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In this month’s update we take a further look at the trendy Nimzo-Catalan variation 4 g3 0-0 5 Bg2 d5 6 Nf3 dxc4, and also an interesting idea for Black in the Queen’s/Nimzo-Indian Hybrid line 4 Nc3 Bb4 5 Bg5.

Download PGN of September ’18 Nimzo and Benoni games

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Nimzo-Indian: 4 g3 0-0 5 Bg2 d5 [E20]

4 g3 0-0 5 Bg2 d5 6 Nf3 dxc4 7 0-0 Nc6 8 Qa4!?:

8 Qa4 has attracted some strong GMs recently, and now we can add both Fabiano Caruana and Wesley So to that list! In this update we study three recent games with the queen move. At the recent Sinquefield Cup, Caruana tried 8 Qa4 against Karjakin. The Russian GM responded with 8...Bd7 and after 9 Bg5 a5 Caruana unleashed 10 Bxf6!, a novelty previously suggested here, and Caruana soon reached a pleasant position. See the notes to Caruana, F - Karjakin, S.

After his success against Karjakin in the main tournament, Caruana repeated the same line against Wesley So, in the play-off match to decide qualification for the Grand Chess Tour Finals at the London Chess Classic. So chose 8...Nd5, Black’s most popular response to 8 Qa4, and the game continued with 9 Qc2 Be7 10 Rd1:

10...Rb8 is the main choice here, and one we’ve considered before. So instead opted for the rare 10...Bd7 and reached an acceptable position - see the notes to Caruana, F - So, W.

Another option for Black in the diagrammed position is 10...Ncb4. Black doesn’t wait for e2-e4 before playing ...Nb4. The advantage of this approach is that ...c5 comes quickly. The disadvantage is that the d3-square isn’t yet available for the knight. White won convincingly in Fridman, D - Neiksans, A but the notes demonstrate a key improvement for Black.

Nimzo-Indian, Karpov Variation: 4 e3 0-0 5 Bd3 d5 6 Nf3 dxc4 7 Bxc4 c5 8 0-0 cxd4 9 exd4 b6 [E54]

4 e3 0-0 5 Bd3 d5 6 Nf3 dxc4 7 Bxc4 c5 8 0-0 cxd4 9 exd4 b6 10 Re1 Bb7 11 Bd3 h6!?:

We previously looked at this move when it was unleashed as a novelty back in 2013, and since then it’s been tried in just a handful of games. Black prevents Bg5 at the cost of a tempo and a slightly weakened kingside structure. After 12 a3 Black may respond not with the typical 12...Be7 but instead with 12...Bd6!:

One advantage of ...h6 is that this bishop is no longer required to play the role of ‘unpinner’ on e7 and can instead retreat to this more active square. As a direct consequence, White’s dark-squared bishop can no longer develop to g5 or f4. Additionally, Black’s queen’s knight can use the e7-square.

In a recent game White responded with 13 Bb1!?. White wishes to set up a queen and bishop battery with Qd3, but why did he choose b1 over the seemingly superior c2-square? All is revealed in the notes to Del Rio de Angelis, S - Santos Ruiz, M.

Queen’s Indian: 4 Nc3 Bb4 5 Bg5 Bb7 6 e3 [E13]

4 Nc3 Bb4 5 Bg5 Bb7 6 e3 h6 7 Bh4 g5 8 Bg3 Ne4 9 Qc2 f5!?:

The main line, as we’ve seen on many occasions, is 9...Bxc3+ 10 bxc3 d6 11 Bd3 f5. I’ve never considered playing ...f5 before the knight is attacked with Bd3. It seems that I’ve missed out on some interesting possibilities for Black!

After 10 Bd3 Black could still transpose to the main lines with 10...Bxc3+ 11 bxc3 d6, but 10...0-0!? is an intriguing alternative.

The major advantage of leaving the pawn on d7, for the time being at least, is that the e6-pawn is protected if White plays the typical pawn break d4-d5. After 11 0-0 Bxc3 12 bxc3 d6 13 d5 we get the main line position with the difference that both sides have castled. There are transpositions but also many independent possibilities. See Dias, P - Martins, D for analysis of this position and also the alternatives 11 a3, 11 d5 and 10 Nd2.

The d4-d5 advance is normally a key idea for White, but it sometimes loses a bit of power when Black’s pawn is retained on d7. An example of this is 10 d5?! Bxc3+! 11 bxc3 Nxg3! 12 hxg3 Qf6, which is fine for Black - see the notes to Michiels, R - Malakhatko, V.

Queen’s Indian: 4 Nc3 Bb4 5 Bg5 Bb7 6 Nd2 [E13]

4 Nf3 b6 5 Bg5 h6 6 Bh4 Bb7 7 Nd2 e5!?:

We previously looked at this amazing idea when it was played as a novelty by the Icelandic GM Hannes Stefansson in 2015. Despite Stefansson’s success, it hasn’t been repeated since then, until now. It looks like 7...e5 has no right to work given that dxe5 will attack a knight that’s pinned, but seemingly it does. Hopefully it won’t be another three years before we see 7...e5 again! See Suleymanli, Aydin - Asadli, V for analysis.

Till next time, John

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