A Comprehensive Guide to the Nimzo-Indian Defence 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4

IM Siegfried Baumegger     December 8, 2023

1. Introduction

2. Basic Concepts in the Nimzo-Indian Defence

3. A Short Historical Overview

4. Main- and Subvariations of the Nimzo-Indian Defence

5. Sample Game - Anand vs Carlsen

6. Tips and Guidelines for Building a Repertoire in the Nimzo-Indian Defence

7. Conclusion – a Summary of Important Points


1. Introduction

The Nimzo-Indian Defence is regarded as one of the best defences against 1.d4 – almost every World Champion played it at some point in his career. It’s based on sound principles: rapid development and control of the center. The Nimzo is popular with players of various styles. In contrast to the Queen’s Gambit Declined, where the pawn structure is to some extend ‘fixed’ by the move ...d5, Black keeps all kinds of schemes at his disposal. He may strike at the center with ...c5, ...d5, ...e5 (prepared by ...Nc6 or ...d6), or strive to control the central squares by the Fianchetto of his queen’s bishop (possibly followed by ...Ne4 and ...f5) – a rich choice!

A few words about the man this opening is named after: Aaron Nimzowitsch (*1886 in Riga, †1935 in Copenhagen) was one of the strongest players in his time. With other representatives of ‘hypermodern’ style, e.g. Reti, Breyer, Tartakower (author of “Die Hypermoderne Schachpartie”), he stood in opposition to the straightforward and rigid principles of Dr. Tarrasch. Nimzowitsch managed to see beyond the dogmatism that prevailed until the beginning of the 20th century and formulated his new insights in the classic book “Mein System”.


2. Basic Concepts in the Nimzo-Indian Defence

Controlling the Center with Pieces

After 3.Nc3 it’s essential to prevent e2-e4. This can be done by 3...d5 (leading to the Queen’s Gambit Declined) and 3...Bb4. Black takes the important square e4 under control, without committing his pawns for the moment. In many variations Black places his c8-bishop on the a8-h1 diagonal (by ...b6 and ...Bb7), strengthening the central control by his pieces. A typical position illustrating this strategy looks like this:


Black’s control of e4 can be expanded by ...Ne4 followed by ...f7-f5. In such positions, the second player often starts an attack on the kingside, which is supported by the strong b7-bishop.

Fighting for the Center with Pawns

Contrary to strategy just mentioned, Black can include his pawns in the fight for central control.


Black can involve his c-, d-, or e-pawn into the battle and on top of that, combine the various pawn moves with one another:

Playing ...d6, ...e5, and possibly ...c5
Positioning the pawns on the black squares opens the diagonal for the c8-bishop and helps to restrict White’s c1-bishop. This strategy becomes important once the b4-bishop is exchanged for the knight, as it is a typical way of fighting against the two bishops.

Playing ...c5 and ...d5
can lead to various different structures, depending on how the central tension is resolved: isolated queen’s pawn, hanging pawns, symmetrical structure.

Playing ...d5
is mostly combined with ...b6, going for a light-squared strategy (as opposed to ...d6, and ...e5). Black establishes a solid foothold in the center, the advance of the c-pawn will follow later.

Playing ...c5
can again be combined with ...b6, when the b7-bishop’s view is not blocked by a pawn on d5. Alternatively the advance ...c5 is in many cases followed up with ...d6 and ...e5 – see ‘Playing ...d6, ...e5...’.

We will discuss what plans are most effective against which of the many systems White may play in ‘Main- and Subvariations’.

Pressure against Doubled Pawns

After 3...Bb4 Black has the option of spoiling White’s pawn structure by ...Bxc3, giving White doubled c-pawns. In the Sämisch Variation White even provokes this by 4.a3 Bxc3+ 5.bxc3 in order to gain the advantage of the pair of bishops. A typical situation can arise after 5...c5 6.f3 Nc6 7.e4 d6 8.Be3 b6 9.Bd3.


White has taken the center and hopes to create an initiative on the kingside, while Black can create pressure against c4 by ...Na5, ...Ba6, and ...Rc8. Such positions often lead to a sharp game with chances for both sides.

Usining the Dynamic Weakness of Doubled Pawns

For illustration, we’ll take a look at a position arising from the Hübner System: 4.e3 c5 5.Bd3 Nc6 6.Nf3 Bxc3+ 7.bxc3 d6 8.e4 e5.


Black has just played the move …e6-e5 with the following ideas:

  • Placing another pawn on a dark square limits the scope of White’s dark-squared bishop.
  • Black puts pressure on the d4-pawn, leaving White with a strategic dilemma. Taking on e5 or c5 would compromise White’s structure even further (being saddled with an isolated double pawn). Closing the position by d4-d5 gives Black a clear plan of counterplay by …f5, while White is without a useful pawn-break.
  • Black uses the dynamic weakness of the doubled pawns. The c3-pawn is useful in supporting White’s center, but also makes it less mobile.

Fast Development versus Pair of Bishops

White can avoid the doubled pawn by playing for instance 4.Qc2, aiming to take back on c3 with the queen. We have a look at a position arising from the popular line 4.Qc2 0-0 5.a3 Bxc3+ 6.Qxc3 d5 7.Nf3 dxc4 8.Qxc4 b6.


White has captured the pair of bishops, but has lost valuable time in the process. Black is about to gain another tempo by …Ba6, and can continue mobilizing his pieces with …Nbd7, …c7-c5. Black’s lead in development offsets White’s pair of bishops.


3. A Short Historical Overview

Games in ‘Nimzo-style’ appeared before and after Nimzowitsch himself was born. For instance 1.d4 e6 2.c4 f5 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e3 Nf6 5.Bd3 Bxc3+!? (Nimzowitsch also did like this) 6.bxc3 c5 (fixing the doubled pawns) 7.Ne2 d6 8.0-0 e5.


Position after 8...e5, Salwe-Tartakower, Carlsbad 1911

Though the the game didn’t start as a Nimzo-Indian, we can see the same strategic motifs in action: Black saddles White with doubled pawns, fixes them, and places his own pawns on black squares.

We can find a much earlier example with colours reversed. 1.f4 d5 2.Nf3 c5 3.e3 Nc6 4.Bb5 a6?! 5.Bxc6 bxc6 6.0-0 e6 7.c4 Nh6 8.Qe2 Bd6 9.Nc3 Qe7 10.b3 f6 11.d3 0-0 12.e4.


Position after 12.e4, Staunton-NN, correspondence game 1844

Staunton used positional elements, that we are already familiar with, to achieve a great position. Black now made things even worse by playing 12...dxe4? 13.dxe4 e5?!, when after 14.f5, White launched a decisive attack on the kingside.

Having been neglected in the times of Steinitz and Tarrasch, and only played sporadically before World War I, the popularity of 3...Bb4 got a boost in the beginning of the 1920s, when a number of strong masters started playing it on a regular basis: Bogoljubow, Spielmann, Sämisch, and exactly Nimzowitsch. Deriving from his ideas on prophylaxis and blockading strategy, the latter demonstrated several significant ideas in his games. Nimzowitsch understood well how to exploit pawn weaknesses and to emphasize the inefficiency of the opponent’s bishop pair in closed positions. Check out Matisons-Nimzowitsch, Carlsbad 1929, and especially Johner-Nimzowitsch, Dresden 1926, to start your career in the Nimzo-Indian Defence!   


4. Main- and Subvariations of the Nimzo-Indian Defence

There is a lot of ground to cover in the Nimzo. White has roughly nine lines (more, when we count experimental ones) available, while Black can decide between at least two setups against them. We will examine the most instructive and principled possibilities. Our goal is to get a basic understanding of the characteristics of each main system, i.e. the type of positions and pawn structures it leads to.

Rubinstein Variation 4.e3

The system named after one of the greatest players never to become world champion is one of the most durable in the Nimzo-Indian. White makes a simple developing move, not only enabling swift mobilization by Bd3, Nf3, and 0-0, but also introducing Nge2 in order to take back on c3 with the knight.

Play branches in three main directions: 4…b6, 4…c5, and 4…0-0. What about the immediate 4…d5? This is possible, but gives White extra options, for instance 5.a3 Bxc3+ 6.bxc3 leads to an improved version of the Sämisch from White’s perspective (Black has committed himself to ...d5).

4…b6 5.Nge2 Ba6 was a favorite line of World Champion Bobby Fischer. Black immediately starts counterplay against c4, which can be strengthened by …d5 (after castling or …Bxc3, don’t lose your bishop to Qa4+!). 6.a3 Be7 (or 6…Bxc3 7.Nxc3 d5) 7.Nf4 d5 8.cxd5 Bxf1 9.Kxf1 (9.dxe6!?) 9…exd5 10.g4!?.


Position after 10.g4!, Botvinnik-Smyslov, World Championship 1954

After 10.g4 c6 11.g5 Nfd7?! (better is 11…Ne4, with a playable position) 12.h4 Bd6? 13.e4!, Botvinnik got a strong initiative and won in great style. Alternative setups for Black after 5.Nge2 are 5…c5 6.a3 Ba5!? or playing in the style of the Dutch Defence 5…Ne4, followed by …f7-f5. White may also play simply 5.Bd3, when we probably will transpose to lines beginning with 4…c5 or 4…0-0.

After 4…c5, again 5.Nge2 is arguably the most ambitious option for White. If 5.Bd3 the most popular line is the solid Hübner Variation 5…Nc6 6.Nf3 Bxc3+ 7.bxc3 d6 followed by 8…e5 (see ‘Basic Concepts’).

Following 5.Nge2 there is again a choice - 5…cxd4 6.exd4 0-0 7.a3 Be7 8.d5, with some space advantage for White. 6…d5 7.a3 Be7 8.Nf4 0-0 9.cxd5 Nxd5 10.Ncxd5 exd5 11.Bd3 Nc6 12.0-0, can be quite ‘dull’, owing to the symmetrical structure. After 12…Re8 13.Be3 Bd6 Black shouldn’t have to many problems to equalize. And a line that has recently gained popularity: 5…d5 6.a3 Ba5!? 7.dxc5 dxc4.


This seems to be the simplest answer for Black to 5.Nge2. White can’t pose too many problems. His best bet seems avoiding the exchange of queens with 8.Bd2, when after 8…0-0 9.Ng3 b6!? 10.Bxc4 bxc5, White can claim the slightly better pawn structure, while Black can also be satisfied as his position is active enough to compensate for this minor inconvenience.

4…0-0 has amassed the largest body of theory. 5.Nge2 is here the second most popular line, leading frequently to the Carlsbad structure. 5…d5 (5…Re8!?) 6.a3 Be7 7.cxd5 exd5. Black can be quite satisfied here because compared to the Exchange Variation of the QGD, White’s bishop is on c1 instead of g5, and the e2-knight slows down White’s development.

The main line (with many possible deviations on the way) runs 5.Bd3 d5 6.Nf3 c5 7.0-0 dxc4 8.Bxc4, and now the so called Karpov Variation is seen in most of the games: 8…cxd4 9.exd4 b6.


Black reaches a comparatively good version of an IQP position. By not having the knight on c6, the pin Bg5 can be neutralized by …Nbd7, and the c-file is open for counterplay. Since players are facing a hard time as White to pose new problems in this well analyzed territory, attention has shifted to formerly less popular moves, such as6.a3 and6.cxd5 – a line advocated by GM Michael Roiz in his course Expert Repertoire Against the Nimzo-Indian Defence - Part 1 and Part 2.

Classical Variation 4.Qc2

As opposed to the Sämisch Variation, here White avoids the doubled pawns. His intentions are to seize the pair of bishops without spoiling the pawn structure and to advance in the center with e2-e4. The main moves are the non-committal 4…0-0, the principled 4…d5, and the Hegdehog style 4…c5. Played less often, though still viable: 4…Nc6, 4…d6 (in both cases going for a black-squared strategy based on …e5), and the risky, but tricky 4…b6 (see "Tips and Guidelines").

After 4…0-0 5.e4 is the most ambitious line, forcing Black to show some good preparation. 5.a3 Bxc3 6.Qxc3 allows the solid moves 6…b6, or 6…d5, and the playable gambit 6…b5!? 7.cxb5 c6. A sample line after 5.e4: 5…d5 (immediately challenging White in the center) 6.e5 Ne4 7.Bd3 c5 8.Nf3 cxd4 9.Nxd4 Nd7 10.Bf4.


Lively play follows after 10…Qh4!? 11.g3 Qh5 12.0-0 g5!?, weakening the kingside for the sake of concrete counterplay, with some complications to follow. 5.e4 is a line in which both sides need good preparation!

4…d5 doesn’t give White the option to play e4. After 5.a3 Bxc3+ 6.Qxc3 0-0 (6…b6!?) is a reliable line. After 7.Nf3 dxc4 8.Qxc4 b6, Black’s lead in development compensates for White’s pair of bishops – we have seen this position already in ‘Basic Concepts’. The Carlsbad structure arises after 5.cxd5 exd5 (still viable is Romanishin’s idea 5…Qxd5!? 6.Nf3 Qf5!?). Compared to the Queen’s Gambit Declined, Black’s bishop is on b4 rather than e7, which gives the Black much more possibilities for active counterplay. E.g. 6.Bg5 h6 7.Bh4 c5 (7…Nc6!? is a popular alternative) 8.dxc5 g5 9.Bg3 Ne4 10.e3 Qa5.


We have a sharp clash between static and dynamic advantages. Black plays as active as possible to utilize his advantage in development, while White hopes to weather the storm, trusting that his assets (pair of bishops, more compact pawn structure) will tell in the long run.

4…c5 5.dxc5 0-0 can lead to Hedghog-like structures after 6.a3 Bxc5 7.Nf3 b6. Or to a long theoretical variation following 6.Nf3 Na6 7.g3 (the best line) 7…Nxc5 8.Bg2 Nce4 9.0-0 Nxc3 (9…Bxc3!?) 10.bxc3 Be7.


There have been played almost 700 games starting from this position. White scores quite well, as he has some pressure and space advantage as compensation for the isolated doubled pawns. 11.e4 d6 12.e5 dxe5 13.Nxe5 Qc7 14.Qe2 Nd7 15.Bf4 Nxe5 16.Bxe5 Bd6. Theory continues from here until the endgame. Black is thought to equalize with best play, though practical results are quite good for White (appx. 60%). In my opinion it makes sense to study the alternative 9…Bxc3!?, which leads to less forcing play and ample counterchances for Black. His superior pawn structure and healthy development makes up for White’s pair of bishops.

GM Davorin Kuljasevic offers a Repertoire for White based on 4.Qc2 in his Nimzo-Indian - Complete Repertoire for White.

Gheorghiu Variation 4.f3

There seems to be no consensus about how to call this line. Viktor Moskalenko dubs it somewhat paradoxically ‘Kmoch Variation’ in his excellent book “An Attacking Repertoire for White with 1.d4”, while conceding that the Austrian master played 4.a3, but never actually 4.f3 in his career. I went with Gheorghiu Variation (Svetozar Gligoric names it like this in his book “Play the Nimzo-Indian Defence”). The Romanian Grandmaster started playing it with success in the 1960s (17 games according to MegaBase) against strong opposition, e.g. Spassky, Keres, and Fischer – whom he beat!

4.f3 is closely related to the Sämisch, and there are many transpositions possible. We will examine lines of independent significance. Let’s look at the second most popular move 4...c5, which is answered mostly with 5.d5 leading to a Benoni structure. White is about to erect a strong pawn center with e2-e4. Black can attack it immediately in the style of the Blumenfeld Gambit by 5...b5!?. This pawn push can be postponed for one or two moves, but is in any case a vital resource to attack White’s center.


Now White shouldn’t be greedy, as 6.dxe6? fxe6 7.cxb5 d5 is already quite bad for him. Black’s central pawns are strong, while f3 only harms White’s position. After the principled 6.e4! a tense position arises. White will try to consolidate his center and finish his development, while Black will try to put pressure on it.

4...d5 is the most frequently played move. 5.a3. White goes for a3 only Black has committed himself to d5, thus avoiding the blocked positions from the Sämisch. 5...Bxc3+ 6.bxc3 c5 7.exd5 Nxd5 (for 7...exd5 see our sample game Anand-Carlsen, World Championship, Chennai 2013) 8.dxc5.


A tabia of the 4.f3 d5 line

At first glance, White’s position looks quite strange with the isolated doubled pawns and no pieces developed. Things are not that simple however, as he has an extra pawn and e2-e4 is coming with tempo. White will happily give the c3-pawn away (it merely blocks the long diagonal) – the one on c5 is much more important! Black will have to lose some time to win back his pawn, which allows White to bring his pieces into the game. Practice has shown that this unbalanced position carries a lot of venom. To illustrate the main direction the game can take from here, see the game commentary to Anand-Carlsen below.

In case you are intrigued to try these sharp and demanding positions from White’s side, GM Ivan Cheparinov has assembled a high-level repertoire in his course 4.f3 Against the Nimzo-Indian Defence.

Sämisch Variation 4.a3

White doesn’t take measures against the doubling of pawns, but actually encourages this spending a tempo! What does White get in return? He secures the pair of bishops and is in many variations able to build a strong center after f3 followed by e4. Though the Sämisch does not have the best of theoretical reputations, it has recently been tried quite often in faster time controls with GM Saleh Salem as a main advocate. One of the most important continuations runs 4.a3 Bxc3+ 5.bxc3 c5 (the most popular move) 6.f3 Nc6 7.e4 d6.


A typical Sämisch position

White has built a strong center and hopes to start an attack on the kingside, whereas Black is going to put pressure on the weak pawn on c4. This is the starting point of several complicated lines, for example 8.d5 Na5 9.Bd3 b6 10.Ne2 Ba6 11.0-0 Nd7 (preparing to take on c4 and avoiding Bg5) 12.f4 0-0 (12…Bxc4?! 13.Bxc4 Nxc4 14.f5! with initiative) 13.Ra2!?. With the idea of transferring the rook to the kingside. As is often the case in the Sämisch, White just sacrifices the c4-pawn and concentrates on his own play. 13.Qa4? fails to 13…exd5 14.exd5 Nf6 15.Ng3 Qe8!, when c4 will fall anyway, but under much worse circumstances. 13…Bxc4 14.Bxc4 Nxc4 15.dxe6 fxe6 16.f5.


Things have heated up - the line continues 16…Qe8! 17.Nf4 exf5 18.Nd5 and now 18…Nf6! is best according to Stockfish (it’s logical to challenge the strong knight), with a balanced position. When preparing for the Sämisch the engine evaluation is often quite favorable for Black (equal or even a slight disadvantage for White). It’s important to not get fooled into a false sense of security by this. In sharp lines the value of each move can be very high. While a position might be fine for Black objectively, it can be quite challenging to find the right defence over the board!

If you want to test Black’s preparation or just want to find out what White may up his sleeve, check out GM Abijheet Gupta’s course Saemisch Variation Against the Nimzo-Indian Defence.

Flexible Variation 4.Nf3

This frequently leads by transposition to other lines: 4…c5 5.g3 leads to the Fianchetto Variation, 5.e3 to the Rubinstein. 4…d5 is the Ragozin Defence, 4…b6 a line of the Queen’s Indian.

Black can also stay flexible with 4…0-0, when 5.Bg5 has some independent significance, e.g. 5…c5 6.e3 cxd4 7.exd4 d5 8.Rc1 (White doesn’t want to lose a tempo moving the f1-bishop) 8…Be7!? (breaking the pin and waiting for the f1-bishop to move) 9.a3.


Now 9…b6 seems best, when at some point White must play 10.Bd3 dxc4 11.Bxc4 Bb7, with a roughly equal IQP position.

Fianchetto Variation 4.g3

White "ignores" 3…Bb4 and develops in Catalan style - 4…d5 leads in fact to the Catalan. This is a reliable answer for Black, as with a knight on c3, taking the pawn on c4 gains in strength (after …0-0 of course). Rather sharp positions can result from 4…c5 5.Nf3 cxd4 6.Nxd4 (this position can arise from the English Opening) 6…Ne4!? (in the main line 6…0-0 7.Bg2 d5 8.cxd5 Nxd5 9.Qb3, White’s results are quite good) 7.Qc2 Qa5 8.Bg2! Nxc3 9.0-0!.


Black based his counterplay on pin of the c3-knight, and White simply ignores everything! Black is a full piece up, but the knight cannot escape. Don’t stumble into the line 9…Na4? 10.a3 Be7 11.b4 Qe5 12.Nb5! Qxa1 13.Nc7+ Kd8 14.Qxa4, when White is winning. The c7-knight is untouchable due to the discovered check. Better is 9…Nc6 10.bxc3 Bxc3 11.Nb3 Nd4!? 12.Nxd4 Bxd4 13.Rb1, when White has good compensation for the sacrificed pawn, but hardly more.

For those, who don’t fancy such forcing lines, there’s a simple solution. 4…0-0 5.Bg2 Bxc3+!? (saddling White with doubled pawns) 6.Bxc3 d6 7.Nf3 Nc6 8.0-0 e5, with a sound and playable position, that offers some counter chances due to Black’s superior pawn structure.

If you want to delve into these rarely ventured paths as White, GM Jose Gonzalez has published the course Romanishin Variation Against the Nimzo-Indian Defence.

Leningrad Variation 4.Bg5

This variation has seen better days in terms of popularity. Once being a favorite weapon of World Champion Boris Spassky, it is seldom seen today. In the former main lines, quite intriguing positional struggles can ensue. However, practice and analysis shows that Black is more than fine, e.g. 4…h6 5.Bh4 c5 6.d5 d6 7.e3 Bxc3+ 8.Bxc3 e5 9.f3 g5 10.Bg3.


Now follows the nice maneuver 10…Ke8-d7-c7. The king will be very secure on c7, afterwards Black can go on with his play on the kingside – his position is excellent.

Variation 4.Bd2

This in principle very logical move isn’t even mentioned in older publications on the Nimzo-Indian Defence! The line 4.Bd2 c5 5.a3 Bxc3 6.Bxc3 Ne4, represents quite a good answer, so White often goes for the move order 4.e3 0-0 5.Bd2. I quite like the line 5…b6 (5…d5 is also fine of course) 6.Nf3 Bb7 7.Bd3 c5 8.a3 Bxc3 9.Bxc3 cxd4 10.exd4 d5 11.b3.


11…a5!?, with the idea to sacrifice a pawn: 12.0-0 a4 13.Bb4 Re8 14.bxa4 dxc4 15.Bxc4 Nc6. Black has full compensation due to his better pawn structure.

Odds and Ends

In the early days of the Nimzo-Indian Defence the move 4.Qb3 move was considered to be one of the strongest lines, close to a refutation. 4…c5 is a good answer, when after 5.dxc5 Nc6 6.Nf3 Ne4 7.Bd2 Nxd2 8.Nxd2 Bxc5, Black is perfectly fine.

Another queen move – 4.Qd3 – has been played, though there are really no upsides to it. Compared to 4.Qc2, the queen is just more exposed on d3. 4…c5 is again good.

Given the popularity of the London System one might think about 4.Bf4. There are many options, but let’s try 4…0-0 5.Nf3 d5 6.e3 c5. Black has a sound and active position, while it’s not clear what the bishop is doing on f4.


5. Sample Game - Anand vs Carlsen

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6. Tips and Guidelines for Building a Repertoire in the NID

Building a Repertoire

When playing the Nimzo-Indian, there are a great many lines to choose from. While this versatility is attractive, it presents us with the problem of having to make a choice. What setups work best for what type of player?

There’s one universal mode of development available which works against the bulk of White’s systems: develop the bishop to b4, play ...d6, and ...e5 (also a typical setup in the Bogo-Indian Defence) – putting the pawns on dark squares. (see ‘Basic Concepts’). Playing in this fashion, a good understanding of strategic themes is enough for a start, to safely navigate through the opening phase. So, if you are the type of player who is satisfied with a solid middlegame position, without having to study lots of theory – there’s your choice!

GM Grigor Grigorov builds his Practical Nimzo-Indian Repertoire mainly around systems with 4...c5, giving economic and dependable lines. When playing ...c5 the type of the position that will arise is mainly dependent on the variation White plays on the 4th move: e.g. a Hedgehog type of position against 4.Qc2, different closed structures against 4.e3, and the Benoni structure against 4.f3. While an all-round understanding is always helpful, one definitely needs to know some theory against White’s main options.

Playing ...b6 is possible against the 4.e3, 4.a3 Bxc3 5.bxc3, 4.Bd2, 4.Nf3 and 4.Qc2. Though in the latter case more risk is involved - Black must be acquainted with 4.Qc2 b6 5.e4!. GM Mikhail Marin makes a case for this in his two-part course Positional Nimzo-Indian Repertoire - Part 1 and Part 2. His thoroughly analyzed suggestions are a little off mainstream theory (aka ‘the short sighted lady’…) and trying them might give you a good chance to catch your opponent off guard.

Playing in classical style with ...d5 is arguably the most principled way to go. Since there’s an immediate tension in the center, the play is more concrete. If Black combines ...d5 with ...c5 a plethora of different structures might occur, depending on how the tension in the center is resolved. I guess this is the way to go for the ambitious player who doesn’t shy away from long theoretical lines. Have a look at GM Davorin Kuljasevi’s Nimzo-Indian Defence - Complete Repertoire for Black and the recent publication of GM Kalyan Arjun Nimzo-Indian Defence - Top Level Repertoire for Black.

Taking a Look from White’s Perspective

When the Nimzo-Indian Defence has such a good theoretical reputation, why allow it in the first place? Can’t we just play 3.Nf3 or 3.g3? By preferring 3.Nc3, White has more aggressive options if Black doesn’t go for 3...Bb4. E.g. when he goes for the Modern Benoni, White can play the Taimanov System: 3...c5 4.d5 exd5 5.cxd5 d6 6.e4 g6 7.f4 Bg7 8.Bb5+ (quite a dangerous line). When he goes for the Queens Gambit Declined, many d4-players like to go for the ever popular Exchange Variation 3...d5 4.cxd5 (see Queen's Gambit Declined for more information on this).

Facing the Nimzo is challenging, but on the other hand avoids lots of lines Black can play after 3.Nf3 or 3.g3: Bogo-Indian Defence, Queen’s Indian Defence, Blumenfeld Gambit, Queen’ Gambit Declined, and Modern Benoni – in fact many Benoni aficionados go for their favourite defence only after White has committed himself to Nf3 or g3.


7. Conclusion – a Summary of Important Points

When adding the Nimzo-Indian Defence to your repertoire, begin your studies by going through instructive model games to get acquainted with the basics. This gets you in a good position for learning the concrete theory. Checking out the course Understand the Nimzo-Indian Defence could be a good starting point!

As this opening can be interpreted in various ways, it’s important to know your own strong and weak points.

Questions to carify: “Am I a more tactical or positional player?”, or “Do I like studying theory or rather play along general principles?” Due to the versatility of the Nimzo you can build a repertoire according to your preferences.

It’s probably not a typical beginners opening, as the arising positions are quite demanding and often non-standard. Once you have mastered a defence like the Queen’s Gambit Declined or Queen’s Gambit Accepted and look to take your game to the next level, the Nimzo-Indian Defence is a good choice.

Starting with the move order 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 gives you all kinds of options, when White doesn’t play 3.Nc3. For instance: Queen’s Indian Defence 3.Nf3 b6, the Bogo-Indian Defence 3...Bb4+, 3...c5 (going for the Modern Benoni or Blumenfeld Gambit), and the Queen’s Gambit Declined with 3...d5. After 3.g3, again 3...c5 is possible, 3...Bb4+, or just 3...d5, leading to the Catalan.


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