Magnus Carlsen And The Nimzo-Indian Defense

Magnus Carlsen And The Nimzo-Indian Defense

GM BryanSmith
Dec 8, 2015, 12:00 AM |
57 | Opening Theory

For our final article of this series on the world champions and their contributions to opening theory, we focus on the current champion, Magnus Carlsen. As many of you have commented on the earlier articles, it is difficult to link Carlsen with a specific opening, since his repertoire is so wide and his approach does not put an emphasis on the opening.

In Carlsen's chess you usually see the opening used to reach a playable and less-explored middlegame position. Normally when he introduces a variation, he uses it only a few times; when it becomes commonplace he moves on.

Thus we see Carlsen playing both closed and open games as White, beginning with all the "normal" first moves, and playing many possible solid defenses as Black. Perhaps he is most closely linked to the Berlin Defense to the Ruy Lopez, but so are many of the top players, and I have already covered that opening in connection with Vladimir Kramnik.

Thus I had to choose an opening to cover in connection with him, and I have chosen the Nimzo-Indian. For one thing, he used this in his 2013 match with Viswanathan Anand, winning one game with it on his way to becoming world champion; he has also used in in some other interesting games. In some ways, the Nimzo-Indian is a good reflection of Carlsen's style: sound, and usually resulting in "rational" positions that rarely include long and chaotic variations (as one might find in the Gruenfeld, for example, but yes, I am aware Carlsen has played that as well) -- but containing enough positional tension to play for a win.

First of all, for history's sake I will include the first time Carlsen played the Nimzo-Indian, in the 2001 Bad Wiessee tournament.

I saw this game in an online article some months ago, where it described how even at such a young age (and low rating) Carlsen made the strong grandmaster Giorgi Kacheishvili work hard to win the game. The game was described as taking place in "Germany, 2001." When I noticed this I had a thought -- the first time I played outside of the U.S. was in Germany, in 2001. A few minutes of research led me to realize that this was the same tournament. It was a strange thought that I unknowingly played in the same tournament as the future world champion, who was then a young and low-rated kid.

The tournament has a special place in my own memory too: that time when I was still new to chess, and made my first international master norm -- when not only was chess still a magical world for me, but the world itself made a lot more sense. Before every game I drank a large German beer, and I vividly remember going to the phone booth on the side of the street in that beautiful spa town to call home after the eighth round, to tell my parents I made the IM norm.

Now let's skip ahead a few years when Carlsen, still young, was nevertheless an established grandmaster.

Here we see him use the Nimzo-Indian to win a smooth positional game with the black pieces:

Finally, let's look at Carlsen's win from his match with Anand, where he boldly allowed White a very dangerous-looking attack.

In the above game you can see a perfect example of the balance of attack and defense.

I am sorry to say that this will be my last article for the time being. After more than four years of writing a weekly column for, I will be moving on to other things. I hope you have enjoyed my writings.

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