Nimzowitsch Defense

Nimzowitsch Defense is a hypermodern chess opening that starts with the King’s Pawn Opening (1.e4). Black responds to the 1.e4 with 1…Nc6, allowing white to control the center and strike back soon.

Nimzowitsch Defense

The line was used hundreds of years ago but was only named in the 1900s after Aron Nimzowitsch, a famous chess theoretician. It is not the most common response to 1.e4 because it often gives up the center. It was not regarded as a top-notch opening for Black, even in the late 1990s.

However, most of the super grandmasters apply this weapon to their games once in a while nowadays. It was thought that there was still room for developing its theory; many elite players, including former World Champion Garry Kasparov, indicated this.

Winning Percentage on both sides

Master Games Statistics

Results Rate
Victory for White 39%
Draw 33%
Victory for Black 28%

Statistics from 37 Million Amateur Games

Results Rate
Victory for White 50%
Draw 4%
Victory for Black 46%

Main Ideas of the Nimzowitsch Defense

The Nimzowitsch Defense offers strategic battle opportunities for both sides. White can choose to transpose the game to more mainstream openings (such as Italian) if they want to. Black can aim for the opponent’s overextension and punish them with the proper pawn breaks. The games typically include strategic and positional understanding due to the necessity of comprehension of pawn structure elements and concepts like handling space without pushing too early.

Nimzowitsch Defense Theory

The Nimzowitsch Defense Declined often leads to closed and strategic positions where White may or may not expand in the center. It can also be transposed to Ruy Lopez or Italian Game quickly.

If 2.d4 is played, the Exchange Variation often leads to the Scandinavian positions with two semi-open files for both parties.

If the Kennedy Variation is played, White usually controls the center and the space, and Black aims to strike back with pawn breaks.

Nimzowitsch Declined: 1.e4 Nc6 2.Nf3 …

It starts with White not intending to strike to the center with pawns, instead playing a principled developing move (2.Nf3). This counter to Nimzowitsch Defense allows White to transition different types of variations. After this move, Black can transpose the game into the known King’s Knight Opening with 2…e5. This would allow White to choose whether they want to go for a Ruy Lopez with 3.Bb5, Italian with 3.Bc4 or some other variation they desire. The nature of these lines depends on White’s third move. Since most of these lines will not present the essence of Nimzowitsch Defense, we will examine the most played line to the White’s 2.Nf3, 2…d6.

Nimzowitsch Declined

After 2…d6 is played by Black, White typically strikes to the center with 3.d4. Then, the enemy usually attacks the undefended e4-pawn by improving the g8-Knight to f6 (3…Nf6). White often meets this threat by developing the b1-Knight to c3 (4.Nc3).

After 4.Nc3 occurs, Black has two sensible moves (g6 and Bg4). They can play 4…g6 and fianchetto their Bishop on the kingside (g6-Bg7). This would allow them to have a King’s Indian-type setup without their e-pawn being pushed. The drawback of this system would be the lack of space. The good side is that there are dynamic and strategic chances to strike back.

One sample line could be 4…g6, 5.d5 (kicking the c6-Knight), 5…Nb8 (Ne5 can also be played; however, it would leave doubled pawns on the e-file after Nxe5 and dxe5, and this would close the g7-Bishop’s scope on the ‘a1-h8’ diagonal), 6.h3 (Preventing Bg4 attempts), 6…Bg7, and 7.Bc4 (developing the Bishop).

A typical position like this often allows both sides to castle. Black typically connects the Knights by going Nbd7 and possibly tries to undermine White’s advanced pawns by pushing the c-pawn to c6. Moving the Queen to c7 is also quite common. Black aims to utilize their g7-Bishop and assault White’s pawns. White often aims to retain their central supremacy. They can place their Queen and Rook on the e-file and try to suffocate Black.

If Black plays 4…Bg4, White usually goes for 5.Be3 and after 5…e6 (to improve the f8-Bishop) occurs, 6.h3 can be met by 6…Bxf3 and 7.Qxf3. In these types of games, White can castle in the Queenside and kick Black’s pieces from their ideal locations. Black doesn’t have to fianchetto their Bishop on g7 because Black usually has more space in these games. Black also castles in the Queenside. The Queens can be easily exchanged in these positions.

If Black plays 4…Bg4, White usually goes for 5.Be3 and after 5…e6 (to improve the f8-Bishop) occurs, 6.h3 can be met by 6…Bxf3 and 7.Qxf3. In these types of games, White can castle in the Queenside and kick Black’s pieces from their ideal locations. Black doesn’t have to fianchetto their Bishop on g7 because Black usually has more space in these games. Black also castles in the Queenside. Queens can be easily exchanged in these positions.

Lean Variation: 2.d4

Also known as the main line, it starts with White claiming the center with 2.d4. The most popular responses in this position are 2…e5 (Kennedy Variation) and 2…d5 (Scandinavian Variation). Black can also play 2…d6, which could transpose to what we already examined (the Declined Nimzowitsch) if White plays Nf3 and Nc3 in the next two moves.

Nimzowitsch Defense Lean Variation

The purpose of 2.d4 is straightforward, controlling the center and space. These games can open up if e- or d-pawns are exchanged in the next few moves. For example, if the pawns are fixed, with 2…e5 and 3.d5 or 2…d5 and 3.e5, White usually possesses a center and extra space. In these positions, Black strategically needs to trade a few minor pieces at some point due to the lack of space. On the other hand, White can maintain their pawn structure intact and improve everything slowly.

Exchange Variation: 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 Qxd5

The Exchange Variation starts with 2…d5, and White captures the d5-pawn (3.exd5). Then, Black recaptures back with the Queen (3…Qxd5). The nature of this game is quite similar to Scandinavian Defense. Black usually castles Queenside and generates an attack on the White’s King by utilizing their Bishops. The dynamic nature of this opening gives opportunities for both parties due to the abundant tactical mistakes at the amateur level.

Nimzowitsch Defense Exchange Variation

In this position, White needs to guard the d4-pawn. 4.Nf3 is the most common choice to protect that pawn. 4…Bg4 is a standard pin that allows Black to castle on the long side in the next turn. By castling in the Queenside, Black also brings the d8-Rook into the same file as the d1-Queen. This creates a lot of unhidden threats to the White’s position.

One sample line could be 4…Bg4, 5.Be2 (unpinning the Knight and preparing to castle in the short side), 5…O-O-O (bringing the a8-Rook into the game), 6.c4 (kicking the Queen off and creating squares for the d1-Queen), 6…Qf5, 7.Be3 (protecting the d4-pawn), 7…Bxf3 and 8.Bxf3. Then, Black can win a pawn after 8…Nxd4, 9.Bg4 (pinning the Queen to the King), and 9…Nc2+ (forcing Qxc2 and saving the f5-Queen). After that, 10.Qxc2 (it is not a Queen sacrifice because the f5-Queen is pinned) and 10…Qxg4 would settle the dust. White can castle in the next move and launch an attack on the Queenside. Black would be up a pawn but down on development. They would also try to attack White on the Kingside.

Kennedy Variation: 2.d4 e5 3.d5

It begins with 2…e5, and White responds by reining in the center by pushing the d-pawn forward and kicking the f6-Knight (3.d5). Since the e-pawns are fixed, Black must live with the lack of space during the opening stage. White is objectively better due to central control. However, the variation gives Black a lot of counterattacking opportunities.

Nimzowitsch Defense Kennedy Variation

After d5 is played, Black most commonly maneuvers the c6-Knight to g6. To do that, they first play 3…Nce7 and then go to 4…Ng6. This maneuver allows Black to access the critical f4-square in many lines. Meanwhile, White can develop their pieces, such as 4.Nf3, and try to kick the g6-Knight away with 5.h4 (intending to go h5 in the next turn). Black can stop the h5-pawn push by playing 5…h5 themselves.

One sample line from here could be 6.Bg5 (assaulting the d8-Queen), 6…Nf6 (improving the g8-Knight), 7.Nc3 (developing the Knight), 7…Bc5 (developing the Bishop and scoping the f2-square), 8.Be2 (getting ready to castle), 8…c6 (assaulting White’s central pawns), and 9. O-O.

Closed positions like these require good calculation, maneuvering knowledge, and pawn-break concepts. The big picture would include White keeping the central pawns firm and exploiting Black’s weaknesses. Black would like to exchange a few minor pieces and hunt White’s extended pawns in the middlegame or endgame.

Pros and Cons

Pros Cons
White has the space and central control advantage. Black suffers from a lack of space.
The games can easily transpose to other known lines. If the pawns are overextended, Black can undermine them and win material.
Exchange Variation offers tactical chances and many opportunities to both players. The closed positions often require positional understanding and high-level comprehension of chess elements.
White can press forward in the early stage of the opening. Black might have a better endgame if everything is exchanged due to a solid pawn structure.


Nimzowitsch Defense is a hypermodern opening in which Black intentionally gives up the center to create vulnerable squares and attacking opportunities for White’s advanced pawn structure. White needs not to overextend with their pawns, and Black needs to undermine them with the right pawn breaks. Some move orders require positional understanding, like the Kennedy Variation. It is advised for low-level players to play more tactical lines like Exchange Variation to improve their tactical abilities and pattern recognition skills.

Written by
Emre Sancakli, Сhess Coach
has a rating of 2400+ on and, making him one of the top 5000 players in the world. He teaches many chess enthusiasts and even creates educational courses. As a writer, he keeps bringing his 'A game' to the content you will face on this website.
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Is the Nimzowitsch Defense good?

The Nimzowitsch Defense offers dynamic, unorthodox play, but it’s less theoretically sound than mainstream options. Its effectiveness often relies on surprising the opponent.

Should beginners play the Nimzowitsch Defense?

While beginners benefit from learning classical openings for a solid foundation, experimenting with the Nimzowitsch Defense can be good for understanding diverse strategies and encouraging creative thinking.

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