The Nimzowitsch Defense is a rare King’s Pawn Opening beginning with the moves 1. e4 Nc6
Nimzowitsch was no doubt one of the most important figures in chess history, pioneering many aspects of positional play as well as advances in chess “Opening Theory.” The Nimzo-Indian Defense is perhaps his best-known contribution to the study of chess openings, but the Nimzowitsch Defense has mostly been cast aside – largely because it allows white to occupy the full center with 2. d4
But its lack of popularity does not mean the Nimzowitsch Defense is bad! Let’s see how the game can progress.
Taking the full center is white’s most principled option against this opening. Black will generally strike back with either 2…d5 or 2…e5
Black stakes out some space in the center to challenge white’s space advantage. White has a few different ways to deal with this.
White can play 3. e5, leading to a pawn structure resembling the Advance variation of the Caro-Kann Defense. Black gets to develop their light-squared bishop outside the pawn chain by playing 3…Bf5.
If white plays 3. Nc3, then black can play 3…dxe4 and white cannot take back right away, as their d-pawn is hanging! After 4. d5 Ne5:
White has often played 5. Qd4, gaining a tempo by attacking this knight before recapturing the pawn.
White will restore material equality and be left with a space advantage, but black will be able to continue developing their pieces!
Finally, 3. exd5 Qxd5 4. Nf3 transposes to the “Nf3 sideline” of the Scandinavian Defense.
White has two main ways to address this move.
White can certainly advance passed this pawn by playing 3. d5, kicking the knight away. This will often lead to the sort of locked-center positions found in the King’s Indian Defense and other openings. I give a sample continuation in the video above.
Alternatively, white can try to eliminate black’s central pawn with 3. dxe5. After 3…Nxe5, 4. Nf3 and 4. f4 are both common continuations.
Let’s examine 4. f4, white’s most ambitious attempt to claim a space advantage:
Play may continue 4…Ng6 5. Nf3 Bc5 (preventing white from castling kingside!) 6. Bc4 d6 7. Nc3 Be6 8. Qe2 Bxc4 9. Qxc4 Qd7:
And now 10. f5! is likely white’s best shot for an advantage, exploiting the fact that 10…Nxe5 is impossible (10….Nxe5?? 11. Nxe5 dxe5 12. Qxc5, winning a piece).
All is not lost for black though. Black’s position may look passive after 10…N6e7, but black will likely castle queenside and try to seek some counterplay. The position remains imbalanced and exciting!
This is another very popular way for white to handle the Nimzowitsch Defense, forgoing the chance to take the full center and trying to steer the game back towards “normal” territory.
Black’s objectively best move is probably 2…e5, leading to a symmetrical King’s Pawn Opening – far from the rarely-traveled grounds of the Nimzowitsch Defense! Many players with white may be more comfortable with such positions, and this is probably not what a Nimzowitsch Defense player is looking for.
In the video above, I consider some of black’s options to keep the game in original territory. I believe that black’s best move (other than 2…e5) may be 2…f5!?
This surprising pawn sacrifice is an interesting way to mix the game up. After 3. exf5 d5, it’s not easy for white to hold onto their extra pawn.
The main line continues 4. Bb5 Bxf5 5. Ne5, pressuring the pinned knight, but now black can play 5…Qd6 to keep everything under control. After 6. d4 Nf6 7. 0-0:
Black can play 7…Nd7 to break the pin.
The Nimzowitsch Defense is an offbeat attempt to bring the game into original territory. White’s advantage is often considered to be slightly larger in the Nimzowitsch than in many other openings, but black is not without his chances, and the fact that many players don’t study it much might make it an effective surprise weapon!
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