Return to Riga Home Page
Return to Riga Stories Menu
Riga Stories
Aron Nimzowitsch

Aron Nimzowitsch

(Latvian: ?rons ?imcovi?s; born Aron Niemzowitsch[2] and also known as Nimzovich)
(November 7, 1886 – March 16, 1935) was a Latvian-born Danish unofficial chess grandmaster[1] and a very influential chess writer. He was the foremost figure amongst the hypermoderns.e

Born in Riga in Livonia, then part of the Russian empire, the Jewish German-speaking Nimzowitsch came from a wealthy family, where he learned chess from his father, who was a merchant. In 1904, he traveled to Berlin to study philosophy, but set aside his studies soon and began a career as a professional chess player that same year.

During the 1917 Russian Revolution, Nimzowitsch was in the Baltic war zone. He escaped being drafted into one of the armies by feigning madness, insisting that a fly was on his head. He then escaped to Berlin, and gave his first name as Arnold, possibly to avoid anti-Semitic persecution.[3]

Nimzowitsch eventually moved to Copenhagen in 1922 (some sources say 1920), which coincided with his rise to the world chess elite. He obtained Danish citizenship and lived in Denmark until his death from cancer in 1935. He is buried in Bispebjerg Cemetery in Copenhagen.

Chess career

The height of Nimzowitsch's career was the late 1920s and early 1930s. Chessmetrics places him as the third best player in the world, behind Alexander Alekhine and Jose Capablanca, from 1927 to 1931[4]. His most notable successes were first place finishes at Copenhagen 1923, Dresden 1926, the Carlsbad tournament of 1929. 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 two 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, Akiba Rubinstein, Bent Larsen, 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 has just been reissued in a volume containing both the German original and the English translation published by Hardinge Simpole . However, 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 Defence, 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 Defence: the Nimzowitsch Variation, 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nf6, inviting 3.e5 Nd5, similar to Alekhine's Defence, 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 of a great rapid transit tournament in Berlin 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 was annoyed by heavy smoking opponents. A popular, but probably apocryphal story, is that once when an opponent laid a cigar on the table, he complained to the tournament arbiters, "he is threatening to smoke, and as an old player you must know that the threat is stronger than the execution".[5]

Nimzowitsch's vanity and faith in his ideas of overprotection provoked Hans Kmoch to write a parody about him in February 1928 in the Wiener Schachzeitung. This consisted of a mock game against the fictional player "Systemsson", 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. Kmoch was in fact a great admirer of Nimzowitsch, and the subject of the parody himself was amused at the effort.[6]

Also, Hans Kmoch had written a manuscript containing some of the following excerpts of his nine years with Nimzowitch:

Nimzovich suffered from the delusion that he was unappreciated and that the reason was malice. All it took to make him blossom, as I later learned, was a little praise. His paranoia was most evident when he dined in company. He always thought he was served much smaller portions than everyone else. He didn't care about the actual amount but only about the imagined affront. I once suggested that he and I order what the other actually wanted and, when the food was served, exchange plates. After we had done so, he shook his head in disbelief, still thinking that he had received the smaller portion.

And, Nimzovitch's colleague Tartakower had a dictum on Nimzovitch that said: "He pretends to be crazy in order to drive us all crazy."

Notable chess games

* Friedrich Saemisch vs Aron Nimzowitsch, Copenhagen 1923, Queen's Indian Defence (E18), 0-1 The "Immortal Zugzwang Game" sees Saemisch get tied up in knots.
* Paul Johner vs Aron Nimzowitsch, Dresden 1926, NimzoIndian Defence, Rubinstein Variation (E47), 0-1 One of Nimzowitsch's most famous games sees White fall deep into passivity and get squeezed.
* Milan Vidmar vs Aron Nimzowitsch, New York 1927, Bogo-Indian Defence (E11), 0-1 A crafty blending of strategy and tactics.
* Richard Reti vs Aron Nimzowitsch, Berlin 1928, NimzoIndian Defence (E38), 0-1 Two of the top hypermoderns cross swords to showcase their latest ideas.
* Efim Bogoljubov vs Aron Nimzowitsch, San Remo 1930, NimzoIndian Defence, Bogoljubov Variation (E23), 0-1 Another encounter of hypermodern heavyweights sees Nimzowitsch with two knights in the endgame, and he handles them perfectly.

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.


1. ^ a b Aron Nimzowitsch (1987). My System, Reprinted, B.T Batsford Ltd. ISBN 9-7134-5655-8.
2. ^ http://www.chesshistory.com/winter/pics/cn3506_nimzowitsch_document.jpg
3. ^ Grandmasters I Have Known - Aaron Nimzovich, by Hans Kmoch, The Chess Cafe
4. ^ Chessmetrics Summary for 1925-1935, Chessmetrics web site, accessed 7-May-2007
5. ^ A Nimzowitsch Story, Edward Winter (chess historian)
6. ^ The full text of the parody is reprinted at Chesscafe.com and in Keene's biography on Nimzowitsch (Chapter "A parody by Hans Kmoch")

External links

* Aron Nimzowitsch at ChessGames.com
* Nimzowitch related articles
* Kmoch, Hans (2004). Grandmasters I Have Known: Aaron Nimzovich (PDF). Chesscafe.com.
* Saemich vs Nimzovich - The Immortal Zugzwang game multimedia annotated video

Retrieved from "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aron_Nimzowitsch"