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.
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.