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This month we focus on some sharp lines in the 4 Qc2 Nimzo-Indian, and we also look at a rare sighting: the Modern Benoni in a Candidates tournament!

Download PGN of March ’16 Nimzo and Benoni games

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Nimzo-Indian: 4 Qc2 c5 5 dxc5 Bxc5 6 Nf3, Romanishin's 6...Qb6 [E38]

1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 Qc2 c5 5 dxc5 Bxc5 6 Nf3 Qb6 7 e3 Qc7:

6...Qb6 was Romanishin's idea. Black gives up a tempo in order to induce e2-e3 and block in White's dark-squared bishop. White has some attacking options in this line and Black must proceed carefully early on. White's wins, when do they come, tend to be quite devastating ones, and this update provides two examples of this.

In Khodashenas - Tiviakov, Mashhad 2016, White chooses the ultra-aggressive 8 g4!?:

Tiviakov is a specialist in the Romanishin Variation, but his novelty 8...b6 doesn't look very convincing and White was able to achieve a significant advantage.

In Ivanov - Wallace, Stockholm 2015/16, White chose the more restrained 8 b3, but the game soon livened up, 8...b6 9 Bb2 Bb7 10 Be2 Be7 and now 11 Nb5!:

This quickly led to a very strong position for White and ultimately a crushing win. As I've mentioned previously, it's safer for Black to spend a tempo playing ...a6 to rule out this knight move.

Nimzo-Indian: 4 Qc2 0-0 5 Nf3 c5 [A62]

1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 Qc2 0-0 5 Nf3 c5 6 dxc5 Na6 7 g3 Nxc5 8 Bg2:

This is a slightly awkward line for Black players to meet. From a theoretical perspective White doesn't get much, if anything. However, it can be a little drab for Black, who struggles to find positions where he can play for a win. 8...b6 continues to be one of the main lines (the other is 8...Nce4). After 9 0-0 Bb7 10 Nb5 Be4 11 Qd1 Nb7 12 Bf4, a new idea for Black is 12...d5!?. See Filip - Zhigalko, Chisinau 2016, for analysis.

Nimzo-Indian: 4 Qc2 d5 5 cxd5 exd5 6 Bg5 with ...h6 [E35]

1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 Qc2 d5 5 cxd5 exd5 6 Bg5 c5 7 dxc5 h6 8 Bh4 g5 9 Bg3 Ne4 10 Nf3!?:

This move (and the closely related 7 Nf3 which can easily transpose) is a Dreev speciality, and a little twist on the main lines with 10 e3. There are some very sharp lines here and certainly still some things to be discovered. The obvious response 10...Bf5 is met by 11 Nd4! and now:

a) 11...Bxc3+ 12 bxc3 Nxg3 13 Nxf5 Nxh1 14 Nd6+ Kf8 15 Qf5! was covered in a previous update (see Romanko-Kosteniuk, Tbilisi 2011).

b) 11...Nxg3 can be met by 12 Nxf5!?, a very dangerous rook sac:

See Basso - Petkov, Spoleto 2016, for analysis.

c) 11...Nxc3 12 Nxf5 Ne4+ 13 Kd1 Qf6 14 Nd6+ Nxd6 15 Bxd6!:

This looks like a piece of top-class prep by Dreev. See Dreev - Landa, Loo 2013, for analysis and for queens-taking-rooks action!

Modern Benoni: Old Classical 9...Re8 10 Nd2 Nbd7 [A77]

1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nf3 c5 4 d5 d6 5 Nc3 exd5 6 cxd5 g6 7 e4 Bg7 8 Be2 0-0 9 0-0 Re8 10 Nd2 Nbd7 11 Qc2:

Surely the most amazing thing to happen at the recent Candidates was not Giri's record-breaking 14 draws, but the appearance of the Modern Benoni! A welcome relief for the spectators from all those Queen's Indians, Berlins and Italian Games. Our hero trying the Modern Benoni at such a lofty level was Fabiano Caruana, in Aronian - Caruana, Moscow 2016.

In this Classical Variation Aronian where chose 11 Qc2 instead of the more common 11 a4, Caruana spurned the chance to repeat Fischer's 11...Nh5 and instead went for 11...Ne5 12 b3 and now 12...Bg4!?:

This bishop move is a relatively fresh idea that we've already seen in similar positions.

Modern Benoni: 7 Bf4 a6 [A61]

Finally this month, here's a game I'd intended to include in an earlier update but then it slipped under the radar, 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nf3 c5 4 d5 exd5 5 cxd5 d6 6 Nc3 g6 7 Bf4 a6 8 a4 Bg7 9 h3 0-0 10 e3 Re8 11 Bd3 Nbd7 12 0-0:

The ...Nh5 idea, intending to meet Bxd6 with the double attack ...Qb6, is a well-known resource for Black in Bf4 lines. In this position 12...Nh5 is Black's most popular choice, and White without exception had replied 13 Bh2. However, in a game last year White unleashed the novelty 13 Bxd6! followed by a very convincing exchange sacrifice. See Akobian - Ortiz Suarez, Tsaghkadzor 2015, for analysis.

Till next time, John

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