Monday, October 01, 2007

Nimzo a la Tempo part I

I just finished the first 9 chapters of My System. In order to make it easier to me to remember I intend to make a summary "a la Tempo". That is how I understand it. After all, I'm the one who has to work with it.
GM Donner didn't recognize a "system" in the book. For him the matter wasn't very interrelated. In fact I have heard this critizism more.
Nimzowitsch uses sometimes a stylefigure that I'm all too familiar with and which I call "nagging about trivialities". When I use that myself it is because I want to impose "proper thinking" on my readers. Proper a la Tempo. The fact that he uses this stylefigure I interpret as that he saw his System as a complete system how to conduct a chessgame and not as some lose ends. I try to make that visible by interpreting what he has not told. Of course I can be quite wrong. But if it is logical anyway, that's good enough for me. For readers convience I have marked the text blue when it is 100% based on my own interpretations. So if you want to get an idea from what's in the book without me standing in the way, just read the black text.

Chapter 1. Center and developement.

Development is the mobilisation of the troops to the frontline. In the beginposition the frontier is the dividing line between the two halves of the board.
The ideal way to develope would be to leave the pawns at rest and to develope the pieces only. That way the greatest piece activity in the shortest time would be reached. In practice there are two problems that make a pawnless developement impossible and undesirable. First the mobilization routes must be opened. Second the pieces must find within one move their best places at the front, without being chased away by enemy pawns. By occuping the center with pawns, the squares c3, d3, e3 and f3 become safe places where a piece can reside without being haunted by enemy pawns. The pawn moves themselves are not developing moves but securing moves. The drawback of a pawnmove in the opening is that they tend to stand in the way of your own pieces. During the opening only pawnmoves are allowed that occupy the center, defend the center or attack the enemy center. Moving of flank pawns is a loss of time. Developing a piece to a square where it can be driven away by a pawn is a loss of time. Only in closed games, where the pace of development is slower, such loss of time can be permitted.
Moving the same piece twice is only allowed if the enemy does the same.

Exchanging a piece wherein a lot of tempo's are invested is a loss of time, since you can show nothing for these tempo's when the piece leaves the board. If you threathen to lose a tempo because a piece is threatened by a pawn, exchange the piece if you can to prevent loss of tempo.

After the development is completed you are free to waste tempo's.

An enemy mobile pawn must be executed (preferred) or put under restraint. Pawnhunting at non-centerpawns is forbidden.

A pawnroller is made of centerpawns without restraint.

Chapter 2 Open files.

Big picture.
This chapter seems to come out of the blue. But I think that for Nimzowitch it was self-evident that this was the route to follow after the opening. I mean, what can you do when you are developed well? Pieces are too volatile to chase, so pawns are the natural targets since they behave more like sitting ducks. But you need weak pawns to get a chance to pick them up. Without an open line there can't be no weak pawn since a pawn can only be weak when it can come under attack. Without an open line you can't create weaknesses in the enemy camp.

The goals.

Since a diagonal can be closed by a normal pawnmove it is less likely to stay open for a long period of time. A file can be closed only by a capture, so the attacker has more options to keep it open. Hence the chance to invade along an open file is much greater than along a diagonal. During the middlegame you have to strive for an invasion with a minor piece somewhere along the open file. When the endgame nears, the rook is the indicated invader. Especially at the 7th or 8th rank. From there it can start an enveloping attack, in order to strike at the enemy pawns from behind. In stead of such slow evolving enveloping attack against pawns a revolutionary marauding attack is quite usual too when you penetrate at the 7th or 8th. The fact that the king is usually on the backrank opens tactical opportunities.

How to open a file.
If you put your pieces centrally, your enemy is provoked to trade them off, giving you an open file. In fact this is the very reason why you should post your pieces centrally. If you put a piece on a flank it is less likely you can force your opponent to open your file. If your opponent plays a pawnmove in front of his king, for instance h6, he gives you an opportunity to open the g-file (by g4-g5). That's why not moving the pawns in front of your king is safer.

Battle replaced from the invasion square to the defenders.
Once a file is opened, you start a battle against the defenders of the open file. Remember that the ultimate goal is to enter the 7th or 8th.
The first stage is often that a pawn is pushed on the open file, so it becomes protected by an adjacent pawn. Use your own pawns as crowbars against the enemy pawns that defend the open file. Once you manage to trade off the pawn on the open file, it will become weak because it has no pawns protecting it anymore.
In the second stage you pile up against the weak pawn.
Piling up at the file binds your opponents pieces to the defense, making them immobile. This immobility you must seek to exploit. When you can induce a second weakness you can shift back and forth from weakness to weakness in the hope that the immobile enemy pieces can't keep up.
Your attention stays with the defenders. The battle is aimed at outnumbering them.
This is the third stage.

Giving up a file for another.
When the defense at an open file proofs to be of granite, you can use the file as a rooklift to get your rook in front of your own pawns, where you can occupy a new file, giving up the old one.

With what piece to invade?
The piece with the highest value exerts the most pressure from an invasion square. The downside is that the higher the value the more vulnerable. So in the middlegame it is usually a minor piece.

White to move.

The final invasionsquare is d7. But for the time being d5 is useful as an outpost. The strong point of the knight as outpost is that it exerts pressure on the defending pawn (c7) of the defender (d6) of the invasionsquare (d7). If 1.Nd5 c6, the d-pawns becomes weak.

An outpost derives its strenght from its hinterland. The rook takes over the attack when c6 is played and the pawn e4 immobilizes d6, so black can't follow up c6 with d5.

Under normal circumstances the attacker will always have the upperhand at an outpost, because he has rooks available to assist while the opponent has not.

Exchanges of the outpost.
Take the following skeleton structure derived from a certain variation in the Giuoco. Imagine x pieces extra on both sides.

White to move.

f7 is the invasionsquare. f5 is the outpostsquare.
The manoeuvre is Ne2-g3-f5.
From there g7 is under attack. Inviting g6, but this weakens f6 which is exactly your strategic goal. Piece trades are very common on an outpostsquare. And so it can happen that you run out of minor pieces ready to take back on f5, while it is too early to put a rook on f5 since there is still a minor enemy piece around. In that case you take back with the pawn e4xf5. This simply shifts the open file to the left. Now e4 becomes your outpost while the e-file is your open file. The new f5 pawn does exactly what it must, keeping the pawns away from the outpost e4. With exchanges the conversion of advantages is in the order of the day.

On the centerfiles c, d, e and f the outpost should be a minor piece while on the flank files a, b, g and h a rook is better.

Chapter 3. Occupation of the 7th or 8th rank.

The battle for open files is the logical thing to do after the opening. When the opponent defends well, you will not win by accident and you will not win by assaulting his king. If that is the case, there is only one possibility left, the favourable endgame. The logical consequence of playing consequently for an open file is the occupation of the 7th or 8th by a rook. So this should be your final goal of such play.
The occupation of the 7th or 8th is an endgame weapon in the first place despite the enemy structure might collaps often already in the middlegame.

Once you have reached the 7th, you should strive for absolute control. Hence you must clear the 7th from enemy pawns by assaulting them. If a pawn flees from the 7th, it should be attacked from behind. There is an ascending scale of attack: front, flank, from behind. An attack from behind can only be defended by cramping measures usually.

There are 5 cases of the 7th:
  • 7th rank absolute with passed pawn. The king is prisoned at the 8th.
  • doubled rooks giving perpetual check.
  • eternal check mechanism with knight and rook.
  • marauding raid along the 7th.
  • combining via the the 7th and 8th, enveloping manoeuver in the corner of the board.
Chapter 4. Passed pawn.

The birth.
Since we are already in the endgame, the role of the passed pawn must be treated.

A passed pawn saps away the strenght of enemy pieces because they must keep the pawn under control. Every healthy uncompromised pawn majority must be able to yield a passed pawn.

And so you see that there is a relationship between the final past pawns and the open files. White can make a passer at the kingside while black can make one on the queenside. The pawn with no enemy pawn in front is the candidate and must go first. The other pawns must be regarded as mere helpers.

The blockade.
The question is, must a passed pawn necessarily be blocked by putting a piece right in front of the pawn? The answer is a threefold yes:

The passed pawn is a criminal who should be kept under lock and key. Mild measures, like police surveillance, is not sufficient. It is the pawn's lust to expand.

When the pawn moves forward, the space behind the pawn expands while the space in front of the pawn diminshes. Thus giving room for the defenders behind the pawn and denying attackers room in front of the pawn. The power from the passer is derived from the rook behind it. If the pawn isn't blockaded, it can even sacrifice itself for no other reason than to uncoil the spring behind it.

Be optimistic. In front of a passer is a weak square that your piece can use. The pawn is a bulwark which prevents frontal attacks against your piece.

The crippling effect induced by the blockade is transplanted to the hinterland of the pawn. For instance a bad bishop remains in the prison formed by its own pawns.

Functions of the blockader.
The primary function is of course to stop the pawn from advancing.
Secondary are the threats it exerts. There is often some elasticity because the piece can leave his blockading square, do some task somewhere and be back in time to pick up the blockade again one or two squares further.

A blockader who is insufficiently protected cannot hold its own when under attack. So that has to be prevented. There is a saying "when a piece or pawn is very well protected, it probably stands in the way". The difference between the blockader and the blockaded is that the blockader can choose the most auspicious moment when to uncoil the spring behind him in the form of pieces that are defending him. It is sufficient to overprotect a strategical point like the blockading square, threats and elasticity will come all by themselves.

Value of the blockader.
The King and Queen are much too sensitive to be good blockaders. While a minor piece has only to call up aid when under attack, the K and Q must flee.

Uprooting of the blockader.
In the endgame we tend to drive away the defenders of the blockader, while in the middlegame we tend to keep them busy elsewhere.

Three privileged versions of the passed pawn.
  • Two connected passed pawns. The position standing abreast at the same rank is the strongest, since they can't be blockaded. They must advance together only when a strong blockade is impossible.
  • The protected passer. A protected passer is immune for the enemy king while the monarch is obliged to keep an eye on it.
  • Outside passer. The obligation to prevent the outside passer from advancing makes that the defending monarch must leave his duties elsewhere, thus giving the opponent the chance to break in.

Chapter 5. On exchanging.

Indicators when to exchange.
  • Some combinations have a tempo element in them. Like a discovered attack. When the piece upfront is traded, the second threat from the piece behind is unveiled.
  • Destroying a defender. The defended becomes undefended while winning a tempo.
  • Prevent tempoloss by retreating.
  • When ahead in material.
  • When two parties desire the same thing there is a tendency to exchange.

Chapter 6. The elements of endgame strategy.

In the endgame the little advantages that are created in the middlegame should be realized. Besides the passer the following elements remain to be considered.

The king should be centralized in order to interfere easy where needed. The same can be usefull for other pieces. Building a shelter for the king. Building a bridge.

Aggressive rook or active officer in general.
Force your enemy defenders to be bound to defense by being as asctive as possible.

The rallying of isolated detachments and the general advance.
The advancing pawn must stay in close contact with its helpers. 80% of the endgame technique is based on combined play.

Materialization of the abstract conception of file or rank.
In the middlegame the exploitation of an open file involves a great expenditure of energy. In the endgame it flows with much less energy.

Chapter 7. The pin.

Nimzowitch treats the pin that can be maintained for a longer time, thus influencing the course of the game. That makes it a strategical issue.

Chapter 8. The discovered check.
He describes the power of the discovered check.

Chapter 9. The pawn chain.

The treatise of chapters 7 and 8 seems to bear little relationship with the previous chapters. So I will keep them in mind waiting for the light to dawn. Maybe part II will shed some light on it.

Chapter 9 is obviously very important, though! It complements the findings of the previous chapters. When there are a black and a white pawn chain standing against each other, we will call that, for convenience reasons, a pawn chain too.

c3 is the base of the white pawn chain. As is e6 for black.

VERY IMPORTANT if there would be a white pawn at b2 that would NOT be the base of the white pawn chain. That would be still c3!

The great idea of Nimzowitch here is that he saw the resemblance between a blockaded pawn and a blockaded pawn chain. The essence of the pawn chain is that the black pawns are cramped. And that this cramp spreads out over the hinterland. Just like when a single pawn is blocked, but heavier. Of course the fact that white uses pawns to inflict the cramp has a cramping effect on the own hinterland too. If black would have a pawn on f7, and he would play f6, the result would be that some white blockading pawns were replaced by white pieces. That would relief whites cramp, but not blacks!

The moment that white played e5 in the above diagram, he created two theaters of war. First of all the black king can be bombarded with Bc2 Bc1 Nf3 Qg4. At the same time e5 robs f6 of the black knight. If black plays f5, the e-file is opened for white by exf6ep and the standard open line approach will work. Secondly, just as in the case of a single blockading pawn, an enveloping attack against the black base pawn can be started. This works as follows:

By playing f4-f5 you attack the base pawn of black (e6). After exchange white gets an open f-line. Allowing an enveloping attack against e6 in the endgame by Rf1-f7-e7-e6 or a middlegame attack by the white pieces.

If black at the same time plays c5-cxd4 at the same time, white should consider to take back with a piece (assuming there is still a pawn on b2, it's just a skeleton position). The darksquared bishop for instance would greatly improve when placed on the outpost d4.

The pawn is the strongest blockader there is. When you trade such pawn and a piece must take its place, the blockader is weaker. When your opponent is forced to take back with the queen, you inflict him with the weakest bloackader of all.

When you press on the base of a pawn chain and you manage to induce a new weakness, it is abslolutely indicated to make this new weakness subject of attack. The further the two weaknesses are apart, the better!

Since an assault on the base usually materializes only in the endgame, it are the side effects that are sought for in the middlegame. Like a cramped position, the inability to keep up with attackers who change front etc..

Transferring the attack.
If in the diagram above the pawn e6 proves to be too strong, it is possible to transfer the attack to f7 by playing f6. Thus changing the base of blacks chain.


I hope I have provided you a vehicle that will make your journey through part II easier.


  1. i wish to retract what i said at your last post:

    it wasnt the best (short) post i have ever read at blogger. this is the best post that i have ever read at blogger (long).

    however rare, it is possible to go greater than greatness, at rare junctures, in the human quest..

    i should, BTW, say seen, im home sick with flu and didnt read all of it (yet), but plain to see you have been a very, very--VERY--busy man.

    i used to fancy myself as our most fecund blogger, but inaccurate with you and BDK around, we can pass the circle around.

    the best. you deserve the annual blogger chess oscar. i wish to nominate you for the 30Sept2006 to 30Sept2007 term.

    anyone else wish to vote?

    just dont get any ideas that i wish to be nice to you ever again.

    no more carnivals, please.

  2. Fantastic summary. I'm through Chapter 8. Very helpful stuff!

  3. Great summary Tempo! Pouring over chapter five with a cup of morning brew. Great stuff!

  4. Wow, great work. For me, the concept of overprotection of a strong outpost is the most important unique idea of Nimzowitsch, it is always my dream to get such a position in a game. All other stuff like open files, 7th rank, center, passer, pawn blockade you also find in other books.

  5. very impressive post. this is one classic book that I have never read. based on your notes, I may have to.


  6. Wow, thanks for the Cliff Notes version of My Strategy. :)

  7. Great summary, Tempo. I think you should make a separate site called "Tempo's cliff notes to My System" It's a great book, but needs some clarification some places.