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As always, Wijk aan Zee provided not only some great fighting chess, but also some key theoretical developments. This update focuses on a few heavyweight Nimzo-Indian duels from the tournament.

Feel free to share your ideas and opinions on the Forum (the link above on the right), while subscribers with any questions can email me at

Download PGN of February '11 Nimzo and Benoni games

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Nimzo-Indian: 4 f3 [E25]

Traditionally 4 f3 hasn't been a move used with any regularity by GMs at the highest level, but evidence in recent years suggests that the tide might be slowly turning. Anand employed 4 f3 against Kramnik in their 2008 world championship match, Carlsen has also played it, and at Wijk aan Zee it was chosen by both Anand and Kramnik.

In Anand - Wang Hao, Wijk aan Zee 2011, the World Champion unleashes a brilliant piece sac idea in the main line 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 f3 d5 5 a3 Bxc3+ 6 bxc3 c5 7 cxd5 Nxd5 8 dxc5, and wins rather comfortably. Games like this should only increase its popularity, especially since, as far as I can see, there appears to be no easy way for Black to equalise.

Nimzo-Indian: 4 Qc2 [E32-9]

Anand's decision to play 4 f3 against Wang Hao might have been influenced by the fact that he got less than nothing with White in an earlier game with 4 Qc2. Anand - Kramnik, Wijk aan Zee 2011, followed the main line with 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 Qc2 0-0 5 a3 Bxc3+ 6 Qxc3 d5 (this trendy move shows no sign of flagging) 7 Nf3 dxc4 8 Qxc4 b6 9 Bg5 and here Kramnik unleashed 9...Bb7!?:

A rare move, and certainly a novelty at the highest level. The conventional wisdom is that Black should naturally seize a chance to gain a tempo with 9...Ba6. But it could also be argued that Black shouldn't be in a rush to kick White's queen from the vulnerable c4-square, and that also there are problems to solve with the bishop once it reaches a6.

In the game Kramnik sac'ed a pawn with 10 Rc1 c5!, and then the exchange, and a few moves later Anand was struggling to equalise - definitely a success story for Black!

Next up is the game Ivanisevic - Vocaturo, Wijk aan Zee 2011, where after 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 Qc2 0-0 5 Nf3 c5 6 dxc5 Na6, Ivanisevic plays Morozevich's remarkable 7 c6!?:

Although this line is never likely to put Black under severe pressure from a theoretical perspective, White does have decent chances of coming out of the opening with a slight edge, just as he does in this game.

Nimzo-Indian/Queen's Indian Hybrid Variation [E13]

A less successful new idea was seen in Nakamura - Anand, Wijk aan Zee 2011: 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 Nf3 b6 5 Bg5 h6 6 Bh4 g5 7 Bg3 Ne4 8 Qc2 Bb7 9 e3 d6 10 Bd3 Bxc3+ 11 bxc3 f5 12 d5 Na6! and here Nakamura played 13 h4:

This novelty forces Black to do something about the possibility of hxg5. The problem is that the natural 13...Qf6! seems to deal with it pretty effectively, and soon afterwards Nakamura was forced to defend an inferior endgame.

A more critical option than 13 h4 is 13 Bxe4 fxe4 14 Qxe4 Qf6 15 0-0:

Here 15...0-0-0 has proved to be a reliable move for Black, which likely leads to a level ending (see Wang Yue-Adams, Baku 2008, in the archives). However, if Black really needs to win and wants to keep more tension in the position, he might prefer the riskier 15...Nc5!?, as played with success in Walker - Ippolito, Branchburg 2010.

Nimzo Indian 4 e3: Karpov Variation [E55]

1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 e3 0-0 5 Bd3 c5 6 Nf3 d5 7 0-0 cxd4 8 exd4 dxc4 9 Bxc4 b6 10 Re1 Bb7 11 Bd3 Nbd7 12 a3!? Bxc3 13 bxc3:

White's choice of an early Bd3 and a2-a3 in Korobov - Macieja, Warsaw 2010, is not particularly critical, but there are still problems for Black to solve, and some added options for White with a delayed Bg5. What struck me in this game are the difficulties Black faces against White's crude-looking, direct attack starting with 16 Ne5. White wins crushingly in 25 moves, but even with defensive improvements I didn't find Black's defence to be straightforward.

Modern Benoni: Fianchetto Variation [A62]

It seems only fitting to end this month's update with another game involving Hikaru Nakamura, who enjoyed the greatest success in his career so far by winning at Wijk.

In the final round of the tournament (Wang Hao-Nakamura, Wijk aan Zee 2011), he equalised fairly comfortably as Black in a rare line of the Fianchetto: 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 c5 3 d5 e6 4 Nc3 exd5 5 cxd5 d6 6 Nf3 g6 7 g3 Bg7 8 Bg2 0-0 9 0-0 Re8 10 a4 a6 11 Re1:

After 11...Ne4, Wang Hao chose the creative 12 Ra3, but maybe White has got better chances of keeping an edge with the usual 12 Nxe4. Watch out for a nice Petrosian-style exchange sac later on.

Till next time, John

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