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Chess Openings: A Simple and Complete Repertoire for White Against the Nimzovich Defense (1.e4 Nc6)

Updated on May 13, 2018

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Black's Five Playable Options in Response to 2.d4 in the Nimzovich Defense

This diagram shows black's five most popular responses to 2.d4 in the Nimzovich Defense. In order of popularity, they are, 2...d5, 2...e5, 2...d6, 2...e6, and 2...Nf6.
This diagram shows black's five most popular responses to 2.d4 in the Nimzovich Defense. In order of popularity, they are, 2...d5, 2...e5, 2...d6, 2...e6, and 2...Nf6. | Source

The Nimzovich Defense

The Nimzovich (Nimzowitsch) Defense, not to be confused with the Nimzo-Indian Defense (1.d4 Nf6, 2.c4 e6, 3.Nc3 Bb4), is characterized by the moves 1.e4 Nc6. Despite its unusual appearance and lack of popularity, this opening is surprisingly sound and not without merit and a few drops of poison. Many of my prior Hub posts have discussed solutions that I have found to the opening problems that I have faced while advancing as a chess player. The Nimzovich Defense is yet another opening that I used to struggle with, primarily because I was unfamiliar with the theory. In studying the opening, I believe that I have found a solid and easy-to-remember repertoire to combat this opening while maintaining at least a slight advantage for white; the larger advantages of this repertoire are that you will be relaxed when you see this opening, that many of the lines will likely be somewhat foreign to your opponent who is likely more experienced in the main lines, and that finding good moves and continuations from the arising positions will likely be easier for you than for your opponent.

Again, this opening is not to be underestimated. It has been seen at the grandmaster level on a number of occasions, primarily in the past when GM Tony Miles championed the defense. Admittedly, Tony Miles was known for his peculiar opening selections in general, and he is a good player to research if you are looking for an unusual and attacking opening repertoire.

My Experience Against This Defense

When I began studying chess and had decided to play 1.e4 as my primary opening choice as white, it wasn't long before I came across the Nimzovich Defense. Though I can't recall any games in it from that time, I do remember experimenting with various second move options. I tried 2.d4, which seems like a natural choice and which will be the move that I recommend in this blog, but I was unsure how to properly follow up, especially against 2...d5 and 2...e5 -- black's two most popular choices. Due to my lack of success, I decided to start playing 2.Nf3, hoping to transpose into a Double King's Pawn Opening. However, black isn't forced to play 2...e5 against 2.Nf3, and though it may objectively be black's best option, if black doesn't play in this fashion, there is a lot if theory to remember based on the number of second move choices black does have. Speaking of transpositions, the flexibility of black's first move here means that this opening tends to be very transpositional, some of which you will see the paragraphs below; however, if white plays precisely and attempts to punish black for their first move choice, often the transpositions are less favorable continuations of the various, more popular openings they stem from.

In studying what to do against this defense, I came across IM Andrew Martin's suggestion (seen here). I agree with Andrew Martin's suggestion, 3.Nc3, in the line 1.e4 Nc6, 2.d4 d5, 3.Nc3, but I disagree with him slightly in how to approach black's 2...e5 option. Also, I will cover a bit of how to counter black's other second move options apart from the two aforementioned, primary ones. The other options black has tend not to be very good, which is why there are significantly less popular in this already uncommon opening. Finally, the two primary black second move options will be covered in some depth; essentially, I will tell you everything that I know and use in my own games, and I will follow this up with example games and lines in the possible variations.

A Brief Overview

White's second move 2.d4 against the Nimzovich Defense in the line 1.e4 Nc6, 2.d4 is definitely the most aggressive and principled approach. As I previously mentioned, the move 2.Nf3 permits black to play 2...e5, which is one of the most common and sound opening choices for black, so this cannot be the best attempt at punishing black for their unusual opening choice. Likewise, other white second move options, such as 2...Nc3, also allow favorable transpositions for black. Therefore, I am recommending 2.d4 against this opening.

Black's decent second move options against 2.d4 are few. Apart from 2...d5 and 2...e5, there are, in order of popularity, 2...d6 and 2...e6. The move 2...Nf6 is occasionally seen, but it almost falls under the category of a blunder. I will discuss all of these options in the sections below.

Black's Five Reasonable Third Move Options Following 2...d5, 3.Nc3

This diagram shows black's five third move options following 3.Nc3. In order of popularity, they are, 3...dxe4, 3...Nf6, 3...e6, 3...e5, and 3...a6.
This diagram shows black's five third move options following 3.Nc3. In order of popularity, they are, 3...dxe4, 3...Nf6, 3...e6, 3...e5, and 3...a6. | Source

Playing Against 2...d5 in the Nimzovich Defense Using 3.Nc3

The move 2...d5 is the most popular response to 2.d4 in the Nimzovich Defense. Here, I recommend playing the main line, which is 3.Nc3. According to databases, the most popular continuation for black here is to play 3...e6, though this is due to the shortcomings of chess databases and their inability to distinguish lines that transpose; that is to say, the move 3...e6 transposes into a line that could arise from the French Defense, which is a very popular opening, and the chess databases simply combine all games that have reached that position regardless of move order. In my experience, and I believe you will find the same to be true in your own games in this line, the move 3...dxe4 is the most popular continuation. Other less popular continuations include 3...Nf6 and the aforementioned 3...e6, while the even rarer 3...e5 and 3...a6 are also viable.

3...dxe4:

As I mentioned, I believe that this is actually the most popular third move in this 2...d5, 3.Nc3 line, especially in my own games at the club-level. It also happens to be the move that computer engines think is best. Interestingly, similar to the Modern (Steinitz) Attack in Petrov's Defense, after the exchange in the center, the idea is for white to push past (in our case, 4.d5) and gain a tempo on the knight, only later picking up the pawn. This idea of temporarily sacrificing a pawn in order to push past and gain a tempo is common to many openings, it being seen in many variations of the Ruy Lopez, to name one.

Following 3...dxe4, 4.d5, black has three reasonable choices, two of which are relatively popular. They are, in order of popularity, 4...Ne5 and 4...Nb8; the move 4...Nb4 is the third and least popular choice, and it is likely this case because the knight loses a lot of time after 5.a3 Na6, where white has many ways to play for a significant advantage; I recommend 6.f3 there for white as an aggressive try. Note that 4...Na5 loses a piece after 5.b4.

4.d5:
4...Ne5:
Just below this paragraph is the PGN of one instructive game and the title of another in the most popular continuation of this line, 2...d5, 3.Nc3 dxe4, 4.d5 Ne5; this line can be very forcing, with the final tabiya at move ten (after 5.Qd4 Ng6, 6.Qxe4 Nf6, 7.Qa4+ Bd7, 8.Bb5 a6, 9.Bxd7+ Qxd7, 10.Qxd7+) with either 10...Nxd7 or 10...Kxd7:

10...Nxd7: {Yankovsky v. Richards, Ontario Memorial Day Classic (2013): 1.e4 Nc6, 2.d4 d5, 3.Nc3 dxe4, 4.d5 Ne5, 5.Qd4 Ng6, 6.Qxe4 Nf6, 7.Qa4+ Bd7, 8.Bb5 a6, 9.Bxd7+ Qxd7, 10.Qxd7+ Nxd7, 11.Nf3 h6, 12.Be3 O-O-O, 13.O-O-O Nge5, 14.Nxe5 Nxe5, 15.Rhe1 Nc4, 16.Bd4 Rg8, 17.Rd3 g5, 18.g4 Rd7, 19.b3 Nd6, 20.Na4 Ne8, 21.c4 Ng7, 22.Nc5 Rd8, 23.Kc2 f6, 24.Ne6 Nxe6, 25.dxe6 h5, 26.h3 hxg4, 27.hxg4 Rh8, 28.Bc5 Rxd3, 29.Kxd3 b6, 30.Be3 Rh4, 31.Rg1 Rh3, 32.Ke4 a5, 33.Kf5 Rh6, 34.Rd1 Bg7, 35.c5 1-0}; 10...Kxd7: U. Andersson v. van Geet, Wijk aan Zee (1970)

4...Nb8, 5.Nxe4:
The move 5.Bc4 is also an interesting continuation, as is 5.Bf4 with the potential idea of permanently sacrificing the pawn and developing quickly after an eventual f3 and Nxf3. However, I find 5.Nxe4 to be the best mix of being straightforward yet maintaining winning chances. Following 5.Nxe4, there are four moves for black in databases: 5...e6, 5...Nf6, 5...e5, and 5...c6.

If black attacks the d5-pawn with 5...e6 or 5...c6, white should protect the pawn with 6.Bc4. White can always recapture with the queen after 6...exd5 or 6...cxd5, but in the line 5...e6, 6. Bc4 exd5, 7.Bxd5, white has additional threats in the position and a bit more of an advantage.

Following 5...Nf6, white should capture, 6.Nxf6, and attempt to play against black's long-term weakness of doubled pawns.

After 5...e5, white can just develop naturally with 6.Nf3 and so on. Also, keep in mind to use the d5-pawn and its associated space to your advantage.

3...Nf6:

The move 3...Nf6 is unanimously met with 4.e5, after which black has three reasonable choices. In order of popularity, they are, 4...Nd7, 4...Ng8, and 4...Ne4.

4.e5:

Against 4...Nd7, I recommend 5.Nf3 because it is a natural and intuitive move. From there, black has two reasonable moves, 5...Nb6 and 5...e6.

4...Nd7, 5.Nf3:
5...Nb6:
A sample line may continue 5...Nb6, 6.a4 a5 (6...e6, 7.a5), 7.Nb5 Bf5 (7...Bg4 8.h3 Bf5, 9.Nh4), 8.Nh4 Bd7, 9.c3 e6 (9...Na7, 10.Nxa7 Rxa7, 11.Be3), 10.Nf3 Na7, 11.Nxa7 Rxa7, 12.Be3.

5...e6: A sample line may continue 5...e6, 6.Ne2 Ne7 (6...Na5, 7.c3 c5, 8.Nf4 Nc6), 7.c3 c5, 8.Nf4 Nc6, 9.Be2 cxd4, 10.cxd4 Bb4+, 11.Bd2 Qa5, 12.h4.


Against 4...Ng8, I recommend 5.Be2 because it reduces black's options for developing their light-squared bishop. Here, black's most principled move is 5...Bf5, though moves like 5...e6, 5...a6 and others are also possible.

4...Ng8, 5.Be2:
A sample line may continue 5...Bf5, 6.Nf3 e6 (6...Nb4, 7.Bb5+ c6, 8.Ba4) (6...a6, 7.Nh4), 7.0-0 h6 (7...a6 or 7...Nge7 are also decent options among others) (7...Nb4, 8.a3 Nxc2?, 9.Ra2 traps the knight) (7...Bb4, 8.Na4 followed by c3 and an eventual b4).


Against 4...Ne4, I recommend 5.Nxe4, which is the most principled response for white. The move 5...dxe5 is obviously forced, after which I recommend 6.c3. This line appears to be a worse version of an already dubious line in the Tarrasch Variation of the French Defense; that line goes 1.e4 e6, 2.d4 d5, 3.Nd2 Nf6, 4.e5 Ne4, 5.Nxe4.

4...Ne4, 5.Nxe4 dxe4, 6.c3:
Likely continuations include 6...Bf5, 6...a6, 6...f6, and 6...g6, all of which give white a large advantage according to computers. The strategy for white here is not necessarily to win the weak e4-pawn outright, though it is sometimes possible, but instead to gain time by attacking the pawn while developing naturally, forcing black to waste time defending the pawn.

A sample line might continue: 6...Bf5, 7.Ne2 h5 (7...e6 (7...a6)(7...Qd7), 8.Ng3), 8.Ng3 Bg6, 9.h4. One way of attempting to win the e4 pawn is with an eventual Ng3, Bc4 and Bb3, Qe2, and then Bc2. If black attempts to stop the Ng3 idea after 6.c3 by playing 6...h5, white can play with h4: e.g. 6.c3 h5, 7.h4 Bg4, 8.Qc2 Qd5, 9.Ne2 with the idea of attacking the pawn or attempting to win the bishop pair. There are sharper continuations here where white plays with an early Qb3, but the lines I am recommending are straightforward and still advantageous.

3...e6:

As you might have noticed, 3...Nf6 led to inferior versions of the French Defense or the Advance Variation of the Caro-Kann Defense, and 3...e6 will be no different.

After 3...e6, I recommend 4.e5. I came to this conclusion because the 4.Nf3 Nf6 lines don't seem to offer white much of an advantage. It is a common idea in chess, especially openings, to play moves that make your opponent's moves make little sense. In this position, black would like to be able to play c5 like in the French Defense, but the knight on c6 blocks this possibility; therefore, with knowledge of various French Defense and Caro-Kann structures and strategies, we can play moves that have black reach inferior versions of those positions familiar to us.

After 4.e5, black's most common move is 4...f6 and 4...Bd7, though 4...Nge7 and 4...Nb8 are occasionally seen.

4.e5:
4...f6 5.Bb5:
Sample lines include: 5...Bd7 [5...fxe5, 6.Qh5+ g6, 7.Qxe5][5...a6, 6.Bxc6 bxc6, 7.Na4][5...Qd7, 6.Nf3], 6.Nf3 Qe7 (6...a6, 7.Bxc6 Bxc6, 8.0-0)(6...fxe5, 7.Bxc6 Bxc6 (7...bxc6, 8.Bg5 Nf6 (8...Be7, 9.Bxe7 Nxe7, 10.Nxe5), 9.dxe5 h6, 10.Bh4 g5, 11.Qd3), 8.Nxe5), 7.0-0 Qf7 (7...0-0-0, 8.Re1 Qf7), 8.Re1 0-0-0 (8...Nge7).

4...Bd7, 5.Nf3: After 5.Nf3, this line has a good likelihood of resembling or directly transposing into the 4...f6 lines.

4...Nge7, 5.Nf3: A sample line may continue 5...Nf5 [5...b6, 6.a3 Nf5 (6...Bb7, 7.Bd3)(6...h6, 7.Bd3), 7.h4 Be7 (7...h5, 8.Bg5 Be7 (8...f6, 9.Bf4), 9.Qd2 Bb7, 10.0-0-0 Qd7), 8.Bg5], 6.h4 h5 (6...Be7, 7.h5 h6, 8.g4 Nh4, 9.Nxh4 Bxh4, 10.Be3 Bg5, 11.Qd2 Bxe3 (11...Bd7, 12.0-0-0 Bxe3 (12...a6, 13.f4), 13.Qxe3), 12.Qxe3 Qe7 (12...Bd7)(12...a6), 13.0-0-0), 7.Bg5 Be7 (7...f6, 8.Bf4), 8.Qd2 f6 (8...Bxg5, 9.hxg5), 9.Bf4.

4...Nb8: With this line, white should play 5.Nf3. It is essentially a French Defense two tempi up.

3...e5:

The best line here for white is 4.dxe5, where black unanimously answers 4...d4. Rarely, black plays 4...dxe4, but this is almost certainly a blunder because of the line 5.Qxd8 Kxd8 (5...Nxd8, 6.Nxe4 Nc6, 7.Nf3), 6.Bf4 Bf5, 7.0-0-0+.

4...d4: A sample line here may continue 4...d4, 5.Nd5 Nge7 [5...Be6, 6.Nf4 Bb4+ 7.Bd2 Bxd2+, 8.Qxd2 Nxe5, 9.Nxe6 fxe6, 10.0-0-0 c5], 6.Bg5 Be6 (6...h6, 7.Bh4 Qd7, 8.e6 fxe6, 9.Qh5+ g6, 10.Nf6+ Kf7, 11.Qf3 Qd6, 12.Nd5 Ke8, 13.Bg3 e5), 7.Nf4 Qd7, 8.Nf3.

3...a6:

In this questionable line, black attempts to sacrifice a pawn temporarily, hoping to get white to stumble while trying to keep the extra pawn. The purpose of 3...a6 is to prevent the annoying 4.Bb5+, which forces simplifications with white being a pawn up. This is important to keep in mind if black sacrifices the d5-pawn in similar yet inferior way.

White has many options against this third move; white can attempt to maintain the extra pawn with a move like Bc4, but the most direct move offers white the largest advantage according to computers, and it involves returning the pawn but gaining a lot of time. It continues, 4.exd5 Nb4, 5.a3 Nxd5, 6.Nxd5 Qxd5. From here, white achieves the ideal Scandinavian Defense setup. By this I mean that in the Scandinavian Defense (1.e4 d5), often white needs to harass black's queen on d5 with Nc3 before being able to play d4 and/or c4; here, however, white has already played d4 and is able to play c4 before Nc3.

White can continue, 7.Nf3 followed by c4 or 7.c4 immediately. I believe that the former choice is slightly more accurate and leaves more possibilities for black to go wrong.

Black's Four Most Popular Fourth Move Options Following 2...e5, 3.dxe5 Nxe5, 4.Nf3

This diagram shows black's four most common fourth move responses to white's 4.Nf4. In order of popularity, they are, 4...Nxf3, 4...Bb4+, 4...Qf3, and 4...d6.
This diagram shows black's four most common fourth move responses to white's 4.Nf4. In order of popularity, they are, 4...Nxf3, 4...Bb4+, 4...Qf3, and 4...d6. | Source

Playing Against 2...e5 in the Nimzovich Defense Using 3.dxe5

As I previously mentioned, when it comes to the 2...d5 line, my recommendation is identical to that of IM Andrew Martin, which happens to be the main line, 3.Nc3. His explanation on the website, to which I linked, ends with just the recommendation of this move, as it's meant to be a brief list of a full repertoire. When it comes to 2...e5, he gives a bit more explanation. There, he recommends 3.dxe5, as do I; however, after 3...Nxe5, which is essentially forced (as 3...f6, 4.Nf3 fxe5, 5.Bc4 gives white a highly favorable version of the Schliemann Gambit, and even 4.exf6 is very good for white), he recommends 4.Nc3, whereas I recommend 4.Nf3.

The reason that I recommend this line is that it is relatively simple and gives white something out of the opening in most cases. I will go into the detail of black's responses, 4...Nxf3, 4...Bb4+, 4...Qf6, 4...d6, and the rare 4...Ng6, 4...Qe7, and 4...Bd6.

4...Nxf3:

With this move, white has two ways to recapture, 5.Qxf3 and 5.gxf3, both of which are decent. Though both moves offer white some advantage, databases show that 5.Qxf3 is the only move ever really played; I believe that this is because 5.gxf3 is far too sharp and loosening relative to the small advantage it gives, though it is arguably slightly stronger than 5.Qxf3. Playing slowly and solidly with 5.Qxf3 offers white more winning chances, and those qualities also fit with the overall theme of this blog entry.

With 5.Qxf3, white keeps their structure intact while also developing their queen; therefore, it is not uncommon to see white castle queenside in this line. Here are some instructive example games that give details on how to play the more popular continuations, though there are many playable continuations that will not be represented:

5.Qxf3:

5...Qf6:
6.Qg3 Qg6, 7.Qxc7 Qxe4+, 8.Be3: 8...Qc6: Hebden v. San Marco, Meudon-Issy (1988); 8...Bb4+: Lombardy v. Calvo, Siegen (Germany) (1970).
6.Qe3: Robatsch v. Perez Perez, Havana (1965).

5...d6:
6.Nc3 Nf6, 7.h3 Be7: 8.Be3:
{Chebotarev v. Feller, EU Championship 3rd Internet Candidates: 1.e4 e5, 2.d4 Nc6, 3.dxe5 Nxe5, 4.Nf3 Nxf3+, 5.Qxf3 d6, 6.Nc3 Nf6, 7.h3 Be7, 8.Be3 0-0, 9.0-0-0 Qe8, 10.g4 Be6, 11.Qg3 Nd7, 12.f4 f6, 13.h4 Nb6, 14.f5 Bf7, 15.g5 Bh5, 16.Rd2 Rd8, 17.Rg1 c6, 18.Bd4 Rd7, 19.a4 d5, 20.gxf6 Bxf6, 21.e5 c5, 22.exf6 cxd4, 23.Rxd4 Rxf6, 24.Bb5 Rxf5, 25.Bxd7 Qxd7, 26.a5 Nc8, 27.Nxd5 Nd6, 28.Nf4 Rxa5, 29.Nxh5 Ra1+, 30.Kd2 Ne4+, 31.Ke3 Qxd4+, 32.Kxd4 Nxg3, 33.Rxa1 Nxh5, 34.Rxa7 b6, 35.Rb7 1-0}; 8.Bc4: Arnason v. Mokry, Bohemians (1978).
6.Bc4 Nf6: 7.Qb3: {
Schussler v. Hoi, Reykjavik Open (1984): 1.e4 Nc6, 2.d4 e5, 3.dxe5 Nxe5, 4.Nf3 Nxf3+, 5.Qxf3 d6, 6.Bc4 Nf6, 7.Qb3 Qe7, 8.O-O c6, 9.Bg5 h6, 10.Bh4 b5, 11.Bd3 Bd7, 12.a4 bxa4, 13.Rxa4 g5, 14.Bg3 Nh5, 15.Rxa7 Rxa7, 16.Qb8+ Qd8, 17.Qxa7 Nxg3, 18.hxg3 Bg7, 19.Nd2 O-O, 20.Nc4 Be6, 21.b3 d5, 22.Na5 dxe4, 23.Nxc6 Qd6, 24.Bxe4 Re8, 25.Bf3 g4, 26.Rd1 Qf8, 27.Bd5 Bf5, 28.c4 Bg6, 29.b4 Kh7, 30.b5 Re2, 31.b6 1-0}; 7.Nc3: Tukmakov v. Lutikov, URS Team Championship (1968).

5...Bb4+, 6.c3 Bc5: 7.Bc4: Drozdovskij v. Barle, European Individual Championships (2010); 7.Bd3: Buchal v. Kernan, EU Championship U20 (1972); 7.Be3: Thipsay v. Miles, Calcutta Open (1994).

5...Nf6, 6.Bc4:
6...d6: 7.0-0 Be7
(7...Bg4?, 8.Qb3), 8.Nc3 0-0, 9.Bf4 c6, 10.a4: Lorenzana v. Sakr, Chess Olympiad (2010);
6...c6: 7.0-0 d6, 8.Nc3 Be7, 9.Bf4 0-0 transposes;
6...Qe7?: 7.0-0 (7...Qxe4??, 8.Qxe4 Nxe4, 9.Re1 f5, 10.f3 Bc5+, 11.Be3).

4...Bb4+:

Statistically, 4...Bb4+ looks to be black's most challenging reply for white to meet, though there are many replies that keep an advantage for white according to chess engines. Also, 4...Bb4+ has some tendency to transpose into the 4...Nxf3+ lines.

After 4...Bb4+, white has four reasonable responses. In order of popularity, they are, 5.c3, 5.Bd2, 5.Nd2, and 5.Nc3. All of these fifth move options are playable, but I will be recommending 5.c3. Because black's e5-knight is hanging and black's b4-bishop is now attacked, black has only two reasonable options in order not to lose a piece. They are, 5...Nxf3+ and 5...Bd6. As I just mentioned, 5...Nxf3+ is the line which almost always transposes in to the aforementioned 4...Nxf3+; therefore, I will only discuss the 5...Bd6 line here, to which I recommend 6.Nxe5. From there, 6...Bxe5 is forced, which simplifies the possible variations early on. Though this line does trade a pair of pieces immediately, the positions are easier to play and are still quite advantageous for white, scoring relatively well in databases. After 6...Bxe5, I recommend 7.Bc4, preparing to castle while attacking the f7-pawn, the other main white option being 7.f4. Here are some example lines covering my recommendations in this 7.Bc4 line:

5.c3 Bd6, 6.Nxe5 Bxe5, 7.Bc4:
7...Qh4:
8.Nd2 d6 (8...Bxh2, 9.Kf1 d6, 10.Nf3 Qe7 (10...Qxe4, 11.Bxf7+), 11.Rxh2), 9.Bd3 Bg4, 10.Nf3 Qh5 (10...Qe7, 11.h3)(10...Qf6, 11.Qa4+ c6 (11...Bd7, 12.Qb3 or 12.Qc4), 12.Nxe5), 11.Qa4+ Bd7 (11...c6, 12.Nxe5), 12.Qb3 b6 (12...Bc6, 13.Nd4)(12...Nf6, 13.Qxb7 0-0, 14.0-0), 13.Nxe5.

7...Ne7: 8.Qh5 Ng6 (8...d5, 9.Bxd5 or 9.exd5), 9.f4 Bf6 (9...Bd6, 10.0-0 Qe7 (10...0-0, 11.Be3), 11.Be3 Qxe4?, 12.Bd4), 10.Be3.

7...Qe7: 8.0-0 c6 (8...b5, 9.Bd3)(8...Nf6, 9.Nd2), 9.Nd2.

4...Qf6:

5.Be2:
5...Bc5: 6.0-0 Ne7, 7.Nxe5 Qxe5, 8.Nc3 0-0, 9.Qd3

5...Nxf3+: 6.Bxf3 Bc5, 7.0-0 Ne7, 8.Nc3 0-0, 9.Re1

5...Bb5+: 6.c3 (or 6.Nbd2: Keres v. Kevitz, New York US-SU (1954)) Nxf3+, 7.Bxf3 Bc5, 8.0-0

4...d6:

If one wishes to enter an advantageous endgame, white can play, 5.Nxe5 dxe5, 6.Qxd8+ Kxd8, 7.Bc4, which scores well for white statistically. However, I tend to think there is not quite as much to play for in this position, meaning that winning chances are fewer.

I prefer the line 5.Be3. In these lines, white tends to castle queenside, meaning that with black castled kingside, there are more dynamics in the position. Here are some example lines:

5.Be3:
5...Ng6: 6.h4 h5, 7.Nc3 Nf6, 8.Qd2 c6, 9.0-0-0 Be7, 10.Nd4 0-0, 11.Kb1

5...Nxf3+: 6.gxf3 g6, 7.Nc3 Bg7, 8.Qd2 Be6, 9.h4 Nf6, 10.0-0-0 a6, 11.Rg1 0-0, 12.Kb1 b5, 13.a3

5...Nc6: 6.h3 Be7, 7.Nc3 Nf6, 8.Qe2 0-0, 9.0-0-0 Nd7, 10.g4

5...Be6: 6.Nc3 Nf6, 7.h3

5...Bg4: 6.Be2 Nc6 (6...Nxf3+, 7.gxf3)(6...Nf6, 7.Nxe5 Bxe2, 8.Qxe2 dxe5, 9.Qb5+ Nd7, 10.Qxb7), 7.Nc3 Nf6, 8.h3

5...Ng4: 6.Bd4 Ne7, 7.Bc4 Nc6, 8.0-0 Be6 (8...Nxd4, 9.Qxd4 Qf6, 10.Qxf6 gxf6 (10...Nxf6,11.Ng5)

5...Nf6: 6.Nc3 Be7, 7.h3

5...Be7: 6.Be2 Nf6, 7.Nc3

4...Qe7:

5.Be2:
5...d6: 6.Nc3 Nf6, 7.0-0 c6, 8.Nd4

5...Nf6: 6.Nc3 Nxf3, 7.Bxf3 Qe5, 8.0-0

5...Nxf3: 6.Bxf3 Nf6 (6...d6, 7.0-0), 7.0-0 Qe5 (7...d6, 8.Nc3), 8.Nd2

Black's Three Reasonable Third Move Options Following 2...d6, 3.d5

This diagram shows black's three reasonable third move options in response to 3.d5. In order of popularity, they are 3...Ne5, 3...Nb8, and 3...Nb4. I believe that 3...Nb8 may be more sound than 3...Ne5.
This diagram shows black's three reasonable third move options in response to 3.d5. In order of popularity, they are 3...Ne5, 3...Nb8, and 3...Nb4. I believe that 3...Nb8 may be more sound than 3...Ne5. | Source

Playing Against 2...d6 in the Nimzovich Defense Using 3.d5

Unlike the two previous lines mentioned, 2...d5 and 2...e5, the move 2...d6 and the remaining moves that I will mention, 2...e6 and 2...Nf6, are very rare, which isn't to say they aren't ever played. There is a reason for this, as the three rarer moves are passive or otherwise subpar, giving white a substantial advantage. This can be seen in the example games and lines to follow.

In response to 3.d5, black has three responses that do not just lose a piece outright. They are, 3...Nb8, 3...Ne5, and 3...Nb4. Note that 3...Na5 loses a piece after 4.b4. According to databases, the move 3...Nb4 is never seen, and this is likely because it loses a lot of time and misplaces black's knight after moves like a3; therefore, I will not mention it here and will recommend speedy and logical development if you happen to come across it.

3...Nb8:

In many of these lines with an early d5 by white, white must be conscious of transpositions into "d4-looking" openings should they play c4. That is not to say that these transpositions would be bad, as black has wasted some time with their knight maneuvers up until this point; however, as I am not a 1.d4 player, I will often be recommending lines that resemble something more likely to be found purely from 1.e4. Therefore, I am recommending 4.Nc3 in response to the move 3...Nb8.

This brings up a larger point (though I've mentioned it briefly in this and other blog posts), in that the moves that I am recommending in nearly all of my blogs are not necessarily the absolute strongest moves objectively, but instead they are moves that keep an advantage while more importantly fitting my eye and style of play. This concept is ultimately something for you to develop personally as you progress as a player, and this is also why having a larger opening repertoire and being comfortable with a variety of positions likely allows you to play objectively stronger moves in a given position.

One final point that I will make about this topic is to mention that the player with the black pieces must allow more leeway when deciding on how to approach their opening choices and general moves in regards to objective strength and what fits one's eye, as black already begins the game with some disadvantage; thus, as black, we must often be more willing to straddle the playability/objectivity and disadvantage/lost fences in order to put up a challenging fight with chances to win.

Getting back to the main discussion though, it is not necessary to maintain the d5-pawn. Instead, if black plays e6 or e5, attempting to contest the center, white should often be willing to exchange, keeping the space provided by the e4-pawn and the extra tempi provided by black's knight maneuvers.

4.Nc3:
4...Nf6,
5.h3: 5...g6 [5...c6, 6.Nf3 cxd5 (6...g6, 7.a4 Bg7, 8.Bc4 transposes into the "main line"), 7.exd5][5...e5, 6.g4 h6 (6...Be7, 7.g5 Nd7, 8.h4 0-0, 9.Nge2), 7.Be3][5...e6, 6.Nf3 Be7, 7.Bc4 0-0, 8.0-0], 6.Nf3 Bg7 (6...c6, 7.a4 Bg7, 8.Bc4 0-0 (8...cxd5, 9.exd5), 9.0-0), 7.Bc4 0-0 (7...c6 8.a4), 8.0-0

4...g6, 5.Nf3: 5...Bg7 [5...Nf6, 6.h3 transposes into the "main line" above][5...Bg4??, 6.Qd4 Nf6, 7.e5 dxe5 (7...c5, 8.Qa4+ wins at least a piece)(7...Bxf3, 8.exf6 wins at least a piece), 8.Nxe5 leaves white much better], 6.h3 transposes into the "main line" above

4...c6, 5.h3: 5...g6 [5...Nf6, 6.Nf3 transposes into the "4...Nf6, 5.h3 c6, 6.Nf3 line" mentioned above][5...e5, 6.Be3 Nf6 (6...f5, 7.exf5 Bxf5, 8.Bd3), 7.g4], 6.Nf3 Bg7, 7.a4 Nf6, 8.Bc4 transposes into first "main line"

4...e6, 5.h3: 5...Nf6 [5...Be7, 6.Nf3 Nf6, 7.Bc4 transposes into the "4...Nf6, 5.h3 e6, 6.Nf3 Be7, 7.Bc4" line mentioned above], 6.Nf3 transposes into the line just mentioned

4...e5, 5.h3: 5...c6 [5...Nf6, 6.g4 transposes into "4...Nf6, 5.h3 e5, 6.g4 line" mentioned above][5...Be7, 6.Nge2 Nf6, 7.g4 0-0, 8.Ng3], 6.Be3 transposes into the "4...c6, 5.h3 e5, 6.Be3 line" mentioned above

4...a6, 5.a4: 5...Nf6 [5...e5, 6.Bc4 Nf6 (6...Nd7, 7.a5), 7.h3], 6.h3

3...Ne5:

I believe you are more likely to see this line following 2...d6, 3.d5, though this third move is considered inferior to 3...Nb8 by chess engines. The reason you are more likely to see this move over 3...Nb8 is because undeveloping a piece entirely by returning it to its original square early in a game seems unnatural and counterintuitive; however, similar to a line in Alekhine's Defense that goes 1.e4 Nf6, 2.e5 Ng8, the move is strange but playable. Often the only thing that makes such moves playable is that black has incurred no weaknesses while also provoking white forward. I would not recommend black to play this line of Alekhine's Defense, though it can be fun for a blitz game occasionally.

Here, I recommend 4.f4.

4.f4:
4...Nd7, 5.Nf3: 5...c6 [5...a6, 6.c4][5...g6?, 6.Qd4 Ndf6 (6...Ngf6?, 7.e5 Nh5, 8.e6 Bg7, 9.exd7+), 7.Nc3 leaves white much better], 6.c4 Ngf6, 7.Nc3 Nc5, 8.Qc2 g6, 9.Be3

4...Ng6, 5.Nf3: 5...c6 [5...Nf6, 6.Nc3 c6, 7.dxc6 bxc6, 8.e5][5...e6, 6.dxe6 fxe6, 7.Nc3][5...e5, 6.dxe6/ep fxe6, 7.Nc6], 6.Nc3 Nf6, 7.dxc6 bxc6, 8.e5

Black's Three Most Reasonable Third Move Options Following 2...e6, 3.d5

Black's three most reasonable third move responses to 3.d5. They are 3...Ne5, 3...Ne7, and 3...exd5.
Black's three most reasonable third move responses to 3.d5. They are 3...Ne5, 3...Ne7, and 3...exd5. | Source

Playing Against 2...e6 in the Nimzovich Defense Using 3.d5

This 2...e6 line can be similar to the 2...d5, 3.Nc3 e6, 4.e5 line that was mentioned earlier in this blog post. Play can follow, 2...e6, 3.Nf3 d5, 4.e5, which resembles those previous lines mentioned here. However, there is a question as to whether this is most precise for white, as it seems that white is not taking full advantage of black's peculiar variation in an already questionable opening. That is, black should be punished (in some way) the further they stray from the main lines of any opening, assuming that white is playing those lines; here, playing with 3.Nf3 in this 2...e6 line seems to be a concession on white's part, as white's knight on f3 may be slightly misplaced and not similar enough to the 2...d5 lines just mentioned for those concepts to apply.

Because of this, I will be recommending 3.d5 in response to 2...e6. This may not be the computer's first choice, but I believe it is more principled and straightforward than 3.Nf3. A lot of the moves early in this variation are forcing and thus easy-to-remember, and they still leave white with something to play for, in my opinion. I would recommend that you look into the 3.Nf3 lines if you find that the 3.d5 lines don't leave enough fight in the position to play for a win.

That being said, 3...Ne5 seems to be the only move ever seen in response to 3.d5, according to databases, though there are a few other reasonable moves. Here are best possibilities in no particular order. Also, please excuse that these lines are not as thorough as some of those above, as you shouldn't expect to see these lines much if ever, and these continuations just below are meant to get you started with your own analysis.

3.d5:
3...Ne5, 4.dxe6: 4...fxe6 [4...dxe6, 5.Qxd8+ Kxd8, 6.f4], 5.Nc3

3...exd5, 4.exd5: 4...Ne5 [4...Qe7+, 5.Be2 Ne5, 6.Nc3 Nf6, 7.Be3][4...Ne7, 5.d6! cxd6, 6.Nf3][4...Nb8, 5.Nf3 Nf6, 6.Bc4], 5.Qe2 Qe7, 6.Be3 Qb4+, 7.Nd2

3...Ne7, 4.dxe6: 4...fxe6 [4...dxe6, 5.Qxd8+ Kxd8, 6.Be3], 5.Nc3


Black's Three Most Reasonable Third Move Options Following 2...Nf6, 3.d5

Black's three most reasonable third move options in response to 3.d5. They are, 3...Ne5, 3...Nb8, and 3...Nb4.
Black's three most reasonable third move options in response to 3.d5. They are, 3...Ne5, 3...Nb8, and 3...Nb4. | Source

Playing Against 2...Nf6 in the Nimzovich Defense Using 3.d5

Because this 2...Nf6 is fairly rare in this already uncommon opening, this section will be pretty brief. As I mentioned here earlier in this blog post, the move 2...Nf6 can almost be considered a blunder if white plays correctly. This variation can be played a number of ways by white, but I will recommend the way that I would play it. Also, I will try to avoid the very sharp computer-lines that often occur when one uses many tempi expanding a lot in the opening, as only computers seem to be able to maintain those positions; however, I will only get you started, and I expect you to take the necessary time to see how detailed you want your knowledge of this subvariation to be. Finally, I will state that I have personally seen this variation played before in blitz, so I know that it is occasionally seen, perhaps more at our level than some of the other variations that I've mentioned (e.g., 2...e6).

Following 2...Nf6, the most advantageous and principled continuation is 3.d5. However, moves like 3.e5 and 3.Nc3 are also very playable. After 3.d5, the move 3...Ne5 is almost forced. Black may be able to hold with 3...Nb8 too, but it is unlikely or at least very bad for them. The move 3...Nb4 loses a piece for little compensation or leaves black uncoordinated and lacking space after 4.e5.

3.d5:
3...Ne5, 4.f4: 4...Ng6, 5.e5 Ng8, 6.Nc3

3...Nb8, 4.e5: 4...Ng8, 5.Nc3

3...Nb4, 4.e5: 4...Ng8 [4...Nbxd5, 5.exf6 (5.a3 is also interesting and is better according to computers) Nxf6, 6.Nf3][4...Nfxd5, 5.a3], 5.a3 Na6, 6.Nf3

Question!

Have you ever had to face the Nimzovich Defense? Were you prepared for it then?

See results

Concluding,

There is a lot of information to read here, especially for how uncommonly this defense is actually played, but I feel the need to be thorough with every opening's analysis and to express all of the ideas that come to mind throughout the course of my writing. Those ideas also include general tips and other bits of information that are sometimes unrelated to the main opening topic. Because those general ideas are usually only found on the single post when they were inspired, I would recommend reading all of my entries if only for that.

I believe that this information will allow you to be more comfortable the next time you see the Nimzovich Defense, and that it will also get you started in making your own personal analysis of this opening. Many of the lines that I mentioned here were not in great depth, so you will still need to look into certain lines and come up with ideas early on in some variations. If nothing else, it is almost always better to have seen the idea and know it exists but forget the details than to be shocked by something new over the board -- even if it is only placebic.

Then again, if you can't remember all of the details of a variation over the board, especially if there is a critical tactic or sacrifice involved, it is best to stick to moves that make sense to you at that time during your game; in other words, just because you know that a particular opening move is supposed to be theory, doesn't justify playing the move if you don't understand it. There are many openings where a subtle yet otherwise positionally compromising move is made but with a specific theoretical idea in mind. If you don't know how to follow up correctly, you are only compromising your position with little to no hope of gaining the theoretical compensation.

My "Chess Openings" series is an attempt to cover rarer and more unexplored openings in my own practical yet aggressive style. I have other blog entries that cover various openings if you would like to explore them. Also, I am consistently adding new entries about these types of less popular and less analyzed openings, though the process takes time, so be sure to return periodically to see if there are any new ones. I will always devote myself to creating content worth reading.

Thanks for your time.

How did you like this blog entry? Let me know any comments, questions or suggestions that you have. Thank you.

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