Nimzo Indian Defense

Nimzo Indian defense is a queen’s pawn opening that starts with 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4. Perhaps this is the most complex opening in chess, allowing flexibility to play various different set-ups and sharp play. Black’s idea is to give up his bishop for the knight in order to give double pawns to white.  

Because of this exchange on c3, the position gets a dynamic balance and becomes very interesting to play from both sides. White has various ways to play here. Let’s look at some variations for this opening.

Note that Nimzo Indian only occurs if white plays 3.Nc3. White can easily avoid getting into this opening by playing 4.Nf3. In that case, black can choose 4…Bb4+ anyway (Bogo Indian) or 4…b6 (Queen’s Indian) or simply 4…d5 with the queen’s gambit.

White plays 4.a3

The idea of 4.a3 is to force a quick exchange on c3. Black can retreat the bishop to e7, but in the spirit of Nimzo Indian, the line goes 4…Bxc3 5.bxc3 c5 6.e3 0-0 7.Bd3 Nc6

In this position, it is important to remember that white’s plan is toattack the center with e and f pawn advances. For example, 8.Ne2 b6 9.e4 Ne8 (with idea of Nd6, attacking c4 pawn) 10.0-0 Ba6 11.f4

In this position, black should play 11…f5 and stop white’s pawns from rolling freely. After 12.Ng3 g6 13.Bg3 Nd6  the position is roughly equal.

White may capture the c5 pawn, on the other hand, black will capture the c4 pawn.

Note that from move 8, white can’t play casually with normal development like 8.Nf3. He might soon lose his c4 pawn. For example 8…b6 9.0-0 Ba6 10.Bd2 d5 and white loses his c4 pawn easily.

White plays 4.Nf3

4.Nf3 is a natural developing move, delaying the exchange on c3. The line goes 4…c5 5.e3 0-0 6. Bd3 d6 7.0-0

Now that the knight is freed from the pin, it must be taken at once. 7…Bxc3 8.bxc3 Nc6 9.e4 e5 10.d5 Ne7 and we reach the position below.

The center is closed. It reduces the scope of white’s two bishops, which is good for black. Here also, black has achieved a good position as a result of opening.

White plays 4.e3

4.e3 can be played with the intention to play Ne2, to discourage black’s idea of Bxc3 because white will capture with the knight and not get doubled pawns. After 4…0-0 5.Ne2 c6 6.a3

Remember that in this position black should play 6…Ba5 avoiding the exchange on c3. Black’s idea is to play d5 and challenge the center with a good game.

If instead of 5.Ne2 white plays 5.Bd3 or 5.Nf3, we transpose to the line mentioned above.

White plays 4.f3

4.f3 is an attempt to quickly grab the center by e4. Black has two ways to play. The standard plan with 4…c5 or stopping e4 with 4…d5.

Black plays 4…c5

After 4…c5 5.d5 b5 6.e4 bxc4 7.Bxc4 black has a nice tactical stroke here. Try to find it in the position below.

7…Nxd5! If white captures with 8.exd5, then black has 8…Qh4+, regaining the piece because the bishop on c4 is hanging. So white plays 8.Bxd5. After 8…exd5 9.Qxd5 Nc6 and it is black who has two bishops now.

On the other hand, white has a stronghold of the center with a dynamically balanced game.

Black plays 4…d5

After 4…d5 5.a3 Bxc3 6.bxc3 d5 7.cxd5 Nxd5 8.dxc5 Qa5 and again we have an interesting position. White has two bishops but he is slightly behind in development and has got isolated pawns.

White plays 4.Qc2

4.Qc2 is probably the most challenging line for black and also the most popular. White’s idea is to defend the knight on c3, at the same time also covering the c4 square.

Black follows the standard plan with 4…c5. Hereafter 5.a3 Bxc3 6.Qxc3 d5, although white avoided getting doubled pawns, his queen is now in a vulnerable position and can be attacked easily.

For example, 7.dxc5 d4! Is one possible line.

But instead of 5.a3, white can play 5.dxc5 in this line. Here is the line where black will soon take on c5 with the bishop, avoiding the exchange on c3. After 5…0-0 6.a3 Bxc5 7.Nf3 b6 8.Bf4 Bb7 9.Rd1 Nc6 10.e3 we have the position below.

White has a slight space advantage due to the open d file. But he has to yet develop his f1 bishop and castle. Black is well developed and ready to strick in center with Nh5-f5..etc.


As we have seen, there are many lines to remember in this opening and most of them give black a good game. But on the negative side, white has a choice not to allow black to play Nimzo Indian simply by avoiding 3.Nc3.

But if black has a well-prepared nimzo Indian in combination with a queen’s Indian or bogo Indian, it can be a strong opening to tackle for white. Also, some of the development ideas will be common in these various openings. Since the opening is quite complex, it is recommended to study it really well before you consider it as a regular opening for tournament games.

Harikrishnan A

I am an International Fide Rated player with 10+ years of experience. Played many International Chess Tournaments and Commonwealth games.

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