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In this month’s update we study some recent ideas and games in the Nimzo-Indian and Modern Benoni. This includes revisiting a key pawn sacrifice in the 4 Qc2 Nimzo and looking at a new way for White to play in the trendy Bd2 Nimzo.

Download PGN of June ’21 Nimzo and Benoni games

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Nimzo-Indian: 4 Qc2 c5 5 dxc5 0-0 6 Nf3 Na6 7 g3 Nxc5 8 Bg2 Nce4 [E39]

4 Qc2 c5 5 dxc5 0-0 6 Nf3 Na6 7 g3 Nxc5 8 Bg2 Nce4 9 0-0 Nxc3 10 bxc3 Be7 11 e4 d6 12 e5 dxe5 13 Nxe5 Qc7 14 Qe2 Bd6:

14...Nd7 remains the most popular choice for grandmasters, and it’s certainly the safest option, albeit one where the possibility of creating any winning chances are minuscule. It’s been a while since we’ve covered 14...Bd6 and White’s subsequent pawn sacrifice, and the recent game Mamedyarov, S - Aronian, L gives us an opportunity to check on new developments. After 15 Bf4 Ne8, the pawn sacrifice 16 c5! is White’s only real chance of putting pressure on Black. Getting rid of the advanced c-pawn opens up the queenside and further activates White’s position. Also, the knight gains a tempo on the queen when it is hit by ...f6. Following 16...Qxc5 17 c4

Aronian tried 17...Bxe5, despite the fact that Black has scored poorly with this move. In the notes we analyse this and alternative options.

Nimzo-Indian: 4 Qc2 0-0 5 e4 d5 6 e5 Ne4 7 Bd3 c5 8 Nf3 cxd4 9 Nxd4 Nc5 [E32]

4 Qc2 0-0 5 e4 d5 6 e5 Ne4 7 Bd3 c5 8 Nf3 cxd4 9 Nxd4 Nc5:

9...Nc5 is a rare move which at first sight looks completely unplayable because White takes the h7-pawn with check. However, the resulting positions are very sharp and it’s actually scored well for Black.

I hadn’t studied 9...Nc5 for quite a while and was curious to discover what modern engines thought of it. A recent game continued 10 Bxh7+ Kh8 11 Nf3 d4:

Here 12 Ng5! looks like an important move-order nuance - see the notes to Arias Santana, M - Escobar Medina, A for analysis.

Nimzo-Indian: 4 e3 0-0 5 Bd2 d5 6 Nf3 b6 7 cxd5 exd5 [E51]

4 e3 0-0 5 Bd2 d5 6 Nf3 b6 7 cxd5 exd5 8 Rc1 Bb7 9 Bd3 Be7 10 0-0 c5:

The popularity of this line shows no sign of decreasing, and further developments are occurring all the time. White usually plays the typical 11 Ne5 here, but the recent game Shankland, S - Abasov, N demonstrates that White’s play is far from one-dimensional. Shankland chose 11 dxc5!?, a completely different approach to normal, and one that we haven’t previously seen here. The exchange on c5 gives Black the hanging pawns complex, and White’s idea is to strike at it quickly with e3-e4.

Nimzo-Indian: 4 e3 0-0 5 Bd2 b6 6 Bd3 Bb7 7 Nf3 d5 8 cxd5 exd5 [E52]

In Bluebaum, M - Zhigalko, S the move order was 4 e3 0-0 5 Bd2 b6 6 Bd3 Bb7 7 Nf3 d5 8 cxd5 exd5 9 0-0 Bd6 10 Ne5:

Bluebaum is an expert in the Bd2 Nimzo, and it’s noticeable that in recent games he has delayed or avoided Rc1 in favour of a quicker Ne5. After 10...c5 11 f4 Nc6, Bluebaum reacted with 12 Ng4. As we’ve seen previously, Ng4 is often one of the most challenging responses to ...Nc6, as the d5-pawn is targeted.

Nimzo-Indian: 4 e3 c5 5 Bd3 Nc6 6 Nge2 cxd4 7 exd4 d5 [E41]

4 e3 c5 5 Bd3 Nc6 6 Nge2 cxd4 7 exd4 d5 8 cxd5 Nxd5 9 0-0:

In last month’s update we considered 9...0-0 10 Nxd5!? (instead of the main move 10 Bc2) 10...exd5. If Black wishes to avoid the possibility of a double IQP pawn structure, one way to do so is with 10...Nf6, which was chosen by Richard Rapport in a recent game against Wesley So. After 10 Bc2 0-0, White has more than one option. So chose to challenge the bishop immediately with 11 a3:

11...Be7 would be the typical response, but Rapport instead tried 11...Bxc3!? 12 bxc3 e5 - see So, W - Rapport, R for analysis.

Modern Benoni: Modern Classical, 9 Bd3 a6 [A70]

6 e4 g6 7 Nf3 Bg7 8 h3 0-0 9 Bd3 a6 10 a4 Nbd7 11 0-0 Qc7:

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave is a loyal Grünfeld expert, but recently he has experimented once or twice with the Modern Benoni. His recent game against Wesley So provides a good demonstration of how quickly things can go wrong for Black, even after seemingly logical play. 11...Qc7 enables Black to arrange an early ...c4, with plans of queenside counterplay. However, it doesn’t have a good reputation and it seems that Vachier Lagrave didn’t have any new idea to resurrect this approach. After 12 Re1! c4 13 Bf1! it’s not easy for Black to deal with the continued pressure against c4. See So, W - Vachier Lagrave, M for details.

Modern Benoni: 6 Nf3 g6 7 Bf4 Bg7 8 h3 0-0 9 e3 [A61]

6 Nf3 g6 7 Bf4 Bg7 8 h3 0-0 9 e3 Ne8 10 Be2 Nd7 11 0-0 Ne5:

Aleksandar Indjic’s Modern Benoni ideas are worth studying, as he comes up with some creative ideas. Normally Black prepares ...Ne5 with ...Qe7, so that recaptures on e5 can be made with pieces. Indjic, however, is willing to recapture on e5 with a pawn. More often than not, the change in pawn structure benefits White, but here there are some compensating factors that need to be taken into account, with the clearest one being the ability to block the d5-pawn with ...Nd6. We’ve already seen this idea in an earlier game by Indjic, but his recent preference is to follow the trend of avoiding the insertion of ...a6 and a4. See Donchenko, A - Indjic, A for analysis.

Till next time, John

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