The Nimzowitsch-Larsen Attack, which starts with the move 1.b3, is in the true spirit of the hypermodern school of chess, which advocated controlling the center from the wings with minor pieces instead of occupying them with pawns at the start of the game.
This modest looking flank opening received special attention from two prominent players, after whom the line is named. During the 1920s, Aron Nimzowitsch was known for employing this opening idea, frequently starting with 1.Nf3 and following up with 2.b3. In the 1970s, Bent Larsen became the most noteworthy player associated with this line, incorporating it into his main repertoire. At the top level, the Nimzowitsch-Larsen Attack is still played very often, particularly in fast time control tournaments. Players utilize this opening primarily as a way to avoid delving into their main repertoire and theoretical lines, which they prefer to reserve for classical games.
Winning percentages on both sides
|Win for white
|Win for black
The Nimzowitsch-Larsen Attack prioritizes themes over strict theoretical lines, granting players the freedom to explore creative middlegame ideas while maintaining a solid and playable position. This appealing aspect draws both master-level players and those who wish to avoid the burden of exhaustive theory and extensive memorization.
The most standard plan for white in the Nimzowitsch-Larsen Attack involves adopting a dark-square strategy with moves like Bb2, e3, Bb5, f4, Nf3, and Ne5, which can often lead to transpositions with Bird’s Opening or draw inspiration from it. This setup also bears resemblance to black’s ideal configuration seen in the Nimzo-Indian Defense. Another common approach is the Double-Fianchetto with Bb2 and Bg2, providing flexibility for white to choose their preferred side for castling. The combination of 0-0-0 with a kingside attack, utilizing pawn storms with g4 and h4, is another viable idea frequently seen in the Nimzo-Larsen Attack.
Nimzowitsch-Larsen Attack’s Theory
The two main branches in the Nimzowitsch-Larsen Attack’s Theory are 1…d5 and 1…e5, the latter being the most popular move. In both cases, black attempts to occupy the center with a pawn, but each leads to distinct middlegame structures. White’s response remains more or less the same, for example, 1..e5 2.Bb2 Nc6 3.e3 followed by 4.Bb5 or 1…d5 2.Bb2 c5 3.e3 Nc6 4.Bb5. Even though not as common, black may also employ a King’s Indian Defense approach with 1…Nf6 2.Bb2 g6, encountering white’s powerful fianchetto on the queenside with the kingside fianchetto.
Black may encounter white’s fianchetto with a King’s Indian Defense setup, 1…Nf6 2.Bb2 g6, but this provides white with a variety of original options, such as 3.Bxf6, giving up the bishop for a knight to ruin black’s pawn structure and secure control on the d5 square after 3…exf6 4.c4 Bg7 5.Nc3, or the more daring 3.g4!? Bg7 4.g5 Nh5 5.Bxg7 Nxg7 followed by Qc1-Qb2 and 0-0-0.
Another viable option for white is the Double-Fianchetto strategy: 3.g3 Bg7 4.Bg2 0-0 5.Nf3 d6 6.d4.
The move 1…e5 stands as the overwhelmingly most common response to 1.b3, being played approximately twice as frequently as the second most popular move, 1…d5. 2.Bb2 comes now with a tempo on e5 and 2…Nc6 is the way to defend. Now white can also steer the game towards an English Opening type of position with 3.c4 Nf6 4.e3 d5 5.cxd5 Nxd5 6.a3 Bd6 7.Qc2 0-0, but 3.e3 is the standard move here, with the idea of Bb5 and claiming the d4 square.
The actual mainline here is 3…Nf6, but 3…d5 is also occasionally played.
3…d5 lets white demonstrate how an ideal position for white in the Nimzowitsch-Larsen Attack would look like: 4.Bb5 Bd6 5.f4!, now that the g7 is unguarded, 5…exf4? would lead to a quick loss for black after 6.Bxg7 Qh4+ 7.Kf1 fxe3, threatening …Qf2#, 8.dxe3 Bxh2 9.Nf3 Qg3 + –.
Therefore, black should play 5…Qh4+ instead. Usually, the variation would continue with 6.g3 Qe7 7.Nf3 f6 8.Nc3 Be6 9.0-0 with a balanced position for both sides.
After 3…Nf6, white renews the threat on e5 with 4.Bb5 and now black has two main ways to defend.
4…d6 is the inferior option yet still playable, while black’s strongest move is the ugly looking 4…Bd6.
5.Ne2, preparing the castle and reinforcing d2-d4, 5…Bd7 6.d4 (6.0-0 a5 7.Bxc6 Bxc6 8.d4 Qe7 9.c4 g6 is just as good) and black has no other choice than to capture 6…exd4 7.Nxd4, now 7…Nxd4 helps white out, 8.Bxd7+ Qxd7 9.Qxd4 and white has a firm grip on the long diagonal thanks to the centralized queen. After 9…Qg4 10.Qxg4 Nxg4 11.Ke2, black’s dark-squared bishop is tied to the defense of g7 like a prisoner. 11..Nf6 12.Bxf6!, ruining black’s pawn structure, 12…gxf6 13.Nd2 and the knight will land on f5 later to dominate black’s position.
7…Be7 may be more prudent, but again, white gives up their bishop pair to ruin black’s pawn structure and get a positional edge. 8.Bxc6 bxc6 (8…Bxc6 9.Nxc6 bxc6 10.Qf3) 9.Qf3 d5 10.Nf5! Bxf5 11.Qxf5 0-0 12.Nd2 and white has a superior position. The knight will reroute itself to d4, a long castle followed by a potential pawn break in the center with e4 or c4 is also on white’s agenda.
This highly counterintuitive move that goes against the opening principles has a concrete justification; in many lines, white is likely to trade on c6 and after …dxc6, black’s bishop would already be decently placed, defending d6. The mainline theory now follows a series of unorthodox moves: 5.Na3, intending Nc4 and Nxd6, 5…Na5, preventing Nc4. 6.Be2, as there is no point in having the bishop on b5 anymore, but also clearing up the square for the knight to renew Nxd6 threat. Black stops it with 6…a6. 7.c4, with the idea to tuck away the knight to c2, 7…0-0 8.Nc2 Nc6 9.d3 Re8
White can continue routinely with 10.Nf3 Bf8 11.0-0 d5 12.cxd5 Nxd5 but the aggressive option,
10.g4 is perfectly justified due to black’s uncoordinated piece placement on the queenside, and it ensures a thrilling game. An example line with the pawn storm would be: 10…h6 11.h4 Nh7 12.g5 hxg5 13.hxg5 Nxg5 14.Nf3 b6 15.Nxg5 Qxg5 16.Bf3 Bb7 17.Bd5, resulting in a crushing attack for white after a long castle.
Black may try to blunt white’s fianchetto bishop with the d5-c5-d4 idea, 1…d5 2.Bb2 c5, so 3.e3 to claim the d4 square, 3…Nc6, insisting on d5-d4 again, 4.Bb5, pinning the knight, 4…e6. The main theme for white in this structure is the pressure on the dark squares of the long diagonal and controlling the key square on e5. The remainder of white’s moves are built upon this central theme: 5.f4 Nf6 6.Nf3 Bd7 7.0-0 (7.d3?? Qa5+! 8.Nc3 d4 9.Bxc6 Bxc6 and white is in trouble) 7…Be7 8.d3 0-0 9.Bxc6, a topical trade in many lines of the Nimzowitsch-Larsen Attack. The objective is to eliminate black’s only piece safeguarding the e5 square. 9…Bxc6 10.Ne5 Rc8, and from here, white concentrates on consolidating their pieces on the kingside, preparing for a potential attack.
For instance: 11.Nd2 Nd7 12.Qg4 Nxe5 13.Bxe5 Bf6 14.Rf3 Bxe5 15.fxe5 Qc7 16.Qh5 h6 17.Raf1, Nimzowitsch- Spielmann 1927, with powerful attacking prospects for white.
Common Trap in Nimzowitsch-Larsen Attack
1.b3 e5 2.Bb2 Nc6 3.c4 Nf6 4.Nf3 e4 5.Nd4 Bc5 6.Nf5, attacking g7, 0-0 7.e3 d5 8.cxd5 Nxd5??, giving up the control of the g4 square is a fatal mistake due to 9.Qg4, now the mate is unstoppable, e.g. 9…g6 10.Nh6#
Pros and Cons
|The long-diagonal pressure provides white with the option to castle queenside and initiate a kingside attack.
|White’s approach might not exert enough pressure on the center, allowing black to seize control with precise moves.
|Focus on themes and middlegame ideas rather than heavy theory.
|White’s play can be limited if black successfully neutralizes white’s dark-squared bishop.
In conclusion, the Nimzowitsch-Larsen Attack is a delightful choice for those seeking a refreshing opening experience. With its quiet yet effective queenside fianchetto, it offers white the chance to apply pressure on the long-diagonal, controlling the pivotal e5 square. The possibility of a kingside pawn storm with g4 adds an extra layer of excitement to the Nimzowitsch-Larsen Attack. While not frequently played in top-level chess in games with classical time controls, this line holds the potential to outfox opponents at all levels and is particularly appealing to players who relish the freedom to create and explore original concepts on the chessboard.
Is Nimzowitsch-Larsen Attack a strong opening?
The Nimzowitsch-Larsen Attack (1.b3) is considered a flexible and unconventional opening. Its strength lies in its ability to catch opponents off-guard and lead to asymmetrical positions. However, it’s not as theoretically robust as mainline openings like 1.e4 or 1.d4.
Can beginners play the Nimzowitsch-Larsen Attack?
Yes, beginners can play the Nimzowitsch-Larsen Attack. It’s a good choice for learning about piece development, pawn structures, and control of the center from the flanks. Since it’s less common, beginners can also benefit from opponents being less familiar with it.