The Hypermodern Nimzo by GM Prasad and GM Panchanathan

The Hypermodern Nimzo by GM Prasad and GM Panchanathan

| 28 | Opening Theory

This week we will be studying the Nimzo Indian defense. This opening was introduced by Grand Master Aron Nimzowitsch who can be called the Father of the so-called "hypermodern" chess era existing today. He has been one of the most influential writers in chess and his book "My System" is considered to be one of the best in the history of chess literature.

So far we have been using one model game for each of the openings that we have discussed. This time we decided to go with two model games. One to explain the right things to do, and the other to show what happens when things do not go your way.

We will summarize some of the basic ideas of the Nimzo in here; Black gives up his dark-squared Bishop intentionally very early in the game, let us try to understand some of the positional implications of this decision.


1. Active Pieceplay - Black gains some useful momemtum by giving up his bishop to get ahead in development and activate his pieces.
2. Center Control (e4) - Since the Knight on c3 is removed from the board, Black takes control of the e4 square which makes it harder for white to advance his centre pawns.
3. Better pawn structure - The doubled pawns on the 'c' file make it harder for white to break through in the center.
4. Maintaining closed positions - Natural choice since open positions would favor White's Bishop pair.


1. Loss of Bishop pair - Reduces the options for Black, restricted at several occasions to open up the position.
2. Less space - White gets the d5 advance many times creating more space and leaving him with possibilities to play on both wings of the board
3. Semi open 'b' file - The doubled pawns allow white to put pressure on the 'b' file by advancing his 'a' pawn and forcing Black to create some weakness in the queenside.
4. A strong potential for kingside attack - White's Bishop pair can be deadly if he can launch an attack on Black's King.

Now, Black does not try to maintain all his above-mentioned advantages. Often he has to choose one or two of his advantages at the cost of the others. For example, Black gives up his Bishop at times without ruining White's pawn structure; Black allows white to advance e4 to close the center; Black opens up the positions occasionally when it's favorable for him.

Let's take a look at the first game now... 


Here it is! The hypermodern idea to control the center not just by direct pawn challenges, but active piece play. White has several possibilities here. Some of the popular ones are:
4.Qc2 - The Classical variation. Reinforcing both the Knight and the e4 square.
4.e3  - The Rubinstein Variation.
4.f3  - The Samisch Variation.

The Huebner Variation. Black's idea is simple,
1. Exchange the dark-squared bishop to ruin White's pawn structure.
2. Fix all his own pawns on dark squares to fill the void of his dark-squared Bishop.
3. Keep the center closed and White's weak doubled 'c' pawns intact.
As we can see, he has achieved his ideas so far.

Simple, yet very profound. Black can happily capture the a4 pawn with his Knight and White can do nothing about it. The reason we chose this game was to emphasize the importance of maintaining closed positions in such openings.
Look at White's dark-squared Bishop, it is theoretically not a 'Bad' Bishop (A light-squared Bishop here for White would be termed as a Bad Bishop) however the fixed pawn chains leave the Bishop with no scope for play. The rest of the game is pretty self-explanatory.

Now that we saw how Black put his simple ideas in place to get a fine win in the previous game, let us go back in time and take a look at a game played by the Cuban world champion Capablanca.

We have reached a similar position as in the first game. Black has executed the same idea of giving up his Bishop to close the center and fix his pawns on dark squares. However there are some subtle yet important differences here. Notice that White's Knight is on e2 compared to d2 in the first game. One can wonder how much difference such a minor detail can make? Let us continue with the game to find out....

To summarize it all, in the first game, Black was able to create activity along the 'f' file and also trade off pieces on the e4 square. White did not have enough time as he was lagging behind in development. In the second game however, White was already set to launch a kingside attack as his Knight was well placed on e2 and his other pieces were also well set. White kept gaining more space and that naturally creates more trouble for the defending side. Finally he played on both wings of the board to completely supress any counterplay from Black. This specifically is the reason why Black does not prefer to play the Huebner against White's direct Nge2 systems, instead it is played against the Nf3, Nd2 ideas.

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