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A short break from heavy duty theoretical lines this month, and instead it's an overdue return to the Nimzo-Indian Zürich Variation (4 Qc2 Nc6), to look at a few recent games which have caught my eye. I'm indebted to Tomas Bragesjö for his thoughts and a timely reminder.

Download PGN of October '12 Nimzo and Benoni games

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Nimzo-Indian Zürich Variation: 4 Qc2 Nc6 [E33]

Although the Zürich Variation remains elusive at the very highest levels, there are a number of grandmasters who have it their repertoires, and it's still a solid choice for Black players, especially those who wish to avoid the theory-heavy lines after 4 Qc2. There's also a practical advantage in deploying the Zürich Variation. It can be part of a dark-square Nimzo system for Black which can link to other variations. For example, 4 Nf3 Nc6 often transposes, and Black can also reach the Zürich via the Bogo-Indian and the Two Knights Tango.

In this update I'm going to take a look at a few recent games in the main line:

1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 Qc2 Nc6 5 Nf3 d6

White has two main options here:

  1. 6 Bd2 followed by a2-a3, and recapturing on c3 with the bishop; or
  2. The immediate 6 a3.

White Plays 6 Bd2

Most of the top GMs seem to favour 6 Bd2 over 6 a3 at the moment. The main line after 6 Bd2 runs 6...0-0 7 a3 Bxc3 8 Bxc3 Qe7:

In this position White must make a choice over how to complete his development.

a) Against 9 e3 the modern preference for Black is 9...a5 (instead of 9...e5). Now:
a1) 10 Bd3 is covered in Vaisser - Fressinet, Pau 2012.
a2) 10 b3, discouraging ...a4, is covered in Feller - Fressinet, Belfort 2012, and Parligras - Williams, Porto Carras 2011.

b) 9 g3 e5 10 d5:

b1) 10...e4!?

This move, basically a pawn sacrifice, was originally suggested by Richard Palliser in his book Tango and was later played by Ruslan Ponomariov against Malakhov in 2009. Timoscenko - Aczel, Banska Stiavnica 2011, is the only game I could find where Black has repeated the idea.

b2) 10...Nb8 remains the most popular choice. See Johannessen - Chernov, Bundesliga 2010.

White plays 6 a3

6 a3 Bxc3+ 7 Qxc3 0-0:

This is the main alternative to 6 Bd2. Of course the resulting positions are often similar to those after 6 Bd2, as the plans basically remain the same. One difference is that Black doesn't always have to prepare ...e5 with ...Qe7 or ...Re8 - pawn sacs are possible as Black gains time hitting the white queen on e5 if White accepts. One example of this is 8 g3 e5! - see Kalesis - Papaioannou, Achaea 2012.

One advantage of 6 a3 is that White's dark-squared bishop is free to develop to g5, just like in many 4 Qc2 lines. However, against 8 Bg5 Black has the surprising response 8...h6 9 Bh4 g5! 10 Bg3 Ne4 11 Qc2 f5:

It's unusual for Black to play ...g5 after castling kingside, but here it seems to work quite well. See Postl - Danner, Graz 2011.

Have a good month!

Till next time, John

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