The Nimzowitsch Knight Dance

The Nimzowitsch Knight Dance

| 34 | Tactics

Knights are tricky little pieces. Often seen dancing around the board like little mischievous imps, knights have the power to bewilder and confuse even the strongest of grandmasters.

I want to take a deeper look at one particular knight dance. The dance shown below has immortalized itself in my thoughts. I am hoping that I can share my love of this particular dance with you.

Learning certain patterns in chess is one sure way of improving your play.

The next game was played by the grandfather of hypermodern chess, Aron Nimzowitsch.


In this game, Nimzowitsch plays a very slow yet effective idea. Let's take at look at why the idea works and why it has made such an impact on me.


There are several things to take away from this game.

Slow maneuvers like Nh1, Nf2, Nh3 and Ng5 are only possible in closed positions where your opponent lacks any counterplay. To judge whether the maneuver is going to be possible or not, you must first dive into the mind of your opponent and try to work out what plans he has available.

If you cannot see any constructive plan for him and the pawn structure is locked, creating a closed position, you may well have time to play long, drawn-out maneuvers. Of course, there would be no point playing a Nimzo knight dance if your opponent is going to checkmate you!

If you do have time to improve the positioning of your pieces, I have found the following bit of advice helpful:

  1. Find your worst-placed piece.
  2. Now in your mind's eye, remove that piece from the board.
  3. Try to imagine where that piece would be ideally positioned.
  4. Work back from its ideal square and see if you can trace a route of how to get there.

For example, in the game above, Nimzowitsch saw that the ideal square for the knight was g5. He may then have traced a route back from that square: h3, f2, h1 and g3. All he had to do then is put that plan into motion.

Let's now see how I used this pattern in one of my own games.

Would I have ever found the plan ...Nh8!! if I had not seen Nimzowistch's game? Doubtful -- the re-routing of the knight in that game clearly helped me in this encounter.

It goes to show that when learning and studying games games of top grandmasters, you must aim to really grasp what plans the players are trying to do. Too many people go over games superficially. You must always ask yourself why?

Why did he do that move? What was the idea behind that move? What is he trying to achieve with that move?

What else we can learn from that game:

  1. When you are in a worse situation it is often a good idea to complicate matters. This gives your opponent a chance to go wrong. It is better to die fighting, rather than in a slow and painful manner.
  2. A bad plan is better than no plan!  At least then you can learn from any mistakes after the game. You should never play a move without a idea as to why you played that move. Do not be lazy!
  3. Aim to avoid playing pawn moves in the area of the board where you are weakest. In the example above, 23 h4? proved only to help my plan.
  4. Whenever you have the opportunity to exchange pieces, you should always consider if your piece is better than the piece being offered by your opponent in the exchange. If you think it is, then try to avoid the exchange.
  5. Do not rush an advantage, unless you see an immediate win. If you are in control of the game it is more important to stop any counterplay that your opponent has.


In the last game, we are going to take a look at a game by the one and only Robert J. Fischer.


Again we are going to see a beautiful dance from that naughty little imp of a knight.

What makes this game even more impressive is that it was a blitz game! Wow, if only we could have seen a Fischer vs Nakamura Death Match.

This game follows some of the main advice given above. Is there anything else we can learn from this game?

Fischer clearly knew what middlegame plans he was supposed to play from the starting position. In other words, he understood where his pieces should move.

Some of the tips below should help you find the correct plans in your own games:

  1. Pick just three openings: One with White, one against e4 and one against d4. This way you will get to really understand the structures and plans in the positions much better. The ideas that you should be playing will become second-nature to you. If you play all the openings under the sun, then it will be difficult to become a master of any of them. Better to be an expert in one trade, rather than a fool in many.
  2. Search the games of top players in the opening variations that you play. See what they do and ask yourself: Why do they do that? What is their plan?
  3. Timing is so important. In this game, Fischer had time to play his knight around to g5. The only way for you to become an expert of chess timing is to really consider what your opponent is trying to do, and if there is any threat to your position. Far too many beginners only concentrate on their own plans. Remember there are two people playing this game!

I hope you enjoyed this little article. You may have guessed that I am quite fond of the mischievous imp. 


During my own games I am always happiest when my pieces are dancing around the board in harmony with each other.

Hopefully you can share that joy with me. Cool 

To watch me attempt to achieve piece harmony, you may be interested in my YouTube channel.

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