Practical Repertoire against the Nimzo-Indian Defence
The Nimzo-Indian Defence has always been one of Black's most challenging weapons against 1.d4. How should we meet this opening? The main lines require enormous theoretical knowledge (you should invest a lot of time to study them) while there is no advantage. The modern computers demonstrated more than one way to equalize in all the main systems. Therefore, a more practical approach would be to focus on creating practical problems. In order to achieve it, it is enough to obtain a non-trivial position that you know better than your opponent.
In the current database, GM Sundar Shyam advocates exactly this approach. His repertoire is based on the line 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e3 0-0 5.Bd2!? (Black's alternatives on move 4 are also dealt with).
In the introduction, the author justifies his choice in the following way:
This move caught my attention when a fellow GM and good friend of mine, Sandipan Chanda, kept playing it with exceptional results. I always felt that it is difficult to have a fixed and narrow repertoire these days since technology has improved a lot and it is easier to navigate through opponents' games and prepare something new just a few hours before the game. I was curious about this fact and wondering how he manages to score well in this line, so I started studying his games, though I rarely play 1.d4 these days. Then I realised that this line is mainly about middlegame understanding. I even suggested some of my students employ it before deciding to write a database on this subject.
The database is divided into three sections - Model Games, Theory, Test Positions. You will find 5 model games, 10 theoretical chapters and 12 interactive test positions.
In this section, the author examines 5 model games which cover the most important pawn structures in the variation. Before proceeding with the opening theory, make sure to check and understand these games. As the author pointed out in the beginning, the understanding of the arising middlegame positions will make the difference between you and your opponent.
The theoretical part consists of 10 chapters which provide you with a complete repertoire after 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e3. Let's take a detailed look at each one of the chapters.
Chapter 1 - 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e3 - Rare Moves
This chapter deals with Black's rare alternatives on move 4. GM Shyam examines the following options - 4...Bxc3?!, 4...d6, 4...Nc6, 4...b6. These moves are not challenging from a theoretical point of view. Nevertheless, you should be prepared since the arising typical Nimzo-Indian positions are rich in positional subtleties. In his annotations, the author provides in-depth explanations of how you should handle these positions.
Chapter 2 - 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e3 c5
This is Black's most popular alternative to the main line with 4...0-0. Black tries to immediately create counterplay in the centre. GM Shyam suggests the solid 5.Nge2, planning to follow with a2-a3. In this way, White obtains the bishop pair without compromising the pawn structure. At this point, the author deals with several continuations: 5...0-0, 5...b6, 5...cxd4, and 5...d5. Since the pawn structure is very flexible, various types of positions could arise. When possible, Shyam tries to come up with out-of-the-box solutions. For example, after 5...b6 6.a3 Ba5 7.Rb1 Na6, he suggests 8.f3 0-0 9.Kf2!?
The author gives the following justification for this strange concept:
Black's pieces are on the queenside and White takes this as an opportunity to launch an attack on the kingside. Such play is common these days of the AI (Alpha Zero) revolution. Due to engines like Fat Fritz and Leela Zero, such positions have become easier to analyse.
Chapter 3 - 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e3 0-0 5.Bd2 d5 - 8.Rc1 a6 & Bd6
This chapter marks the beginning of the main subject of the current database - the plan with Bd2. The author starts with Black's most challenging reaction to this system. The main position of the chapter arises after 4...0-0 5.Bd2 d5 6.Nf3 b6 7.cxd5 exd5 8.Rc1 a6 9.Bd3 Bb7 10.0-0
Understanding this position is crucial for the knowledge of the variation. Here is what Shyam has to say about the position:
White's key ideas are as follows:
1. Play Ne5 followed by f2-f4 and Qf3. Control of the e4-square is important. White later has the option to play Qh3.
2. After playing f2-f4, White must always look for an opportunity to improve his bad bishop with Be1-h4.
3. Intermediate moves like Bf5 should always be considered whenever White's knight is on e5 4. The knight on c3 can sometimes join the kingside attack by the route Nc3-e2-g3-f5/h5 or join the queenside attack by Nc3-a4 5. Sometimes it will be necessary to play a silent move like Rcd1, not only to defend the d4-pawn but also to keep an eye on the knight on d7-knight and the queen on d8.
Even though precise play would allow Black to maintain the balance, GM Shyam demonstrates how White can create many practical problems for his opponent. The positions are fresh and there are is a room for further improvements.
Chapter 4 - 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e3 0-0 5.Bd2 d5 - 8.Rc1 Be7
By playing 8...Be7, Black goes for a more solid approach. By overprotecting the f6-knight, Black wants to discourage White from the manoeuvre Ne5-g4. In this case, however, White would have better central control. The main position of the database arises after 9.Bd3 Bb7 10.0-0 c5 (10...Nbd7 is also dealt with) 11.Ne5 Nc6
At this point, Shyam suggests the subtle 12.Be1, planning to continue with f2-f4 followed by Bh4. One of the important points behind 12.Be1 is that 12...cxd4 can be answered with 13.Nxc6 Bxc6 14.Ne2! Bb7 15.Nxd4 with a comfortable IQP position.
In response to 12.Be1, Black has several options. According to the analysis of GM Shyam, however, none of them manages to provide complete equality.
Chapter 5 - 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e3 0-0 5.Bd2 d5 - 8.Rc1 Other setups
This chapter deals with Black's alternative setups in this position. The author deals with various options on move 8 - 8...c6, 8...c5, 8...Bb7, 8...Bg4, 8...a6, and 8...Re8. These moves have drawbacks that you should know how to use. GM Shyam provides detailed coverage of all the alternative plans for Black.
Chapter 6 - 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e3 0-0 5.Bd2 d5 - 8.Bd3
This chapter provides you with an alternative to the main move 8.Rc1. In modern chess, one should always have back-up options. In this way, besides being unpredictable, we can alternate our choice depending on the style of our opponent. The move 8.Bd3 is very flexible. White refrains from Rc1 in favour of Qc2 or Qb1, depending on Black's play. Instead, the rook may go to d1. For example, in the main line, 8...Bb7 9.0-0 Bd6, White can play 10.Qb1!?
This was the main point of not committing to Rc1. White wants to expand quickly on the queenside by playing b2-b4, a2-a4 etc.
Chapter 7 - 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e3 0-0 5.Bd2 d5 6.Nf3 c5
This system is solid but a bit passive. Usually, after massive exchanges, White obtains a slightly more pleasant positions. The main line goes 7.a3 Bxc3 8.Bxc3 Ne4 9.Rc1 Nxc3 10.Rxc3 cxd4 11.Nxd4
Though objectively the position is equal, practically White can pose as many problems as he wants during the game. It is clear that Black is fighting for a draw, as White is pushing in most endings that can arise. In his analysis, GM Shyam demonstrates that holding the balance is not a trivial task for Black.
Chapter 8 - 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e3 0-0 5.Bd2 c5
Black starts fighting for the centre without clarifying the positions of his d7-pawn. Very often, he follows with ...d7-d6 at some point. The main position arises after 6.a3 Bxc3 7.Bxc3 Ne4 (7...cxd4 is also dealt with).
At this point, Shyam suggests the natural 8.Ne2 when Black has three main options - 8...Qh4, 8...b6, and 8...d6.
One of the main points behind 8.Ne2 is that 8...d6 is well met by 9.dxc5 dxc5 10.Qc2 planning to castle long in the future.
Chapter 9 - 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e3 0-0 5.Bd2 d6/Re8
This chapter deals with two rare options on move 5 - 5...Re8 and 5...d6. The latter in the more challenging one. Black just wants to take White from the theoretical zone and play over-the-board chess. Here we should not play automatic moves but think logically and meet the positional requirements. In his comments to the current chapter, Shyam shows how to arrange the pieces against Black's basic setups - ...c7-c5 or ...e6-e5. If White plays precisely, he gets advantage against these systems.
Chapter 10 - 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e3 0-0 5.Bd2 b6
This is a very flexible system. Black will decide on the central pawn structure only after developing his light-squared bishop. After the natural 6.Bd3, Black has the three main options - 7...d6, 7...Bxc3, and 7...c5. Each one of these moves leads to a different type of position. In his comments to Chapter 10, Shyam explains how White should handle the arising structures.
At the end of the database, you will find 12 interactive test positions. Below, you can try to solve 5 of them.