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This month’s update continues to examine some new ideas in the Nimzo-Indian, including games from Magnus Carlsen, Levon Aronian and Wesley So from Carlsen’s recent invitational event.

Download PGN of March ’21 Nimzo and Benoni games

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Nimzo-Indian: 4 Qc2 0-0 5 a3 Bxc3+ 6 Qxc3 d5 7 Bg5 [E32]

4 Qc2 0-0 5 a3 Bxc3+ 6 Qxc3 d5 7 Bg5 c5:

This main line with 7 Bg5 has been revitalised recently thanks in part to Carlsen’s win against Fabiano Caruana at Stavanger 2020. At the Magnus Carlsen Invitational, the World Champion repeated 7 Bg5 against Levon Aronian, who responded with 7...c5. Wojtaszek’s gambit has fared well from a theoretical viewpoint, so it was interesting to see what Carlsen had prepared.

After 8 dxc5 d4 Carlsen chose 9 Qf3, which is becoming increasingly popular at the elite level. The game continued 9...Nbd7 10 e3 h6 11 Bxf6 Nxf6 12 0-0-0 e5 13 Ne2:

We’ve previously studied 13...d3 in two games, but Aronian instead headed for the complications arising after 13...Bg4 14 Qg3 and now the novelty 14...Ne4!? 15 Qxg4 Nxf2 - see Carlsen, M - Aronian, L for analysis.

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

4 Qc2 0-0 5 a3 Bxc3+ 6 Qxc3 d6 7 f3 d5!?:

6...d6 7 f3 d5!? is an idea we’ve come across before. The reasoning behind ...d6 followed immediately by ...d5 is that the extra move f2-f3 may hinder White in some lines, the most important of which is 8 Bg5 h6 9 Bh4 c5!:

This is the only way to justify Black’s earlier ...d5 in two steps. When the centre opens quickly, White’s f2-f3 may easily become a liability. See Papasimakopoulos, A - Zhigalko, S for details.

Nimzo-Indian: 4 Qc2 0-0 5 Nf3 d5 [E32]

4 Qc2 0-0 5 Nf3 d5 6 Bg5 h6 7 Bh4:

Previously we’ve studied 7...c5 here, which has been the most popular choice. In the Magnus Carlsen Invitational, however, Levon Aronian played 7...dxc4!? against Wesley So. The capture on c4 is quite unusual in this particular position, but the idea is a common one and there’s some resemblance to the QGD Vienna variation. After 8 e4 g5 9 Bg3 and now the novelty 9...b5, So took action immediately with 10 e5! Nh5! 11 Qe4:

White’s attack on the kingside is certainly dangerous, but Black has many resources too. See So, W - Aronian, L for analysis.

Nimzo-Indian: 4 Qc2 b6 [E32]

4 Qc2 b6 5 e4 c5 6 d5 Qe7 7 Nge2 exd5 8 exd5:

4...b6 continues to attract interest. It’s regarded as a decent way for Black to imbalance the position, albeit with some risk, so it’s perhaps better suited to faster time limits. However, 8...Qe4? is pushing things too far, and it was severely punished in the recent game Ioannidis, E - Dolana, A. In the notes, we also take a revised look at the critical line 8...d6 9 Bd2 0-0, which is what should be played if you are trying to make 4...b6 work for Black.

Nimzo-Indian: 4 a3 Bxc3+ 5 bxc3 b6 6 f3 Nc6 [E24]

4 f3 Nc6 5 a3 Bxc3+ 6 bxc3 b6 7 e4 Ba6 8 Bg5 h6 9 Bh4:

At his recent tournament, Magnus Carlsen had the opportunity against Wesley So to play against the Saemisch Variation (albeit via an unusual move order; 4 a3 Bxc3+ 5 bxc3 b6 6 f3 Nc6 is normal), which as we know he has been playing as White in recent times.

The most popular choice in the diagrammed position is 9...Na5, but Carlsen preferred 9...Qc8!?. This move is rare but has so far scored incredibly well for Black - on my online database it’s seven wins out of eight games! See So, W - Carlsen, M for details.

Nimzo-Indian: 4 Nf3 c5 [E21]

4 Nf3 0-0 5 Bg5 c5:

The most popular choices for White here are 6 e3 and 6 Rc1, both of which we’ve already covered in some detail. However, White has a third option with 6 d5!? after which we reach a type of Leningrad position which actually arises rarely from the Leningrad Variation, where both an early Nf3 and ...0-0 are uncommon. After 6...d6 7 e3 (7 Nd2!? is also possible) 7...exd5 8 cxd5 Nbd7:

White can play either 9 Nd2 or 9 Bd3, both of which are analysed in the notes to Indjic, A - Nakamura, H. My feeling is that 6 d5 is a serious alternative to 6 e3 and 6 Rc1.

Nimzo-Indian: 4 Nf3 b6 [E21]

4 Nf3 b6 5 Qc2 Bb7:

This Nimzo/Queen’s Indian hybrid often transposes to one of the main lines, especially after the most common continuation 6 a3 Bxc3+ 7 Qxc3. In the recent game Tang, A - Lenderman, A, White instead played 6 g3, and what could be more natural than this move? However, Lenderman’s response demonstrates that 6 g3 could even be a mistake: 6...Nc6!:

This is one of those occasions in the Nimzo-Indian where an early ...Nc6 can be highly effective. The idea of ...Nxd4 makes things quite uncomfortable for White. Look out in the notes for a tricky transposition from the 4 g3 Ba6 Queen’s Indian!

Till next time, John

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