Chess Book Reviews
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First Class Book on the Nimzo-Indian

By Stephen Berry


The Nimzo-Indian: Move by Move (Everyman Chess) by John Emms, 368 pp. £19.99.

First a few brief words about Everyman's Move by Move series. It's new and “tries to replicate – as much as possible – lessons between chess teachers and students …” You are asked questions throughout the book and offered exercises of varying degrees of difficulty. Most pages of the book have a question or an exercise for you to answer. I will give examples of this later in the review. Alternatively, you can just treat the book as another work on the Nimzo-Indian Defence – as I in fact did.

The sections of Emms's book are divided as follows:

•  1 Saemisch Variation: 4 a3 (39 pages)
•  2 The 4 f3 Variation (37 pages)
•  3 Rubinstein Variation: 4 e3 Main Line (49 pages)
•  4 Rubinstein Variation: 4 e3 Other Lines (53 pages)
•  5 Classical Variation: 4 Qc2 O-O (64 pages)
•  6 Classical Variation: 4 Qc2 with … c5 (50 pages)
•  7 Leningrad Variation 4 Bg5 (32 pages)
•  8 Kasparov Variation (28 pages)

This book can be treated as an instruction manual with the Nimzo-Indian as its theme. For those who merely want a repertoire book on the Nimzo, then Emms's work ticks this box too. As you can see from the table of contents above, all the major lines of the Nimzo are covered, and the main lines 4 e3 and 4 Qc2 get two chapters each.

I ought to lay my cards on the table. I think this is the best book on the Nimzo-Indian that I have come across – and I have been playing this opening for almost 40 years. It is written by John Emms with his usual thoroughness and clarity of layout. It has almost 400 pages packed with information. It does not duplicate Emms's previous work, Easy Guide to the Nimzo-Indian (1998) as he is at pains to recommend lines which are different from those of his earlier work. For instance, after 4 e3, instead of 4 … b6 (previous work) Emms this time goes with 4 … O-O and 5 … d5 which may be considered, for the moment, the main line.

Much of the work covers lines which are up-to-date and theoretically ‘hot'. Against 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 Qc2 Emms concentrates on 4 … O-O 5 a3 Bxc3+ 6 Qxc3 d5!? I must also confess that there were two chapters where Emms recommends lines which I did not even know existed! You may like to put this down to my ignorance, but I prefer to see it as proof of the continuing vitality of the Nimzo-Indian Defence.

Let's take a brief overview of the Emms repertoire before we look at a few lines in detail. You can then decide if these lines are the ones which interest you and warrant buying the book.

•  Against the Saemisch 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 a3 Bxc3+ 5 bxc3, instead of the normal 5 … c5 Emms chooses 5 … b6.
•  After 4 f3 Emms chooses 4 … O-O. This was the first variation I had not met before, having assumed that Black must play either 4 … d5 or 4 … c5.
•  Against the 4 e3 Rubinstein, his main recommendation is 4 …O-O 5 Bd3 d5 6 Nf3 c5 7 O-O dxc4 8 Bxc4 Nbd7. Emms also covers the alternative line 7 … Nc6 8 a3 Ba5.
•  Against the Classical 4 Qc2, Emms considers both 4 … O-O 5 a3 Bxc3+ 6 Qxc3 d5 and 4 … c5 5 dxc5 Bxc5 6 Nf3 Qb6 7 e3 Qc7. The latter leads to a hedgehog type position.
•  After 4 Bg5 Emms advocates the main Black line of 4 … c5 5 d5 h6 6 Bh4 d6 7 e3 Bxc3+ 8 bc e5.
•  Finally, against the Kasparov line of 4 Nf3 he goes with the “slightly more offbeat” 4 … c5 5 g3 Bxc3+ 6 bc Qa5!? This was the second variation with which I was unfamiliar.

Let's begin a more detailed examination by looking at two of the non-main line recommendations by Emms.

A: 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 f3 O-O!?

This line is interesting because Black allows the very move for which 4 f3 prepared. Both 4 … d5 and 4 … c5 have been more common during the majority of the time I have been playing the Nimzo. White has two main answers to 4 … O-O.

• i. 5 a3 (The main line) and after 5 … Bxc3 6 bxc3 Ne8!? the game returns to typical Saemisch territory with Black preparing … b6, … Ba6 and pressure on the c-pawn.
• ii. 5 e4 when Black counterattacks by 5 … d5 6 e5 Nfd7. Emms presents a game which may serve as a salutary warning against what can happen if White plays in a routine fashion. Notes in quotation marks are taken from Emms.

B: 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 Nf3

Black has a variety of replies, 4 … b6, 4 … O-O, but Emms selects the main line 4 … c5. He then diverges after 5 g3 by 5 … Bxc3+ 6 bc Qa5. “Also the positions reached after 6 … Qa5 have a strong Nimzo-Indian feel to them. With Black inflicting White with double pawns and fighting for light-square control, it's quite similar to the Saemisch, whereas in the main lines, the c4-pawn is exchanged very quickly and it's more like a Symmetrical English (indeed it can transpose from that opening).”

At present, the two main lines against the Nimzo are 4 e3 and 4 Qc2. In Easy Guide to the Nimzo-Indian Emms recommended 4 … b6 after 4 e3. Here he moves to the main lines.

After 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 e3 his main choice is 4 …O-O 5 Bd3 d5 6 Nf3 c5 7 O-O dxc4 8 Bxc4 Nbd7, which sometimes goes under the name of the Parma line. As Emms demonstrates at some length (four illustrative games) this variation seems to be standing up quite well in the modern theoretical stakes.

Emms does however, give a second choice which he dubs the Reykjavik Variation because it was played in the first game of the Spassky-Fischer match of 1972. This is “ a good back-up option for Black, especially for those seeking a more tactical battle in a slightly less theoretical line.”

In fact, the Nimzo-Indian main line is almost as rich as the Ruy Lopez when we look at the choices available for Black. After 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 e3 O-O 5 Bd3 d5 6 Nf3 c5 7 O-O Black can try:

•  7 … dxc4 8 Bxc4 Nbd7 as Emms recommends.
•  7 … Nbd7
•  7 … dxc4 8 Bxc4 cxd4 9 exd4 b6, the Karpov line.
•  7 … dxc4 8 Bxc4 Bd7
•  7 … dxc4 8 Bxc4 Qe7

And after 7 … Nc6 8 a3 Black can play:

8 … Bxc3 9 bxc3 dxc4 10 Bxc4 Qc7, the Zurich Variation.
8 … Bxc3 9 bxc3 Qc7
8 … Bxc3 9 bxc3 b6
8 … Ba5 the Reykjavik Variation and the second choice of Emms.

And that's the good thing about the Nimzo-Indian. You have lots of choice with most of the above alternatives fully viable for Black.

Let's take a look at a game given by Emms which illustrates some of the possibilities of the Parma line.

4 Qc2, originally popularised by Capablanca in the 1930s and revived by Kasparov in the 1980s, has become the most popular reply to the Nimzo-Indian. It's appropriate that Emms looks at two of the main replies to this line – 4 O-O and 4 … c5. In this review we will concentrate on the cutting edge line 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 Qc2 O-O 5 a3 (Emms covers 5 e4 thoroughly) 5 … Bxc3+ 6 Qxc3 d5!.

Let us be clear about the overall logic of the Nimzo-Indian Defence. In most lines Black will concede the two bishops to White. In return, he wants to exploit weaknesses in the white pawn structure – usually the doubled c-pawns. Alternatively, Black aims to gain a lead in development resulting from White's time loss in gaining the two bishops. 4 Qc2 O-O 5 a3 Bxc3+ 6 Qxc3 d5! is just such a line for Black. We have just seen how Kramnik counterattacked against Carlsen. The following game illustrates what happens to White when his pieces remained marooned on their home squares.

This is a book written by someone who has been played the Nimzo for more than 30 years, really knows the opening and has remained true to it. “I swapped around with other openings, but always remained loyal to the Nimzo.” If you are a Nimzo player, or are thinking of taking the opening up, this book is a must.


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