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Best Openings for Advanced Players: Nimzo-Indian Defense
The Nimzo-Indian Defense is a very popular way of facing 1.d4 openings. This hypermodern setup was developed by Aaron Nimzowitsch in the 1920s.
The Nimzo-Indian is a very strong and solid opening choice, played by many world champions including Capablanca, Smyslov, Spassky, Tal, among others. This opening involves some of the most important positional ideas and, for that reason, is one of the best openings for advanced players to play.
As a hypermodern system, it may involve fianchettoing a bishop, although not necessarily from the beginning of the game.
Best Openings for Advanced Players
The Nimzo-Indian Defense starts with the following moves:
1.d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4
White begins their development by occupying the central squares d4 and c4. Black quickly develops the bishop to b4, preventing the e2-e4 pawn push. Black’s e6 pawn also prevents White from gaining space with d5.
In these kinds of positions, Black usually exchanges the dark-squared bishop for the c3-knight, doubling the b and c pawns. Those pawns soon become weak and Black has a few ideas up his sleeve to get compensation for the loss of the bishop pair.
One of the most typical plans involves closing the position, not allowing White to benefit from his bishops. The presence of easy-to-implement plans is one of the key characteristics of the best openings for advanced players.
The e3 move characterizes the so-called Rubenstein variation, which is considered the strongest and therefore most popular lines nowadays. White prepares to develop the light-squared bishop to d3, knight to f3 followed by castling short. However, White does not commit himself to any of the plans, allowing some flexibility depending on Black’s responses.
Black quickly castles, while White claims his share of the center. This is a typical hypermodern idea. Black allows White to occupy the center with the pawns, while he castles and then later attacks the center with pawns and pieces.
5.Bd3 d5 6.Nf3 c5 7.0-0
White completes his development and castles kingside. Black plays the freeing moves d5 and c5. At this point, both sides control an equal amount of space with a comparable level of activity.
White is a tempo up because of the first move advantage. Now Black is facing a dilemma on how to resolve the center tension.
There are 3 main continuations: 7…dxc4, 7…Nc6 and 7…Nbd7. They are all sound and have various nuances associated with each move.
The 7…Nc6 line used to be the main line, but I don’t particularly recommend it. It’s not necessarily bad for Black, but the problem is there are many different lines and variations possible after this move and it becomes very theoretical. Therefore, it’s better to stay away from this line, unless you have spent a ton of time studying all the possible variations.
The 7…Nbd7 variation lost popularity after certain gambit ideas were discovered. Black ends up a pawn, but has to suffer from increasingly strong pressure along the queenside.
That typically leads to a dull game for Black; with only White having winning chances. If you don’t mind playing defense, you might want to consider this line. However, the 7…dxc4 variation looks much better.
Finally, 7…dxc4 variation is the most recommended choice. It is named after Anatoly Karpov and is Black’s strongest response to the Rubinstein variation.
7…dxc4 8.Bxc4 cxd4 9.exd4 b6
After a series of forced exchanges, White ends up with an isolated pawn. It is not necessarily a weakness, but White needs to be careful and always keep an eye on it. On the other hand, Black should also prevent it from moving forward by always taking care of the d5 square.
Black has the straightforward plan of placing a bishop on b7 and repositioning the b8 knight to d5. White, on the other hand, will play moves like Ne5, Re1, Rc1, and Qe2. Those moves are needed to develop pieces to better squares and to prepare the central pawn push.
The game will revolve around the isolated pawn, key squares, and diagonals. White will need to find the right moment to push this pawn forward, opening up the diagonals and either exchanging the pawn for e6 or creating a passer.
Black, on the other hand, will try to attack it and to win the pawn. Exchanging pieces would benefit Black, since the isolated pawn becomes weak in the endgame. In any case, the Nimzo-Indian is a great opening choice, and perhaps one of the best openings for advanced players.
If you want to learn more ideas on this opening, I suggest reviewing 6 Best Games on Queen’s Indian Defense. For a more in-depth look at this move, I also implore you to check out this Chessable course on the Nimzo-Indian move by move with WFM Maaike Keetman.