Nimzowitsch was of wealthy Jewish family and learned the game from his father. He travelled to Germany in 1904 to study philosophy, but began a career as a professionel chess player that same year. After tumultuous years during and after World War I, Nimzowitsch moved to Copenhagen in 1922 (some sources say 1920) and lived there until his death. He is buried in Bispebjerg Cemetery in Copenhagen.
Nimzowitsch's chess theories flew in the face of pre-existing convention. While there were those like Alekhine, Lasker, and even Capablanca who did not live by Tarrasch's rigid teachings, the acceptance of Tarrasch's ideas, all simplifications of the more profound Steinitz, was nearly universal. That the center had to be controlled by pawns and that development had to happen in support of this control — the core ideas of Tarrasch's chess philosophy—were things every beginner thought to be irrefutable laws of nature like gravity.
Nimzowitsch shattered these assumptions. He discovered such concepts as overprotection (the least important of his ideas from a modern standpoint though still interesting and sometimes applicable), control of the center by pieces instead of pawns, blockade, prophylaxis — playing to prevent the opponent's plans — and the fianchetto (in the case of the fianchetto, one could argue that it was a rediscovery, but Nimzowitsch certainly refined its use). He also formalised strategies using open files, outposts and invasion of the seventh rank, all of which are widely accepted today.
He wrote three books on chess strategy: Mein System (My System) (1925), Die Praxis meines System (The Practice of my System) (commonly known as Chess Praxis), and Die Blockade (The Blockade). The last of these is hard to find in English, however, and much that is in it is covered again in Mein System. It is said that 99 out of 100 chess masters have read Mein System; consequently, most consider My System to be Nimzowitsch's greatest contribution to chess. It sets out Nimzowitsch's most important ideas while his second most influential work, Chess Praxis, elaborates upon these ideas, adds a few new ones, and has immense value as a stimulating collection of Nimzowitsch's own games even when these games are more entertaining than instructive.
At the height of his career, Nimzowitsch was the third best player in the world, immediately behind Alekhine and Capablanca. Although a contemporary of these two, he never played either of them in a serious match. His most notable successes were first place finishes at Copenhagen 1928, the Carlsbad tournaments of 1929, 1933, and 1934 and second place behind Alekhine at San Remo in 1930. Nimzowitsch never developed a knack for match play though; his best match success was a draw with Alekhine (though this match was only three games long and was in 1914, 13 years before Alekhine became world champion).
Many chess openings and variations are named after him, the most famous being the Nimzo-Indian Defence (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4) and the less often played Nimzowitsch Defence (1.e4 Nc6). Both of these exemplify Nimzowitsch's ideas about controlling the center with pieces. He was also vital in the development of two French Defense systems, the Winawer Variation (in some places called the Nimzowitsch Variation; its moves are e4 e6 d4 d5 Nc3 Bb4) and the Advance Variation (e4 e6 d4 d5 e5).
There are numerous entertaining anecdotes regarding Nimzowitch—some more savory than others. For example, he once missed the first prize by losing to Sämisch; immediately upon learning this, Nimzowitsch got up on a table and shouted, “Why must I lose to this idiot?”
Although Nimzowitsch did not win a single game against Capablanca, he fared better against Alekhine. He even beat Alekhine with black pieces in St. Petersburg in 1914 (moves given in Algebraic chess notation):
1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. exd5 Nxd5 5. Nf3 b6 6. Bb5+ c6 7. Bd3 Be7 8. O-O Nd7 9. Nxd5 cxd5 10. Qe2 O-O 11. Bf4 Bb7 12. c3 Bf6 13. Rfe1 Qe7 14. Ba6 Bxa6 15. Qxa6 Nb8 16. Qb5 Qb7 17. Re3 Nc6 18. Qd3 g6 19. Bh6 Bg7 20. Bxg7 Kxg7 21. Rae1 Qc7 22. h4 Rac8 23. h5 Qf4 24. Ne5 Nxe5 25. Rxe5 Rc7 26. g3 Qf6 27. Qe3 Rd8 28. Kg2 Rcc8 29. Rh1 Kf8 30. Rh4 Ke8 31. Qh6 Ke7 32. Rf4 Qh8 33. Re1 Rd7 34. Rh1 Qg8 35. Qg5+ Kd6 36. Qe5+ Kc6 37. a4 Kb7 38. Ra1 Qh8 39. Rf6 Qd8 40. Rf3 Qh8 41. Qe2 a6 42. Qe3 Qg7 43. h6 Qf8 44. Qe5 Qh8 45. Rf6 Qf8 46. Rf3 Qh8 47. Rf6 Qf8 48. Rh1 Qd8 49. Rf3 Qh8 50. Rf6 Qd8 51. Rf3 Qh8 52. Rf6 Qd8 53. Rf4 Rc4 54. Ra1 Rc6 55. Rf6 Qf8 56. Qe3 Re7 57. Qf3 Qe8 58. g4 Qd7 59. Re1 Rc7 60. b3 Ka7 61. g5 Qd6 62. Qd3 Qa3 63. Qc2 Qb4 64. Rc1 Qa3 65. Re1 Qb4 66. Rc1 Qa3 67. Re1 Qb4 68. Rc1 Qd6 69. Qd3 Qa3 70. Rb1 Qa2 71. Rf3 e5 72. Re3 e4 73. Qd1 f6 74. gxf6 Rf7 75. Ra1 Qb2 76. Rb1 Qa3 77. c4 Rxf6 78. cxd5 Rcf7 79. Re2 Qd6 80. Qc2 Qxd5 81. Kf1 e3 82. Rxe3 Qh1+ 83. Ke2 Rxf2+ 84. Kd3 Qd5 85. Qc8 Rd7 0-1
- Twelve Great Chess Players and Their Best Games by Irving Chernev; Dover; August 1995. ISBN 0486286746
- Aron Nimzowitsch: Master of Planning by Raymond Keene; G. Bell and Sons. Ltd, 1974.
- Nimzowitsch's games at muljadi.org
- Nimzowitch related articles
- Nimzowitsch page at Chessgames.com
- 20 Crucial Positions from His Games
- Kmoch, Hans (2004). Grandmasters I Have Known: Aaron Nimzovich (PDF). Chesscafe.com.