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It’s certainly beneficial for Nimzo-Indian fans that it features in Magnus Carlsen’s games, because we get to witness his opinion on many of the critical lines. This month’s update features three more games involving the World Number one, plus some Nimzo and Queen’s Indian action from the recent New in Chess Classic and FIDE Candidates.

Download PGN of May ’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 dxc4 8 Qxc4 b6 9 Rd1 Ba6 10 Qa4 h6 11 Bh4:

Magnus Carlsen has enjoyed success with 7 Bg5 against both Caruana and Aronian, and at the New in Chess Classic he repeated the move against Hikaru Nakamura. Earlier in the same tournament Nakamura chose 11...Qd7 but didn’t manage to fully equalise, and against Carlsen he opted for the main alternative 11...Qe7, the game continuing 12 Nf3 Rd8 13 e3 Bxf1 14 Rxf1 c5 15 dxc5 Rxd1+ and here 16 Kxd1 was the first new move of the game - in all the previous encounters White had recaptured with the queen.

This novelty doesn’t look like a significant improvement (or even any improvement) over 16 Qxd1. However, in modern chess, ‘different’ can be just as effective as ‘better’, and within a few moves Carlsen was able to apply pressure in a favourable endgame - see the notes to Carlsen, M - Nakamura, H.

Nimzo-Indian: 4 Qc2 d5 5 a3 Bxc3+ 6 Qxc3 c5 [E36]

4 Qc2 d5 5 a3 Bxc3+ 6 Qxc3 c5 7 dxc5 d4:

I don’t recall Carlsen facing Romanishin’s gambit previously, so when Radjabov unleashed it against him at the New in Chess Classic, it was an opportunity for us to see what he had in store. Remarkably, for several moves Carlsen followed the stem game in the line, which turned out to be a crushing win for its inventor. The game continued 8 Qc2 (8 Qg3 has been the more common response) 8...e5 9 e3 Nc6 10 b4 0-0 11 Nf3 Re8 (11...Qe7 is a key alternative) 12 e4 a5:

Back in 1999, Romanishin faced 13 Rb1. Twenty-two years later Carlsen instead preferred 13 b5! and within a few moves he succeeded in gaining a clear advantage - see Carlsen, M - Radjabov, T for analysis.

Nimzo-Indian, Sämisch Variation: 4 a3 Bxc3+ 5 bxc3 c5 [E24]

4 a3 Bxc3+ 5 bxc3 c5 6 f3 d6 7 e4 Nc6 8 Ne2:

As we’ve seen before, Carlsen has chosen the Saemisch Variation on several occasions over the past couple of years, especially in rapid and blitz games. Previously in this line, Carlsen has played 6 e3 against Anand, Giri and Nakamura, but in two recent blitz/simul games he instead chose 6 f3. His choice of 8 Ne2 is interesting. 8 Be3 is more commonly played, but Carlsen’s idea is to keep the option open of developing the bishop to g5 as the pin on knight is often a useful weapon. Black typically responds with moves such as 8...b6, 8...e5 or 8...0-0, but Carlsen’s opponent, the young German GM Vincent Keymer, instead chose 8...h6!?. This move is actually a novelty, which I found somewhat surprising given the temptation to prevent Bg5 forever. See the notes to Carlsen, M - Keymer, V for analysis.

Nimzo-Indian: 4 Nf3 0-0 [E21]

4 Nf3 0-0 5 Bg5 c5 6 Rc1 cxd4 7 Nxd4 h6 8 Bh4 d5 9 cxd5 g5 10 Bg3 Qxd5 11 e3 Qxa2 12 Bd3 Qxb2 13 0-0 Bxc3 14 Rc2 Qb4 15 Nb5 e5:

Mamedyarov and Nakamura debated this key position in an ultra-sharp line three times during the New in Chess Classic, with two wins for Mamedyarov and one for Nakamura. See the notes to Mamedyarov, S - Nakamura, H which considers all three games.

Nimzo-Indian: 4 e3 c5 5 Bd3 d5 [E41]

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

We’ve studied this IQP position a few times before, focussing on the aggressive 10 Bc2 intending Qd3. In contrast, 10 Nxd5 looks unambitious and seems to lead to quite dry positions. However, it has been played by quite a few strong grandmasters and White has scored reasonably well. After 10...exd5 11 Nf4 White can hope to gain a small edge in this symmetrical double IQP position. In the recent game Yu Yangyi - Duda, J, Black continued well with 11...Bd6! 12 Be3 Bxf4 13 Bxf4 but now erred with 13...Nxd4?! 14 Bxh7+ Kxh7 15 Qxd4 Be6:

White can probe the small weakness on the kingside, and as is often the case in these situations, the presence of opposite-coloured bishops aids White’s attack.

Queen’s Indian: 4 g3 Bb7 5 Bg2 Bb4+ [E16]

4 g3 Bb7 5 Bg2 Bb4+ 6 Bd2 c5 7 Bxb4 cxb4 8 0-0 0-0 9 Nbd2 d6:

Anish Giri chose this line to play against Alexander Grischuk in the penultimate round of the FIDE Candidates. It was a revealing choice by Giri for a game which, given the tournament situation, he really needed to win with Black. The Queen’s Indian isn’t the first opening which springs to mind for this task, but at least 6...c5 does provide some much-needed positional imbalance. Unfortunately for Giri, Grischuk knew the line very well - he had recently studied it and also has considerable experience on the Black side, albeit with a pawn on b3 instead of b2 (with 4...Ba6 5 b3 Bb7 6 Bg2 Bb4+ 7 Bd2 c5).

10 Re1 intending e2-e4 is common here, but Grischuk preferred 10 Qb3, to pressure b4, followed by an exchange of bishops. After 10...a5 11 a3 Na6 12 Rfd1 Qe7 13 Ne1 Bxg2, the first new move was 14 Kxg2:

Recapturing with the king allows White to force the issue with the b4-pawn by playing Nc2. Giri responded with the ambitious 14...h5!?. See Grischuk, A - Giri, A for analysis.

Queen’s Indian: 4 a3 Bb7 5 Nc3 Ne4 [E12]

4 a3 Bb7 5 Nc3 Ne4 6 Nxe4 Bxe4 7 Bf4 Be7 8 e3 0-0 9 Bd3 Bxd3 10 Qxd3 d6:

We’ve come across the simplifying ...Ne4 idea a few times now, both in this line and in the similar 4 a3 Bb7 5 Bf4 variation. After 7 Bf4, Black can consider delaying castling, aiming for counterplay on the kingside with ...g5 and ...h5 after White castles. If instead both sides castle kingside, White enjoys a small but stable edge, as we saw in last month’s update (Vidit,S-Eljanov,P/Tornelo 2021).

However, there’s a third scenario to consider! In the diagrammed position White usually castles, but 11 h4!? uses Black’s decision to commit to castling to launch an attack and change the nature of the game. After 11...Nd7 12 Ng5 Nf6 13 0-0-0 a sharp battle follows.

See Indjic, A - Bellahcene, B for analysis.

Till next time, John

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