Miguel Najdorf

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Miguel Najdorf
Hoogoven-schaaktoernooi Wijk aan Zee , nummer 7 Najdorf, nummer 10 Langeweg, Bestanddeelnr 926-1759.jpg
Miguel Najdorf in 1973
Full nameMojsze Mendel Najdorf
Country Poland
Born(1910-04-15)15 April 1910
Grodzisk Mazowiecki, Kingdom of Poland, Russian Empire
Died4 July 1997(1997-07-04) (aged 87)
Málaga, Spain
Title Grandmaster (1950)
Peak rating 2540 (July 1972)

Miguel Najdorf (born Mojsze Mendel Najdorf) [lower-alpha 1] (15 April 1910 4 July 1997) was a Polish-Argentinian 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.

Poland Republic in Central Europe

Poland, officially the Republic of Poland, is a country located in Central Europe. It is divided into 16 administrative subdivisions, covering an area of 312,696 square kilometres (120,733 sq mi), and has a largely temperate seasonal climate. With a population of approximately 38.5 million people, Poland is the sixth most populous member state of the European Union. Poland's capital and largest metropolis is Warsaw. Other major cities include Kraków, Łódź, Wrocław, Poznań, Gdańsk, and Szczecin.

Argentina federal republic in South America

Argentina, officially the Argentine Republic, is a country located mostly in the southern half of South America. Sharing the bulk of the Southern Cone with Chile to the west, the country is also bordered by Bolivia and Paraguay to the north, Brazil to the northeast, Uruguay and the South Atlantic Ocean to the east, and the Drake Passage to the south. With a mainland area of 2,780,400 km2 (1,073,500 sq mi), Argentina is the eighth-largest country in the world, the fourth largest in the Americas, and the largest Spanish-speaking nation. The sovereign state is subdivided into twenty-three provinces and one autonomous city, Buenos Aires, which is the federal capital of the nation as decided by Congress. The provinces and the capital have their own constitutions, but exist under a federal system. Argentina claims sovereignty over part of Antarctica, the Falkland Islands, and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.

Chess Strategy board game

Chess is a two-player strategy board game played on a checkered board with 64 squares arranged in an 8×8 grid. The game is played by millions of people worldwide. Chess is believed to be derived from the Indian game chaturanga some time before the 7th century. Chaturanga is also the likely ancestor of the Eastern strategy games xiangqi, janggi, and shogi. Chess reached Europe by the 9th century, due to the Umayyad conquest of Hispania. The pieces assumed their current powers in Spain in the late 15th century; the modern rules were standardized in the 19th century.


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".

Dawid Przepiórka Polish chess player

Dawid Przepiórka was a prominent Polish chess player of the early twentieth century.

Savielly Tartakower Polish and French chess player

Ksawery Tartakower was a leading Polish and French chess grandmaster. He was also a leading chess journalist and author of the 1920s and 1930s whose books remain popular even today. Tartakower is remembered for his sharp wit and aphorisms.

At the beginning of his chess career, around 1930, Najdorf defeated a player believed to be named "Glücksberg" in a famous game often referred to as "The Polish Immortal". [3] 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. [4]

Polish Immortal is the name given to a chess game between Glinksberg and Miguel Najdorf played in Warsaw. The game is celebrated because of Black's sacrifice of all four of his minor pieces.

Paulino Frydman Polish chess player

Paulino (Paulin) Frydman was a Polish chess master.

Rudolf Spielmann Austrian-Jewish chess player of the romantic school, and chess writer

Rudolf Spielmann was an Austrian-Jewish chess player of the romantic school, and chess writer.

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). [5] In the 1939 Olympiad, Najdorf played second board for Poland and achieved a score of +12−2=4, winning a gold medal.

6th Chess Olympiad

The 6th Chess Olympiad, organized by the FIDE and comprising an open and (unofficial) women's tournament, as well as several events designed to promote the game of chess, took place between August 16 and August 31, 1935, in Warsaw, Poland. The famous retired Polish master Dawid Przepiórka took the major responsibility as a chairman of Organizing Committee.

The 3rd unofficial Chess Olympiad was held by German Chess Federation as a counterpart of the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin with reference to 1924 and 1928 events. FIDE’s position regarding the Munich Olympiad was set out on pages 10–11 of the minutes of its Congress in Warsaw in August 1935. In short, given that parts of the German Chess Federation’s statutes were anti-Semitic, FIDE could have no involvement in the Munich Olympiad. However, since Germany had agreed, for that event, to drop its ban on Jews, FIDE’s General Assembly voted to leave Federations free to decide whether or not to participate. Finally, many Jewish chess players took part in the event. Significantly, the "Jewish" teams of Hungary and Poland beat "Aryan" Germany. Also Jewish masters from other countries played leading role there.

Munich Capital and most populous city of Bavaria, Germany

Munich is the capital and most populous city of Bavaria, the second most populous German federal state. With a population of around 1.5 million, it is the third-largest city in Germany, after Berlin and Hamburg, as well as the 12th-largest city in the European Union. The city's metropolitan region is home to 6 million people. Straddling the banks of the River Isar north of the Bavarian Alps, it is the seat of the Bavarian administrative region of Upper Bavaria, while being the most densely populated municipality in Germany. Munich is the second-largest city in the Bavarian dialect area, after the Austrian capital of Vienna.

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. [6] He decided to stay and settle in Argentina (as did many others). He became an Argentinian citizen in 1944. [7]

The 8th Chess Olympiad, organised by the Fédération Internationale des Échecs (FIDE), comprised an 'open' tournament, as well as a Women's World Championship contest. The main team event took place between August 21 and September 19, 1939, in Buenos Aires, Argentina and coincided with the outbreak of World War II. The Olympiad is the subject of the book: Pawns in a Greater Game which was published in March 2015.

Buenos Aires Place in Argentina

Buenos Aires is the capital and largest city of Argentina. The city is located on the western shore of the estuary of the Río de la Plata, on the South American continent's southeastern coast. "Buenos Aires" can be translated as "fair winds" or "good airs", but the former was the meaning intended by the founders in the 16th century, by the use of the original name "Real de Nuestra Señora Santa María del Buen Ayre". The Greater Buenos Aires conurbation, which also includes several Buenos Aires Province districts, constitutes the fourth-most populous metropolitan area in the Americas, with a population of around 15.6 million.

World War II 1939–1945 global war

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 50 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.

His wife, daughter, parents and four brothers all died in the Holocaust. Najdorf later remarried (twice) and had two daughters. [7] [8]

Blindfold chess

Najdorf set world records for simultaneous blindfold chess. He played a record 40 opponents in 1943, and increased the record to 45 in 1947. This record stood until 2011. [9]

He set these records in the hope that the news would be reported in Europe and his family would learn of his whereabouts. [7]

Career in Argentina


In September 1939, after the Olympiad, Najdorf emerged as one of the top players in the chess world. He 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. [10]

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. [11]

World Championship contender

Although not a full-time chess professional (for many years he worked in the insurance business, selling life insurance), [8] 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. [12] Based on his results, there was talk of inviting him to the 1948 World Championship tournament, but in the end he was not invited. He had won an ostensible qualifying tournament at Prague by a margin of 1½ points. [13] Najdorf stated in a 1947 interview:

I believe that I am inferior to none of the players who are to participate in the next world championship, Botvinnik, Fine, Reshevsky, Keres, Euwe. ... None of these have a better record than I. I have played much less than they have, admittedly, but I am satisfied with my results. [13]

Pressure from the Soviet Chess Federation, perhaps pushed by Botvinnik, may have been responsible for keeping Najdorf out. [8]

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 next cycle, narrowly failing to qualify from the 1955 Interzonal, held at Gothenburg, Sweden. [14]

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. He won the South African Open in 1976 [15] 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 Argentinian 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.

Najdorf regarded Capablanca and Fischer as the greatest players of all time. [8]

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).


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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.

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

Personal life

According to a biography by his younger daughter Liliana (b. 1952), [8] Mojsze Mendel ("Mikel") Najdorf was the oldest of five children (four sons and one daughter) of Gdalik and Raisa Najdorf. When he was 14, he visited his school friend Ruben Fridelbaum's house, and his violinist father taught him chess. Mikel was immediately hooked, read books about the game, and was soon able to give his teacher rook odds. [8]

A musician friend introduced his fiancée Genia to Mikel, but Mikel and Genia fell in love, and Genia broke off her engagement and instead married Mikel. They had one daughter, Lusia. When Najdorf boarded the ship for the Buenos Aires Olympiad in 1939, Genia was ill with influenza, and chose not to accompany him. He arrived in Argentina in 21 August 1939. While the Olympiad was in progress, Najdorf's country was invaded and World War II began. Despite his best efforts, he never saw his family again. His father died in the Warsaw uprising, and his wife and daughter, and all his known relatives and friends, were murdered in the Holocaust. However, many years later, by chance he met a Polish immigrant in the New York City Subway, who turned out to be a cousin. [8]

In 1944, Najdorf became a naturalized citizen of Argentina. He had studied Latin at college, so easily picked up Spanish. Najdorf spoke eight languages, in addition to his native Polish and adopted Spanish, English, Russian, Czech, Serbo-Croat, Dutch, as well as Yiddish. [8]

In April 1947, he met Adela ("Eta"), one of the youngest of three daughters of Russian Jewish immigrants Isaac and Esther Jusid. They were married after only a few weeks of courtship. Adela was 11 years younger than Miguel. They had two daughters Mirta (b. 1948) and Liliana (b. 1952), and a miscarried son in between. Liliana was long resentful of the fact that her father was abroad when she was born, and did not see her until she was four months old. She describes her father as a mixture of extremes: violent temper but compassionate and loving, selfish at times but also generous to a fault, jovial and bon vivant but also sad because of the terrible losses of the Holocaust. [8]

Adela died on 21 August 1977, of an inoperable intestinal tumour. The family kept the diagnosis secret from her, while Miguel consulted the best oncologists in the USA to no avail. [8]

Not long after Adela died, Najdorf married again, to Rita, who had been a widow for 12 years. Najdorf had met Rita and her husband Jacobo, a socialist attorney and keen chess player, soon after he arrived in Argentina. They became close family friends. Rita and Jacobo had no children of their own, but had lots of nieces and nephews, and they treated Miguel's daughters like nieces. The families would often get together, and the men would play and analyse chess and the women would talk. At one such gathering, when Liliana was 13, she saw Jacobo die suddenly at a chessboard. The widowed Rita became an even closer friend to Adela. After Adela died, Rita and Miguel became a couple, which Miguel's daughters accepted without surprise and with relief. [8]

Rita later developed Alzheimer's disease, and Miguel became physically frailer. In 1996, Miguel had a serious heart attack in Seville, which required a pacemaker insert. When he arrived back in Argentina, he learned that Rita had been hospitalized with an intestinal blockage. He went to the hospital, and she recognized him despite her Alzheimer's, and begged him to take her home, while he kissed her tenderly. Unexpectedly, she died the next day. [8]

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Events in chess in 1941

Events in chess in 1939


  1. Official Polish name: Mojsze Mendel Najdorf. [1]
    Public Polish name: Mieczysław Najdorf.
    Official Argentinian name: Moisés Mendel Najdorf. [2]
    Public Argentinian name: Miguel Najdorf.


  1. Brazilian visa 1946
  2. Brazilian visa 1950
  3. Edward Winter, The Polish Immortal, chesshistory.com
  4. Tadeusz Wolsza, Arcymistrzowie, mistrzowie, amatorzy... Słownik biograficzny szachistów polskich, tom 4, Wydawnictwo DiG, Warszawa 2003, ISBN   83-7181-288-4
  5. Men's Chess Olympiads :: Miguel Najdorf. OlimpBase. Retrieved on 2012-11-08.
  6. Eliot Hearst, John Knott, Blindfold Chess: History, Psychology, Techniques, Champions, World Records, and Important Games, McFarland 2009, p. 91.
  7. 1 2 3 Miguel Najdorf, 87, Famed For Sparkling Chess, Dies, New York Times, July 17, 1997
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Liliana Najdorf, Najdorf x Najdorf, translated by Taylor Kingston, foreword and annotated games by Jan Timman, Russell Enterprises, Inc., 2016, ISBN   978-1941270394.
  9. 48 blindfold boards - The tale behind the record, Albert Silver, Chessbase, January 14, 2017
  10. BrasilBase. BrasilBase (2012-11-01). Retrieved on 2012-11-08.
  11. Roger Paige Chess Site. Rogerpaige.me.uk. Retrieved on 2012-11-08.
  12. Chessmetrics Summary for 1945–55, Chessmetrics
  13. 1 2 Edward Winter (2003–2004). "Interregnum". Chess History Center. Retrieved 25 April 2014.
  14. 1955 Goteborg Interzonal Tournament, Mark Weeks' Chess Pages
  15. "SA Open Round 7 report by dr L Bouah". Chess Western Province. 6 July 2016. Retrieved 6 July 2016.

Further reading