Chess Openings: Nimzo-Indian Defense

| 3 | Opening Theory

Category – Semi Closed Game 

Opening Move Sequence –  1 d4 Nf6, 2 c4 e6, 3 Nc3 Bb4

ECO Codes – E20 to E59 

This is an opening played under hypermodern theory, where the White center, while not contested by pawns, is attacked from the flanks by pieces. It was named after Aron Nimzowitsch who introduced it during the early twentieth century, though it was recorded in nineteenth century. Because it delays the fianchetto (unlike many Indian systems), “Nimzo” is flexible and can be transformed into variations in Queen's Gambit or Queen's Indian Defense. It has been used by players of highest caliber throughout the years and still remains very popular. 

Nimzo-Indian Defense is classed among Semi Closed Games and with Indian systems (which are a subset of Semi Closed Games). Nimzo-Indian Defense has the ECO codes E20 to E59. 

Moves and Variations

1 d4 Nf6

2 c4 e6

3 Nc3 Bb4 

Other possible sequences for Nimzo-Indian Defense are also available (e.g. 1.c4 e6, 2.Nc3 Nf6, 3.d4 Bb4) 

As mentioned above, Black delays the fianchetto, though he eventually does play b6 and Bb7 in most cases. Instead, Black, by playing Bb4, pins the Knight on c3. He thus prevents e4 and may aim to create doubled pawns for White by playing Bxc3. White will continue creating a strong center to start an attack on Black. 

If White wants to avoid Nimzo-Indian, he can play 3.Nf3 instead of 4.Nc3 and then after 3...Bb4+ (Bogo-Indian Defense) reply with 4.Bd2 or 4.Nbd2.  

The variations in Nimzo-Indian are numerous and we will merely skim through them here.  

Rubinstein System (4 e3)

This is the most common answer by White to Nimzo-Indian. The aim is to continue with development without committing to anything. Black can reply with 4...0-0, 4...c5, or 4...b6. Other options such as 4...d5, and 4...Nc6 also exist.  


Mainline Variation (4…0-0, 5.Bd3 d5, 6.Nf3 c5, 7.0-0)

White has finished his development while Black is maintaining a stake in center. 

From here the variations for Black are Main Variation (7...Nc6, 8.a3 Bxc3, 9.bxc3 dxc4, 10.Bxc4 Qc7) Parma Variation (7...dxc4, 8.Bxc4 Nbd7), Larsen Variation (7...dxc4, 8.Bxc4 Nc6, 9.a3 Ba5), Karpov Variation (7...dxc4, 8.Bxc4 cxd4, 9.exd4 b6), Khasin Variation (7...Nc6, 8.a3 Bxc3, 9.bxc3 Qc7) and Averbakh Variation (7...Nbd7)  

4...0-0 variations with move Ne2

Because Mainline gives Black equal play, from the 1980s and on, White players began to deviate from it into other variations. One of the main deviations is to play Ne2 instead of Nf3 to regain control of c3.  There are two main variations under this theme; Reshevsky Variation (5.Ne2) and Modern Variation (5.Bd3 d5, 6.Ne2).  

4 … c5

Here Black attacks d4 and retains the ability to play d5, d6 and e5. The game can be transformed into Main line variations but there are two independent variations as well; Hübner Variation (5.Bd3 Nc6, 6.Nf3 Bxc3+, 7.bxc3 d6) and Rubinstein Variation (5.Ne2) 


This was a response recommended by Nimzowitsch. Black fianchettos and threatens e4 while White either plays 5.Ne2 to prevent pawn doubling at c3 or 5 Bd3 to develop the Bishop (5.Nf3 leads to the same position). Depending on these responses, several variations branch off; Fischer Variation (5.Ne2 Ba6), Romanishin-Psakhis Variation (5.Ne2 c5), American Variation (5.Ne2 Ne4), 5.Ne2 Bb7, Classical Fianchetto Variation also called Tal Variation (5.Bd3 Bb7, 6.Nf3 0-0, 7.0-0 d5), Keres Variation (5.Bd3 Bb7, 6.Nf3 0-0, 7.0-0 c5), and Dutch Variation (5.Bd3 Bb7, 6.Nf3 Ne4).  


4…d5 while it transforms to main line 4…0-0, allows White to play 5.a3 which can lead to variations like Sämisch Variation that favors White. In 4…Nc6, called the Taimanov Variation, Black aims to play e5 after d5, dxc4, or d6.  

Classical Variation also called Capablanca Variation (4 Qc2)

This variation’s popularity was overtaken by 4.e3, but has since revived in the 1990s. White’s aim is to make use of the two Bishops while keeping the pawns intact. In return, White will have to move the Queen more than once and White’s King-side will remain dormant. Black will try to make use of the better development of his pieces. Black’s main replies to Qc2 are 4...0-0, 4...c5, 4...d5, or 4...Nc6. 4…d6 is also used, but rarely.  

Mainline of Classical Variation is 4…0-0, 5.a3 Bxc3+, 6.Qxc3 b6, 7.Bg5. There are many deviations available for both players from main line.  4...c5 tries to make the best of the Queen’s unavailability to defend d pawn. 4…d5 also attacks the center. 4…Nc6 is called Zürich Variation (or Milner-Barry Variation) and in it Black, after exchanging one Bishop, establishes pawns at e5 and d6 to allow the other Bishop mobility.

Kasparov Variation (4 Nf3)

This was used by Garry Kasparov to win two games during World Championship in 1985. The aim is to move the Knight to its best square and wait for Black’s move. If 4…d5 is played, the game is transformed to Queen's Gambit Declined. 4 ... b6, 5 Bg5 Bb7 leads to Queen's Indian and other Nimzo Variations. 4...c5 followed by 5 e3 leads to Rubinstein System above. 4…c5, 5.g3 leads to Fianchetto Variation; 5.g3 cxd4, 6.Nxd4 0-0, 7.Bg2 d5, 8.cxd5 Nxd5. This last one is considered the main line here. White’s center is no more, but White Bishop at g2 and possibly Queen at b3 threaten Black’s Queen-side. This variation can also be reached through Bogo-Indian Defense. Since some players aim for Bogo-Indian Defense to avoid Nimzo-Indian, this may come as a surprise.  

Other Variations

There are other possible 4th moves for White; 4.f3 Variation (also known by various other names), 4.Bg5 (Leningrad Variation), 4.a3 (Sämisch Variation), 4.g3 (Fianchetto Variation), 4.Qb3 (Spielmann Variation), and 4.e4 (Dilworth Gambit).

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