I feel that in many lines starting with d4, such as the Queen's Gambit Declined, or especially the Nimzo-Indian, Black is more than happy to trade their King's Bishop for White's knight on c3. For instance, one frequent line in the Nimzo-Indian (reached in 3200 games of the chess365 database) would be the following:

[FEN ""]
1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. a3 Bxc3+ 5. bxc3

What strategic benefit does this hold for Black? They have given up the bishop pair, given White the chance to capture toward the centre with her b-pawn, in turn strengthening the d4 square for White, and moved the same piece twice in the opening. And yet, this seems to be a line where Black enjoys a higher win percentage than White, which puzzles me as it contradicts my naive understanding of opening principles.

  • 2
    Seconded - in addition, black has given up their good bishop! I'd maybe understand it if it were the bad one, but black is left with a boxed in light-squared bishop that finally gets developed around move 11 !? I find it quite frustrating that a felt majority of cases the chess principles we learn don't apply. Commented Aug 21, 2022 at 10:49

3 Answers 3


Black gains a tempo. Black has played two bishop moves, but white has played Nc3, a3, and bxc3. Once the smoke clears, black has a lead in development with one minor piece out (vs none) and can immediately castle. Also, it doesn’t hurt that the doubled pawns are a weakness that can be exploited later.

If white does not play a3, black has no immediate need to take the knight, and it makes more sense to keep the pin. This is especially true because black does not gain the tempo without a3.

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    Also if black retreats the bishop white can play e4 and get significant advantage in space.
    – Akavall
    Commented Jun 4, 2020 at 0:22

Bent Larsen explained it like this. If you want to win as Black you must unbalance the position, and this involves giving something to get something. Giving your opponent the two Bishops is something that you can do without a great deal of risk, because the advantage will probably not be significant until the endgame, and White must first of all get to an ending.


I don't think the most important detail regarding black's bishop in the Nimzo-Indian has been mentioned... And that is if white plays a3 attacking the bishop early, black has no logical choice but to trade the bishop for the knight. Because if black was to retreat, white could immediately play b4 and then c5 and black's bishop is trapped!

  • 1
    a5 isn't the only available square to retreat!
    – David
    Commented Feb 8, 2023 at 15:44

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