Nimzo-Indian Defense: Play, Attack, and Counter as White & Black

The Nimzo-Indian Defense is one of the most respected defenses to 1.d4 and has been played by nearly every world champion and challenger for the past 100 years.

  • The Nimzo-Indian Defense is named after Aaron Nimzowitsch, who introduced it to the chess world.
  • The opening moves 1…Nf6 and 2…e6 force White to make a decision early in the game. Should they play 3.Nc3 and allow the Nimzo-Indian Defense or 3.Nf3 and enter the Queen’s Indian Defense (3…b6) or Bogo Indian Defense (3…Bb4+)?
  • These opening moves are very flexible and allow Black to wait and see how White chooses to develop before deciding which opening to play. Although the Nimzo-Indian is an excellent opening, there are times when you might want to surprise your opponent by playing the Queen’s Gambit Declined.
  • White can meet the Nimzo-Indian Defense in many different ways. The typical middlegame positions arising from the different opening variations will help you decide how you want to counter the Nimzo-Indian Defense.
  • Black is doing fine in all variations, so your best approach is to play middlegame positions you feel comfortable playing. Focussing your attention on learning to play the typical middlegame and endgames arising from an opening will make you a better all-around chess player as well as give you a better chance to win.
  • The solid Nimzo-Indian Defense will provide 1.d4 players with an excellent challenge. Challenges like this are what draw us to chess, so do not shy away from them.

Ideas and Strategies in the Nimzo-Indian Defense

The Nimzo-Indian Defense begins with 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4

The starting position of the Nimzo-Indian Defense is reached after 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4

The idea behind …Bb4 is to prevent e4. This pawn advance can often be critical to the outcome of the game.

Black also threatens to saddle white with doubled c-pawns after …Bxc3. This capture weakens the pawn on c4 because, after bxc3, there is no longer any pawn that can defend c4.

Moves like …b6, …Ba6, and Nc6-a5 are common in many variations of the Nizo-Indian Defense. Even if white manages to exchange this weak pawn with c5, the c4-square remains weak and becomes an outpost for a black piece.

One of the main strategies for black in the Nimzo-Indian Defense is to play for control of the central light squares and, in particular, e4. Black can seek to prevent e4 with his pieces by placing a bishop on b7 to support the f6-knight.

Another approach is to occupy the e4 square with a piece, usually a knight.

If black chooses to occupy the e4-square with a knight, he will often support it with …f5.

Although it is often control of the light squares that black plays for, there are times when this strategy shifts to controlling the dark squares.

Ideas and Strategies for White

The main goals in the Nimzo-Indin Defense for white are consolidation and development. After 3…Bb4, nothing is stopping black from castling short, but white has yet to develop a single kingside piece.

However, white has not developed a single kingside piece and can find castling further delayed if he plays 4.Qc2. At the very least, white must play e3, Bd3, and Nf3 or Ne2 before castling.

If white can consolidate and catch up in development, the bishop pair can prove extremely dangerous.

The Samisch Variation with 4.a3 is a direct attempt to challenge black and obtain the bishop pair. This variation is a fighting choice where White is willing to bet the bishop-pair advantage outweighs the weakness of the doubled pawns.

White can also seek to keep black from the e4-square and ensure he gets to play e4 by preparing the advance with 4.f3. In typical hypermodern fashion, black sees the large center as an object to attack.

The Samisch variation is White’s most direct approach against the Nimzo-Indian Defense.

If you prefer a more classical approach, play the Rubinstein variation 4.e3 with Nf3 and Bd3. Prioritizing development in the opening is never a bad idea.

Rubinstein variation 4.e3 with Nf3 and Bd3

In this variation of the Nimzo-Indian Defense, white develops his pieces to their natural squares without addressing the central tension. White focuses on development first and taking care of the center later.

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e3 0-0 5.Bd3 d5 6.Nf3 c5

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Although the Nimzo-Indian Defense is a hyper-modern opening, it does not mean you cannot challenge for the center with pawns. The good thing about controlling the center with pieces before pawns is you do not neglect your development.

7.0-0 dxc4 8.Bxc4 Nbd7 9.Qe2 b6 10.Rd1 cxd4 11.exd4

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White played 10.Rd1 to support the d5 advance and Black counter by capturing on d4. After …Bxc3, not only will d5 be a lot more challenging to achieve but black obtains play against the hanging pawns on c3 and d4.

The black knights will prove strong blockaders of the hanging pawns since they will have c4 and d5 available.

The black queen will go to c7, and the rooks will come over to the c8, d8, or e8 squares. The bishop on b7 will prove extremely powerful on the long diagonal in the middlegame.

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Rubinstein Variation 4.e3 with Ne2

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e3 0-0 5.Bd3 d5 6.cxd5 exd5 7.Ne2 Re8

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Developing the knight to e2 allows white to recapture on c3 with a piece and prevent the weakening of the pawn structure. The knight on e2 also gives white the option to support e4 with f3.

Black, in turn, frees the f8 square for a possible bishop retreat by moving the rook to e8 and making it harder for white to play e4.

8.Bd2 Bd6 9.Rc1 a6 10.0-0 Nbd7 12.Ng3 b6

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Here we see one more advantage to developing with Ne2. The knight supports e4 from the g3-square.

In this middlegame, black retains both bishops and has a solid position. The opening moves by Black are easy to understand, which makes learning the opening theory much easier.

One of the many advantages of playing the Nimzo-Indian Defense is the common development black can use against many different variations. For example, black often plays …b6 and …Bb7 to support the center and create a powerful attacking bishop if the d-pawn advances.

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Nimzo-Indian Defense 4.Qc2

This variation is also known as the Capablanca variation. Apart from Capablanca, it was played by Alekhine and Euwe in the 1920s and 1930s.

Later, Kasparov, Sokolov, and Bareev started playing the Capablanca variation.

Once again, black follows a familiar development pattern with …b6, …Bb7. Nbd7, and c5. If you need to break a pin on the f6 knight, the queen can go to c8 and support the c-pawn.

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.Qc2 0-0

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The early development of the queen in the opening is often discouraged. When the queen enters the game early, it usually allows your opponent to develop with tempo by attacking the queen.

Here the queen stays behind the white pawns, and at most, black will gain one or two tempos. This early queen development can sometimes make black players feel the need to play actively and take advantage of White’s lack of development.

There is no need for black to rush things in the Nimzo-Indian Defense when a safe, solid approach works.

In any opening, it is always an excellent strategy to first play the moves you know you will play because it allows you to see how your opponent plans on setting up their pieces. Black almost always castles short in the Nimzo-Indian Defense, so this makes 4…0-0 a good response in many variations.

5.a3 Bxc3 6.Qxc3 b6 7.Bg5 Bb7 8.e3 d6 9.Ne2 Nbd7 10.Qc2 c5

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The knight on e2 will often continue to c3 in this variation of the Nimzo-Indian Defense. Even though black has played …d6 advancing with …d5 is vital to help keep control of the e4-square.

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Nimzo-Indian Defense Samisch Variaton 4.a3

The Samisch variation is a direct attempt at refuting the Nimzo-Indian Defense. This move leads to the crux of the Nimzo-Indian Defense – is the bishop pair enough compensation for the weakness of the doubled pawns?

White clarifies Black’s intentions even at the expense of playing another pawn move in the opening rather than a developing move. Despise the lost tempo resolving the pin allows both players to get on with their main strategies.

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.a3 Bxc3+ 5.bxc3

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Unsurprisingly, the main target for black is the forward doubled pawn on c4. Targeting this pawn means that instead of developing to b7, the bishop goes to a6.

Black’s knight will reach a5 via c6, where it joins the attack on the c4-pawn. White can defend the c4-pawn twice with Bd3 and Qe2, but the black queen can participate in the attack with …Qd7-c6 or …Qd7-a5.

Because White relies on generating counter-play in the center, the move f3 is necessary. The downside to f3 is that it can allow for an awkward check on h4.

The threat of this check often requires Nh3 to meet …Qh4+ with Nf2.

5…b6 6.f3 Nc6 7.e4 Ba6 8.Bg5 h6 9.Bh4 Na5 10.e5 g5 11.Bf2 Nh5

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Black has achieved an equal position out of the opening despite having both knights on the rim.

One of the toughest tests for any position is to play it against a world chess champion. Ding Liren was able to draw from this position against Magnus Carlsen.

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Nimzo-Indian Defense 4.f3

The move 4.f3 is often associated with the Samisch Variation since White often plays a3 as well. Since there are no immediate doubled pawns to attack instead of 4…b6, Black can develop with 4…0-0 and wait for the a3 pawn advance.

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.f3 0-0

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There are two vital moves for black in this variation. Whenever the f3 pawn advance is played, look for a check on h4, and it is possible to avoid the Bg5 pin with …Ne8.

5.a3 Bxc3 6.bxc3 Ne8 7.e4 b6 8.Bd3 Ba6 9.Nh3 Nc6 10.0-0 Na5

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The move f3 certainly helps white gain a nice, broad center, but it also deprives the knight of its natural developing square. Fortunately, the knight can re-enter the battle through the f2 square if needed.

Despite the imposing white center and the cramped appearance of the black position, it is hard for white to make progress since black is without any weaknesses.

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Nimzo-Indian Defense Leningrad Variation 4.Bg5

In many queen’s pawn openings, it is helpful for white to play Bg5 and pin the black knight on f6. Here it can help white obtain a better version of the Rubinstein variation because the bishop is not blocked after e3.

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bbb4 4.Bg5 h6

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Against the Leningrad Variation of the Nimzo-Indian Defense, it is best to generate counterplay with …c5 and hold off castling. Black will often need to break the pin with …g5, making the queenside a safer haven for the black king.

5.Bh4 c5 6.d5 Bxc3+ 7.bxc3 d6 8.e3 Qe7 9.Nf3 Nbd7 10.Bd3 e5

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Because it is difficult for the light-squared bishop to develop Black will castle by hand with …Kd8 and …Kc7. Such a maneuver is entirely playable with the closed center in this position.

White must take care of the direct threat by black to play …e4 and usually avoids the fork with Nd2.

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In Conclusion

The Nimzo-Indian Defense is a sound defense you can play with confidence against 1.d4. You get to play for a win with black in every variation from a rock-solid position.

Many standard moves across the different variations make learning this excellent defense easier. Since the opening moves are based upon long-term strategies, you won’t find yourself wondering what plan to follow or where to place your pieces in the middlegame.

No matter how new you are to chess, you can start playing the Nimzo-Indian today and keep playing it throughout your entire chess career. You can depend on this chess opening for your whole chess career.

Nimzo-Indian Defense: Frequently Asked Questions

Is the Nimzo Indian defense good?

No, the Nimzo-Indian is not good; it is an excellent defense to 1.d4.

What is the point of the Nimzo Indian?

The Nimzo-Indian Defense is based on rapid development, control of the center, and the option to castle early. In addition to this, black might also obtain play against structural weaknesses in White’s position like doubled c-pawns after …Bxc3.

Is the Nimzo Indian hard?

No, the Nimzo-Indian is not hard. In fact, it is the ease and simplicity of the defense that has attracted top chess players through the years.

How do you play the Nimzo-Indian Defense?

There are many ways to play the Nimzo-Indian, and finding one of them that suits your style will not prove challenging. Your options when it comes to playing the Nimzo-Indian include controlling the center with your pieces, playing for control of a color complex, occupying the center, or using your lead in development.

How do you beat the Nimzo-Indian Defense?

There are many ways to play the Nimzo-Indian, and finding one of them that suits your style will not prove challenging. Your options when it comes to playing the Nimzo-Indian include controlling the center with your pieces, playing for control of a color complex, occupying the center, or using your lead in development.
For example, if you dislike playing with a pawn weakness, then the Samisch variation with 4.a3 Bxc3 is not a good choice for you. However, the Capablanca variation where white plays 4.Qc2 and captures on c3 with the queen might suit you well.

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