Sunday, July 05, 2009

Zurich 1953: Miguel Najdorf, Master of Opening Preparation

Born near Warsaw Poland on April 15, 1910 would have made him 43 at Zurich. He took lessons from Savielly Tartakower had some early success in Warsaw during the period of 1929-through the mid 1930’s where he won the Warsaw Championship in 1935. He Won a match against his teacher, Tartakower, in the same year. He played in several Chess Olympiads for Poland.

He moved to Argentina in 1939 to escape the holocaust like other players.The Nazi killed Najdorf's whole family, including his parents, wife and little daughter. His second daughter was born in Argentina. He started playing in the Olympiads for Team Argentina. In the 1940’s he started to play in some strong international events winning ahead of some players like Paul Keres and Stahlberg.

He was never considered a chess professional. Outside of chess, Najdorf achieved a similar success in an insurance business and was one of the richest Argentinians after WWII. He owned one of the most presentable sky-scrapers in Buenos Aires.

In 1947-1948 he was ranked as the second strongest chess player but still not invited to the 1948 World Championships following Alekhine’s death. FIDE decided that only those who participated in the 1939 AVRO tournament where the late Alekhine and Capablanca had played qualified for this match.

Let’s look at the his performance at Zurch 1953. In round four, he wins a brilliancy prize against Taimanov. Taimanov had a streak of success against the King’s Indian with a new variation against the mainline that had some circles saying the opening was finally refuted. A little history about this opening that evolved about the hypermodern movement of the 1920’s didn’t start to gain so much popularity until the 1940’s when Bronstein and Boleslavsky found success with making a queen side push with pawns, opening the c-file and targeting the base of Black’s pawn chain on d6. New variations had Black advancing the pawns on the kingside in a race to break things open. Taimanov found a maneuver of his queen’s bishop to favor the solid pawn chain and dance through the dark squared holes. Meanwhile, Najdorf having suffered recent losses with the same line, took upon himself to prepare a relentless pursuit of the king side to settle the argument of the KID being “solved”. He demonstrates great precision and a relentless attack sacrificing first, a pawn then offering a Bishop to keep the initiative and pressure on the White King.

Petrosian in round 6 offers a queen exchange in a materially even position that gives him structural problems. Najdorf picks up the point with a precision.

In round 10, he takes down Stahlberg with an “uncommon Store of positional capital” ( Bronstein quote). This book orthodox QGD has Stahlberg pushing e5 with out enough preparation. Stahlberg was hoping to gradually win through his tactical acumen after exchanging down and simplifying. Najdorf banks the accumulated positional gains and goes into the endgame with: a centralized King, a more active rook, strong bishop and an active knight. There was no hope for Stahlberg.

In round 12, he plays the white side of a main line Caro-Kann against Kotov. Bronstein comments that this was the only time Najdorf played 1.e4 in the tournament, AND the only time Kotov didn’t respond with Najdorf! Perhaps then, the inexperience shows as Kotov allows the Bishop to be captured on the g6 square AFTER he castles which I found a little odd. White focuses on a queen side pawn majority as the basis for his middle game tactics. Black was overly optimistic and tried to make a run with the kingside pawn majority but the structural damage didn’t bode well.

He had a few “GM draws” in this match. One good fight was in round 15 against Paul Keres. He had the black side of a closed Sicilian defense. Keres may have been avoiding the Najdorf variation by playing Ne2 which made for a quiet line with lots of symmetry. Long story short, Najdorf picks up an extra piece towards the end but ends in a draw because of White’s advanced pawn.

He finishes with 14.5 ( 19 draws and 5 wins) points and ties for 8th place with Geller.


Another player who had played Che Guevera. In a wonderful book written by Najdorf's daughter she quotes Najdorf, that this game was not drawn. Najdorf told her that in this game he had offer Che a draw and that he had not accepted it. The game had gone on and Najdorf had won. In fact Najdorf said that Che had reminded him of the other game that they had played in Mar del Plata where Najdorf won. Guevara told him that he wanted to even the score. So according to Najdorf his score against Guevara was 2-0. She goes on to quote about her father’s relationship with Che. "My father was never a communist, but he always admired Che and the Cuban revolution".

Najdorf's lively personality made him a great favorite among chess fans, helped no doubt by his aptitude for witty sayings, taking after his mentor Tartakower. An example: commenting on his opponent at the 1970 USSR-vs-World match, he remarked,

"When [then-world-champion Boris] Spassky offers you a piece, you might as well resign then and there. But when Tal offers you a piece, you would do well to keep playing, because then he might offer you another, and then another, and then ... who knows?"

Najdorf remained active in chess right to the end of his life. At age 69, he tied for second place in a very strong field at Buenos Aires 1979, with 8/13, behind winner Bent Larsen (11/13), but ahead of former World Champions Tigran Petrosian and Boris Spassky. At Buenos Aires 1988, he made a very good 8.5/15 for fourth place at age 78. The next year in the 1989 Argentine Championship, with several other GMs in the field, he tied for 4th-6th places, with 10/17. His last national championship was in 1991 at age 81, where he finished with a minus score. Najdorf was an exceptional blitz (five-minute chess) player, keeping his strength into his 80s at the quick pace. He Died on July 4, 1997 at the age of 87.


From the patzer said...

You wrote that he moved to Argentina to escape the holocaust which is a bit incorrect i believe.

He was invited to a tournament in Argentina during which the second world war broke out. Najdorf decided not to return to his native country (or couldn't, stories i heard about it are not all the same) and decided to stay in Argentina.

I wonder what his opponents must have thought when he played the sicilian variation against them which bears his name.

Blue Devil Knight said...

A sad story about what happened to his family, all too common of course and just tragic.

What is awesome is that this dude was kicking ass into his 70s! If any of us had tried to play him even when he was 80 we would have gotten destroyed! That's pretty cool.

Thanks for the games too :)