“The father of Hypermodern Chess Theory”
Aron Nimzovich was born on November 6, 1886 in Riga, Latvia, one of the Baltic states, along with Lithuania and Estonia and a former Republic of the USSR. His father was a merchant and a man of considerable culture, a lover of the arts, a poet, and an excellent
Chess player. He taught Aron Nimzovich to play Chess at the age of 8. He grew up in an atmosphere redolent of Chess, as the players of Riga were known for their love of the game
and their enthusiastic hospitality to any master who passed through the town.
In later years the Riga Chess players made a great name for themselves in the Chess world for their fine endgame compositions and their impressive success in correspondence play. Nimzovich was
seventeen when he first began to take a really serious interest in the game. At first his style was purely combinative, as befits a youngster. But in any event, the accent on combinations was quite logical for that time and place.
Steinitz’s theories were still strange to most players, and the brilliant sacrificial play of
Paul Morphy, Adolph Anderssen and their more or less gifted imitators still held the spotlight. Whatever Nimzovich was to learn, he had to learn by himself. Chess books were few in number, good books fewer still. The dashing but aging
Mikhail Tchigorin was still the idol of Russian Chess players, but he was a rebel who love the Chess of the good old days. A turning point of his career came when his father sent him to Germany for his university studies.
There he came in contact with a large number of players and was able to participate in master tournaments.
He was a competitor in the “A” Tournament at Coburg in 1904, and in the
“B” Tournament at Barmen in 1905. Here he had his first opportunity to see some of the immortals in action: Schlechter, Maroczy, Tchigorin, Marshall and Janowski. In the tournaments in which he played, he matched wits with other youngsters who were to become famous: Spielmann, Vidmar, Duras, Bernstein, Tartakover, Rubinstein and many others.
Nimzovich’s showing in these two early tournaments was not impressive: he did fairly well at Coburg, but he was a miserable failure at Barmen.
His enormous gifts for the game were quite obvious, but he was too sensitive, too inexperienced, too unseasoned, too impetuous and, some said, too temperamental. We are told that these setbacks had a chastening effect on Nimzovich, and that it was at this time that he evolved his system, or the rudiments of it.
However, it would be wrong to suppose that the system emerged full-blown at the first attempt: it is reasonable to assume that he realized that lack of positional orientation was his great defect; that he went to work on his weakness with all the determination, all the energy and all the originality for which he later became famous.
By 1906, at age 20, Nimzovich had definitely become a master of the very first rank.
That year, playing in a small tournament in Munich, he was first, far ahead of such fine players as Spielmann and Erich Cohn. But it was in 1907 that his genius was displayed in a really impressive manner. At Ostend, in a tournament with 29 players, he tied for third and fourth with Mieses, only half a point behind the winners, Rubinstein and Bernstein. The same year, playing in an even stronger event at Carlsbad, he tied for fourth and fifth with Schlechter.
At Hamburg, 1910, Nimzovich started off brilliantly in a strong field, but losses to Schlechter and Duras pushed him down to third.
The following year at San Sebastian (the tourney in which Capablanca made his sensational debut), Nimzovich tied for fifth, sixth and seventh with the veterans Schlechter and Tarrasch. In the great Carlsbad tournament of the same year, he tied for fifth and sixth prizes with Marshall. The following year, at San Sebastian, he tied with Spielmann for second prize, right on Rubinstein’s heels.
The outcome of the tournament was decided in the last-round struggle between Rubinstein and Nimzovich. Both players were so nervous that first Nimzovich and then Rubinstein missed a mate in two!
The year 1913 was a milestone in Aron Nimzovich career, for he published several articles on his system and unleashed a powerful attack on the
“modernism” of Tarrasch’s Moderne Schachpartie.
But Nimzovich’s views made little impression; some people sneered that he had invented a system in order to conceal his ignorance of
Chess theory. The public apathy is all the more remarkable when we realize that young players like
Alexander Alekhine, Richard Reti and Savielly Tartakover, highly sympathetic to the new ideas, were making their mark in tournament play.
Nimzovich’s crass failure in the great tournament at St. Petersburg in 1914 was a severe disappointment to him.
The elimination feature of the rules called for players with iron nerves, or better still, no nerves at all. The coming of the World War put a stop to Nimzovich’s Chess activities until 1920. From that time on, he made his residence in Copenhagen, where he was received with heart-warming hospitality. In the following years, he played a great deal of Chess in the Scandinavian countries, and undoubtedly made a substantial contribution to the development of a school of great masters in Sweden.
During the period 1920-1924 Nimzovich was again playing himself into form, and in 1925 began a series of impressive tournament performances which at last gave his system a hearing. Published in the late twenties in German and later translated into English, My System has had enormous popularity and profound influence wherever it has appeared. In the great Baden-Baden tournament of 1925, Nimzovich resumed international play, and his success was limited to playing several fine games.
Without exception, every great master who achieved success from 1925 on, showed definite traces of the Nimzovich influence. His theories, his innovations, his emphasis on fighting Chess, all combined to create new possibilities for the game. His novel lines of play in the Nimzoindian Defense, French Defense, Sicilian Defense, Caro-Kann Defense, Nimzovich Defense, Nimzovich Attack, Dutch Defense and other openings, have enriched the master play of the last 20 years to a degree which is almost incredible.
Today we know that Nimzovich, by preaching his system all over the
Chess world, saved Chess from the danger of dying out under the
“scientific” influence of Tarrasch and Capablanca. Had the views of these two masters not been opposed by Nimzovich, much of the charm and joy of battle would have vanished, perhaps irrevocably, from Chess. Nimzovich’s death, like his life, was full of tragic irony. He died on March 16, 1935, at the age of 48.
His death occurred during the great Moscow Tournament, where many of his disciples from all over the Chess world were distinguishing themselves. He died at a time when he was at last recognized for the great man that he was. Death snatched him from the reward that he was just beginning to relish: the universal admiration and popularity that would have compensated for the many years of crying in the wilderness. Luckily for us, he left a lasting heritage, which will give future generations as much pleasure as it caused him anguish.
-From the book “My