Aron Nimzowitsch

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Aron Nimzowitsch (also Nimzovich or Niemzowitsch) (November 7, 1886, Riga – March 16], 1935, Denmark) was a chess player of grandmaster strength and a very influential chess writer. He was the foremost figure amongst the hypermoderns.


Nimzowitsch came from a wealthy Jewish family and learned chess from his father. He travelled to Germany in 1904 to study hilosophy in Berlin, but set aside his studies, and began a career as a professional chess player that same year. After tumultuous and often unsuccessful years during and after World War I, Nimzowitsch moved to Copenhagen in 1922 (some sources say 1920) and lived there until his death. His best chess mostly dates from that year forward. He is buried in Bispebjerg Cemetery in Copenhagen.

Chess career

At the height of his career, in the late 1920s and early 1930s, Nimzowitsch was the third best player in the world, immediately behind Alexander Alekhine and José Capablanca. His most notable successes were first place finishes at Copenhagen 1928, the Carlsbad tournaments of 1929, 1933, and 1934 and second place behind Alekhine at San Remo in 1930. Nimzowitsch never developed a knack for match play though; his best match success was a draw with Alekhine (though this match was only three games long and was in 1914, 13 years before Alekhine became world champion).

Although Nimzowitsch did not win a single game against Capablanca, he fared better against Alekhine. He even beat Alekhine with the Black pieces at St. Petersburg 1914. One of Nimzowitsch's most famous games is his celebrated Immortal Zugzwang Game against Sämisch at Copenhagen 1923. Another game on this theme is his win over Paul Johner at Dresden 1926. When in form, Nimzowitsch was very dangerous with the Black pieces, scoring many fine wins over top players.


Nimzowitsch is considered one of the most influential players and writers in chess history. His works influenced numerous other players, including Richard Réti and Tigran Petrosian, and his influence is still felt today.

He wrote three books on chess strategy: Mein System (My System) (1925), Die Praxis meines System (The Practice of My System, commonly known as Chess Praxis), and Die Blockade (The Blockade). The last of these is hard to find in English, however, and much that is in it is covered again in Mein System. It is said that 99 out of 100 chess masters have read Mein System; consequently, most consider My System to be Nimzowitsch's greatest contribution to chess. It sets out Nimzowitsch's most important ideas, while his second most influential work, Chess Praxis, elaborates upon these ideas, adds a few new ones, and has immense value as a stimulating collection of Nimzowitsch's own games, even when these games are more entertaining than instructive.

Nimzowitsch's chess theories flew in the face of convention. While there were those like Alekhine, Emanuel Lasker, and even Capablanca who did not live by Siegbert Tarrasch's rigid teachings, the acceptance of Tarrasch's ideas, all simplifications of the more profound work of Wilhelm Steinitz, was nearly universal. That the center had to be controlled by pawns and that development had to happen in support of this control -— the core ideas of Tarrasch's chess philosophy -— were things every beginner thought to be irrefutable laws of nature, like gravity.

Nimzowitsch shattered these assumptions. He discovered such concepts as overprotection (the least important of his ideas from a modern standpoint though still interesting and sometimes applicable), control of the center by pieces instead of pawns, blockade, prophylaxis -— playing to prevent the opponent's plans —- and the fianchetto (in the case of the fianchetto, one could argue that it was a rediscovery, but Nimzowitsch certainly refined its use). He also formalised strategies using open files, outposts and invasion of the seventh rank, all of which are widely accepted today. Others had utilized such ideas in previous years, but Nimzowitsch was the first to knit them together into a thematic whole.

Many chess openings and variations are named after him, the most famous being the Nimzo-Indian Defence (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4) and the less often played Nimzowitsch Defence (1.e4 Nc6). Nimzowitsch biographer Grandmaster Raymond Keene and others have referred to 1.Nf3 followed by 2.b3 as the Nimzowitsch-Larsen Attack. Keene wrote a book about the opening with that title. All of these openings exemplify Nimzowitsch's ideas about controlling the center with pieces instead of pawns. Nimzowitsch was also vital in the development of two important systems in the French Defense, the Winawer Variation (in some places called the Nimzowitsch Variation; its moves are 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Bb4) and the Advance Variation (1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. e5). He also pioneered two provocative variations of the Sicilian Defense: the Nimzowitsch Variation, 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nf6, inviting 3.e5 Nd5, similar to Alekhine's Defense, and 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 d5?!, which is regarded as dubious today.


There are numerous entertaining anecdotes regarding Nimzowitch—some more savory than others. For example, he once missed the first prize by losing to Sämisch; immediately upon learning this, Nimzowitsch got up on a table and shouted, “Why must I lose to this idiot?” Nimzowitsch had lengthy and somewhat bitter dogmatic conflicts with Tarrasch over whose ideas constituted 'proper' chess.

Nimzowitsch's vanity and faith in his ideas of overprotection provoked Hans Kmoch to write a parody about him. This consisted of a mock game [1] against the fictional player "Sistemsson", supposedly played and annotated by Nimzowitsch himself. The annotations gleefully exaggerate the idea of overprotection, as well as asserting the true genius of the wondrous idea.

Notable chess games

Further reading

  • Twelve Great Chess Players and Their Best Games by Irving Chernev; Dover; August 1995. ISBN 0-486-28674-6
  • Aron Nimzowitsch: Master of Planning by Raymond Keene; G. Bell and Sons. Ltd, 1974.

External links