There are moments from your childhood which, if you follow me, although you remember that they happened, you cannot quite remember them actually happening. I know I was shown Nimzowitsch-Rubinstein, by, I assume, my father, though I can't directly recall him doing so. But though I have no recollection of the event as such, I will always remember Nh1.
The knight goes to the corner, the opposite to where it should. In contradiction, direct contradiction, to all the rules about development and piece-placing that I had only recently learned. This was shocking, and exciting, to me, as a child learning chess in the Seventies - as indeed it must have been to the world of chess in 1926. I can only remember Fischer's 11...Ng6 having anything like a similar effect on me.
One can scarcely talk about Nimzowitsch without speaking of Ray, who, in his Nimzowitsch: A Reappraisal, writes of the knight move:
A wonderful idea. White has in mind the manoeuvre Nh1-f2-h3-g5, in conjunction with Qh5, as a method of assaulting the position of Black's king.This is true, of course, but it's not really the point, at least in so far as the impact of the move, as opposed to its purpose, is concerned. It's not where the knight's going, it's where it's just gone. It's N-R1, the knight in the corner, the knight to the only part of the board where it possesses, even on an empty board, just two possible moves. That's the shock. That's what we care about, and never mind its destination.
When I first read My System I was so impressed by this game that I deliberately created situations in my next few games where the move Ng3-h1 was possible, in the belief that this mystical retreat would somehow result in a miraculous increase of energy in my position, irrespective of whatever else may have been happening on the board at the time.Quite so. Indeed, shortly after reading Reappraisal a dozen years ago I found myself deliberately trying to engineer cramped positions, overprotection, pawn chains and knight retreats:
Tebbs-Horton, Hertfordshire v Oxfordshire 1998
7...Nc6 (cramped position) 8.O-O a6 9.c3 e5 (pawn chain) 10.Bh2 Nd7 (overprotection) 11.d5?! Ncb8 (knight retreat).
I rather like playing like this, and am suspicious of the fact that I like it: while you're being all clever and Nimzowitschian, the opponent is liable to be playing sensibly and winning the game. A shame, mind you, that the knight didn't quite make it to the rook's square, though returning to its original square is feat enough: I managed it again the following year in the BCF congress at Scarborough.
Horton-Rosen, Harry Baines 1999
6.Nf3 e4 7.Ng1!
Ho ho very paradoxical. Though in truth, I was doing reasonably well in both games as a result of the would-be Nimzowitschian manoeuvres.
I'm not sure, as it happens, that I've ever managed to get my knight to rook one. At least, though I may have done so in an ending now and then, I don't think I've ever managed it as part of a deliberate middlegame plan. Or even a touch earlier:
Hjartarson-Korchnoi, Amsterdam 1991
I almost took up the Black side of the French just so that I could put the knight where Korchnoi put it.
But as it is, my knights seem to head for their own square rather than the corner, which might lead one to conclude that my real inspiration wasn't Nimzowitsch but Karpov, whose N-N1 was played when I was eight:
Karpov-Spassky, Candidates' Semi-Final 1974, game 9.
But it wasn't. And looking at where Karpov's knight then went, towards the g5 square, though it never actually arrived - I wonder whether it was Nimzowitsch that he was thinking of, too. Perhaps the knight move was an ineradicable part of his own childhood. As it was part of mine.
(Thanks to Sean Terry for his help with this piece.)
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