Sicilian Defence, Najdorf Variation

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Najdorf Variation
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Moves1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6
ECO B90–B99
Named after Miguel Najdorf
Parent Open Sicilian

The Najdorf Variation [1] ( /ˈndɔːrf/ NY-dorf) of the Sicilian Defence is one of the most respected and deeply studied of all chess openings. Modern Chess Openings calls it the "Cadillac" or "Rolls Royce" of chess openings. The opening is named after the Polish-Argentine grandmaster Miguel Najdorf. Many players have lived by the Najdorf (notably Bobby Fischer and Garry Kasparov, although Kasparov would often transpose into a Scheveningen).

Sicilian Defence Chess opening

The Sicilian Defence is a chess opening that begins with the following moves:

Chess opening Initial moves of a chess game

A chess opening or simply an opening refers to the initial moves of a chess game. The term can refer to the initial moves by either side, White or Black, but an opening by Black may also be known as a defense. There are dozens of different openings, and hundreds of variants. The Oxford Companion to Chess lists 1,327 named openings and variants. These vary widely in character from quietpositional play to wild tactical play. In addition to referring to specific move sequences, the opening is the first phase of a chess game, the other phases being the middlegame and the endgame.

Contents

The Najdorf begins:

1. e4 c5
2. Nf3 d6
3. d4 cxd4
4. Nxd4 Nf6
5. Nc3 a6

Black's 5...a6 aims to deny the b5-square to White's knights and light-square bishop while maintaining flexible development. If Black plays 5...e5?! immediately, then after 6.Bb5+! Bd7 (or 6...Nbd7 7.Nf5) 7.Bxd7+ Nbxd7 8.Nf5 and the knight on f5 is difficult to dislodge without concessions.

Knight (chess) Chess piece

The knight (♘,♞) is a piece in the game of chess, representing a knight. It is normally represented by a horse's head and neck. Each player starts with two knights, which begin on the row closest to the player, between the rooks and bishops.

Bishop (chess) Chess piece

The bishop (♗,♝) is a piece in the game of chess. Each player begins the game with two bishops. One starts between the king's knight and the king, the other between the queen's knight and the queen. The starting squares are c1 and f1 for White's bishops, and c8 and f8 for Black's bishops.

Black usually plans a queenside minority attack to pressure White's e4-pawn. This is often carried out by means of ...b5, ...Bb7, and placing a knight on c5, or c4 via b6.


Variations

Main line: 6. Bg5

Classical Main line: 6...e6

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Classical Main line after 6...e6 7.f4

The main move. In the early days of the Najdorf 7.Qf3 was popular, but the reply 7...h6 did not allow White to obtain any advantage. Nowadays, White players almost universally respond with the move: 7. f4. White threatens 8.e5, but Black has several options:

  • 7... Be7 8. Qf3 and now:
    • 8... Qc7 9. 0-0-0 Nbd7, this is called the old main line. At this point White usually responds with 10.g4 or 10.Bd3. After each of these moves there is a huge body of opening theory.
    • 8... h6 9. Bh4 g5. This is known as the Argentine/Goteborg Variation. It was first played in round 14 of 1955 Goteborg Interzonal simultaneously by Argentine players Panno, Pilnik and Najdorf who were facing the Soviet grandmasters Geller, Spassky and Keres. The games in question proceeded as follows: 10.fxg5 Nfd7 (Black aims to route a knight to e5, and then back it up by a knight at d7 or c6) 11.Nxe6!? (Efim Geller's discovery) 11...fxe6 12.Qh5+ Kf8 13.Bb5. Here Panno played 13...Ne5, while Pilnik and Najdorf chose 13...Kg7; however, all three Argentine players lost in very short order and the line was, for a while, considered refuted. It was only in 1958 that Bobby Fischer introduced the defensive resource 13...Rh7!, versus Svetozar Gligorić at the Portorož Interzonal, in a critical last-round game. According to modern opening theory, this position is a draw at best for White.
    Svetozar Gligorić Serbian and Yugoslavian chess grandmaster

    Svetozar Gligorić was a Serbian and Yugoslav chess grandmaster. He won the championship of Yugoslavia a record twelve times, and is considered the best player ever from Serbia. In 1958 he was declared the best athlete of Yugoslavia.

    Portorož Place in Slovenian Littoral, Slovenia

    Portorož is a Slovenian Adriatic seaside resort and spa town located in the Municipality of Piran in southwestern Slovenia. Its modern development began in the late 19th century with the vogue for the first health resorts. In the early 20th century Portorož became one of the grandest seaside resorts in Adriatic, along with Abbazia, Lido and Grado, then as part of the Austrian Littoral. It is now one of Slovenia's major tourist areas. Located in the centre is the Hotel Palace, once one of the most important resorts for the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, and currently one of the finest hotels between Venice and Dubrovnik.

  • 7... Qb6 one of the most popular choices at master level.
    • 8. Qd2 the extremely complicated Poisoned Pawn Variation: 8...Qxb2 9.Rb1 (9.Nb3 is the other less common option) 9...Qa3 and here White has played both 10.f5 and 10.e5. Both lead to extremely sharp play where slightest inaccuracy is fatal for either side. Since 2006, when it was played in several high level games, 10.e5 has become very popular. From the standpoint of the theory it is regarded as White's only attempt to play for a win against the Poisoned Pawn Variation since all other variations (and that includes the other pawn move, 10.f5) have been analysed to a draw with best play. An example is the game Vallejo Pons Kasparov, Moscow 2004, [2] which was called "a model modern grandmaster draw!" by Kasparov himself in Revolution in the 70s (page 164).
    • 8. Nb3 White opts for a quiet game, but Black has nothing to worry about: 8...Be7 9.Qf3 Nbd7 10.0-0-0 Qc7 where we have reached a setup very similar to that of the old main line mentioned above. However, without the d4-knight White will find it very hard to organise an attack.
    • 8. a3 is a more challenging reply for White. It protects the pawn indirectly as 8...Qxb2?? is met by 9.Na4! winning the queen. Black usually plays 8...Nc6, although 8...Nbd7 is also playable. The 8.a3 line has been seen several times at the grandmaster level recently.
    Poisoned Pawn Variation Chess opening

    The Poisoned Pawn Variation is any of several series of opening moves in chess in which a pawn is said to be "poisoned" because its capture can result in a positional loss of time or a loss of material. The best known of these, called the Poisoned Pawn Variation, is a line of the Sicilian Defense, Najdorf Variation that begins with the moves:

    Francisco Vallejo Pons Spanish chess player

    Francisco Vallejo Pons is a Spanish chess grandmaster. He is a five-time Spanish Chess Champion.

    Garry Kasparov Russian chess player and activist

    Garry Kimovich Kasparov is a Russian chess grandmaster, former world chess champion, writer, and political activist, whom many consider to be the greatest chess player of all time. From 1986 until his retirement in 2005, Kasparov was ranked world No. 1 for 225 out of 228 months. His peak rating of 2851, achieved in 1999, was the highest recorded until being surpassed by Magnus Carlsen in 2013. Kasparov also holds records for consecutive professional tournament victories (15) and Chess Oscars (11).

  • 7... b5 the ultra-sharp Polugaevsky Variation. [3] Black ignores White's threat and expands on the queenside. 8.e5 dxe5 9.fxe5 Qc7 here White either plays 10.exf6 Qe5+ 11.Be2 Qxg5 or 10.Qe2 Nfd7 11.0-0-0 Bb7.
  • 7... Qc7 championed by Garry Kasparov before he switched to playing 7...Qb6 exclusively.
  • 7... Nbd7 popularised by Boris Gelfand.
  • 7... Nc6?! is risky and of a dubious theoretical reputation due to the response: 8.e5!
  • 7... h6!? the Poisoned Pawn Deferred. This variation is very popular at the moment. The line 8.Bh4 Qb6 9.a3 was played twice in the 2016 London Chess Classic (Caruana Nakamura and Nakamura Vachier-Lagrave [4] ), though White won both games.

Interzonal chess tournaments were tournaments organized by the World Chess Federation FIDE from the 1950s to the 1990s. They were a stage in the triennial World Chess Championship cycle and were held after the Zonal tournaments, and before the Candidates Tournament. Since 2005, the Chess World Cup has filled a similar role.

Efim Geller Soviet chess player

Efim Petrovich Geller was a Ukrainian chess player and world-class grandmaster at his peak. He won the Soviet Championship twice and was a Candidate for the World Championship on six occasions. He won four Ukrainian Championship titles and shared first in the 1991 World Seniors' Championship, winning the title outright in 1992.

Bobby Fischer American chess player and chess writer

Robert James Fischer was an American chess grandmaster and the eleventh World Chess Champion. Many consider him to be the greatest chess player of all time.

Verbeterde List: 6...Nbd7

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Verbeterde List after 6...Nbd7 7.Bc4

Historically speaking, this was the usual reply until the mid-1960s, when the rejoinder 7.Bc4 put the move "out of business". Recently however, ideas have been found by some Dutch players who call this variation De Verbeterde List ("The Improved Stratagem"). The idea for Black is to postpone ...e6 in order to retain more dynamic options (for example, to play ...e7–e5 in one move). The idea was tested by Petrosian, Belov, and others, but received popular attention and developed rapidly after use by Dutch player Lody Kuling in 2007. The most important developments include:

  • 7. f4 Qc7 8. Qf3:
    • 8... h6 9. Bh4 e5. A setup discovered by Lody Kuling. (This variation is covered by Ufuk Tuncer and Twan Burg in New In Chess, Yearbook 102.) The idea is to gain time over ...e6 by playing ...e7–e5 in one move. Later on it turned out that 9...g5! is even better.
    • 8... b5 is the Neo Verbeterde List. This is a new way to play the Verbeterde List. It includes fianchetting the bishop to b7. (The variation is covered by Ufuk Tuncer in New In Chess, Yearbook 101.)
  • 7. Bc4 Qb6 This is a move introduced by Lenier Dominguez. The idea is to win a tempo by attacking b2, after which Black can finish his development beginning 8...e6. The last word on the line has not yet been given. The whole variation with 6...Nbd7 is covered in the book by Ľubomír Ftáčnik in the chapter "Blood Diamond".
  • 7. f4/Qe2 g6 is Grischuk's Verbeterde List, another modern way to meet both 7.f4 and 7.Qe2. The idea is to castle kingside rapidly and then start to attack with ...b5–b4, while wasting no time with the e-pawn.

English Attack: 6.Be3

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English Attack: 6.Be3

This has become the modern main line. Since the early 1990s, the English Attack, 6.Be3 followed by f3, g4, Qd2 and 0-0-0 in some order, has become extremely popular and has been intensively analysed. Four lines are then usual for Black:

Fischer–Sozin Attack: 6.Bc4

Introduced by Veniamin Sozin in the 1930s, this received little attention until Fischer regularly adopted it, and it was a frequent guest at the top level through the 1970s. White plays 6. Bc4 with the idea of playing against f7, so Black counters with 6...e6 7.Bb3 b5. The Sozin has become less popular because of 7...Nbd7 where Black intends to follow up with ...Nc5 later. It is possible to avoid the 7...Nbd7 option with 7.0-0, but this cuts out the aggressive possibility of castling long.

Classical/Opocensky Variation: 6.Be2

Because of the success of various players with these variations, White often plays 6. Be2 and goes for a quieter, more positional game, whereupon Black has the option of transposing into a Scheveningen Variation by playing 6...e6 or keeping the game in Najdorf lines by playing 6...e5. Another option is to play 6...Nbd7, in the spirit of The Verbeterde List; it is for this reason that this variation is called The Verbeterde List Unlimited.

Amsterdam Variation: 6.f4

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Amsterdam Variation: 6.f4

Some lines include:

GM Daniel King recommends 6...g6 against the Amsterdam Variation, leading to a more defensive kingside pawn structure. The idea is to eventually counterattack on the g1–a7 diagonal with a move like ...Qb6, preventing White from castling. [5] An example line would be 6...g6 7.Nf3 Bg7 8.a4 Nc6 (note 8...Nc6 as opposed to the usual Najdorf ...Nbd7, as c6 is a more flexible square for the knight with a queen on b6) 9.Bd3 Qb6.

Adams Attack: 6.h3

Introduced by Weaver Adams during the middle of the twentieth century, this odd-looking pawn move has mostly been used as a surprise weapon to combat the Najdorf. Should Black continue with 6...e5 anyway, White can respond with 7.Nde2 following up with g4 and Ng3, fighting for the weak light squares by playing g5. It is thus recommended that Black prevents g4 altogether with 7...h5.

Black can also employ a Scheveningen setup with 6...e6 followed by 7.g4 b5 8.Bg2 Bb7, forcing White to lose more time by defending the e4-pawn, since ...b4 is a threat. It was not until early 2008 that an answer to Black was finally found. After 9.0-0 b4, White has the positional sacrifice 10.Nd5!, which gives Black long-term weaknesses and an open e-file for White to play on. Since then, it has been popular on all levels of play.

Other sixth moves for White

Beside the main lines mentioned above White has other options: 6.f3 and 6.g3 are less common, but are also respected responses to the Najdorf. Moves such as 6.a4, 6.Bd3, 6.Qf3, 6.Rg1 (the Petronic Attack), 6.Nb3, 6.a3, 6.h4, and 6.Qe2 are rarely played, but are not so bad and may be used for surprise value.

See also

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References

  1. "Sicilian, Najdorf (B90)". Chess openings. Chessgames.com. Retrieved 2008-01-19.
  2. "Francisco Vallejo-Pons vs. Garry Kasparov (2004)". Chessgames.com . Retrieved 2008-01-19.
  3. "Sicilian, Najdorf (B96)". Chess openings. Chessgames.com. Retrieved 2008-01-19. (also known as Najdorf, Polugayevsky Variation)
  4. "London Chess Classic (2016)" . Retrieved 2017-03-24.
  5. King, Daniel. Power Play 18: The Sicilian Najdorf.

Further reading