Review: A lifetime repertoire: play the Nimzo-Indian

by Davide Nastasio
7/10/2018 – Rustam Kasimdzhanov is not only a great player in his own right, he's also Fabiano Caruana's main coach, and therefore played a major role in the new World Championship challenger's success at the Berlin Candidates tournament. That's why, speculates reviewer DAVIDE NASTASIO, the first customer for this recent DVD offering was Magnus Carlsen or one of his seconds, in preparation for November's match. When a possible World Champion is learning from a former one, shouldn't we all do the same?

A lifetime repertoire: Play the Nimzo Indian A lifetime repertoire: Play the Nimzo Indian

This DVD provides everything you need to know to be able to play one of the most classical openings with Black, the Nimzo-Indian, arising after 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4. Nearly every World Championship and top tournament features the Nimzo-Indian.

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A review

I was interested in this repertoire because a lot of great players from the past played this opening. In fact, one of the first repertoire books I read, and partly adopted, was advocating for Black in the Nimzo-Indian. At the time I was too immature as a player to appreciate this opening and understand it. However, GM Ben Finegold who has recently opened a chess club in Atlanta, Georgia, is a long-time fighter against the Nimzo-Indian and I have found many of his comments annotated games quite interesting. They taught me what White thinks and what are White's plans. Now I'd like to see if I can play it as Black, hence the need to learn from the best!

I found over 60 games played by Kasimdzhanov in the Nimzo-Indian for either colour. But what about Caruana? He has over 30 classical tournament games played in the Nimzo!

Like the King's Indian Defence (KID), the Sicilian, or the Ruy Lopez, the Nimzo-Indian (ECO codes E20 to E59) has formed the chess bones of every past World Champion

Botvinnik has over 150 games played with or against the Nimzo-Indian, Smyslov at least 180, Petrosian also 180 games, and Bronstein (not a world champion but in one of his books he wrote that he considered himself a co-world-champion because Botvinnik failed to defeat him) has at least 120 games with the Nimzo. Now I could go on mentioning champion after champion, but the point is this: if one is serious about chess, he/she needs to study some of the major openings, to better understand the main chess ideas, and be able to appreciate the games of the past, as well as the modern games.

The reason is always the same, often the plans used by great players that came before can be easily used by us to dispatch our opponents today! Notice how important is to keep an eye on plans used in other players' games, when forming our own. In this case, we can see GM Ray Keene copying Samuel Reshevsky's plan, and having the same success:

 

And now watch how Keene wins easily thanks to the knowledge of a game played just months before!

 

When it comes to chess games, copying is considered the highest form of flattery

In a sense chess is like a language: If we understand the openings, we understand the basic blocks of the language, which will allow us to better understand the rest of the game. In November we'll be witnessing an amazing World Championship and a DVD like this one, as well as those on openings like the Ruy Lopez, can help us to better understand the games which will be played between Carlsen and Caruana.

What's in the video series

So, what does Kasimdzhanov provide? He offers a bulletproof repertoire starting from the main tabiya of the Nimzo-Indian, after the moves: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4

 

Obviously, this is not a repertoire covering other sidelines or systems White can play. Like the London after the moves 1.d4 Nf6 2.Bf4, or the Torre Attack: 1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 e6 3.Bg5 or the Trompowsky: 1.d4 Nf6 2.Bg5

 

Of course, there are other video series covering these systems for both colours.

I found a peculiar property of this DVD which I'd like to share. When I downloaded the product it was 3.4 GB, which was unusually big (generally the files are 1-2 GB max). But after I installed it I understood why: This video series comes bundled with a streamlined version of another product: the Nimzo-Indian Powerbook, based on the lines treated by Kasimdzhanov.

For those who want the entire Powerbook, including the Bogo-Indian and other sidelines, that's an option to consider as well.

Anyone who wants to play the Nimzo-Indian must also be prepared to enter the Queen’s Indian (or the Bogo-Indian) and the Catalan. For that reason we have included the whole E00-E59 complex in our “Complete Nimzo-Indian Powerbook 2018”. It is based, e.g., on 80,000 games from the Mega Database plus correspondence games. But the lion’s share is made up of the 565,000 games from the Playchess engine room, where the Queen’s Indian enjoys greater popularity than the Nimzo-Indian.


Nimzo-Indian Powerbook 2018

We have included the whole E00-E59 complex in our "Complete Nimzo-Indian Powerbook 2018". It is based, e.g., on 80,000 games from the Mega and Correspondence Database. The lion's share is made up of the 565,000 games from the Playchess engine room.

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fighting for the centre

Returning to the material in this video series: I found interesting the explanation given by Kasimdzhanov relative to fighting for the centre without occupying it with a pawn, unlike openings with 1.d4 d5.

I didn't follow the normal chronological order to watch the DVD, I began with the sidelines because a lot of club players play less used lines in a bid to confuse their opponents.

I was particularly curious about the moves: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.g3

The fianchetto is powerful against many openings, and in fact one of the most successful players, Victor Bologan, made a FritzTrainer for White on playing the Catalan to help neutralize the Indian system.

 

If your goal, like mine, is to play the Nimzo-Indian, then it becomes important to also study White's options, in order to understand what we will face as Black, and eventually pay attention to Kasimdzhanov, to see if the lines he proposes do neutralize White's ideas.  

After the sidelines, I went to see the section of interesting games, which is comprised of four videos, based on four games in which Kasimdzhanov delves into the ideas and plans behind the moves. I believe this section should be seen by anyone whether or not he is interested in the Nimzo-Indian, because it provides general chess understanding that is key to improvement.

 

For example, this position comes from the first video, the game Bai vs Ling Diren.

Who doesn't want to play an opening where Black seems to totally overwhelm White? Where finally the centre is dominated by Black, and White's pieces are all retreating!

Kasimdzhanov chose games which are masterpieces, made to lure us into the Nimzo-Indian labyrinth! Honestly what I want from an opening is not to enter into some passive-claustrophobic position, where I have to defend for 50 moves, and from what I've seen the Nimzo-Indian is an exciting and active option.

In the end, the interactive format of the series includes ten video-clips of testing positions, where Kasimdzhanov asks us to find the right moves, the right plan, or the right manoeuvre and gives feedback. This is a very important part of the whole, because one can realize which particular aspects of the theory were not remembered or understood. Plus it is like really getting a lesson from a GM, who is testing our understanding.

This video series comes with a database of 147 model games and, obviously, some names within the database catch the eye, like Hikaru Nakamura, and of course the new challenger to the World Champion, the great Caruana! Some players have told me a DVD cannot substitute for a book, but I disagree. I'd like to show the following game — please pay attention to the detail, and amount of annotations, above and beyond most books!

 

Luckily not all the games in the database are so detailed, otherwise it would become too intense for me, an amateur.

Final thoughts

I was listening to a podcast, and the host was admitting that, for him, it is impossible to understand what's going on in a typical game between top ten players. I believe the real reason is our collective lack of chess culture. Openings must be studied, and if we study enough openings it will open our minds to ideas and pattern which are common in all. With this video series, we can be exposed to those main ideas. Thanks to the games selection, and detailed annotations, we will be able to understand what happens in top games. 

It is important to watch enough games played by champions of the past, and that's why the database of model games can be a good starting point. If we have Megabase 2018 we can select a champion from the past, and replay 100 of his games with the Nimzo-Indian. Watching them, even just quickly skimming, will give us a wealth of ideas and patterns to better understand modern chess.

As a top player himself and former FIDE World Champion, now dedicated to coaching at the highest levels, Kasimdzhanov is giving us a modern repertoire we can use in our games...for a lifetime.

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Davide is a novel chess aficionado who has made chess his spiritual tool of improvement and self-discovery. One of his favorite quotes is from the great Paul Keres: "Nobody is born a master. The way to mastery leads to the desired goal only after long years of learning, of struggle, of rejoicing, and of disappointment..."
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