Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Benjamin's Games with the Nimzovich Defense

nimzovich defenseNimzovich Defense - 1.e4 Nc6 2.d4 e5

Continuing my series on GM Joel Benjamin's unorthodox openings, I have posted an article on his games with the Nimzovich Defense, focusing on Christiansen - Benjamin, Seattle 2000.
I was surprised that this excellent game (one of my favorites) receives only passing mention in his recent biography American Grandmaster (Everyman 2007). After showing an early round loss to Boris Gulko at the 2000 U.S. Championship in Seattle, Benjamin writes: "The next day I took on Christiansen in a Nimzovich Defense. Improving on a game I lost to A. Ivanov the year before, I quickly achieved a dominating position. It wasn't Larry's day" (211). That's the entire comment. I was even more surprised upon finishing the book to find not a single additional reference to the Nimzovich, let alone a game with it, when I think Benjamin has made important contributions to the theory of that opening.

Benjamin seems to follow in a long line of New York players not afraid to open with Black's "right Knight" and to typically follow it up with ...e5 rather than ...d5 (as Nimzovich himself favored). After writing about 1...Nc6 intending ...e5 in previous articles (especially "Sidney Bernstein, Opening Innovator," "The Panther," and "1...Nc6 or The Kevitz System Bibliography"), I have come to see this as practically a native opening tradition which I like to call "The New York System." I hope my article helps to add Benjamin to the family tree of New York System innovators.

I will be posting more articles in this series in the coming weeks, along with a full review of American Grandmaster (which received a very favorable notice from Bruce Pandolfini in Chess Life). And, by the way: happy birthday wishes to GM Benjamin (born March 11, 1964).


Mark Ginsburg said...

This Nimzovich Defense stuff is pretty humorous particularly with regard to the personal history.

It was iconoclast Marylander Steve Odendahl playing Black who inflicted a defeat on Joel Benjamin with, yes, you've guess it, the Nimzovich Defense, Pan-Am Intercollegiates, New York City, December 1981 in the Swarthmore-Yale match.

Maybe Joel realized its value 19 years later.

Anonymous said...

I prefer to meet the Nimzovich defense with 2.Bc4.

Perhaps that's not objectively best, but it suits my style and I've never lost with it.

For example, 1.e4 Nc6 2.Bc4 Nf6 3.Nc3 Nxe4!? 4.Bxf7+ Kxf7 5.Qh5+

While white recovers the material, Black's okay, maybe even better, but his K is on the move, and anything can happen.

West Orange Chess Club said...

Hi Mike:

I picked up a copy of Hugh Myers's pamphlet entitled "Nimzovich's Defence to 1. e4," published by Caissa Editions, from a bin in Fred Wilson's shop. I'll bring to Kenilworth if you're by there one of these evenings. Scott Massey seems to use this defence often and has showed me a couple of his finer wins with it, so with your blog posts and these other materials perhaps it might be worth getting up to speed on the Nimzovich to add as an offbeat addition to the repertoire?!



Michael Goeller said...

I think the Nimzovich is a great opening. The only problem, in my view, is 1.e4 Nc6 2.Nf3 when I don't much care for any Black reply except 2...e5 -- which makes me think I might as well be playing 1...e5 as Black. I have had success with 2...d6 against lower-rated opponents, but there are lots of ways for White to cause trouble if he knows what he is doing.

There are lots of good books on the Nimzovich, and I personally think Myers is the least usable of the bunch. My favorite introduction was Keene and Jacobs's "A Complete Defense for Black," which recommends 1...Nc6 against everything, often transposing to the Chigorin after 1.d4 Nc6 2.Nf3 d5 etc. A recent book by Wisniewski, "Play 1...Nc6," is also interesting, covering some of the same territory as Keene and Jacobs but with the really fascinating recommendation of 1.e4 Nc6 2.Nf3 Nf6!? If I could get comfortable with that line, I'd commit to 1...Nc6 completely. I also like Igor Berdichevsky's "Modern Practice 1....Nc6!?" (also available in CD form) and Andrew Martin's Nimzovich Defense video/DVD. I have a complete bibliography online if you are interested.

BuzzLightSquare said...

I agree with you Michael, 2 Nf3 is what deters me from this defence; I get good positions and results from all other variations.
If I reply 2...d5 I get a lousy variation of the Scandinavian, especially if my opponent plays Bb5. I usually end up having to spend time getting my queen safe and putting up with doubled pawns. I've seen the positions with 2..Nf6 and they look too chaotic for me, 2..f5 gives me a backward e-pawn and 2,,d6 I get squeezed to death.

Anonymous said...

You did not mention The Dark Knight System by James Schuyler which I personally believe to be better than the books you have mentioned and to produce a more complete and sound repertoire for those who do not want to play 2 ...e5 but play 1 ... Nc6 as a self contained system. You can be forgiven for that because it was not written at the time of your article, but now we have moved on, I think it is worth a mention. Schuyler does suggest 2 ... d6 against Nf3 but Short has beaten Kasparov with it (although in blitz) and Bauer has a good record with it. The last games I can see on the open to all version of Chessbase give 3 out of 5 for Bauer playing almost exclusively 2600+ opposition. I love your column however so keep up the good work.

Michael Goeller said...

As you yourself point out, The Dark Knight System did not come out until 5 years after my article was posted. When it appeared, I wrote an extensive review:

Glad you are enjoying my articles.