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Paul F Johner vs Aron Nimzowitsch
"Johner in the Belly of the Whale" (game of the day Jun-03-10)
Dresden (1926)  ·  Nimzo-Indian Defense: Normal Variation. Bishop Attack (E47)  ·  0-1
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Given 46 times; par: 57 [what's this?]

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Kibitzer's Corner
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May-27-09  Amarande: <Fulkrum: I wonder, is 9.Nd2 a questionable move? Shouldn't white push e4 and lock up the center>


Okay, maybe that's a bit harsh. However, it's still basically true - in this line (and other variations of the Nimzo that share the same salient qualities, namely White being forced to recapture at c3 with the pawn, and Black refraining from ... d5) it is essentially never to White's advantage to seal the center with e4 and d5, and in fact, it is virtually always to White's disadvantage.

This will be appreciated in light of the pawn formation thus produced. At this point Black (if he has not already) WILL play e5, producing this Pawn skeleton:

click for larger view

Let's consider the strategic objectives on each side in such a pawn structure:

* For Black, there are two salient objectives, one on each wing. The primary is to take advantage of White's c4 pawn, which as we can see in the diagram (unguarded and unable to be guarded by a pawn, and even worse, shielded from c-file protection by the pawn at c3) is very, very sick. To this end, b6, Na5, and Ba6 are to be played. White must then devote two pieces to passive defense of the c4 pawn (while Black's Bishop in particular remains quite mobile, and needs only two moves to shift to King's side action). Moreover, a4 is probably necessary (combined with keeping the Rook stuck at a1 for much of the game) as otherwise, Qd7-a4 threatens, after which White's Queen, Knight, and light Bishop are all glued to c4 (while once again, Black's Queen and Bishop can still get back to the K-side in a jiffy, and will always have the initiative in doing so, since White's guardians can only desert the Pawn AFTER Black's attackers do).

Meanwhile, on the K-side, Black's plan is also clear - f5, opening the f-file by leverage against White's e4 pawn (in fact, it could be argued that ... e4, as in the game, is something of a weakness, since the Pawn there is much looser after f5-f4 than a Pawn at e5 would ever be. Also, White's 11 f4 is probably a mistake, since it makes it that much easier for Black to open a K-side file.) After this, the Rooks are doubled on the f-file and possibly brought to the g- or h-file via f6, before the rest of Black's pieces join in for a strong attack. If White replies to f5 with f3, Black can play f4, and open instead the g-file for an even stronger attack.

* There is precious little that White can do against any of this. His advantages are few - the b-file, the Bishop pair, and a central space advantage. However, none of these is especially exploitable - the Bishop pair is at its poorest in closed positions like this, and in fact, it is debatable if the Bishop pair is even an advantage at all here (mainly based on how much the position revolves around Black's pressure on Pc4, and the fact that White's Bishop is a complete noncombatant in that regard, being on the wrong color squares and not even being able to trade for Black's Knight, since the immured Pc3 blocks this idea hopelessly). The b-file leads to naught, since Black's b6 leaves a White Rook biting on granite. The central space advantage is true, and has some slight defensive value (it at least means Black's Na5 does little offensively but tie up a White piece, since it would take too long for it to assist in K-side action) but there is virtually no advantage to be taken of it with how closed the center remains.

Nor is there really any room for White to obtain any new advantages - in a d5/e4 vs. d6/e5 pawn skeleton, f4 is virtually never good for White, as the f-file is outweighed by the additional weak pawn at e4, and moreover, by the hole at e5 (which in this case is even more significant than Pe4, as Black will place a Knight at e5, making White's illness at c4 even more debilitating - f4 is probably fatal for White here). Nor can White hope to soften up things on the b-file with a4-a5, since Black's Knight blocks the latter square. Should White attempt to drive away this Knight, he can do it only with Nb3 (as Pc3 prevents Bxa5 from ever becoming a reality); to achieve this, Qe2/f1 and Bd3/e2 are first necessary. Meanwhile Black will have played f5, and thus White will need to additionally play f3 (else, once White's Knight abandons c4, Black will win that Pawn by playing fxe4, forcing Bxe4), allowing the aforementioned g-file based attack. Worse, the whole maneuver requires so much time that even if White enforces a5 after all, Black will have time to contest the file successfully anyway.

In short, the strategic idea of sealing the center in this position is, to put it mildly, an extremely faulty one for White, if not outright fatal.

May-27-09  blacksburg: <in a d5/e4 vs. d6/e5 pawn skeleton, f4 is virtually never good for White>

not necessarily true. if white has control over the queenside, then f4 is a way to open a second front.

a famous example - Karpov vs Unzicker, 1974

positional rules can be useful, but each position must be judged on its own concrete features.

Aug-02-09  The Brain99: Could someone explain the purpose of 20...Bd7 as well as the following 21...Rac8? The Rook just moves right over to the g-file in a few moves and the bishop does not seem to be any more active on d7 than it was on c8.
Premium Chessgames Member
  Chessical: <The Brain99> <20...Bd7 Ba6 or Be6> all seem equally good moves uniting the Rooks. Nimzowitsch wants Johner to push <d5> so that he can start a K-side offensive with the centre now closed.

After the further prompt of <21...Rac8> Johner is persuaded to seal the centre when probably <22.Bb2> was better retaining the tension.

Sep-08-09  superstu: Nimzo at his best!
Sep-08-09  paul1959: Portisch (in How to open a chess game)mentions that on move 7 White could have played d5 instead of o-o. This works because of 7 d5 exd5 8 cxd5 Nxd5 9 Bxh7+. If Black moves the N instead , White will push the e-pawn since Black cannot reply e5. Conclusion: Black o-o was premature and he should have castled only after the center was blocked.

9 d5 was also possible but possibly less effective since White would have to exchange on e6. Then Black weak d6 pawn would be balanced by the open f file.

Apr-23-10  Julian713: <Amarande> Great analysis, much appreciated! I would rather read a lengthy explanation like that than pore over the endless move sheets that analysts seem so fond of posting these days. I always felt funny having those particular doubled pawns as White, now I know why :D
Premium Chessgames Member
  An Englishman: Good Evening: <paul1959> is correct; in fact, by deferring 0-0 Black sometimes gains the chance to play ...0-0-0, ...Kb8 and ...Bc8, when White cannot bring enough pressure to bear on the b-file, and Black gets to hurl everything at the White King. This was Hubner's great discovery ca. 1970.
Premium Chessgames Member
  al wazir: It doesn't seem right to see a Nimzowitsch victory without The Great One's usual self-congratulatory annotations. I'd love to read his explanation of why the maneuver Bc8-Ba6-Bc8 was necessary, rather than an immediate 29...Nh4.
Jun-03-10  th3jamez: If you want to see some notations from Nimzowitsch you can find this game in his book 'MY SYSTEM'
Premium Chessgames Member
  kevin86: Nimzo's play is so sharp that he can tie a contortionist in knots.
Premium Chessgames Member
  al wazir: <th3jamez: If you want to see some notations from Nimzowitsch you can find this game in his book 'MY SYSTEM'>

Thanks for that. I have the book (in the English translation by Philip Hereford, edited by Fred Reinfeld, with all moves in descriptive notation), so I looked up the game and found that Nimzowitsch says . . . NOTHING WHATEVER about the ♗ maneuver!

After 31. Re2 he does say of his next move, 31...Nh4, "Seizes his chance. Black's KP now needs to be defended. If he [i.e., Johner] had limited himself to purely defensive measures, as, say, B-Q2 [i.e., Bd2], a pretty combination would have resulted; namely 31. B-Q2, R-Kt3! 32. B-K1 Kt-Kt5 ch, etc."

So Nimzo analyzed something that never happened, which in fact depends on white's choice of the peculiar 31. Bd2, but saw no need to justify his apparent waste of three tempi.

Premium Chessgames Member
  chrisowen: It was a great fish trawl, white swallowed whole the patient build up. I naturally digest positional moves think harbour Qh7. Oh my days 3..Bb4 beds down for a slow struggle and Nimzo doesnt dissapoint. The nidocolous tendencies nesting whilst he brew a good spring in reguards to gum up white's water did not work. The black blow holes are open h and e mouth spat up victory. If only my prayers were answered instead of wailing against pawn walls.
Premium Chessgames Member
  Marmot PFL: Nimzovich was genius, but also had some crazy ideas, for instance that it would have been better to learn chess later in life than he did (age 8). He thought that would have made him less of a one sided tactician and a better positional player. Frankly that makes about as much sense as saying to learn arithmetic later will improve your skill at geometry. In any case more games are decided by tactics than by positional play.
Premium Chessgames Member
  TheFocus: Most kids nowadays are ready to RETIRE at eight years old.
Jan-11-11  meppi: the really impressive maneuver in this game has to be 14. h5 - 15. Qf5 - 16. Qh7

What a good way to set up an attack, using the h pawn of the castled king and bringing the queen behind it.

This plan pays off with 33. Bxh3, half opening the h file. Very good!!

Jul-05-11  LIFE Master AJ: I thought I had made a web page on this game ... but I could not find it when I went looking for it ... maybe it was one of those that were on the <<EXCITE>> network.
Premium Chessgames Member
  perfidious: <Amarande: <Fulkrum: I wonder, is 9.Nd2 a questionable move? Shouldn't white push e4 and lock up the center> NO. NEVER...>

To broadly state 'NO. NEVER.' is general reasoning in situations which require a concrete approach.

<....Nor is there really any room for White to obtain any new advantages - in a d5/e4 vs. d6/e5 pawn skeleton, f4 is virtually never good for White....>

There are exceptions to this generality as well, eg, when White obtains piece play to compensate for the weakness; when he can recapture with pawn, thus keeping Black's pieces from using e5, also keeping the possibility of a breakthrough with e4-e5; when Black is in no position to exploit the weakness of e5, and when tactical considerations enable White to play f4 to his advantage.

<...In short, the strategic idea of sealing the center in this position is, to put it mildly, an extremely faulty one for White, if not outright fatal.>

White will often be forced to close the centre in the short term so as to open the game later in these typical Nimzo-Indian middlegames, as Black will have enough counterplay to thwart any attempts to overrun his position early on.

Premium Chessgames Member
  Interbond: In the book "Neue Schach-Teste" -Euwe/Muhring from 1960 move 31 for white is Re1 not Re2. I guess Re2 is correct, but I'am not sure.
Aug-25-12  backrank: <Interbond: In the book "Neue Schach-Teste" -Euwe/Muhring from 1960 move 31 for white is Re1 not Re2. I guess Re2 is correct, but I'am not sure.>

31 Re1 is not a legal move, so I'm rather sure 31 Re2 is correct :)

Mar-02-14  LIFE Master AJ: I just took about five minutes ... and replayed over this game. (For the whatever time.)

Gee whiz. I have seen it before, but you know what? It's freaking brilliant!!! (What else can you say? I ran out of adjectives.)

Mar-02-14  LIFE Master AJ: I should make a web page for this game.
Jun-24-14  paramount: Nice game from Nimzo.

But 25...Rg7 is much inferior compared to 25...h4!!

With h4, black sacrificing a pawn but opening the g-file for the rook(s).

Best play for white is 26.fxg5 Rxg5 27.gxh4 the white position is HOPELESS, crammed, dormant, really have no counter attack. after Rg8 (doubling the rook), and Nf5, win would be easy for black.

Other responses 26.gxh4/g4/Qe2/Ra2/etc etc are really no help for white. S

Conclusion is with 25...h4!!, white should be lose in no time.

26.gxh4 gxf4 27.exf4 Nf5 28.Qf2 Nxh4 29.Ng3 Ng4+!! 30.hxg4 Nf3#

26.Ra2 hxg3+ 27.Nxg3 gxf4 28.exf4 Nhg4+ 29.Kh1 e3 (with threat of Nf2+) 30.f5 Bxa4! 31.Nf1 Bb3 32.Rb2 Nf2+ 33.Rxf2 exf2 34.Qxf2 Bxc4 (0-1 with black up 1 pawn and rook for a bishop, with f more active position).

I have to mention that the position after 25.Nf1 is very interesting, very good to practice your calculations, just what you have seen, i just gave the 3 lines of those combination and its really really challenging.

But dont rely much to my lines, there are inordinate lines that good to see with the fact that black is much more superior in that position, almost every moves would lead to the black;s win just dont make a very severe mistake, you'll be fine.

Last note, Nimzo's move 25...Rg7 is a BAD move compared to h4. But it is really ambiguous in terms of "bad move".

Rg7 is "decent" move if you are NOT CAOMPARING with h4. You can win with Rg7 (like Nimzo) but you have to sweat much more and take a long detour compared with the real deal h4!!.


Premium Chessgames Member
  offramp: I have annotated this game in great detail on the back of a Dutch tram ticket.

If you want I'll post it to you.

But I have to have it back as I need to use the ticket next Thursday.

Premium Chessgames Member
  Honza Cervenka: 30...e3! seems to be an interesting alternative to Nimzo's chosen move. If white takes the Pawn, then black Queen invades his position with decisive effect, for example 31.Nxe3 Nxe3 32.Bxe3 Qf5 33.g4 (33.Bg2 Rxg3 ) 33...hxg4 etc., or 31.Bxe3 Nxe3 32.Nxe3 Qd3 33.Nf1 Bxh3! 34.Kxh3 h4 . After 31.Qxb6 black gives a beautiful mate: 31...Ng4+! 32.Kg2 (32.hxg4 hxg4+ 33.Kg2 Qh3#) 32...Nh4+! 33.gxh4 Qe4+ 34.Kg3 Nf2+ 35.Kh2 Qxh1+! 36.Rxh1 Rg2#. But other moves are hardly better, for example 31.Qc2 Ng4+ 32.Kg2 Nh4+ 33.gxh4 Bf5 , or 31.Bf3 Nh4! 32.Bd1 Qf5 33.Kh1 Qxh3+ (or simply 33...Qe4+ 34.Kh2 Nf3+ ) 34.Rh2 Rxg3! (the Queen cannot be taken for mate) 35.Nxg3 Rxg3 36.Rg2 Rxg2! 37.Rxh3 Bxh3 and against threats Nf6-e4-g3#/f2# or Nh4-f5-g3# there is no satisfactory defense. And 31.Rgg2 (freeing g1 for the King) allows 31...Ne4 with fall of Pg3 and decisive attack of black.
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