Nimzowitsch (in 4 syllables)

The Nimzowitsch Defense, 1. e4 Nc6, is named after the über-famous Aron Nimzowitsch (1886—1935), whose last name at birth was the 4-syllable ‘Niemzowitsch’.  The opening, as others we have looked at in this series, was not invented by its namesake.  Rather, Nimzowitsch popularized the opening, which had been around since the 16th century.  Another opening that bears his name is 1. Nf3, which is then followed by 2. b3, the Nimzowitsch Opening.

Most people would be fortunate to have just one opening bearing their name, but Nimzowitsch had at least three, and even more if we count variations of other openings.  The most well-known opening named after the 3rd strongest player in the world between 1925 and 1930 is the Nimzo-Indian: 1.  d4  Nf6  2.  c4  e6  3.  Nc3 Bb4

To say that Aron Nimzowitsch was an openings specialist would be to dramatically understate his significance to the game. I am often struck how one seemingly small incident sometimes makes a profound impact upon a person, compelling him or her to accomplish great things.  For example, John Steinbeck was inspired to become a writer because his uncle gave him Malory's book on the Arthurian legends.

In 1904, Tarrasch was critical of how Nimzowitsch played.  This rebuke stung him, and he began to study the traditional concepts of center control by Tarrasch himself.  This led to an examination of many ‘unorthodox’ openings by masters such as Steinitz, Chigorin and others. Nimzowitsch perfected his own ideas that were seeded by these predecessors, and the result was the Hypermodern Movement and a significant strengthening of the concept of positional play.

His initial study paid off, and three years after Tarrasch’s criticism, Nimzowitsch tied for third behind Bernstein and Rubinstein at the Ostend Masters Tournament.

Nimzowitsch left Latvia shortly after the first World War and adopted the misspelling of his last name on his new passport, taking up residence in Copenhagen in 1922 as Aron Nimzowitsch.

Throughout the 1920’s, Nimzowitsch perfected his ideas, culminating in the publication in German of three books: Die Blockade in 1925, and Mein System and Die Praxis meines Systems in 1929.  These have been translated into English as The Blockade, My System, and Chess Praxis.

If you have not yet read My System, do so immediately.  A marvelous and enlightening read, it is available in a new edition from Hays Publishing that uses algebraic notation.  One can see the influence of scientific and mathematical thought on Nimzowitsch in the structure and exposition of this book.  The first part's title, ‘The Elements’, reminds us of Euclid and begins with a careful enumeration of elementary concepts and definitions and proceeds to more advanced notions that build upon these chess ‘axioms’.  Part Two presents his thinking on positional play, and the book ends with 50 illustrative games. 

It is in this work that we find Nimzowitsch’s famous maxim that a passed center pawn “must be regarded as a dangerous criminal.  Against him all our chess fury must be directed.”

This was Nimzowitsch at the height of his skill as a chess thinker and player.  Capablanca accepted his challenge for a world championship match, but the match did not take place because Nimzowitsch could not raise enough money for his stake, and it was Alekhine, not Nimzowitsch, who defeated the Cuban to become the new world champion in 1927. 

Here we see Aron Nimzowitsch not only playing the Nimzo-Indian, but also accepting the resignation of Paul Johner, who succumbed to the threat of Nimzowitsch’s own criminalistic pawn, proving another one of his famous maxims: "The threat is stronger than its execution.”

Note to the gentle reader:  This blog is one of a continuing series that discusses the players whose names grace many openings.  Here are the links to these blogs published to date:

The Names behind the Openings, Part 1

Bird to Bogo

Caro, Kann and Chigorin – Openings Players

Evans and Göring: Gambiteers

Who was Giuoco Piano?

A Greenfield Opening

Who Suggested 1. b3 ??

Nimzowitsch (in 4 syllables)


  • 5 years ago


    My Idol

  • 7 years ago



  • 7 years ago


    u r right

  • 8 years ago


    Very great game.

  • 8 years ago


    Thanks for this excellent posting. Nimzovich is one of my favourite players and I read both "My System" and "Chess Praxis" when I was younger. I think the incident of the simultaneous exhibition sounds like vintage Nimzovich, although the detail of the first 10 identical first moves makes it suspect. Everyone has no doubt read about his headstands and kneebends and the famous incident when he shouted "Why must I lose to this idiot?" after losing a game.

  • 8 years ago


    About 25 years ago, I read a story about Nimzowitch playing a blindfold simul at Yale against 10 or 12 player all of which made the same 10 opening moves. Upon the 11th move, they all made a different move and Nimzowitch asked to go to the restroom.  While in the restroom, he climbed out the window, never to return.  This sounds more like chess legend.  Can anybody verify this story?  After so long, I can't remember the context.

  • 8 years ago


    Never saw a photo of his tombstone before. Wow! Thanks for that posting.

    In another forum, a player asked if he should study "My System". There were several replies (+/-), and I offered the two cents of an author that I reiterate here:

    It is probably difficult if anyone can really measure if ANY single book has created or has been credited for creating more masters than anyone, but I would empirically suggest that no book evokes such emotive responses (except perhaps the biography of Tal, which heretically may not even have been written by the beloved world champion).

    GM Neil McDonald, in his thought provoking "Chess Secrets: The Giants of Chess Strategy" provides some comments about "My System":

    "It seems to me that Nimzowitsch never hampered himself as a practical player by trying to fit everything into a rigid system whilst he was actually playing his games...I don't mean to suggest that Nimzowitsch only thought about his System when he had to describe his games in books (though some commentators have gone as far as to suggest this!) During his games, all the strategic principles of 'My System' were no doubt present in Nimzowitsch's mind at a subliminal level, so to speak, whilst he was concentrating on calculating variations and finding the best plan...My own opinion is that you should study Nimzowitsch's rules in "My System', but let them sink into your chess subconsciousness: it can be positively harmful to have all of Nimzowitsch's rather heavy prose running through your mind during games. Incidentally, I think that is why some players described 'My System' as the most harmful book ever written, that is guaranteed to damage your chess if you study it!"

    Please consider these excerpts in review as my invitation for players to consider purchasing and reading this book.

  • 8 years ago


    Just for having the kahones to use "über-famous" - you deserve respect. I did enjoy your little piece.

  • 8 years ago


    this is one of my favorite games by nimzowitsch, but my altime favorite is him vs. saemisch. try posting that one. great blog.

  • 8 years ago


    Thanks Kurt, an enjoyable and timely article.  :)

  • 8 years ago


    This is a perfect example as to why I track your articles.  You are truely a great adition to the community I hope at the very least they discount yourmembership fee if not give you a free one for your great articles.

  • 8 years ago


    Informative – nice research and good work, ApplesSmile!

  • 8 years ago


    A true Giant.

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