Aron Nimzowitsch: Great Chess Authors, Part 4

I continue my survey of chess authors by examining perhaps the most influential of them all.

Aron Nimzowitsch (1886-1935)

Aron Nimzowitsch. Photo: World Chess Hall of Fame

Aron Nimzowitsch. Photo: World Chess Hall of Fame

Half a century before Mikhail Tal and Edmar Mednis, Aron Nimzowitsch was born in Riga (now the capital of Latvia).

He gradually improved his level, competing in lower divisions of Coburg 1904, Barmen 1905, and Ostend 1907 — the latter event a 30-player round-robin lasting six weeks!

Nimzowitsch hit the big time in Karlsbad 1907, tying for fourth place behind Akiba Rubinstein. He continued to prove he was a top player and received an invite to St. Petersburg 1914, but did not reach the finals won by World Champion Emanuel Lasker.

Nimzowitsch fled Latvia during the Russian Revolution in 1917, eventually settling in Denmark. In the 1920s he won several elite events, reaching his peak by winning Karlsbad 1929.

One of the five-best players in the world in the late 1920s and early 1930s, Nimzowitsch could not secure financial backing for a World Championship Match. It was instead Efim Bogoljubov who got two chances at the throne in 1929 and 1934 againt Alexander Alekhine, before Max Euwe finally wrested away the title in 1935.

Leader of the Hypermoderns

The hack-and-slash Romantic Era (think Adolf Anderssen and Paul Morphy) was emblematic of 19th century chess. The reaction was the positional logic of the Classical Era led by Wilhelm Steinitz, Lasker, and Siegbert Tarrasch beginning in the last quarter of the 1800s.

By the 1920s, it was time for another sea-change. Nimzowitsch, Richard Réti (1889-1929), and Gyula Breyer (1893-1921) led the Hypermodern Era of the 1920s and 30s. Influence the center from afar with pieces, using plenty of fianchettos! Entirely new opening branches were explored, including Alekhine’s Defense (1.e4 Nf6), Nimzo-Indian Defense (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4), and Grünfeld Defense (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5).

It’s notable that the top players of the era including Alekhine, Rubinstein, and Jose Capablanca embraced Hypermodern concepts and incorporated them into their own play.

Literary Legacy of Aron Nimzowitsch

Nimzowitsch may be the only top player more remembered in chess history for his books than his games! I wonder how he would feel about that?

Before moving to NImzowitsch’s most famous works, I’ll mention Как Я Стал Гросмейстером (How I Became a Grandmaster) which contains some of his early games and suggestions for improvement, but has not been translated into English (as far as I know). I’m very interested in reading this book one day, though my Russian is poor.

Ok, here we go:

The Blockade (1925)

This small (<50 pages) exploration of Nimzowitsch’s ideas on blockade is a great introduction to his theories and also contains some of his early articles. He is over-the-top as usual and, never one to shy away from a pissing contest, leaves ample room to attack Tarrasch and others.

My System (1925)

The most influential chess book of the 20th century, and there isn’t a close second.

Nimzowitsch begins with what he calls The Elements. My System is considered a middlegame textbook, but in addition to strategic ideas like open files, passed pawns, and pawn chains, he includes tactical ideas like pins and discovered checks!

I’ll note that his remarks on endgame technique are very helpful as well, especially on “welding” your forces together and “general advance!” Keeping this in mind has helped me overcome my opposition more easily when I have a clear endgame edge.

The second part of the book is all about positional play, and here Nimzowitsch delves into the concepts that define him including prophylaxis, overprotection, and the isolani.

It’s time for me to pick up My System again! After I cure my laziness, of course…

Chess Praxis (1929)

NImzowitsch annotates over 100 of his own games. This was the first work I read by the great author, when I was rated roughly 1000. My advice…don’t read any of Nimzowitsch’s stuff until at least 1600, and maybe higher! Start with Blockade because it is short and easy to get your teeth into, then My System. If you want even more, there is Chess Praxis as well. And finally…

Carlsbad International Chess Tournament 1929 (1930)

This tournament book is disappointing! Nimzowitsch doesn’t cover all (or most) of the games, and the annotations are sparse. It seems the entire exercise was an effort to make a few bucks while attempting to secure a title match with Alekhine. Buy it if you love collecting chess books or are a Nimzowitsch diehard, but don’t expect great instructional value here.

Final Thoughts

Aron Nimzowitsch died in Copenhagen in 1935 at 48 years old.

His contributions to middlegame theory are second to none. Nimzowitsch also had a profound influence on openings, especially the Nimzo-Indian and Queen’s Indian Defenses, but also the French, Sicilian, and others.

This man left his fingerprints all over the chess world, and his influence is felt to this day.

What do you think of Nimzowitsch? Is he regarded appropriately, underrated or overrated?

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