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There’s definitely some practical merits in avoiding the most popular lines, and I’ve noticed that Carlsen does this with success (his win against Giri in the Bb5 Sicilian in Zagreb comes to mind). This month’s update includes a few lesser-seen lines. Often there’s no concrete reason for a line’s lack of popularity, which is all the more reason to try it!

Download PGN of July ’19 Nimzo and Benoni games

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Nimzo-Indian: 4 f3 d5 5 a3 Bxc3+ 6 bxc3 c5 7 cxd5 Nxd5 8 dxc5 Qa5 9 e4 Ne7 [E25]

4 f3 d5 5 a3 Bxc3+ 6 bxc3 c5 7 cxd5 Nxd5 8 dxc5 Qa5 9 e4 Ne7 10 Be3 0-0 11 Qb3 Qc7 12 Bb5 Nec6 13 Ne2 Na5 14 Qb4 e5 15 0-0:

In recent years 12 Bb5 has become White’s most popular choice in this main line, in view of Anand’s powerful novelty 16 Nd4!! in response to 15...Be6 (see the notes to see the notes to Anand,V-Wang,H/Wijk aan Zee 2011). Since that game, those playing Black have understandably preferred 15...Na6 16 Bxa6 bxa6:

Black is planning ...Be6 but White can meet it with the positional sacrifice Rd5. Here White has to decide which rook to move to d1, and 17 Rad1! is most definitely a case of ‘the right rook’. See Vidit, S - Vaibhav, S for an excellent example of opening preparation at the highest level.

Nimzo-Indian: 4 g3 0-0 5 Bg2 Bxc3+ 6 bxc3 d6 [E20]

4 g3 0-0 5 Bg2 Bxc3+ 6 bxc3 d6 7 Nf3 Nc6 8 0-0 e5:

There’s been an upsurge in interest in the 4 g3 Nimzo, chiefly because of some new ideas for White after 5...d5. However, 5...d5 is hardly forced and some players may prefer a more traditional Nimzo-Indian approach of playing against the doubled c-pawns.

In the diagrammed position White has tried many moves, including 9 Qc2, 9 Rb1, 9 c5, 9 dxe5 and 9 Bg5. In a recent encounter White chose yet another move, 9 Qa4 intending 9...Bd7 10 Qa3. I’m not convinced by this idea as it encourages Black to attack the c4-square. See the notes to Xu Xiangyu - Le Quang Liem for analysis.

Nimzo-Indian: 4 e3 b6 5 Nge2 Ne4 [E44]

4 e3 b6 5 Nge2 Ne4 6 Qc2 Bb7 7 a3 Bxc3+ 8 Nxc3 Nxc3 9 Qxc3 d6!?:

9...d6!? is an interesting move order which we haven’t considered before. Black normally castles first and then follows up with ...d6 and ...Nbd7, but the recent game Riess, A - Buckels, V demonstrates that there’s some merit to delaying castling. In fact, I like the idea of 9...d6, and it seems to make the whole line more appealing for Black than previously thought.

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

4 Qc2 d5 5 cxd5 Qxd5 6 e3 c5 7 Bd2 Bxc3 8 Bxc3 cxd4 9 Bxd4 Nc6 10 Bc3 0-0 11 Nf3 Rd8 12 Be2 Qe4!:

This has a reputation of being a very solid line for Black, with White finding it difficult to gain any sort of meaningful advantage. This standing was only strengthened in the recent game So, W - Carlsen, M. After 13 Rc1 Qxc2 14 Rxc2 Carlsen played the novelty 13...Bd7! which seems to make Black’s road to equality even easier.

Nimzo-Indian: 4 Qc2 0-0 5 Nf3 c5 6 dxc5 [E39]

4 Qc2 0-0 5 Nf3 c5 6 dxc5 Na6 7 g3 Nxc5 8 Bg2 Nfe4!?:

We’ve seen plenty of games with both 8...Nce4 and 8...b6 on this site, but we’ve not yet looked at this relatively rare but natural knight move, which has recently been tried by Rapport. The game continued 9 0-0 Bxc3! 10 bxc3 b6!?, getting to a fresh position that had been reached twice before:

Black is willing to give up a pawn, albeit temporarily, with 11 Ng5! d5 - see the notes to Yu Yangyi - Rapport, R.

Queen’s Indian: 4 g3 Bb7 5 Bg2 Be7 6 0-0 0-0 7 Nc3 [E18]

4 g3 Bb7 5 Bg2 Be7 6 0-0 0-0 7 Nc3 Ne4 8 Bd2 f5:

8...f5 is an important alternative to 8...Bf6. In recent years it seems that grandmasters have preferred the more solid bishop move, but both Le Quang Liem and Eljanov have played 8...f5 during the past few weeks.

Shankland, S - Le Quang Liem continued 9 Rc1 Bf6 10 e3 and here Le’s novelty 10...c5! looks like a pretty convincing response.

In Gelfand, B - Eljanov, P, the former World Championship finalist played the more challenging 9 Ne5:

This is one of four moves that have been played more than 100 times (the other three are 9 Qc2, 9 Rc1 and 9 d5), and it has the highest percentage score for White. Eljanov managed to equalise, but it’s not a completely straightforward process for Black.

Till next time, John

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