Petr Romanovsky. Foreword to Aron Nimzowitsch's "Chess Blockade". 1925

Aug 2, 2013, 4:14 AM |

When time passes, and some chess historian will sum up the rapid progress of the art of chess in the post-War (WWI) period and thoroughly analyze all the forms of modern chess creativity, they'll have to find a special place for Aron Isaevich Nimzowitsch in their analysis. Otherwise, they'll just lack the objectivity to do a full historical review of the exceptionally thriving chess art of the latest decade. All the so-called modern ideas of chess work that both caused hot polemics in chess literature and changed the very outlook of chess tournaments, would suffer from a wrong description if Nimzowitsch's name wasn't mentioned in connection to their origins. Already in 1910-1912, when a brilliant school of German method, spearheaded by S. Tarrasch and A. Rubinstein, seemingly had no competition in the chess world, Nimzowitsch's original talent had suddenly introduced several principles that were so contrary to the traditional understanding of chess positions that the chess world was all ready to classify them as some funny eccentricities that go away with maturity. And they would have done so, if not for Nimzowitsch's great practical successes (which just couldn't be written of as accidental) in several international competitions. After Carlsbad 1911, when Nimzowitsch finished 4th, winning 9 games almost in a row in the process, there was San Sebastian 1912, when only an unfortunate accident made him let Rubinstein overtake him and finish only second. Nimzowitsch's "eccentricities" became noticed, but even after that, they weren't given the great attention they deserved. His return to the Steinitz variant in French Defense (1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. e5!), counterattack in the Philidor Defense (1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 Nf6!), peculiar Queen maneuver in the Caro-Kann Defense (1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 Bf5 4. Bd3 Bxd3 5. Qxd3 Qb6! 6. Ne2 Qa6!) and others were seen just as theoretical novelties, and the chess critics, true to the era, worked on the refutation of those novelties, failing to notice that behind them, there was a new original creative form, a new system, a new approach to struggle, an original construction of the chess blockade. While his opponents fiercely attacked his d4 and e5 pawns in French Defense and destroyed his pawn center by all rules of the positional method, new blockading outposts appeared on their places, which Nimzowitsch's pieces readily invaded. And in the Four Knight Opening, a seemingly bland Bishop exchange on the move 6 (1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Bb5 Bb4 5. O-O O-O 6. Bxc6!) grew into such an original plan of surrounding the Black's castling position based on the White Knights' invasion of f5, that only the blind faith in the conservative methods could make one dismiss Nimzowitsch's fresh creative technique.

Disdain to the pawn center in favour of piece-based center; creating of very deep and original combinational possibilities on a firm positional base; resolute critique (supported by great practical results) of the positions considered sacred for deacdes; the very fact that he alone fought against the traditional forms of creativity; re-evaluation of openings as a precondition to an original evaluation of the middlegame; introduction of a lot of opening novelties that were born by a persistent belief in the future of chess and the chess progress - those were the elements that put Nimzowitsch in a place completely separate of the entire group of the strongest players of the time, and around which the modernists of our time grouped several years later.

As was already stated, Nimzowitsch was completely alone. His chess futurism couldn't find any followers back then, the chess masses didn't appreciate his peculiar chess art, and it would seem that his chess spirit would fade without the much-needed support and sympathy. But this didn't happen. Moreover, something opposite happened. In 1914, Nimzowitsch suddenly devised new, ultra-original opening schemes. Theoretical deepening of his system, hard work on it, persistent desire to make the conservative thinkers finally appreciate his plans finally made him at the All-Russian Tournament in St. Petersburg, in the game against B. Gregori, use the flank development of the Bishops in the opening, which was disdained at the time, move his pawns just one square forward, accumulate the chess energy and potential combinational possibilities. The experient was successful. The powerful spring of chess action that was compressed until the needed time and then suddenly set off, completely annihilated his opponent.

In the game against E. Bogoljubov, whose brilliant career was only starting back then and who later improved many of Nimzowitsch's ideas, Nimzowitsch used the same strategy of accumulating the energy and then unleashing it all at once - in a very inappropriate opening, the French Defense, where fianchettoing the Queen's Bishop can be quite dangerous; still, he again managed to win quickly after a devastating strike. Nimzowitsch played the whole tournament under the sign of his system's triumph, shared 1st place with A. Alekhine and, together with him, played in the St. Peterburg 1914 Grossmeisterturnier with J.R. Capablanca and Em. Lasker, where his methods were put under the ultimate, strongest test. Of 11 games, Nimzowitsch lost 3 - to Capablanca, Tarrasch and Blackburne, but he'd never fell victim to his chess views. Simple light-midness, which was completely contrary to his deep formations, was the reason of his defeats. But his original maneuvers in the Caro-Kann against Lasker, the immediate pawn attack against Alekhine where his d4 Knight totally paralyzed the opponent's position, were finally fully recognized. But his triumph, his masterpiece was the battle against the talented and strong O. Bernstein, where he played one of his defenses - fianchettoed his Bishop in the opening, accumulated the power under the cover of advancing pawn chain, and then attacking e4 square with all his pieces.

Bernstein's brilliant defense allowed him to draw the game. But the seemingly decisive strike that made Bernstein's position almost hopeless was landed when Nimzowitsch sent his central pawns forward to their "deaths", clearing the way for a piece attack.

Nimzowitsch had left the tournament even more sure in his rightness.

The three-year world war stopped chess life dead, and it was calm before the storm for Nimzowitsch's theory.

Ever since 1918, Nimzowitsch's works look more and more prophetic. His thoughts about piece center, pawn attacks, blockade were embraced by a powerful chess movement called ultramodernism. The movement outgrows its herald. Great chess artists throw new chess thoughts into the conservators' mouths, the truths that once seemed incredible and now are very hard to stomach for the advocates of chess stagnation.

The chess art shines with the names of Alekhine, Reti, Bogoljubov... New opening systems are named after their developers: Alekhine's Defense, Reti's Opening etc. Nimzowitsh's absence along these names is completely undeserved (Nimzo-Indian Defence and Nimzowitsch Defense weren't named yet in 1925). It wasn't him who created the revolution of chess position understanding that happens right now. But he undoubtedly was its first herald, the only one who saw the essence of the chess works through the lens of the future revolution, and we can't just hush this up. But is it enough to limit Nimzowitsch's role in the modern chess art with this principiality? Can we say that the modernists have formulated Nimzowitsch's "old eccentricities" much wider and deeper than he could, and that his name is lost in the background of his own ideas' triumph, brought about not by particular people, but by the epoch itself? No, a thousand times no! Nimzowitsch is a perpetual thinker and mover of the chess history. His restless mind will never accept that the ultimate truth was discovered. He believes only in himself and his work. He's an individualist, so he can easily be in opposition to Reti now, as he once was in opposition to the conservative ideas of German school. He can't be a contemporary of his epoch. His goal is to see the future. And if he stays true to himself, his past experience will surely bring about new truths.

Considering the small book Chess Blockade offered to the reader, I can't help but say that the development of a very interesting theme by a very interesting artist deserves to be seen in more detail. The concept of blockade is depicted very clearly by Nimzowitsch. But the process of its achiement and the elements it consists of are given only superficially to the reader. Nimzowitsch's lively and vivid language, resplendent with optimism and youth, and belief in his rightfulness in the past, present and future, makes the book easy to read.

The small amount of examples is elegant and interesting. The author very clearly describes the role of the pawn at the various stages of the game in general and the passed pawn in particular. Some definitions are curious and humourous, which is characteristic for the author. So, for instance, he calls the pawn that has a chance to become passed a "candidate". The evaluation of the strength and role of a particular piece from the point of view of future perspectives - that's the author's interesting method of position evaluation. So, the aspiration for the future did tell upon the Chess Blockade as well. And, in tune with the author's optimism and humour, we can compare him to the "candidate" of his chess structures. The only difference is when a "candidate" becomes an important person, sometimes a Queen, it's satisfied with that state and has no future; while Nimzowitsch, the perpetual thinker and seeker, will never be content with his current achievements. His restless spirit is the eternal candidate of the future revelations of the chess art.