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This month’s update includes some theoretical developments from the recent Wijk aan Zee event, where the Nimzo-Indian Saemisch Variation scored an impressive two wins from two games. Also included this month are new ideas in the 4 f3, 4 Nf3 and 4 Qc2 Nimzo, and the Bf4 Modern Benoni.

Download PGN of February ’22 Nimzo and Benoni games

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Nimzo-Indian, Saemisch: 5...b6 [E24]

4 a3 Bxc3+ 5 bxc3:

Aided by Magnus Carlsen’s use of it, the Saemisch is enjoying a mini-revival and was played twice at Wijk aan Zee.

5...b6 6 f3 Nc6 7 e4 Na5 8 Bd3 Ba6 9 Qe2 d6:

An early ...b6, ...Ba6 and ...Nc6-a5 is widely acknowledges as a worthwhile plan for Black, and with 9...d6 Black prepares to increase the pressure on c4 with ...Qd7-a4. However, 10 f4! looks like a strong response. It’s noticeable that this pawn advance is often White’s best option, despite the loss of tempo with f2-f3. Having the f3-square available for the knight so that it may retreat to d2, especially when Black is focussing on the c4 weakness, is a major boost for White. See Van Foreest, J - Giri, A for analysis of a model game by White.

Nimzo-Indian, Saemisch: 5...c5 6 e3 Nc6 [E29]

4 a3 Bxc3+ 5 bxc3 c5 6 e3 Nc6 7 Bd3 0-0 8 Ne2 b6 9 e4 Ne8 10 0-0 Ba6 11 f4 f5 12 exf5 exf5 13 dxc5 bxc5 14 Be3 d6 15 Ng3:

We most recently studied the traditional main line of the Saemisch when looking at Carlsen,M-Nakamura,H/ 2020, where the World Champion lost the game but demonstrated a challenging plan for White. In Praggnanandhaa, R - Esipenko, A, Black was the first to change course with the rare 15...Ne7 (instead of 15...g6) but Praggnanandhaa was able to gain an advantage by carrying out the same plan as Carlsen did.

Nimzo-Indian: 4 f3 c5 [E20]

4 f3 c5 5 d5 b5 6 e4 d6 7 Bd2 a6 8 a4:

4 f3 continues to be a popular choice at the highest level, where deep preparation of the ultra-sharp positions can be prove to be highly rewarding. We briefly touched upon 8 a4 in the notes to Aronian,L-Grischuk,A/ 2020, and it’s White’s most popular choice. The critical pawn sacrifice 8...bxc4 9 Bxc4 Nbd7! 10 dxe6 fxe6 11 Bxe6 Ne5 was played a few times in 2021.

In the notes to Shankland, S - Karjakin, S, we take a look at the current state of theory.

Nimzo-Indian: 4 Qc2 d5 5 cxd5 Qxd5 [E34]

4 Qc2 d5 5 cxd5 Qxd5 6 Nf3 Qf5 7 Qb3 Nc6:

Practice has shown that 8 Bd2 0-0 9 h3!, intending g2-g4, is probably the most challenging line for Black to face. The Russian Grandmaster Alexey Sarana has played this way a few times, but in a recent game he chose to accelerate the process with the rare move 8 h3!?. See the notes to Sarana, A - Matlakov, M for analysis of an entertaining battle.

Nimzo-Indian: 4 Nf3 0-0 [E21]

4 Nf3 0-0 5 Bg5 c5 6 Rc1 h6 7 Bh4 cxd4 8 Nxd4 d5 9 cxd5:

In recent years, 4...0-0 has become a more fashionable option against 4 Nf3. However, Black does have to be ready to enter the sharp 5 Bg5 c5 6 Rc1 h6 7 Bh4 cxd4 8 Nxd4 d5 9 cxd5. From here, the main line runs 9...g5 10 Bg3 Qxd5 11 e3 Qxa2 12 Bd3! (or 12 Qc2) 12...Qxb2 13 0-0 which we’ve covered before, most recently in Mamedyarov, S-Nakamura,H/ 2021. My opinion remains that because of White’s initiative and the weaknesses on the kingside, this isn’t an easy line to play as Black over the board, even if the engine says it’s okay.

Because of this, the new idea 9...Bxc3+!? might be an important one. At first sight it seems unnatural to give up the pin without provocation, but as with many modern opening ideas, there’s a concrete reason to do so. By capturing now, Black can plan accordingly depending on the recapture. See Shuvalova, P - Ganguly, S for analysis of the opening and also a fascinating rook endgame.

Modern Benoni: 6 Nf3 g6 7 Bf4 Bg7 [A61]

6 Nf3 g6 7 Bf4 Bg7 8 Qa4+ Bd7 9 Qb3:

From this well-known position, on numerous occasions we’ve covered the two main lines: 9...Qc7 and the gambit 9...b5. However, a new idea has begun to gain some interest: 9...0-0!?. It seems that after the obvious capture 10 Qxb7, Black can justify his idea with 10...Qa5! The rook on a8 is sacrificed, but this leaves White’s queen trapped in the corner. After 11 Qxa8 Qb6! is a novelty and a significant improvement over existing theory.

See the notes to Sanikidze, T - Pantsulaia, L for analysis of this and also the key alternative 10 Bxd6.

Modern Benoni: Modern Classical: 6 e4 g6 7 Nf3 Bg7 8 h3 [A70]

6 e4 g6 7 Nf3 Bg7 8 h3 0-0 9 Be3!?:

9 Be3 is a rare and interesting alternative to the overwhelmingly popular 9 Bd3, and it contains some subtle nuances. In the September 2021 update, we studied two critical lines: 9...b5 10 e5! 10...dxe5 11 Bxb5, and 9...Re8 10 Nd2 a6 11 a4 Nxe4 12 Ncxe4 f5 13 Be2!. Since then, there’s been a bit more action in both lines, and this is updated within the notes to the recent game Mchedlishvili, M - Pantsulaia, L. Pantsulaia actually chose to avoid critical lines by playing the novelty 9...Ne8. However, this move doesn’t challenge White at all, and Black was soon having to defend a position with no meaningful counterplay.

Till next time, John

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