The Winning Academy 31: Nimzo is a Killer Weapon!

by Jan Markos
4/9/2024 – In the present world, good marketing is everything. Surprisingly enough, this applies also to chess openings. For example, the Kings Indian Defence has got a phantastic PR among club players. It is considered to be fun to play, and a good weapon when it comes to playing for a win. On the contrary, the Nimzo Indian Defence is perceived as dull and drawish. The result is that after 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4, club players (rated around 1800) play 2…g6 more often than 2…e6. Interestingly, with the GMs the ratio is considerably different. Players rated 2500+ play 2…e6 three times as often than 2…g6. But why? | Photo: Aron Nimzowitsch, name-giver of the Nimzo Indian Defence (Photo: L'Echiquier 1931)

ChessBase 17 - Mega package - Edition 2024 ChessBase 17 - Mega package - Edition 2024

It is the program of choice for anyone who loves the game and wants to know more about it. Start your personal success story with ChessBase and enjoy the game even more.


Well, GMs know that the Nimzo is neither dull, nor drawish. In fact, it is an active weapon, often as poisonous as the Kings Indian Defence. In addition, it is positionally much sounder.

Does this sound strange to you? Please, let me persuade you. Let us have a look at one of the main lines of the Nimzo:

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.Qc2 0-0 5.a3 Bxc3+ 6.Qxc3

In the diagrammed position, White has the bishop-pair and the centre. But what does Black have as a compensation? Well, Black is much more developed. He has already castled. And he is to move. Also, White's queen is rather vulnerable, and might be a source of tempi for the attacking black army.

Therefore, it is no surprise that along with "normal" moves like 6…b6, 6…d6 or 6…d5, Black can also play the sacrificial 6…b5!?, trying to open the position as quickly as possible.  

That exactly was the choice of Onischuk in our first example. After White's 16th move, this position appeared on the board.

Sarkar-Onischuk, Washington Open 2012, Black to move:

White is behind in development. He needs two tempi to get his king into safety. However, he will not get them. Although the position seems to be rather closed, Onischuk shows convincingly that he can open it any time he wishes.

Black played 15...Ndxe5! 16.dxe5 d4!, forking two minor pieces. After 17.Bxd4 Rfd8 White loses material because of the pin along the d-file. Therefore, Sarkar played 17.b4 Qc7 19.f4? (Better is 18.Bg1), but was lost after 18…dxe3 anyway.

Here's the complete game:


Believe it or not, the next diagrammed position is a theoretical one. These wild complications may arise in the 4.Qc2 d5 line, (for the exact variation, please check the game below).

Braun-Lagno, Pulvermuehle 2006, Black to move:

It is not common to see so many misplaced pieces. White's king, Black's queen and knight. In this sharp line, exact calculation is a must, as both kings can get under an attack soon.

Lagno found a splendid queen's maneuver:

18...Qd2!? 19.Qb1 (19.Bxa1 Qc1 and Black consumes one of the bishops.) Qc2! 20.Qa2 (Being an exchange down, White should not trade queens.) Qf5 21.Qxa1?

An inconspicuous mistake, leaving the c4-bishop unattended. White should have played 21.Bxa1. Now Katheryna Lagno will show what a splendid tactician she is:

Black played 21...exd4! and it transpired that White cannot retake. After 22.exd4 Black mates: 22…Qg4+ 23.Kh2 Qf4+ 24.g3 Qxf2 and mate. After 22.Bxd4 Black continues aggressively with 22…c5! and White loses material, E.g. 23.Bc3 Qg4+ 24.Kh2 Qxc4 -+.

Braun played 22.Nf3, but to no avail. Black convincingly converted her advantage.

Here's the complete game:


Anatoly Karpov is well-known for his positional mastery. However, even for him the Nimzo often was a dynamic, active weapon. Let us have a look at his encounter with Joel Lautier in Linares 1995.

Lautier-Karpov, Linares 1995, Black to move:

Black seems to be in a deep trouble. His c7-rook is attacked and has difficulty to find a safe haven. It is possible that Lautier hoped Karpov would play 17...Rc6??, and had prepared 18.Bb5 Rc8 19.c6! Bxc6 20.Ba6 Ra8 21.Rc1, trapping the c6-bishop in a very original manner.

However, Karpov is far too strong to be so naïve. He was aware that White is behind in development, and therefore played 17...bxc5!. After the natural 18.Bxc7 Qxc7 White played 19.Qc3 and got punched again by 19…e5!.

Does this position look like dull and boring? Not at all! Well, the Nimzo simply isn't a dull and boring opening.

Here's the complete game:


Maybe I have inspired you to try a new opening, the Nimzo Indian Defence. In such a case you might pick a GM that you like and plays the opening as well and copy his responses to all the main lines. For example, you might pick Michael Adams, the winner of London Classic 2023.

Nimzo-Indian expert Michael Adams | Photo: Pascal Lautenschläger, Berlin 2021

This is a trick that makes your preparation in a new terrain easier. Firstly, you know that the lines you are playing are objectively OK. If they are good enough for Adams or another strong GM, they are surely good enough for you. And secondly, you will save time looking for all the answers for yourself.

So, try the Nimzo and have fun!

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.

Never too late for the Nimzo-Indian

Bologan's way to the Nimzo-Indian was very long and difficult, but now the Moldavian grandmaster recommends the Nimzo-Indian to players of all levels because it’s complex and simple at the same time.

Middlegame Secrets Vol.1 + Vol.2

Let us learn together how to find the best spot for the queen in the early middlegame, how to navigate this piece around the board, how to time the queen attack, how to decide whether to exchange it or not, and much more!


Jan Markos is a Slovakian chess author, trainer, and grandmaster. His book Under the Surface was the English Chess Federation´s 2018 Book of the Year. His last book, The Secret Ingredient, co-authored with David Navara, focuses on the practical aspects of play, e.g. time-management over the board, how to prepare against a specific opponent, or how to use chess engines during the training process. Markos was the U16 European Champion twenty years ago. At present he helps his pupils from several countries to achieve similar successes. Apart from focusing on the royal game, he is also the author of several non-chess books, focused on critical thinking, moral dilemmas, and phenomenology.
Discussion and Feedback Submit your feedback to the editors