Some time ago I discovered something interesting in that the title of Aaron Nimzovitsch’s celebrated My System is the same as that of a Danish Lieutenant’s book of exercises. His name was Jorgen Muller and appears to have been something of a guru in the fitness field. The significance of this is that Nimzovitsch attributed his greatest victory (Carlsbad 1929) to the benefits he gained from Muller’s exercises. Indeed it seems that his admiration for Muller extended to the point that Nimzovitsch wanted his emulate Muller in creating his own ‘system’.
Lieutenant Muller was indeed a charismatic figure, perhaps especially for those of a nerdy bent. It seems that he excelled at a huge array of activities; both sprinting and long distance running, long jump, rowing, skating, swimming, plunging, throwing the hammer, putting the shot, discus-throwing, spear-throwing, wrestling, weight-lifting, tug-of-war, boxing, skiing, and football. He won numerous championships, held Danish records in many activities and was awarded a knighthood of the Order of the Dannebrog in 1919.
Muller’s ‘system’ was designed to maintain good health and fitness; no weights were involved as in those days nobody saw the point of building unnaturally large muscles. His recommendations included things like opening the windows at night so as get fresh air into the room, which can be no small matter in the Danish winter. He also suggested that daily bathing was an important aspect of good health and had some sharp words for those who didn’t do so.
Comparing these two Danes’ systems, I wonder if Nimzovitsch might have written a better book if he hadn’t idolised Muller and wanted to emulate him with his chess. Quite a few strong players think that Nimzovitsch’s My System is overrated, and even fans like Bent Larsen pointed out that it wasn’t a complete system. There’s no doubt that Nimzovitsch had a brilliant and unique understanding of chess that was to inspire future generations. But perhaps he could have conveyed this more effectively had he written an expanded collection of his best games beyond those contained in his Chess Praxis.
Are there some books that I’d recommend more? Well actually I think that Hans Kmoch’s Pawn Power In Chess is an absolute classic that can contribute much to a player’s understanding of chess, especially if they’ve previously been reliant on piece play and tactics. I’d recommend this for players who are over 1700 and even some Grandmasters could benefit from it.
For very strong players (2200 plus) who wish to understand Nimzovitsch’s contribution I think that Raymond Keene’s Nimzovitsch: A Reappraisal is more lucid and comprehensible than Nimzovitsch’s own books. But before moving on to this weird and wonderful World it’s best to get a thorough grounding in the strategy of more classical masters such as Tarrasch and Rubinstein.