Doubled Pawns (4)

One of my chess regrets is that I’ve played so few games on either side of the Nimzo-Indian Defence. I haven’t taught it very much either. It always seems to me to be hard to teach as there are so many possible pawn formations that could arise depending on which pawn moves Black chooses to make in the centre. It was gratifying to see that Nigel making very similar comments on the same opening on his Facebook page recently.

White also has to make the decision as to whether he should prevent, allow, or even encourage Black to double his c-pawns by trading minor pieces on c3. When I was learning chess in the 60s the Nimzo-Indian was one of the big doubled pawn related battlegrounds. Black would place his pawns on b6, c5, d6 and e6, and be happy to attack the c-pawns using a knight on a5, a bishop on a6 and some major pieces on the c-file. White would sit their gloating about his extra space and control in the centre and dream of using his centre pawns to launch an attack on Black’s unfortunate king. Textbooks would demonstrate games in which White’s plan looked unstoppable.

They’d also demonstrate games in which White was tied down to defending the pawns and was eventually unable to hold his position.

Like this:

Or this:

But looking for recent examples at top level chess I couldn’t find anything.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised. Chess in 1956 was very different from chess in 1896, which was itself very different from chess in 1836, so it’s only to be expected that chess in 2016 will be very different from chess in 1956.

So what happened? Is it just fashion or has the battle been won?

I think the latter is the case. The strength of Black’s Ne8, planning to block White’s attack by meeting f4 with f5, which was first played by Capablanca against Paul Johner in 1929, has been well known for decades and database statistics demonstrate that Black scores well in these positions.

After the moves 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. e3 c5 White will now play either 5. Ne2, to recapture with the knight if Black takes on c3, or 5. Bd3 followed by 6. Ne2.

This particular variation, then, seems to be an example where the doubled pawns are weak because the front pawn is open to attack.

Richard James

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About Richard James

Richard James is a professional chess teacher and writer living in Twickenham, and working mostly with younger children and beginners. He was the co-founder of Richmond Junior Chess Club in 1975 and its director until 2005. He is the webmaster of chessKIDS academy (www.chesskids.org.uk or www.chesskids.me.uk) and, most recently, the author of Chess for Kids and The Right Way to Teach Chess to Kids, both published by Right Way Books. Richard is currently the Curriculum Consultant for Chess in Schools and Communities (www.chessinschools.co.uk) as well as teaching chess in local schools and doing private tuition. He has been a member of Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club since 1966 and currently has an ECF grade of 177.