The Nimzo-Indian Defense is a Queen’s Pawn Opening beginning with 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4
With their third move, black pins the white knight to the king, preventing white from expanding immediately in the center with e4 and threatening to double white’s pawns!
Both sides have a wide variety of options from this starting position, making the Nimzo-Indian Defense one of the most strategically complex openings in all of chess! I’ll highlight some popular choices in this article to give you a feel for how the game can progress.
But first, let’s briefly discuss a move-order issue that every Nimzo-Indian Defense player must understand:
To avoid allowing black to pin the knight, some players will play 3. Nf3 or 3. g3 with white. The bad news is that it’s not possible to play the Nimzo-Indian Defense against this set-up – there’s no knight to pin!
The good news from black’s perspective, however, is that this set-up from white is less ambitious in a sense. By not playing 3. Nc3, white is no longer threatening to play e4 next turn and take the full center.
Most Nimzo-Indian Defense players will handle this line by playing either 3…Bb4+ (The Bogo-Indian Defense) aiming for a Nimzo-Indian-style setup even without the knight on c3, or 3…b6 (The Queen’s Indian Defense), adding even more control to the critical e4 square by allowing the light-squared bishop to help!
But the focus of this article will be the Nimzo-Indian…so let’s get into it!
This move isn’t too popular these days, but the resulting positions are a good illustration of each side’s ideas in the Nimzo-Indian. White forces black’s hand and ensures that the dark bishop will be traded off.
After 4…Bxc3+ 5. bxc3, 5…c5 is black’s most popular option.
This move is quite instructive. Black will often put their central pawns on dark squares in the Nimzo-Indian, after exchanging off their dark bishop. This pawn “freezes” the doubled pawns on the c-file.
Black isn’t worried about white taking this “free” pawn – white would then have trippled, isolated pawns on the c-file and is sure to lose some material back!
The game may continue 6. e3 Nc6 7. Bd3 0-0 8. Ne2 b6 9. e4 Ne8 (this knight often heads to d6, adding to the pressure against the weak c4 pawn!) 10. f4 f5 (the other point of the knight retreat, black wants to stop white from steamrolling them on the kingside). 12. Ng3 g6
Both sides are fighting hard to impose their will on the position! Black created a weakness on c4 in the opening by doubling white’s pawns, and is ready to ramp up the pressure with moves like …Nd6 and …Na5. White has the bishop pair as compensation, and took a lot of space on the center and kingside.
The result is a roughly equal position – but it’s good to know the key ideas to implement in case your opponent goes wrong! It’s easy to imagine an informed player with white playing nonchalant developing moves, for instance, as their c4-pawn is surrounded and destroyed after …Ba6, …Nc6-a5, and …Ne8-d6.
This is a very direct way to play against the Nimzo-Indian Defense. White renews the threat to play e4 and grab the full center!
Black can still play …c5 here (covered in the video above), but against this particular move, it makes a lot of sense to switch back to a “Queen’s-Gambit-style” pawn structure with 4…d5.
Black clamps down harder on the e4-square. If black can prevent white from playing e4, then white will likely regret playing f3 – it takes away the knight’s best square!
One continuation is 5. a3 Bxc3+ 6. bxc3 c5 7. cxd5 exd5 8. e3 0-0
White manages to exchange off one of their doubled pawns in this line, but white is behind in development. Black has scored well in recent grandmaster games from this position.
I’ll put one more line in the spotlight to conclude this article. The 4. Qc2 system has become very popular against the Nimzo-Indian, and it’s easy to see why. Not only does the queen prevent black from doubling white’s pawns, but it also watches over the e4-square!
Black has many ways to play. 4…0-0 is possible, but black can also continue with 4…c5 as we’ve seen in some other continuations. Here, white often plays 5. dxc5
Now the black bishop will likely have to take on c5, rather than on c3, leading to a different sort of position than those we’ve seen so far. Yet another example of the wide variety of positions the Nimzo-Indian Defense can yield!
After 5…0-0 6. a3 Bxc5 7. Nf3 b6 8. Bf4 Bb7 9. Rd1 Nc6 10. e3:
Black can seek play on the kingside after 10..Nh5 11. Bg3 f5
The Nimzo-Indian Defense is a fascinating opening to study because of the multitude of possibilities that each side has. Black can strike at the center with …c5, …d5, or both, depending on the continuation. Sometimes white obtains the bishop pair (after …Bxc3), and sometimes black ends up with the pair of bishops, albeit less frequently!
Studying this opening should improve your positional understanding. I hope this article and video served as a good introduction to the Nimzo-Indian.
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