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This month’s update covers some new ideas from recent events, including the FIDE World Cup and the Sinquefield Cup. We look at latest developments in some sharp Nimzo-Indian Variations and an idea in the Queen’s Indian which may have been inspired by AlphaZero.

Download PGN of September ’19 Nimzo and Benoni games

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Nimzo-Indian: 4 Qc2 0-0 5 e4 d5 [E32]

4 Qc2 0-0 5 e4 d5 6 e5 Ne4 7 Bd3 c5 8 Nf3 cxd4 9 Nxd4 Nd7 10 Bf4 Qh4 11 g3 Qh5 12 0-0 g5 13 cxd5 Bxc3 14 bxc3:

In recent years 10...Qh4 has overtaken 10...Ndc5 as the main line, at least at the highest level. The main line from the diagram is 14...exd5 15 Bxe4 dxe4 16 e6 gxf4 17 exd7 Bxd7 18 Qxe4 reaching a position which has led to many draws and only a handful of decisive games. Despite the results, Mamedyarov, who has played 5 e4 on numerous occasions, presumably believes that Black still has to be a little careful here. In his recent encounter against Caruana at the 2019 Sinquefield Cup, the American grandmaster diverged with 14...gxf4!?, following an idea that had previously been tried by Kramnik. Mamedyarov thought 14...gxf4 was a mistake, but during the game he was unable to exploit it. See Mamedyarov, S - Caruana, F for details.

Nimzo-Indian: 4 Qc2 d5 5 cxd5 exd5 6 Bf4 [E35]

4 Qc2 d5 5 cxd5 exd5 6 Bf4!?:

This bishop move is a rare choice, but it has been tried by a few grandmasters and is definitely worth a try. A typical continuation would be 6...c5 7 dxc5 Ne4 8 e3 Qa5:

In comparison to 6 Bg5 h6 7 Bh4 c5 8 dxc5 g5 9 Bg3 Ne4 10 e3 Qa5, the lack of kingside weaknesses should benefit Black. However, there are also one or two subtle differences in concrete variations which favour White. See Dreev, A - Inarkiev, E for analysis.

Nimzo-Indian: Botvinnik-Capablanca Variation [E49]

4 e3 0-0 5 Bd3 d5 6 a3 Bxc3+ 7 bxc3 c5 8 cxd5 exd5 9 Ne2 b6 10 0-0 Ba6 11 f3 Re8 12 Ng3 Bxd3 13 Qxd3 Nc6 14 Bb2:

A key decision for Black in the Botvinnik-Capablanca Variation is whether or not to play ...c4. The pawn advance does give Black an obvious follow-up plan of ...b5, ...a5 and ...b4.

Furthermore, in the diagrammed position 14...c4 forces the white queen to an inferior square, and the desirable 15 Qc2 would leave the e3-pawn hanging. On the other hand, the pawn advance is undoubtedly commital as it releases the tension in the centre and makes it easier for White to get in e3-e4. In a recent game White reacted with 15 Qe2 (threatening e3-e4) 15...h5 16 Qf2!:

16 Qf2! is a nice little move, which crucially defuses Black’s ...h4 idea. In six games reaching this position, White has scored 100%! See the notes to Le Quang Liem - Aleksandrov, A for the problems Black faces here. It’s very possible that 15 Qe2 / 16 Qf2! puts 14...c4 out of business.

Nimzo-Indian: 4 g3 d5 5 Bg2 0-0 6 Nf3 dxc4 [E20]

4 g3 d5 5 Bg2 0-0 6 Nf3 dxc4 7 0-0 Nc6 8 Qa4 Nd5 9 Qc2 Be7 10 Rd1 Rb8 11 e4:

The Nimzo-Catalan, and specifically the 8 Qa4 line, continues to generate interest at grandmaster level. It seems that Black has a few ways to secure a playable game, but White has typical practical chances associated with gambit play.

The diagrammed position could be considered as the main line, and previously we’ve focussed on 11...Ndb4 12 Qe2. However, the other knight can also go to b4. While it’s true that 11...Ncb4 hasn’t scored as well as 11...Ndb4, recent games, including Naiditsch, A - Huschenbeth, N, have demonstrated that it’s equally playable.

Nimzo-Indian: 4 Nf3 b6 5 Bd2 [E21]

1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 Nf3 b6 5 Bd2 Bb7 6 e3:

An early Bd2 is now accepted as a perfectly reasonable way to meet the Nimzo and, as we have seen, has been employed by a number of strong grandmasters. Games often transpose to the popular Tal Variation after 6...0-0 7 Bd3 d5 8 cxd5 exd5 9 Rc1 (or 9 0-0). However, a useful point behind Bd2 is seen if Black tries to reach the Keres Variation with 6...0-0 7 Bd3 c5. As we have seen before, White can meet this with 8 a3! with good chances of keeping an edge.

Instead of castling, Black could play the immediate 6...c5!:

This looks like a clever move-order for Black if he wishes to play ...c5 lines. See Bartel, M - Matuszewski, M for move order details and also how the game lasted only six further moves!

Queen’s Indian: 4 e3 Bb7 5 Bd3 [E14]

3 c4 b6 4 e3 Bb7 5 Bd3 c5 6 0-0:

This is a very common position as it’s also frequently reached via the Colle System. 6...Be7 remains the most common response, while the more enterprising 6...g6 has also been covered here. In a recent game, Caruana eschewed typical moves in favour of the surprising 6...Bxf3!? 7 Qxf3 Nc6:

Black exchanges his light-squared bishop but gains pressure against d4 in return. This idea certainly has some merit and Caruana succeeded in getting a decent position out of the opening before going wrong and losing. The notes to Karjakin, S - Caruana, F consider options for both.

Queen’s Indian: 4 g3 Bb7 5 Bg2 Be7 6 0-0 0-0 7 Re1 [E17]

4 g3 Bb7 5 Bg2 Be7 6 0-0 0-0 7 Re1 Na6 8 h4!?:

Ding Liren has played some very interesting games in the 4 g3 Queen’s Indian, and 8 h4!? appears to be another subtle idea from his opening repertoire. I wonder if he has been inspired by AlphaZero, which likes to use the h-pawn to attack at every opportunity. With 8 h4, White avoids the exchanges which occur in the main lines after 8 Ne5 Bxg2 9 Kxg2 and 8 Nc3 Ne4, and waits to see what Black does before reacting. Furthermore, the h2-h4 advance can be useful in more than one way, as demonstrated in a crushing victory for the Chinese grandmaster in Ding Liren - Rapport, R..

Till next time, John

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