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Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014

Aron Nimzowitsch

Aron (sometimes written Aaron) Isaewitsch Nimzowitsch (sometimes spelled Niemzowitsch or Nimzovich, though he never used that form) was born on November 7, 1886 (October 26, 1886 Old Style) in Riga, Latvia, which was part of the Russian Empire. His father, Schaie Abramowitsch Niemzowitsch, a Hasidic Jew, had arrived in Riga from St. Petersburg in 1886. He was a wealthy Jewish timber merchant in the export business.

His mother was Esther Niemzowitsch. His older sister was Tilla, who was the only member of the family who survived the holocaust. Aron had three younger brothers: Yakov, Osey and Benno (Benjamin). Benno became a strong chess player and problem composer.

As a child, Aron was occupied with the study of the Talmud and probably went to a Jewish Talmud school.

In 1895, Aron, age 8, learned chess from his father, who was master strength.

In 1896, Aron’s first published chess game appeared in chess magazines in Riga and St. Petersburg. It was an 18-move game.

In 1902, he graduated from secondary school and went to Konigsberg, perhaps to learn how trades were made in the lumber industry and to follow his father’s occupation as a merchant.

In early 1903, at the age of 17, he travelled to Berlin and started playing chess seriously. He soon became involved with the Akademische Schachblatter (Academic Chess Club), founded by Philipp Hirschfeld in the 1850s. He also played chess at the Café Kaiserhof and the Café Royal. Later that year, he enrolled at Georg-August-Universitat in Gottingen as a student of mathematics.

In 1904, he received a certificate of completion from the Georg-August-Universitat in Gottingham and returned to Berlin to play chess.

In July-August 1904, he entered his first tournament, the Coburg Hauptturneier A (a kind of candidates tournament for non-masters), part of the 14th Chess Congress of the German Chess Federation. He took 6th place (won 9, drew 3, lost 4) out of 21 players. Augustin Neumann and Milan Vidmar tied for 1st in the Hauptturnier A (Swiderski, Schlechter, and Bardeleben tied for 1st place in the Meisterturnier).

After the tournament, he travelled to Nuremberg to play some offhand games against Siegbert Tarrasch (1882-1934). Nimzowitsch soon learned to hate Tarrasch and his goal was to be stronger than Tarrasch. Nimzowitsch later wrote, “If you wish to achieve results, select an arch rival and attempt to punish him by toppling him from his pedestal.” Nimzowitsch’s lifetime record against Tarrasch was 5 wins, 2 losses, and 5 draws.

In February-March 1905, Nimzowitsch was invited to his first championship tournament, the Austro-Hungarian Championship, held at the Wiener Schachklub (Vienna Chess Club) in Vienna. He took 6th place (3 wins, 10 draws, 5 losses) out of 10 and received 100 kroner (about $15 in 1905, or about $400 in 2014). The event was won by Carl Schlechter, followed by Heinrich Wolf.

Nimzowitsch stayed in Vienna a few more weeks and played chess at the Vienna Chess Club, which occupied the entire first floor of the Café Central.

In 1905, Nimzowitsch moved to Munich to attend the Ludwig-Maximilians-Untiversitat zu Munchen, but apparently he did not enroll in the school. Instead, he played a chess match with Rudolf Spielmann (1883-1942), and drew the match with 4 wins, 4 losses, and 5 draws. The match was held at the Altmunchen Chess Club at the Café Gisela. Over his career, Nimzowitsch played Spielmann more than any other opponent. They played 34 classical games, with Nimzowitsch winning 14, losing 7, with 13 draws.

In May 1905, Nimzowitsch gave his first known simultaneous exhibition. He played 34 players at the Academic Chess Club, Café Elite, in Munich. He won 22 games, lost 5, and drew 7.

In August-September 1905, he played at the International Tournament at Barmen (Meisterturnier B). Nimzowitsch tied for 15th-16th place, scoring only 6 points out of 17 (3 wins, 8 losses, 6 draws). The Barmen Meisterturnier B was won by Leo Fleischmann (changed his name to Leo Forgacs in 1908). Janowski and Maroczy tied for 1st place in the Meisterturnier A.

At the end of 1905, Nimzowitsch enrolled himself at the University of Zurich (UZH), Switzerland in order to study mathematics. It is the largest university in Switzerland.

In November 1906, he won his first international chess tournament at Munich, ahead of Spielmann. He scored 7 wins, 3 draws, and no losses.

In 1907, at Ostend, he tied for 3rd-4th place with 14 wins 10 draws, and 4 losses.

In 1907, Nimzowitsch’s sister, Tilla, married and settled in Kiev.

At Karlsbad (Carlsbad) 1907, Nimzowitsch placed 4th-5th place (8 wins, 9 draws, 3 losses) in a field of 21 players. The event was won by Akiba Rubinstein, held in August-September, 1907 at the health resort of Karlsbad in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, located in present day Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic.

In 1910, at Hamburg, he took 3rd place with 8 wins, 5 draws, and 3 losses.

In 1911, at San Sebastian, he tied for 5th-7th place with 2 wins, 9 draws, and 2 losses.

At Carlsbad 1911, Nimzowitsch placed 5th-6th place (11 wins, 9 draws, 5 losses) out of 26 players. The event was won by Richard Teichmann (1868-1925).

In 1912, he tied for 2nd-3rd place at San Sebastian with 8 wins, 8 draws, and 3 losses.

In 1913, Nimzowitsch reviewed Tarrasch’s book, The Modern Chess Game. In reaction to Tarrasch’s emphasis on obtaining control of the center, Nimzowitch countered with a ‘hypermodern’ approach of fianchettoed bishops controlling the center and that the center could be controlled by distant pieces. According to Nimzowitsch, this hypermodern approach had a flexible center, showed no danger of an opponent’s advancing pawn chain, and the weakness of a complex of squares with the same color. This makes Nimzowitsch the father of the Hypermodern School.

In 1913, he discovered and analyzed what is now known as the Nimzo-Indian Defense, 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 (first played in the 1850s, if not earlier). He also analyzed 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 b6, now known as Bogoljubow’s Defense. Nimzowitsch also analysed Reti’s Opening (1.Nf3 followed by 2.b3 – the Nimzo-Larsen Attack), the Catalan Opening, and the Nimzowitsch Defense (1.e4 Nc6). During his career playing the Nimzo-Indian, he scored 12 wins, 8 losses, and 8 draws in master play.

In 1913/14 Nimzowitsch tied for 1st place (12 wins, 3 draws, 2 losses) with Alexander Alekhine at the 8th All-Russian Masters’ Tournament in St. Petersburg. There were 18 players.

In 1914, at the St. Petersburg Grandmaster Tournament, he took 8th place with 1 win, 6 draws, and 3 losses.

In 1915, the German army overran Lithuania and large portions of Latvia. The Nimzowitsch family business came to a halt and they lost everything.

In 1916, just before his 30th birthday, Nimzowitsch was called up for the army and to war.

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 changed his first name to Arnold for the duration.

In 1918, Latvia became independent, and it was announced that everybody would have new passports. Aron changed his last name from Niemzowitsch to Nimzowitsch and preferred that name. The Latvian variation was Nimcovics.

On October 6, 1918, his father died of a stomach disease. He was 58 years old.

In December 1918, the Bolsheviks entered Riga, but the city was eventually liberated by anti-Bolshevik forces in May, 1919.

In August 1920, Nimzowitsch participated in the Gothenburg (Goteborg), Sweden international tournament, the first major chess tournament after World War I which featured significant players. Nimzowitch finished in 12th place (1 win, 7 draws, 5 losses). The winner of the event was Richard Reti.

In 1920 at Stockholm, he took 2nd place with 11 wins, 2 draws, and 1 loss.

From 1920 to 1924, Nimzowitsch travelled around Scandinavia giving lectures of his chess system. He conducted his lecture under the title, ’My System in Chess.’

In April 1922, he moved to Copenhagen where he lived for the rest of his life in a small rented room. He became a Danish citizen and represented the country at the Chess Olympiads.

In March 1923 he took 1st place (6 wins, 4 draws, and no losses) at Copenhagen, ahead of Tartakower, Saemisch, and Spielmann.

In his earlier days, Nimzowitsch was a smoker, but had to give it up after 1923 because of health problems.

In April-May 1923, Nimzowitsch was 6th-7th (8 wins, 4 draws, 5 losses) out of 18 at the Helenenhof Imperial Hotal at Karlsbad, Czechoslovakia. Alekhine, Bogoljubow, and Maroczy all tied for 1st place.

In 1924 he won the Nordic Chess Championship with 9 wins, 1 draw, and no losses.

According to Hans Kmoch, in a tournament in Berlin, Nimzowitsch missed the first prize by losing to Friedrich Saemish, then proceeded to get on a table, shouted, “Why must I lose to this idiot?” According to Fred Reinfeld, the game was a blitz game played in Berlin in 1918. After the game in which Nimzowitsch lost the blitz game, he allegedly leapt on the table and shouted, “Gegen diesen Idiotem muss ich verlieren! (Why must I lose to this idiot). Nimzowitsch played Saemisch in 10 classical games, winning 9 and losing 1. He lost to Saemisch at Baden-Baden in 1925. In that tournament, Nimzowitsch took 9th place. Alekhine and Rubinstein tied for 1st, followed by Saemisch.

In 1925, he took 9th place (7 wins, 8 draws, 5 losses) at Baden-Baden.

In 1925, he tied for 1st-2nd place at Marienbad with 8 wins, 6 draws, and 1 loss.

In the summer of 1925, Nimzowitsch played an informal chess match with Emanuel Lasker. Lasker won, 7-3.

In 1925-1926, he wrote his most famous chess book, Mein System (My System), published in Berlin. Perhaps his most famous quote can be found in the book, ‘Zuerst hemmen, dann blockieren und schlieshlich vernichten.’ (First restrain, next blockade, lastly destroy). The book appeared in 5 installments or brochures, from the end of 1925 through 1926. The bound edition of the 5 installments was published in 1927. Perhaps 99 out of 100 chess masters have read My System.

In 1926, he tied for 4th place (9 wins, 5 draws, 3 losses) at Semmering, Austria. The event was held at the Grand Hotel Panhas and was won by Rudolf Spielmann, followed by Alexander Alekhine. There were 18 players in the event.

In April 1926, he took 1st place at Dresden (and also won the first and second brilliancy prizes), with an 8.5 out of 9 score.

In 1926, Nimzowitsch made a formal challenge to Capablanca, but negotiations dissolved after monetary backing could not be found. He had to drop his challenge in late 1926 because he could only raise $4,000 of the necessary $10,000 that Capablanca was asking for.

Nimzowitch had business cards made up saying, “A. Nimzowitsch, Kandidat til verdensmesterskabet I skak” (“A Nimzowitsch, World chess championship candidate”).

In 1926, he took 1st place at Hanover with 8 wins, 1 draw, and no losses.

From 1926 to 1931, he was perhaps the 3rd strongest chess player in the world, behind Alekhine and Capablanca.

In 1926, Aron’s brother Yakov died from an infection while on a business trip to Antwerp.

In December 1926, Nimzowitsch made a tour of Germany, combining simultaneous play with lecturing, including lecturing on chess over the radio.

In February-March 1927, Nimzowitsch took 3rd place (and $1,000 or around $13,000 in today’s currency) at the 1927 New York International, behind Capablanca and Alekhine, and ahead of Vidmar, Spielmann, and Marshall. The tournament was held in the Trade Banquet Hall of the Hotel Manhattan Square. Nimzowitsch scored 6 wins, 8 draws, and 5 losses.

During one of his games with Milan Vidmar (Nimzowitsch’s best friend) in the New York 1927 chess tournament, Vidmar had absent-mindedly took out his cigar case and set it on the table. Nimzowitsch became very excited, then rushed up to the tournament director, Gexa Maroczy, and protested that Vidmar was smoking and that was against the rules. The tournament director went to investigate and countered that Vidmar only brought out a cigar case and was not smoking. Nimzowitsch replied, “Yes, but he is threatening to smoke and you, as a chess player know that the threat is worse than the execution.”

In 1927, he took 2nd-4th place at Berlin, scoring 5 wins, 2 draws, and 2 losses.

In 1927, he took 2nd-3rd place at Copenhagen with 2 wins, 3 draws, and no losses.

In 1927, he tok 2nd-3rd place at Kecskemet with 8 wins, 7 draws, and 1 loss.

In 1927, he tied for 1st-2nd place at Niendorf with 4 wins, 3 draws, and no losses.

In 1927, he tied for 1st-2nd at London (BEC) with 7 wins, 2 draws, and 2 losses.

In 1927, he took 1st place at London (ICC) with 7 wins, 3 draws, and no losses.

In 1928, he took 1st place at Berlin (Schachgesellschaft) with 8 wins, 4 draws, and 1 loss.

In 1928, he took 5th place at Kissingen with 3 wins, 6 draws, and 2 losses.

In 1928 he took 2nd place at Berlin (Tageblatt) with 4 wins, 6 draws, and 2 losses.

In 1928, he took 1st place at Copenhagen with 3 wins, 2 draws, and no losses.

In July-August 1929, he took 1st place (10 wins, 10 draws, 1 loss) at Karlsbad (Carlsbad), Czechoslovakia and won 20,000 Kronen (about $9,000 in today’s currency). This was the peak of his career. There were 22 of the best masters in the world in this event, including Capablanca, Spielmann, Rubinstein, Euwe, Bogoljuow, Tartakower, and Vidmar.

In 1929, Nimzowitsch wrote his autobiography, Kak ya stal grosmeysterom (How I Became a Grandmaster), written in Russian and published in Leningrad.

In 1930, the first British English edition of Mein System, titled My System, was translated by Philip Hereford and published by Harcourt, Brace and Company. A Russian language edition was also published in 1930. A U.S. edition was published in 1947.

In 1930, he took 2nd place at San Remo with 8 wins, 5 draws, and 2 losses.

In 1930, he took 3rd-5th place at Liege with 3 wins, 6 draws, and 2 losses.

In 1930, he took 1st place at Frankfurt with 9 wins, 1 draw, and no losses.

In the beginning of the 1930s, the press called Nimzowitsch the “Crown Prince of the Chess World.”

In 1931, he took 1st place at Winterthur with 7 wins, 1 draw, and no losses.

In 1931, Nimzowitsch played at an international tournament in Bled, Yugoslavia. On the day he had a bye, he showed up to the tournament hall in a bathrobe. There was a chance that the queen of Yugoslavia might drop in, so the tournament director, Hans Kmoch, grabbed him by the neck and kicked him in the butt as he was escorted out the door. Nimzowitch took 3rd place with 8 wins, 12 draws, and 6 losses.

He obtained Danish citizenship and lived in Denmark until his death in 1935.

In November 1932, Aron wrote his will and listed his relatives with the name “Nimzowitsch” and in brackets, he included “Niemzowitsch.”

In 1933, he took 1st place at Copenhagen with 5 wins, 1 draw, and 1 loss.

Toward the end of his career, Nimzowitsch’s physician told him that he needed to get more exercise. He complied by doing calisthenics during tournament games. On at least one occasion, he stood on his head during a chess tournament, waiting for his move.

In 1934, he took 2nd place at Stockholm with 6 wins, 2 draws, and 2 losses.

In 1934, Nimzowitsch played in his last chess international tournament at Zurich. He tied for 6th-7th place (6 wins, 6 draws, 3 losses). He also lost a match to Gideon Stahlberg that year.

In 1934, he took 1st place at Copenhagen with 5 wins, 3 draws, and no losses.

In 1934, Nimzowitsch followed the Alekhine-Bogoljbow world championship match, which was played in many parts of Nazi Germany. One day, a high ranking Nazi officer in uniform entered the press room. The Jewish Nimzowitsch went up to him and brusquely demanded to see his credentials. When the officer did not answer or show him any credentials, Nimzowitsch asked him to leave. Everyone expected the Nazi to react violently after receiving such an order from a Jew, but nothing happened and the officer simply left.

In 1934, Nimzowitsch agreed to play Max Euwe in a chess match, but had to cancel the match for reasons of ill health.

At the end of 1934, he became ill and was bedridden for 3 months before dying of pneumonia (Hans Kmoch reported that it was cancer) in Copenhagen on March 16, 1935 at the age of 48.

He is buried in Bispebjerg Kirkegaard (Cemetery) in Copenhagen. The gravestone simply says “Skakstormesteren Aron Nimzowitsch” (The Chess Grandmaster Aron Nimzowitsch), together witdh dates of birth and death. Included in Nimzowitsch’s grave is that of Jens Enevoldsen (1907-1980), Denmark’s first International Master. It is a ‘double-grave.’

On May 24, 1937, Nimzowitsch’s mother died. She was 72 years old.

In 1941, the Nazis killed the entire family of Aron’s brothers, Osey, who was educated at the Riga Polytechnic Institute and obtained a PhD in commerce, and Benno, who had to flee the Nazis when he lived in Poland and was finally caught in Riga and sent to a concentration camp to die.
During his lifetime, he played about 600 tournament games.

Tartakower said of Nimzowitsch, “He pretends to be crazy in order to drive us crazy.”

During his career, against Emanuel Lasker, Nimzowitsch had 1 win and 1 draw. With Capablanca, he had no wins, 5 losses, and 6 draws. Against Alekhine, he had 3 wins, 9 losses, and 9 draws in classical games.

Nimzowitsch played 258 games against the elite players. His score with White and 131 games was 52.67%. His score with Black and 127 games was 51.18%.

Nimzowitsch is considered the greatest innovator in the openings that the world has ever seen.

Giddins, Nimzowitsch: Move by Move, 2014
Hays, My System: 21st Century Edition, 1991
Keene, Aron Nimzowitch: A Reappraisal, 1974
Keene, Aron Nimzowitsch: Master of Planning, 1991
Nimzowitsch, Mein System (My System), 1925
Nimzowitsch, Die Blockade (The Blockade), 1925
Nimzowitsch, Die Praxis meines Systems (The Practice of My System or Chess Praxis), 1929
Nimzowitsch, Kak Ya Stal Grosmeysterom (How I Became a Grandmaster), 1929
Skjoldager and Nielsen, Aron Nimzowitsch: On the Road to Chess Mastery, 1886-1924, 2012

– Bill Wall


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