuing to attract interest. Indeed, over the past few months it’s been considerably more popular than 7...e5. Caruana played 10 Be2 against Alekseenko at the FIDE Candidates last March, and since then it has overtaken 10 Nf3 as White’s main choice. By developing the bishop before the knight, White prevents the immediate ...Bg4 and thus restricts Black’s move-order options. 10...Re8 11 Nf3 Bg4 12 0-0 Nbd7 13 d6!?, disrupting Black’s plan of ...Bd6, remains critical:

Will the pawn on d6 become a strength or a weakness? See Nepomniachtchi, I - Karjakin, S for analysis.

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

4 e3 0-0 5 Bd2 c5 6 a3 Bxc3 7 Bxc3 Ne4 8 Ne2 b6 9 d5:

Against the increasingly popular 5 Bd2, it would be nice for Black to have an alternative to the main line 5...d5 6 Nf3 b6, and 5...c5 certainly leads to different types of positions. As we’ve seen before, 6 a3 Bxc3 7 Bxc3 Ne4 8 Ne2! is a challenging response, with the knight being ideally placed to take over on c3 after an exchange. After 8...b6 9 d5 we’ve already considered 9...Ba6 10 b3 b5!?, as played by Levon Aronian. More recently Hikaru Nakamura tried 9...Bb7 and opted for a Modern Benoni pawn structure after 10 f3 Nxc3 11 Nxc3 exd5 12 cxd5 d6 13 e4:

Of course, the bishop isn’t happily placed on b7 in a Modern Benoni pawn structure. On the other hand, the exchange of minor pieces has helped, and Black’s slight lead in development also can’t be discounted. See Anton Guijarro, D - Nakamura, H for details.

Till next time, John

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