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In this month’s update we look at some fresh ideas from recent tournaments, including the World Rapid Championship: in the 4 Qc2 Nimzo, the Tal Variation, the Karpov Variation and the 4 g3 Queen’s Indian.

Download PGN of January ’22 Nimzo and Benoni games

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Nimzo-Indian: 4 e3 0-0 5 Bd3 d5 6 Nf3 b6 [E52]

4 e3 0-0 5 Bd3 d5 6 Nf3 b6 7 0-0 Bb7 8 cxd5 exd5:

There’s been plenty of coverage here of the trendy Bd2 lines, which often reach the typical Tal Variation pawn structure. However, the Tal Variation with the traditional move order, delaying or omitting Bd2, remains an important line too, so I thought it would be worth checking on new games.

Perhaps the most important recent development is 9 Ne5 Bd6 10 f4 c5 11 g4!?:

This aggressive move, planning g5, is relatively new (11 Qf3 is the main option). It was played in some correspondence games in 2017 and 2018, and since then it’s also been tried over the board. On the evidence so far, it looks like a promising idea and results have been favourable for White. See the game Moroni, L - Aditya, M for analysis of options for both sides.

The other main line for White is 9 a3 Bd6 10 b4 and now:

a) 10...a6 11 Qb3 Qe7 12 Rb1, supporting b4 in preparation of a3-a4 and b4-b5, remains a popular plan. 12...Nbd7 13 a4:

In a recent game Black chose the tempting 13...Ne4?!, but 14 Nxd5! Bxd5 15 Qxd5 Nc3 16 Qb3 Nxb1 17 Qxb1 is a convincing response and a strong exchange sacrifice which we’ve previously seen in a similar position - see Gonzalez Garcia, J - Lenderman, A for details.

b) 10...Nbd7 11 Bb2 a6 12 Qb3 Re8 13 a4 c6!:

We’ve seen this clever idea before. Black takes prophylactic measures against White’s main plan of b4-b5, and may well continue with ...b5 to either gain the b6-square for the knight or to close down White’s queenside ambitions. The recent game Caruana, F - Navara, D provides a good demonstration of Black’s chances here.

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

4 e3 0-0 5 Nf3 d5 6 Bd3 c5 7 0-0 dxc4 8 Bxc4 cxd4 9 exd4 b6 10 Qe2 Bb7 11 Rd1 Bxc3 12 bxc3 Qc7:

Pinning the bishop to the unprotected c-pawn with 12...Qc7 remains the critical choice here, and it’s been recognised previously that the pawn sacrifice 13 Bd3!? Qxc3 14 Bb2 is a more challenging option than alternatives such as 13 Ne5, 13 Bg5 and 13 Bb2. Recently, however, the Ukrainian GM Anton Korobov tried 13 Ba3!?. This move is rare choice; in fact, I can’t find any previous high-level games. Korobov is a renowned expert on the Karpov Variation, so anything he tries should be of interest. See the game Korobov, A - Kelires, A for analysis.

Nimzo-Indian: 4 Qc2 0-0 5 e4 d5 [E32]

4 Qc2 0-0 5 e4 d5 6 e5 Ne4 7 Bd3 c5 8 Nf3 cxd4 9 Nxd4 Nd7 10 Bf4 Qh4 11 g3 Qh5 12 0-0 Bxc3 13 bxc3 g5 14 cxd5 exd5 15 Be3!:

This line of the 4 Qc2 0-0 5 e4 variation continues to dominate at elite-level chess. 15 Be3 has virtually replaced the old line 5 Bxe4 dxe4 16 e6 gxf4 17 exd7 Bxd7 18 Qxe4 which has been shown to be okay for Black and most games have ended in draws. 15 Be3 is a good practical option for White. Objectively Black is okay, but the positions are a bit easier to play for White - see Caruana, F - Vidit, S.

Nimzo-Indian: 4 Qc2 0-0 5 a3 Bxc3+ 6 Qxc3 d6 [E32]

4 Qc2 0-0 5 a3 Bxc3+ 6 Qxc3 d6 7 Nf3 Re8:

Fabiano Caruana tried this rare move against Wesley So in the US Championship in October, and has since repeated it: 8 Bg5 (8 b4 was So’s choice) 8...h6 9 Bh4 g5!? 10 Bg3 e5!:

Caruana’s 9...g5 10 Bg3 e5 is completely new, and very interesting. At first sight the idea looks risky, but engines approve. See Gareev, T - Caruana, F for analysis.

Queen’s Indian: 4 g3 Bb7 5 Bg2 Be7 6 0-0 0-0 [E17]

4 g3 Bb7 5 Bg2 Be7 6 0-0 0-0 7 h4!?:

What’s this? Well, we’ve seen enough examples of h2-h4 in modern opening theory that we shouldn’t be surprised when yet another one arises. Indeed, we’ve already seen Ding Liren’s success with 7 Re1 Na6 8 h4 (Ding Liren-Rapport,R/Saint Louis 2019). The h-pawn advance may support a later Ng5 or Bg5, and White is also waiting on Black’s next move before deciding whether to commit to the typical Nc3, ...Ne4 sequence. See the game Sargissian, G - Sanal, V for analysis of options.

Till next time, John

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