Aron Nimzowitsch - Hypermodern Pioneer
Aron Nimzowitsch (7 November, 1886 - 16 March, 1935) was a Latvian master and one of the most important players and writers in chess history. He was probably the third strongest player in the world in the 1920s.
Like Akiba Rubinstein
, he would have a lasting effect on chess. He wrote three famous books on chess. The Blockade
, Chess Praxis
and especially My System
are some of the most widely known literary works on chess in the world today.
My System influenced the development of several World Champions and GMs after the time of it's author. No player's library is the same as that of another. We all choose different books to learn the secrets of chess. Yet it is almost inconceivable for any chess player of any level to omit My System.
The family of Aron Nimzowitsch moved to Dvinsk when he was a child
Nimzowitsch was born into a wealthy Jewish family in Riga, Latvia on the 7th of November, 1886. Latvia was then part of the Russian Empire and after brief independence would be one of the states that would later form the USSR before again becoming an independent state in 1991.
None of this concerned Nimzowitsch during his childhood. His father was a successful timber merchant. The family business brought them to the city of Dvinsk (now Daugavpils) in 1897.
The father, Shaya Abramovich Nimzowitsch, was also fond of chess. He taught young Aron to play when the boy was 8 years old. The father was apparently a strong amateur. Jose Raul Capablanca
described the elder Nimzowitsch as a fairly good player
during his notes to a game he played against the son some years later.
Aron Nimzowitsch studied philosophy in Berlin for a short period
In 1904 the 18 year old Nimzowitsch went to Berlin to study philosophy but that didn't last long. That same year he dropped out to become a professional chess player
. A year later he lost a short match 2-1 against Rudolf Spielmann
After a couple of years on the circuit he enjoyed his first success. He took first prize at the Munich 1906 Tournament
Nimzowitsch was up and running. Just 20 years old, he had the proof he needed that he could compete with the best players around and thrive. All that remained was to see how high he could climb.
Aron Nimzowitsch did not have a good tournament at St Petersburg 1914 but better days lay ahead
Nimzowitsch shared 2nd prize with Jacques Mieses in the Ostend 1907 Masters Tournament
behind joint winners Akiba Rubinstein and Ossip Bernstein. The leading pair scored 19.5 each with Nimzowitsch and Mieses on 19. He was 4th in Carlsbad 1907 on 12.5 points
, behind Paul Saladin Leonhardt (13.5), Géza Maróczy (14.5) and Akiba Rubinstein, again the winner on 15 points.
Over the years he built his reputation until by 1914 he had a big standing in the game. The Latvian drew a playoff match against Alexander Alekhine
in 1914. He finished a disappointing 8th at the St Petersburg 1914 Tournament
, his only win coming against bottom of the table Gunsberg
Just a couple of years later political turmoil was all around as revolution gripped the entire Russian Empire. Amid the destruction, chaos and violence, Nimzowitsch avoided conscription by feigning madness. During his assessment he insisted there was a fly on his head and was deemed unsuitable for combat.
He later slipped out of Russian territory and after spending some time in Germany, he eventually moved to Copenhagen, Denmark. He would remain there for the rest of his life, now playing for Denmark rather than the Russian Empire.
Aron Nimzowitsch was the leader of the Hypermodern School which championed the fianchettoed Bishop and other things
As his career progressed, Nimzowitsch became a prolific chess writer and theorist. He is considered to be the pre-eminent Hypermodern chess player. The Hypermodern School placed more emphasis on control of the center rather than occupation of the center.
The Hypermodern openings often feature fianchettoed Bishops as opposed to the classically developed Bishops on b5, c4, d3, d2, e2, e3, f4 or g5.
Nimzowitsch laid out his theories on positional chess in his now household name books, Blockade, Chess Praxis and My System. He introduced new ideas and new twists on old ideas for the amateur chess player, all in an entertaining if eccentric style of commentary. Now many of the terms of reference he coined are familiar chess jargon today. Outposts, restraint, blockades, proflaxis, overprotection, centralization to name but a few.
Many of his contemporaries doubted his system but later generations have a greater appreciation. His good friend Hans Kmoch created a composition supposedly played between Nimzowitsch and Systemsson
with amusing notes mimicking Nimzowitsch's prose added for fun. Nimzowitsch was said to be amused by it.
Aron Nimzowitsch clashed with Siegbert Tarrasch stating that his Hypermodern style was superior to the Classical style
Nimzowitsch's ideas brought him into direct conflict with Siegbert Tarrasch
who was the main theorist of the Classical School. Both claimed their system to be a refutation of the other.
They publicly criticized one another, it probably had as much to do with business as any personal enmity. Both Nimzowitsch and Tarrasch earned money writing chess books for the public. They were in direct competition. It was inevitable that they would have a harsh judgement of the other's entire philosophy on chess.
As it happens neither has proven to be superior than the other. It is probably better to say that each has advantages and limitations. We always remember that the strongest players of this period, Lasker, Capablanca, Rubinstein and Alekhine fell squarely into neither one camp nor the other. They tended to apply the best of each to whatever position they found themselves in.
Nimzowitsch and Tarrasch played 12 games against each other at various tournaments over the years. Early on it was even but Nimzowitsch dominated the exchanges in later years. At the end Nimzowitsch had a positive record against Tarrasch, 5-2 overall with 5 games drawn
Aron Nimzowitsch enjoyed his best chess years in the 1920s
After the war Nimzowitsch continued to soar. He won Copenhagen 1923
, (complete with the Immortal Zugzwang)
, Marienbad 1925
, Dresden 1926
and Hanover 1926
. He was by now the third best player in the world. New York 1927
showed that only Capablanca and Alekhine
could claim to be better.
By the time Nimzowitsch had captured 1st prize at Carlsbad 1929
, Alekhine had taken the World Championship from Capablanca. Nimzowitsch had some designs on the title. During these years he had challenged first Capablanca and later Alekhine though neither match would ever come to pass.
He continued to perform well into the 1930s. He was second behind Alekhine at San Remo 1930
. He won Frankfurt 1930
ahead of Kashdan and Ahues on 9.5/11 points.
Aron Nimzowitsch played until shortly before his untimely passing in 1935
Nimzowitsch finished 3rd in the high profile Bled 1931
behind Bogoljubov in 2nd. Alekhine destroyed the field which had not included Capablanca due to his dispute with Alekhine or Rubinstein due to his late acceptance of his invitation.
When in 1934 he lost to Swedish master Gideon Stahlberg 4-2 (2 drawn games)
, it was clear he was slipping. He placed 6th in his last tournament, Zurich 1934
, 4 points behind the winner Alekhine.
Later in the year and somewhat suddenly he developed pneumonia. He couldn't shake it off and died some months later on the 16th of March, 1935.
Aron Nimzowitsch may have called himself the Crown Prince of Chess
From chesshistory.com: Following press reports that Nimzowitsch had issued a world championship challenge, Capablanca wrote to him from New York on 21 September 1926 that he had received no direct word and giving him until the end of the year to post a forfeit for a match, failing which he would take up Alekhine’s challenge.
On page 2 of The World Chess Championship 1948 (London, 1949) Harry Golombek stated, in a discussion of possible challengers for the world title in the 1920s, that Nimzowitsch ‘does not seem to have been really serious in his claims, and confined his pretensions to having visiting cards printed on which appeared his name and the title “Crown Prince of the Chess World”’.
This may seem questionable, and we wonder, in particular, whether the well-known ‘visiting-card’ story is true. Has anybody seen one? And when did Nimzowitsch give himself the title ‘Crown Prince’?
The only contemporary reference we can offer is a second/third-hand one, i.e. the BCM’s report on the Frankfurt, 1930 tournament (November 1930 issue, page 403): ‘In the last six rounds [Nimzowitsch] made a clean score. E.S. Tinsley, in The Times, says that he now chooses to call himself “the Crown Prince of the chess world”.
Savielly Tartakower on Aron Nimzowitsch: He pretends to be crazy in order to drive us all crazy
Nimzowitsch was said to eccentric and sometimes came across as a little mad. How much of this was real and how much was simply show is something only he knew for sure.
His character came out in his annotations which contained much humor. He appeared eager to convey not only his profound understanding of positional chess, his superiority over most other masters, but also his intellectual prowess.
Some anecdotes speak to his desire to be held in high esteem. He was very proud when Capablanca responded to his World Championship challenge in a respectful way. His friend Kmoch retold of his strongly held belief that he was always served smaller portions than everyone else at lunchtime. One day Kmoch offered to exchange plates after they had been served and when they did Nimzowitsch still thought he had been given less!
Aron Nimzowitsch laid out his chess philosophy in his three most famous works, Blockade, Chess Praxis and My System
Nimzowitsch changed the way that chess is played. While the Classical ideals of seizing the center remain, control of same with pieces is now a mainstream idea.
His work on dynamics and statics in pawn structure, the importance of restraint and blockading, the value of overprotection inform new players to this day. His thoughts on the 7th and 8th ranks, open files, isolated pawns and the criminal passed pawn are all second nature to players at all levels now.
The Nimzo-Indian Defense
, one of his blueprints for Black is designed around many of his beliefs. All of the Indian systems are in part inspired by his teachings.
Aron Nimzowitsch was one of the greatest players in the world. A man who could have competed in any era. As good as he was, his thinking on chess in the end surpassed his playing achievements. His philosophy on how to play are essential building blocks for every player today as much as 100 years ago.
Think about it. Even as you play your own games, as you assess your opponent's threats and your own chances, you are subconsciously looking at the position through a lens calibrated by Nimzowitsch.
He and other Hypermodern specialists of the 1920s didn't obliterate the Classical School of Tarrasch. Both the Hypermodern and Classical interpretations are viable and both have shortcomings if you follow them too rigidly. Hypermodernism had some very strong advocates. Not many stronger than Richard Reti