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Miguel Najdorf

Miguel Najdorf in 1973
Full name Mojsze Mendel Najdorf
Country Poland
Born April 15, 1910
Grodzisk Mazowiecki, Warsaw, Russian Empire
Title Grandmaster (1950)
Peak rating 2540 (July 1972)

Miguel Najdorf (April 15, 1910 in Grodzisk Mazowiecki near Warsaw, Russian Empire - July 4, 1997 in Málaga, Spain) was a Polish-Argentine chess grandmaster, famous for his Najdorf Variation.

Early life in Poland

Mojsze Mendel Najdorf was tutored first by Dawid Przepiórka, then by Ksawery Tartakower, the latter of whom he always referred to as "my teacher".

At the beginning of his chess career, in 1929, Najdorf defeated Glücksberg in a famous game known as "The Polish Immortal". In 1930, he tied for 6th-7th at the Warsaw Championship, an event won by Paulino Frydman. In 1931, he took second in Warsaw, behind Frydman. In 1932, he tied for 9th-10th in Warsaw. In 1933, he won in Warsaw (Quadrangular). In January 1934, he finished second to Rudolf Spielmann, in Warsaw. In summer 1934, he lost a match against Ored Karlin (+1-2=1). In 1934, he won the Warsaw championship. In 1935, he tied for 2nd-4th with Frydman and Henryk Friedman, behind Tartakower, in the 3rd Polish Chess Championship, held in Warsaw. Afterward, Najdorf won a match against Tartakower in Toruń (+2-1=2). In 1936, he tied for first with Lajos Steiner in the Hungarian Championship. In 1937, he took third at the 4th Championship of Poland in Jurata. In 1937, he won in Rogaška Slatina (Rohitsch-Sauerbrunn). In 1938, he tied for 10th-12th in Łódź. In 1939, he took sixth in Margate, and won in Warsaw.

Najdorf represented Poland in four pre-war Chess Olympiads. In August 1935, he played third board in the 6th Chess Olympiad in Warsaw (+9-2=6). In August 1936, he was second board in 3rd unofficial Chess Olympiad organised by the German Chess Federation in Munich (+14-2=4). In June/July 1937, he played at second board in the 7th Chess Olympiad in Stockholm (+5-3=7).

Move to Argentina

In August/September 1939, the outbreak of World War II found him in Buenos Aires, where he was playing the 8th Chess Olympiad, representing Poland at second board. He achieved a score of +12−2=4 and got a golden medal. Najdorf was Jewish, as were two of his teammates, Tartakower and Frydman. He decided to stay in Argentina (as did many players, both Jew and others), suffering considerable personal and familial loss as a result, but escaping the Holocaust and the war in Europe.

In September 1939, after the Olympiad, Najdorf tied for first with Paul Keres at Buenos Aires (Círculo de Ajedrez); the two scored 8½/11. In 1941, he took second, after Gideon Ståhlberg at Mar del Plata, with 12½/17. Later in 1941, he finished equal first with Stahlberg at Buenos Aires, the two scoring 11/14. In 1942, he won at Mar del Plata, with 13½/17, ahead of Ståhlberg. In 1943, he was second at Mar del Plata, behind Stålhberg, scoring 10/13. In 1943, he won at Rosario. In 1944, he won at La Plata, with 13/16, ahead of Ståhlberg. In 1944, he tied for first with Herman Pilnik at Mar del Plata, with each scoring 12/15. In 1945, he won at Buenos Aires (Roberto Grau Memorial), with 10/12, ahead of Ståhlberg and Carlos Guimard. He took second place at Viña del Mar 1945, with 10½/13, behind Guimard, then won Mar del Plata 1945 with 11/15, ahead of Ståhlberg, and repeated at Mar del Plata 1946 with 16/18, ahead of Guimard and Ståhlberg. He also won at Rio de Janeiro 1946.

After World War II ended, organized chess resumed in the international arena, particularly in war-stricken Europe. In 1946, Najdorf tied for 4th-5th with László Szabó at Groningen, with 11½/19; the event was won by Mikhail Botvinnik. He then won at Prague, with (+9−1=3), ahead of Petar Trifunović, Gosta Stoltz, Svetozar Gligorić, and Jan Foltys. He also won at Barcelona 1946, with 11½/13, ahead of Daniel Yanofsky. In 1947, he took second place at Buenos Aires/La Plata (Sextangular), with 6½/10, behind Ståhlberg, but ahead of Max Euwe. In 1947, he won at Mar del Plata. In 1947, he finished second, after Erich Eliskases, at São Paulo.

In 1948, Najdorf placed second at New York with 6/9, two points behind Reuben Fine. He tied for 4th-5th with Hector Rossetto at Mar del Plata, with 10/17, behind Eliskases, Ståhlberg, and Medina Garcia. Najdorf won at Mar del Plata 1948 with 14/17, ahead of Ståhlberg (13½), Eliskases (12), and Euwe (10½). He was second at Buenos Aires 1948, with 8/10, behind Ståhlberg. Najdorf won at Venice 1948, with 11½/13, ahead of Gideon Barcza, Esteban Canal, and Euwe. In 1949, he tied for first with Ståhlberg at Buenos Aires. In 1950, he won at Amsterdam, with 15/19, ahead of Samuel Reshevsky (14), Ståhlberg (13½), Gligorić (12), Vasja Pirc (12), and Euwe (11½). He also won at Bled in 1950.

Olympiad performances

He played eleven times for Argentina in Chess Olympiads from 1950 to 1976. He played first board in the 9th Chess Olympiad at Dubrovnik 1950 (+8-0=6), as well as at Helsinki 1952 (+11-2=3), Amsterdam 1954, Moscow 1956, Leipzig 1960, Varna 1962, Havana 1966, Lugano 1968, Siegen 1970, and Haifa 1976. Only during the Olympiad at Nice 1974, he played on third board.

Najdorf took eleven Olympic medals: seven for teams Poland and Argentina (four silver, three bronze), and four individuals (gold in 1939, 1950, and 1952, as well as one silver in 1962).

World Championship contender

Najdorf's string of successes from 1939 to 1947 had raised him into the ranks of the world's top players. According to Chessmetrics, he was ranked second in the world from mid 1947 to mid 1949. Despite his strong results, Najdorf was not invited to the 1948 World Championship tournament as a replacement for Reuben Fine.

Although not a full-time chess professional (for many years he worked in the insurance business), he was one of the world's leading chess players in the 1950s and 1960s and he excelled in playing blindfold chess: he broke the world record twice, by playing blindfold 40 games in Rosario, 1943, and 45 in São Paulo, 1947, becoming the world blindfold chess champion. In 1950, FIDE made him one of the inaugural International Grandmasters. In the same year he played at Budapest in the Candidates Tournament to select a challenger for the world chess championship, and finished fifth. Three years later, in the Zürich Candidates Tournament in 1953, he finished sixth, and never succeeded in qualifying for the Candidates again. The closest he would come in the remainder of his career was in the following cycle, when he narrowly failed to qualify from the 1955 Interzonal, held at Gothenburg, Sweden.

Later career

Najdorf won important tournaments such as Mar del Plata (1961) and Havana (1962). He also played in both Piatigorsky Cup tournaments, held in 1963 and 1966. Just before his 60th birthday, he participated in the 1970 USSR vs. Rest of the World match, achieving an even score against the former world champion Mikhail Tal.

Najdorf's lively personality made him a great favorite among chess fans, as he displayed an aptitude for witty sayings, in the manner of his mentor Tartakower. An example: commenting on his opponent at the 1970 USSR vs. Rest of the 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 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), though ahead of former world champions Tigran Petrosian and Boris Spassky. At Buenos Aires 1988, he made a score of 8½/15 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) player, remaining a strong player into his 80s.


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The Najdorf Variation of the Sicilian Defense begins with the moves: 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6.

Read main article: Sicilian Defence, Najdorf Variation

The Najdorf Variation in the Sicilian Defense, one of the most popular openings in modern chess, is named after him. Najdorf also made contributions to the theory and praxis of other openings such as the King's Indian Defense. Najdorf was also a well-respected chess journalist, who had a popular column in the Buenos Aires Clarín newspaper.

Notable games