Tal's Nimzo Line

Craig Sadler (refutor)

Looking for a different try in the Nimzo-Indian? Look no further, Mikhail Tal shows the way



A couple of months ago I played through all the games, with annotations, from former World Champion Mikhail Tal's excellent book 'Tal-Botwinnik 1960' on his historic World Championship, becoming the youngest World Champion ever.

One of Tal's main weapons vs. Botwinnik was the Nimzo-Indian Defence. There are many different variations that White can try vs. the Nimzo, the Leningrad variation, the Rubinstein variation, the Classical variation and the Samisch variation, amongst others.

The line that Botwinnik played vs. Tal in their epic match was the Samisch variation. The idea behind this line is to force Black to give up the Bishop pair at the cost of doubled pawns. White considers the exchange on c3 to be advantageous and hopes the bishop pair and the extra central pawn will be in his favour. In game 4 of their match, Tal played one of the 'normal' lines involving castling. In games 14, 16, 18 and 20 Tal played 5... Ne4, preparing to push f5 and strike back against the centre in that way.

In the Samisch, White regularly dominates the center with his pawns and gets e4 in quite easily. Tal's idea, based on a monograph by Soviet great Mark Taimanov was quite surprising, going against the 'classical' rules of not moving a piece twice in the opening.

An interesting note, is that the ...Ne4, ..f5 idea can also be used in the Classical variation after 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. Qc2 O-O 5. a3 Bxc3+ 6. Qxc3 Ne4 7. Qc2 f5 It is playable in this line, it may be more effective, because not only is the knight clearing the way for the central thrust of f5, but he also gains a tempo on the queen.

Tal drew games 14, 16 and 18, but in the 20th game, Botwinnik made an improvement that Tal believed refuted the line entirely and was completely better for White. I had my doubts about that, so let's take a look at game 20. Notes are by me, and Tal where listed.

Botwinnik - Tal

World Championship (20) Moscow 1960

E24 - Nimzo-Indian : Samisch variation

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. a3 Bxc3+ 5. bxc3 Ne4 6. e3 Other moves that have been played here include 6. Qc2 as by Botwinnik in games 16 and 18, and 6. Nh3 as played by Botwinnik in game 14. 6... f5 7. Qh5+!! The two exclamation marks are given by Tal himself, and he states in his book '...the twentieth game contained the most valuable theoretical contributions in the match and willingly or unwillingly, I found myself locked in a difficult struggle. ... When such checks are made at the outset, they are usually very bad checks, when Botwinnik makes such a move - it is profound, and unquestionably home preparation'. 7... g6 8. Qh6 In this position, Tal played 8... d6 I wasn't sure if this was the strongest, so I checked the current theoretical works, Modern Chess Openings (MCO) and Nunn's Chess Openings (NCO). In MCO the line isn't even listed, and in NCO it is listed with 6. Qc2 as the strongest, and in this line between Botwinnik and Tal gives 8... Qg5 and marks it as equal. I don't mind playing queenless middlegames, but Tal dismisses it in his book saying 'Several results of the opening experiment can now be discussed. The Black squates on the kingside, deprived on an important defender, are very vulnerable and the white Queen, by herself, brings disarray into a rather broken-up position. The loss of tempi by the Queen has no significance whatsoever since Black is unable to do anything about it. The attempt to transfer into the endgame by 8... Qg5 9. Qxg5 Nxg5 10. h4 gives White a significantly better game.' Tal's game finished 9. f3 Nf6 10. e4 e5 11. Bg5 Qe7 12. Bd3 Rf8 13. Ne2 Qf7 14. Qh4 fxe4 15. fxe4 Ng4 16. h3 Qf2+ 17. Kd2 Qxh4 18. Bxh4 Nf2 19. Rhf1 Nxd3 20. Rxf8+ Kxf8 21. Kxd3 Be6 22. Ng3 Nd7 23. Nf1 a6 24. Bf2 Kg7 25. Nd2 Rf8 26. Be3 b6 27. Rb1 Nf6 ½–½

Now, I'm not grandmaster, world champion, etc. etc. etc. but I have to disagree with Tal's assessment of the line. This line may be slightly better for White, but gives no more of an advantage than any other opening. Maybe the GMs agree with me, because I've only tracked down a handful of games in this line, with Black winning all of them, but White never playing 10. h4 Polgar-Bischoff diverted with 9. Qh3 The other two games I have were Brusi-Barbara Hund (WGM) 1978 and Gert Pietrse-Tony Miles Amsterdam 1988. Surprisingly neither one of them continued 10. h4 They both continued 10. f3

Brusi - Hund

Bagneaux Open 1978

E24 - Nimzo-Indian: Samisch variation

10... b6 In a game here on schemingmind.com, I once played this line (where I won with some luck) I continued 10... d6 11. Bd3 Nd7 12. Ne2 b6 13. h4 Nf7 14. Kf2 Nf6 15. a4 Bb7 16. Ba3 O-O-O 17. Rab1 a5 18. c5 dxc5 19. Bb5 cxd4 20. Be7 dxe3+ 21. Ke1 Nd5 22. Bxd8 Rxd8 23. c4 Nb4 24. Nf4 Nc2+ 25. Ke2 Rd2+ 26. Kf1 Rf2+ 27. Kg1 Ne5 28. Nxe6 Bxf3 29. Rh2 Ng4 30. gxf3 Nxh2 31. Bc6 Nxf3+ 0-1 It's not theoretically relevant, but there is a nice finish :) 11. a4 O-O 12. Bd3 Ba6 13. Kd2 Is the immediate 13. e4 attempting to open up the position a little better? 13... c5 14. d5 Nf7 15. a5 Ne5 16. axb6? Allowing Black to trade off the Bishop was weak positionally. White's main advantage was the Bishop pair. Without that positional trump, Black cleans up. The alternative 16. Be2 wasn't much better after 16... Nxc4 The rest of the game for completeness sake is 13... c5 14. d5 Nf7 15. a5 Ne5 16. axb6 Nxd3 17. b7 Bxb7 18. Kxd3 exd5 19. cxd5 Bxd5 20. Ne2 Nc6 21. Nf4 Bb3 22. Ra6 Ne5+ 23. Kd2 Nc4+ 24. Ke1 Nb6 25. Kf2 d6 26. h4 Bc4 27. Ra5 a6 28. Nh3 Nd5 29. Ra3 Rfb8 30. Nf4 Nxf4 31. exf4 Rb1 32. Ra5 Re8 33. Rg1 Re2+ 34. Kg3 Rc2 35. Be3 Rxg1 36. Bxg1 Rxc3 37. Ra1 Kf7 38. Bf2 Bb5 39. Be1 Rc2 40. Rd1 Ke6 41. Bf2 d5 42. Re1+ Kd6 43. Rh1 d4 44. h5 d3 45. hxg6 hxg6 46. Be3 Re2 47. Bc1 c4 0–1

Pieterse - Miles

Amsterdam 1988

E24 - Nimzo-Indian: Samisch variation

10... Nf7 11. a4 d6 12. a5 e5 13. Bd3 c5 14. Ne2 Nc6 15. d5 Ne7 16. Bd2 Bd7 17. O-O Kd8 18. Bc2 Kc7 Possible the safest square on the board for the Black King. 19. g4? The wrong idea at the wrong time. Opening up the squares in front of his King is not right for White at this time. Did he get impatient? A better plan would be to maneuver his pieces to attack on the queenside, possibly coming up the b-file. Miles takes advantage and wins easily after this. 19... fxg4 20. fxg4 Raf8 21. h3 Ng5 22. Kg2 h5 23. Rxf8 Rxf8 24. gxh5 Bxh3+ 25. Kg3 gxh5 26. Ng1 Bf5 27. Rf1 Rg8 28. Bxf5 Ne4+ 29. Kh2 Nxd2 30. Rf2 Nxc4 0-1

In conclusion, Tal's line that he played vs. Mikahil Botwinnik in their first championship match is theoretically solid, and if there is a refutation to 5... Ne4 it's not in Botwinnik's line he played in the 20th game. Black still has a very good, dare i say better position in the line I suggested. It’s an interesting alternative, that isn’t covered very well theoretically and will be a potent surprise for your opponent.

Any criticisms to analysis are welcome as I'm not the strongest player in the world, as well as any other games that I may have missed (particularly any games found with Tal's 10. h4), or have been played by the Schemingmind.com members themselves, would be welcome in the comments.


07/06/2004 07:02
Bueno !
07/06/2004 14:43
very nice
07/06/2004 17:54
07/07/2004 18:08
Very nice piece, I've studied abit on the nimzo and I liked it but I've gone for a dutch instead now.
08/16/2004 23:31
I have frecuently found this setup with a black knight on e4 and a pawn in f5 as support.
Capablanca liked the move 4.Qc2 as in one of the variations given in the article,
1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. Qc2 O-O 5. a3 Bxc3+ 6. Qxc3 Ne4 7. Qc2 f5

But Botvinnik almost always keeped the Queen in d1 and moved instead 4.a3 or 4.e3, making possible the move 7.Qh5 and what Tal believed was the refutation to the line.
Even so, maybe Botvinnik was still searching for a suitable refutation, for as said in the article he essayed also 6.Qc2 and 6.Nh3 and the game seems almost very drawish to be good for white with the final 7.Qh5
Personally I have to think what to do if one preferes the classical variation a la capablanca.
refutor08/19/2004 19:31the position after 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.Qc2 O-O 5.a3 Bxc3+ 6.Qxc3 Ne4 7.Qc2 f5 isn't that bad. in the 90s GMs Adams, Timman, DeFirmian and Korchnoi all played this line. Obviously 8.e3 goes back to lines similar to above, so the other main choices for White are 8.Nh3 (which was tried by Anand in 2000 v. Psakhis. WHite won but I'm not sure if that was because of the strength of the White move, or the strength of the player playing the White pieces). 8.g3 (played by Bareev (W), Shirov (L) and Korchnoi (W)) i think Adams' 8. ...b6 may be the strongest there. a third choice is 8.Nf3 but i think that black should just get developed with 8. ...b6. are there any specific lines you had in mind that were tricky?
MiguelVilla08/19/2004 22:34I havent had any strategy to face that position and sometimes I was wondering which could be a good line to follow. At first view I like Anand´s move you mention, 8.Nh3 , for it makes possible 9.f3 with safety from Qh4+ by black, next constructs the center with e4 and gains back a tempo getting away the knight.

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. Qc2 O-O 5. a3 Bxc3+ 6. Qxc3 Ne4 7. Qc2 f5
8. Nh3 b6 9. f3 Nf6 10. e4

I think that either black exchanges or not in e4 the final position is good for white; white will post a bishop in d3, the c1 bishop has g5 to develop and the knight f2, f4 and also g5, and it could come castling in any side, maybe long to avoid swiftly the b7 bishop. 8.Nh3 somehow hits the point easily, very tipical of Vishy. On the other hand 8.Nf3 seems more pasive and for my experience as a caffehouse player one could get an unnecesarily complicated position. 8.g3 and then Bg2 are again completely new for me, and it would need to be analyzed carefully, for if Bareev and Shirov use it, probably has some internal potential.
09/12/2004 13:50
hi all,if anyone knows,would u please tell me where i can find great games played by Mikhael Tal.
Open Defence02/15/2005 16:37Hi Abhay,

You can check out The Life and Games of Mikhail Tal, a really beatiful book :-)
02/18/2005 00:40
Brusi - Hund
Bagneaux Open 1978
In this game up above can someone tell me why 36...Bf1 wasnt played cause to me it looks like an instant winner!!

Page 1 of 1