Miguel Najdorf (born Mojsze Mendel Najdorf) (15 April 1910 – 4 July 1997) was a Polish-Argentine chess grandmaster. Originally from Poland, he was in Argentina when World War II began in 1939, and he stayed and settled there. He was a leading world player in the 1940s and 1950s, and is also known for the Najdorf Variation, one of the most popular of all chess openings.
Early life in Poland
Najdorf was tutored first by Dawid Przepiórka, then by Savielly Tartakower, the latter of whom he always referred to as "my teacher".
At the beginning of his chess career, in 1930, 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). In the 1939 Olympiad, Najdorf played second board for Poland and achieved a score of +12−2=4, winning a gold medal.
Move to Argentina
During the 8th Chess Olympiad in Buenos Aires in August/September 1939, World War II broke out. Najdorf was Jewish, as were two of his teammates, Tartakower and Frydman. He decided to stay and settle in Argentina (as did many others), becoming an Argentine citizen in 1944.
His wife, daughter, parents and four brothers all died in the Holocaust. Najdorf later remarried and had a daughter.
Najdorf set world records for simultaneous blindfold chess. He played a record 40 opponents in 1943, and increased the record to 45 in in 1947. This record stood until 2011.
He set these records in the hope that the news would be reported in Europe and his family would come to Argentina to meet him, though none ever were able to.
Career in Argentina
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 City 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.
World Championship contender
Although not a full-time chess professional (for many years he worked in the insurance business), Najdorf was one of the world's leading chess players in the 1940s and 1950s.
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. Based on his results, there was talk of inviting him to the 1948 World Championship tournament, but in the end he was not invited.
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 1951, and finished fifth. Three years later, in the 1953 Candidates Tournament, he finished equal sixth. He never succeeded in qualifying for the Candidates again. He did come close in the in the next cycle, narrowly failing to qualify from the 1955 Interzonal, held at Gothenburg, Sweden.
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. He won the South African Open in 1976 and 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.
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).
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.
- Glucksberg vs Miguel Najdorf, Warsaw 1929, Dutch Defence (A85), 0–1 "The Polish Immortal" or "Najdorf's Immortal" – one of the most brilliant games of the twentieth century.
- Miguel Najdorf vs Gideon Stahlberg, Lodz 1938, Queen's Gambit Declined, Semi-Tarrasch Defence (D40), 1–0 These two players were destined to settle in Argentina in 1939, where they had great battles in many events.
- Miguel Najdorf vs Paul Keres, Buenos Aires Circulo 1939, Queen's Gambit Declined, Slav Defence (D11), 1–0 Keres opens the centre prematurely, and Najdorf forms a pawn roller and arranges a quick victory.
- Carlos Guimard vs Miguel Najdorf, Buenos Aires Circulo 1941, Queen's Gambit Declined, Slav Defence (D11), 0–1 Najdorf shows how to play this line from the Black side, by comparison with the Keres game given above.
- Miguel Najdorf vs Mikhail Botvinnik, Groningen 1946, Nimzo–Indian Defence, Classical Variation (E35), 1–0 In their first meeting, Najdorf catches the future World Champion in a maze of tactics.
- Miguel Najdorf vs Isaac Boleslavsky, Groningen 1946, Old Indian Defence (A54), 1–0 Najdorf avoids a tactical battle with an early exchange of queens in Boleslavsky's pet variation, then grinds him down.
- Miguel Najdorf vs Erich Eliskases, Mar del Plata 1947, Queen's Gambit Declined, Orthodox Defence (D63), 1–0 Eliskases was another European GM who stayed in South America during World War II, and he also had a great rivalry with Najdorf.
- Miguel Najdorf vs Reuben Fine, New York 1951, Queen's Gambit Accepted (D28), 1–0 Fine was getting ready to retire from chess, with this being his last serious event at age 37.
- Mark Taimanov vs Miguel Najdorf, Zurich 1953, King's Indian, Orthodox, Aronin–Taimanov, 9.Ne1 (E98), 0–1 A brilliancy-prize game from the 1953 Candidates event versus the Soviet grandmaster Mark Taimanov. Najdorf's enthusiasm for, and virtuosity in conducting, the attack against the enemy king is well shown here, in a game praised by David Bronstein in his famous book on the tournament. It is also a good example of learning from one's defeats. Earlier that year, Gligorić had beaten Najdorf with the same system. (Miguel Najdorf vs Svetozar Gligoric, Mar del Plata 1953). After the game, Don Miguel delivered his famous line: "Taimanov had better go and play his piano!"
- Miguel Najdorf once played a game of chess with communist revolutionary Che Guevara; they drew.
Notes and references