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This month features Nimzo-Indian action from a mix of tournaments and time-limits: classical (and face-to face!) chess from Wijk aan Zee, online versions of the traditional British Championship and Hastings tournaments, and of course a little bit of Titled Tuesday blitz. Regardless of the time limit and the location, chess fans are continually treated to exciting chess and many new opening ideas.

Download PGN of January ’21 Nimzo and Benoni games

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

4 f3 d5 5 a3 Be7 6 e4:

Recently we’ve focussed on the new and trendy 6...dxe4 7 fxe4 c5, but in Wijk aan Zee another fresh idea was introduced in this line. The young Russian GM Andrey Esipenko, who in the following round scored a sensational victory over Magnus Carlsen, played 6...dxc4!? against Radoslaw Wojtaszek, a rare choice that hasn’t been seen at the top level for many years. However, it was after 7 Be3 that the new idea was unleashed: 7...b5!:

Black’s idea is to give up the b-pawn in order to save the one on c4, and it leads to dynamic play for Black. See the notes to Wojtaszek, R - Esipenko, A for analysis.

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

4 Nf3 0-0 5 Bd2 b6 6 e3:

Black virtually always plays the automatic 6...Bb7 here before committing elsewhere. However, German GM Alexander Donchenko, a late replacement for Daniil Dubov at Wijk aan Zee, played 6...Bxc3!? 7 Bxc3 Ne4 against Anish Giri. It may seem like an insignificant difference but exchanging on c3 and occupying e4 so quickly rules out a key option for White and allows Black to reach a typically solid Nimzo set-up. See Giri, A - Donchenko, A for analysis.

Nimzo-Indian Saemisch: 4 e3 0-0 5 a3 Bxc3+ 6 bxc3 [E28]

4 e3 0-0 5 a3 Bxc3+ 6 bxc3:

Those who play the Saemisch Variation could certainly consider adding delayed versions of it to their repertoire. In this version Black is committed to castling and White is committed to playing e3 (4 a3 Bxc3+ 5 bxc3 0-0 6 e3 is the 4 a3 move order). Here Black usually heads towards the main line with 6...c5, but in a recent game Russian GM Evgeny Tomashevsky played 6...Nc6 7 Bd3 b6, aiming for the typical ...Ba6, ...Na5 plan. This plan looks entirely logical and it must be said that it worked perfectly in the game. However, it appears that White has a dangerous option in this line - see Iljin, T - Tomashevsky, E for analysis.

Nimzo-Indian, Botvinnik-Capablanca Variation: 4 e3 d5 5 a3 Bxc3+ 6 bxc3 [E49]

4 e3 d5 5 a3 Bxc3+ 6 bxc3 0-0 7 cxd5 exd5 8 Bd3 c5 9 Ne2 b6 10 0-0 Ba6 11 Bb1!?:

We haven’t previously considered this maximalist approach by White, avoiding the exchange and keeping the bishop pair at a cost of ceding control of the a6-f1 diagonal. There’s certainly some logic to this idea, as well as some risk, but 11 Bb1 and the similar 11 Bc2 are rare choices. Perhaps this is because White tends to score well in the main line 11 f3 Re8 12 Ng3 Bxd3 13 Qxd3, so there’s little desire to investigate new ideas. However, on the evidence of the recent game Kuzubov, Y - Fakhrutdinov, T, which proved to be extremely convincing from White’s point on view, this looks like an approach that deserves further examinations.

Nimzo Indian: 4 Nc3 Bb4 5 e3 Bb7 6 Bd2 [E43]

3 Nf3 b6 4 Nc3 Bb4 5 e3 Bb7 6 Bd2 c5:

It’s been noted before on this site that 6...c5 looks like an accurate move-order if Black wishes to play ...c5 lines, as it gives White fewer possibilities than after 6...0-0 7 Bd3 c5, where 8 a3! is critical. After 7 Bd3 cxd4! 8 exd4 0-0 9 0-0 we reach the Keres Variation (4 e3 b6 5 Bd3 Bb7 6 Nf3 0-0 7 0-0 c5, and now the line 8 Bd2 cxd4 9 exd4. After 9...d5 10 cxd5! Nxd5 11 Qe2 we get a typical IQP position:

Black has a few options here, but Mickey Adams’ 11...Nd7 looks like a wise choice for Black. See Tanmay, C - Adams, M for analysis. This game was played at the inaugural Online British Chess Championship, which Adams won after prevailing in a playoff with Ameet Ghasi.

Nimzo-Indian: Karpov Variation [E54]

4 e3 0-0 5 Bd3 d5 6 Nf3 c5 7 0-0 dxc4 8 Bxc4 cxd4 9 exd4 9 b6 10 Bg5 Bb7 11 Rc1 Be7 12 Re1 Nc6 13 a3 Rc8 14 Ba2:

In the modern era it has become widely recognised that a well-timed ...h6, meeting Bh4 with ...Nh5!, is an effective plan for Black in this IQP set-up, and we’ve seen numerous examples of this plan here. However, we shouldn’t forget older ideas. Indeed, in a game between Danny Gormally and Matthew Turner, played at the recent Hastings event, Matthew opted for the traditional and totally logical 14...Nd5. Danny chose the most testing response, 15 Bd2!, planning to recapture on c3 with the bishop and then to bring it to life with d4-d5.

In the game Black was soon in some difficulties and lost quickly. However, with accurate play Black should be okay so 14...Nd5 still looks like a viable option. See Gormally, D - Turner, M for details.

Nimzo-Indian: 4 e3 0-0 5 Bd3 d5 6 Nf3 c5 7 0-0 dxc4 8 Bxc4 [E55]

4 e3 0-0 5 Bd3 d5 6 Nf3 c5 7 0-0 dxc4 8 Bxc4 Nc6:

8...Nc6 is an interesting and lesser-explored alternative to the main lines 8...cxd4 and 8...Nbd7, and over the past couple of years it’s been tried by a few strong grandmasters, including Leinier Domínguez and Mickey Adams. After 9 a3, 9...Bxc3 10 bxc3 Qc7 transposes to the main line 7...Nc6 8 a3 Bxc3 9 bxc3 dxc4 10 Bxc4 Qc7, but 9...Ba5 is the independent idea behind the 8...Nc6 move order. The main line continues 10 Qd3 and here 10...a6, intending queenside expansion with ...b5 is an ambitious approach by Black.

11 Rd1 b5 12 Ba2 c4 13 Qe2 and now the new idea 13...Bxc3!? 14 bxc3 Ne4! led to a position rich in possibilities and eventually a convincing win for Black - see Flear, G - Adams, M.

Till next time, John

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