Nimzowitsch Defense – 1.e4 Nc6 (Strategy & Theory)

Nimzowitsch Defense - 1.e4 Nc6

The Nimzowitsch Defense, 1.e4 Nc6, is a unique chess opening that opens up a wide array of possibilities out of the King’s Pawn Opening.

The opening is less common than other responses to 1.e4, such as 1…c5 or 1…e5, but it offers a distinct style of play that some players find to be a powerful tool in their arsenal.

In the following sections, we’ll explore the details of this opening.

Move Order of the Nimzowitsch Defense

The Nimzowitsch Defense begins with the moves 1.e4 Nc6.

Nimzowitsch Defense - 1.e4 Nc6
Nimzowitsch Defense – 1.e4 Nc6

In this move order, Black directly addresses the control of the center that White tries to establish with the move 1.e4.

It’s important to note that this opening is one of the hypermodern openings where the idea is to control the center with pieces rather than pawns.

Theory, Strategy, and Purpose of the Nimzowitsch Defense

The primary theory behind the Nimzowitsch Defense is hypermodern in nature.

Instead of fighting directly for control of the center with pawn moves, like in classical openings, Black aims to control the center with their pieces.

This strategy can often catch opponents off-guard, as it differs significantly from traditional opening theory.

The purpose of this defense is to provide flexibility and counterattacking potential, while avoiding the well-trodden paths of more common openings.

Variations of the Nimzowitsch Defense

There are several main variations in the Nimzowitsch Defense, each with its own strategic subtleties.

One of the most popular variations is the Scandinavian Variation, which occurs after the moves 1.e4 Nc6 2.d4 d5.

Variations of the Nimzowitsch Defense There are several main variations in the Nimzowitsch Defense, each with its own strategic subtleties. One of the most popular variations is the Scandinavian Variation, which occurs after the moves 1.e4 Nc6 2.d4 d5.

This variation can lead to a quick confrontation in the center. Another important variation is the French Variation, which arises after 1.e4 Nc6 2.d4 e6.

Here, Black prepares to construct a solid pawn structure, similar to what is seen in the French Defense.

Other less common but still important variations include the Two Knights Variation and the Colorado Counter.

Evaluation of Nimzowitsch Defense

The Nimzowitsch Defense is generally evaluated at around +0.45 to +0.70 for white

Theory & Continuation Lines of Nimzowitsch Defense

Below we have some common theory and continuation lines from the Nimzowitsch Defense starting move order 1.e4 Nc6 that you would see at the highest level of play.

2. d4

2. d4 d5 3. e5 Bf5 4. c3 e6 5. Be2 f6 6. f4 g5 7. Bh5+ Kd7 8. fxg5 fxe5 9. Nf3 h6 10. Nxe5+ Nxe5 11. dxe5 hxg5 12. g4 Rxh5 13. gxf5 g4 14. fxe6+ Kc8 

2. d4 d5 3. e5 Bf5 4. c3 e6 5. Be2 f6 6. f4 g5 7. Bh5+ Kd7 8. fxg5 fxe5 9. Nf3 h6 10. O-O hxg5 11. c4 Kc8 12. Nxg5 Nh6 13. cxd5 Nxd4 14. dxe6 Bc5 15. Be3 Qe7 16. Nf7 Nxe6 17. Bxc5 Qxc5+ 18. Kh1 Nxf7 19. Bxf7 

2. d4 d5 3. e5 Bf5 4. Bb5 e6 5. Nd2 a6 6. Bxc6+ bxc6 7. h4 h6 8. Nb3 a5 9. a4 c5 10. dxc5 Ne7 11. Be3 Nc6 12. Nd4 Nxd4 13. Bxd4 Be7 14. h5 Rb8 

2. d4 d5 3. e5 Bf5 4. Bb5 e6 5. Nd2 a6 6. Bxc6+ bxc6 7. h4 h5 8. Nb3 a5 9. a4 f6 10. Ne2 fxe5 11. dxe5 c5 12. Bg5 Qd7 13. Nf4 Nh6 14. c4 Nf7 15. cxd5 Nxg5 16. hxg5 exd5 

2. d4 d5 3. e5 Bf5 4. c3 e6 5. Nf3 f6 6. Nbd2 a6 7. Be2 Nh6 8. exf6 Qxf6 9. Nf1 Bd6 10. Ng3 Bg4 11. O-O 

2. d4 d5 3. e5 Bf5 4. Be2 e6 5. c3 f6 6. f4 g5 7. Bh5+ Kd7 8. fxg5 fxe5 9. Nf3 h6 10. Nxe5+ Nxe5 11. dxe5 hxg5 12. g4 Rxh5 13. gxf5 g4 14. fxe6+ Kc8 15. Qe2 Qh4+ 16. Kd1 Ne7 17. Rf1 Rf5 18. Be3 Bh6 19. Bxh6 Qxh6 20. Nd2 Qg6 

2. Nf3

2… e5 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Bb5 Bb4 5. O-O O-O 6. d3 Bxc3 7. bxc3 d6 8. Bxc6 bxc6 9. h3 Nd7 10. Nh2 Nb6 11. f4 f5 12. fxe5 fxe4 13. dxe4 Ba6 14. Rf5 Rxf5 15. exf5 dxe5 

2… e5 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. d4 Bb4 5. Nxe5 Qe7 6. Nxc6 Qxe4+ 7. Be2 Bxc3+ 8. bxc3 Qxc6 9. O-O Qxc3 10. Rb1 O-O 11. Rb3 Qc6 12. Bb5 Qb6 13. Re1 d5 

2… e5 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. d4 exd4 5. Nxd4 Bb4 6. Nxc6 bxc6 7. Bd3 d5 8. exd5 O-O 9. O-O cxd5 10. Bg5 c6 11. h3 h6 12. Bh4 Re8 13. Qf3 Qd6 14. Bxf6 Qxf6 15. Qxf6 gxf6 16. Ne2 a5 17. Nd4 

2… e5 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. d4 exd4 5. Nxd4 Bb4 6. Nxc6 bxc6 7. Bd3 d5 8. exd5 cxd5 9. O-O O-O 10. h3 c6 11. Qf3 Re8 12. Bg5 h6 13. Bh4 Rb8 14. Rae1 Be6 15. Re2 Be7 16. b3 Qa5 

2… e5 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. d4 exd4 5. Nxd4 Bb4 6. Nxc6 bxc6 7. Bd3 d5 8. exd5 O-O 9. O-O cxd5 10. h3 c6 11. Qf3 Bd6 12. Bg5 h6 13. Bh4 Be6 14. Rad1 Be5 15. Bg3 

2… e5 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. d4 exd4 5. Nxd4 Bb4 6. Nxc6 bxc6 7. Bd3 d5 8. exd5 O-O 9. O-O cxd5 10. h3 c6 11. Qf3 Bd6 12. Bg5 Be6 13. Ne2 c5 14. b3 h6 15. Bxf6 Qxf6 

What is the best counter to the Nimzowitsch Defense?

The most accurate response to the Nimzowitsch Defense is generally considered 2. d4.

This continues to take control of the center.

However, 2. Nf3 may actually be considered more popular, as it can also be stable (+0.10 to +0.20 for white) but somewhat anti-theoretical at the same time.

It usually leads to a symmetric opening.

Let’s look at some other variations of the Nimzowitsch Defense:

Main Line: 2.d4

In the main line of the Nimzowitsch Defense, White pushes their d-pawn to d4, taking the initiative in the center.

At this point, Black has two primary continuations: 2…d5 and 2…e5.

Each of these responses has a unique strategy and purpose.


This is the line that Aron Nimzowitsch, the originator of the opening, usually preferred.

Here, Black challenges White’s central pawns directly.

The primary variations in this line are:


This move pushes the pawn to a square that could potentially cramp Black’s position.

In response, Black usually plays 3…Bf5, opening up the possibility to break open White’s center with …f6 and …c5 later on.

3.exd5 Qxd5

This line opens up the center immediately.

After 4.Nf3, White aims to gain time by attacking Black’s queen with Nc3 on the next move, prompting Black to put pressure on White’s center with 4…Bg4 or 4…e5.

3.Nc3 dxe4

After 3…dxe4, White usually responds with 4.d5 Ne5, when White usually continues with 5.Qd4 or 5.Bf4 Ng6 6.Bg3.

This position can lead to sharp and complex middlegame play.


This solid line was favored by the late British grandmaster Tony Miles. The idea here is to secure a stable pawn structure in the center.


In this line, White can transpose into the Scotch Game, leading to familiar territory for many players.

3.d5 Nce7

This variation has the intention of maneuvering the knight to g6, adding pressure to the center.

Although it statistically gives White a slight edge, it can lead to complex positions that provide Black with counterattacking chances.

3.dxe5 Nxe5

In this line, White can opt for a more positional approach with 4.Nf3, which aims to develop pieces and control the center, or choose the more aggressive but potentially weakening 4.f4, aiming to seize space and challenge Black’s knight. Both these lines require careful handling of the position.


The 2.Nf3 move is often chosen by White players who prefer not to engage in a theoretical battle in less familiar territory.

Each response by Black presents a different challenge and strategic aim.


This move transposes the game into a double king-pawn opening, which might be the objectively best move.

However, it may not be appealing to players who prefer to maintain the distinct character of the Nimzowitsch Defense.

2…f5 – Colorado Gambit

This sharp line, while somewhat dubious, leads to complex positions.

For example, after 3.exf5 d5 4.Nh4 e5 5. Qh5+ g6 6.fxg6 Nf6 7.g7+ Nxh5 8.gxh8=Q Qxh4, White is up an exchange, but Black has a significant lead in development and White’s king is in a potentially dangerous position.

Alternatively, the more solid 4.d4 Bxf5 5.Bb5 Qd6 6.Ne5 Nf6 7.0-0 Nd7 8.Bxc6 bxc6 9.Qf3! Nxe5 10.Qxf5 Nf7 11.Bf4 Qd7 12.Qxd7+ Kxd7 13.Nd2 leads to a position where Black’s pawn structure is slightly inferior, providing White with a minor advantage.

2…d6 – Williams Variation

This is a solid option for Black but it’s less dynamic than other options and can lead to an inferior version of the Pirc Defense.

After 3.d4 Bg4, Black has a solid setup, although it might lack the dynamism found in other lines of the Nimzowitsch Defense.

2…Nf6, 2…e6, 2…d5, and 2…g6

Other responses like 2…Nf6, 2…e6, 2…d5, and 2…g6 can transpose into various defenses like Alekhine’s Defense, French Defense, Scandinavian Defense, or Robatsch (Modern) Defense respectively.

However, these transpositions generally result in positions that are less favorable for Black compared to the mainlines of these respective defenses.

After 2…Nf6 3.e5 Ng4

The El Columpio (The Swing) variation involves a seemingly dubious knight move, 3…Ng4.

However, this unusual line can lead to unique and challenging positions.

The mainline usually continues with 4.d4 d6 5.h3 Nh6, and both 6.exd6 (the Exchange Variation) and 6.Bb5 (the Pin Variation) give White a slight edge.

A fascinating sideline to explore is the El Columpio Gambit: 6.e6?!, which gambits a pawn for quick development and potential attacking chances.

I Love This Opening! | Nimzowitsch Defense

History of the Nimzowitsch Defense

The Nimzowitsch Defense is named after the Latvian-Danish grandmaster Aron Nimzowitsch, one of the leading chess theoreticians of the 20th century.

Nimzowitsch popularized the defense in the 1920s and 1930s.

However, the defense did not receive widespread acceptance until later in the 20th century, and even today it remains something of an offbeat choice, often used as a surprise weapon.

Is the Nimzowitsch Defense Good for Beginners or Intermediates?

The Nimzowitsch Defense can be a useful opening for both beginners and intermediates, although it’s often more suited to intermediate players.

For beginners, this opening can serve as an introduction to hypermodern concepts and help develop a player’s ability to handle different types of positions.

For intermediates, the Nimzowitsch Defense can offer a less explored opening option that can surprise opponents and provide rich, complex positions to navigate.

How Often the Nimzowitsch Defense Played at the Grandmaster Level

While not as popular as mainline openings like the Sicilian or the French Defense, the Nimzowitsch Defense is still occasionally employed at the grandmaster level.

Its usage is typically as a surprise weapon to throw off opponents who are expecting more common responses to 1.e4.

While it’s not a frequent choice, several high-profile grandmasters have used it successfully in their games.

FAQs: Nimzowitsch Defense – 1.e4 Nc6

1. What is the Nimzowitsch Defense?

The Nimzowitsch Defense is a chess opening named after the Latvian-Danish Grandmaster Aron Nimzowitsch.

It begins with the moves 1.e4 Nc6.

This defense is an unorthodox chess opening and is not as commonly used as other responses to 1.e4 such as the Sicilian, French, or Caro-Kann defenses.

However, it can be an effective surprise weapon for Black.

2. Why is the Nimzowitsch Defense considered unorthodox?

The Nimzowitsch Defense is considered unorthodox because it doesn’t immediately fight for the center, unlike more classical openings such as the Sicilian or French defenses.

Instead, it focuses on rapid development and counter-attacking prospects.

While it’s not as popular, it can still be effective, especially against opponents who are unfamiliar with its nuances.

3. What are the key strategies in the Nimzowitsch Defense?

Key strategies in the Nimzowitsch Defense often revolve around counter-attacking play.

Black aims to challenge the white center and disrupt White’s control.

It can lead to dynamic, unbalanced positions that give Black many tactical opportunities.

Nimzowitsch Defense is all about controlling the center with your pieces rather than your pawns.

4. What are the key lines in the Nimzowitsch Defense?

In response to 1.e4 Nc6, the game can proceed along various lines.

A common line is 2.d4, to which Black can reply with 2…d5 (the Scandinavian Variation) or 2…e5 (the French Variation).

Another line for White is 2.Nf3, aiming for a more restrained, positional setup. Black’s response can vary here as well, with moves like 2…d6 or 2…e5.

5. How can I prepare for an opponent who uses the Nimzowitsch Defense?

The best way to prepare for any chess opening, including the Nimzowitsch Defense, is through study and practice.

There are many resources available, including books, online tutorials, and database analysis, which can help you understand the typical plans and tactical ideas associated with this opening.

6. What are the potential weaknesses of the Nimzowitsch Defense?

Like any chess opening, the Nimzowitsch Defense has its potential weaknesses.

Black’s somewhat passive start can allow White to gain a strong central presence early in the game.

If Black is not careful, they can end up with a cramped position, and White might be able to exploit this for a strategic advantage.

7. Who are some notable players who have used the Nimzowitsch Defense?

While it’s not as common as some other defenses, the Nimzowitsch Defense has been employed by many top-level players as a surprise weapon.

Of course, Aron Nimzowitsch himself was a proponent of this opening.

More recently, grandmasters like Tony Miles and Bent Larsen have been known to use it as well.

8. What are some of the common traps in the Nimzowitsch Defense?

The Nimzowitsch Defense is rich with tactical possibilities, and there are several traps that both White and Black need to be aware of.

For example, in the Scandinavian Variation, a premature 3…dxe4 can lead to a disadvantage for Black after 4.d5.

It’s important to study these intricacies to be able to use or avoid them effectively.

9. Are there any good books or resources on the Nimzowitsch Defense?

There are indeed several excellent resources available to learn the Nimzowitsch Defense. “Nimzowitsch: Move by Move” by Steve Giddins is a good starting point.

10. Can the Nimzowitsch Defense be used in blitz or rapid games?

Absolutely. The Nimzowitsch Defense can be a particularly effective surprise weapon in blitz or rapid games, where opponents have less time to navigate unfamiliar territory.

However, as with any opening, it’s important to have a good understanding of the typical structures and tactical motifs that can arise, as the pace of these games can make it difficult to calculate from scratch.


The Nimzowitsch Defense, 1.e4 Nc6, is a unique, hypermodern opening that offers a plethora of strategic possibilities.

While it’s less common than other responses to 1.e4, it’s a formidable tool in the hands of a prepared player.

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