For decades this has been a very common defense to 1. d4. It’s a very complicated defense where no single variation emerges as the one nearly always played. Strategy revolves to a substantial degree around the possible exchange on c3. White’s goal is to force the exchange on c3 under circumstances that lead to an advantage for White. Black’s goal is to make or avoid the exchange on c3 under circumstances that give him a satisfactory position. If White so chooses he can force the exchange immediately with 4. a3. After the exchange Black has multiple ways to proceed:
1. He can counter with d5 and c5 as in the Queen’s Gambit. From a theoretical point of view this makes less sense than the other options. White no longer has to worry about his doubled c pawns becoming a disadvantage. He can always exchange them. The recapture on c3 reinforces White’s pawn center. d5 and c5 alone may not be enough to neutralize it. Black has done nothing to limit the scope of White’s Bishop pair which may also give White an advantage.

2. Black can try to keep the center of the board congested with pawns and if possible blockade them. One way to do this is with c5, d6, and e5. This keeps White’s c pawns doubled and helps to limit the scope of White’s bishops as well. One potential danger Black faces occurs in the middle game when White plays e4 and then prepares f4. Black must exercise care to see to it he has an adequate defense on the kingside. Otherwise a deadly White offensive may nullify any hope that Black has to cash in on the advantages he has. Another method of blockading the center is based on c5, b6, and Ne8, intending to answer f4 with f5. This gives Black the option of playing his king knight to d6 where it supports an attack against the pawn on c4. Black must again watch the defense of his kingside. This often occurs with the sequence 1. d4 Nf6; 2. c4 e6; 3. Nc3 Bb4; 4. a3 Bxc3+; 5. bc O-O; 6. e3 c5; 7. Bd3 Nc6; 8. Ne2 b6; 9. e4 Ne8.

3. Black can play Ne4 with the intended followup f5. This is a good setup for a Kingside counterattack. Mikhail Tal had great success with this in his 1960 World Championship match against Mikhail Botvinnik. Questions have been raised regarding the play in game 20. That game went 1. c4 Nf6; 2. d4 e6; 3. Nc3 Bb4; 4. a3 Bxc3+; 5. bc Ne4; 6. e3 f5; 7. Qh5+ g6; 8. Qh6 d6; 9. f3 Nf6; 10e4 e5; 11. Bg5 Qe7; 12. Bd3 Rf8; 13. Ne4 Qf7. The game continued: 14. Qh4 fe; 15. fe Ng4; 16. h3 Qf2+; 17. Kd2 Qxh4; 18. Bxh4 Nf2; 19. Rhf1 Nd3; 20 Rxf8+; Kxf8; 21. Kxd3 leading to a draw. Houdini 3 Extreme finds a huge plus for White after 14. O-O. Houdini also finds that Black should have answered 8. Qh6 with Qg5.

Saemich Capablanca Variation Nimzo-Indian Orthodox Variation 1960 Chess World Championship

In modern play, White often delays a3. He may want to recapture with a piece. That is the idea behind 4. Qc2. The drawback is the early exposure of White’s queen and the possibility that White will not be well-developed. Another idea is 4. e3 intending 5. Nge2 and 6. a3. If Black plays Bxc3 without being prompted by a3, he loses a valuable tempo. This is generally not recommended. Black must do some thinking concerning how he can best counter White’s strategy. Otherwise Black may find himself positionally strangled or lose the bishop pair with insufficient compensation. The Nimzo-Indian Orthodox Variation may arise from a sequence such as: 4. e3 O-O; 5. Bd3 c5; 6. Nf3 d5; 7. O -O. Black must exercise great care. Some highly plausible moves lead to an advantage for White. Other 4th moves such as 4. Nf3, 4. Bg5, 4. f3, and 4. Qb3 are quite common and you can find books about these lines as well.


For further information about the items below please click on one of the images or the blue text below the image.

Chess Explained: The Nimzo-Indian – Vera

Dangerous Weapons: The Nimzo-Indian – Emms

Meet The nimzo-Indian with 4.Qc2! – Kasimdzhanov

Play the 4 f3 Nimzo-Indian – Yakovich

Nimzo-Indian Rubinstein: The ever popular main lines with 4 e3 – Dunnington

Offbeat Nimzo-Indian – Ward