The Najdorf in Black and White: A Review

Because of having played the Najdorf system during my formative years in the last century I was interested in learning about GM Bryan Smith’s new book on the opening (https://mongoosepress.com/the-najdorf-in-black-and-white/).

I met Bryan

at the 2009 Kentucky Open where he took first place by a half point. There were myriad problems with the tournament, directed by Alan Priest, which included no electricity for the lighting in the first couple of rounds, so it was played in semi-darkness, which seemed to not bother Mr. Priest. After developing a splitting headache, due to the poor lighting, and losing a game, I withdrew from the tournament, but returned the following day to spectate. While Bryan was waiting on the last round games to finish a conversation developed. Bryan is a quite, taciturn young man, the kind of fellow who lets his moves do his talking. I learned he was from Anchorage Alaska, and he is now the first-ever Grandmaster from Alaska. My home state of Georgia has yet to produce a home-grown GM. I recall asking Bryan why he decided to travel to Louisville in lieu of playing in one of the other, larger, tournaments in his area. He answered in a way that said he would rather be a big fish in a small pond that weekend rather than being a smaller fish in a much larger pond. “Better odds of taking home money?” I asked, and he produced a grin. We talked for some time and I transcribed what was recalled of the conversation later that day, but never used it, much to my regret. Bryan graciously answered my questions so what I recall was an enjoyable afternoon conversation with one of the nicest GM’s with whom I have conversed.

I have replayed many Nadjorf games since moving on to playing other openings, but have not devoted time studying the Nadjorf system with the intensity shown earlier when playing the system. For some time I have wanted a book to read on the system in order to compare the way the system is played now as opposed to how it was played last century, but the books are usually dense and voluminous, with a heavy emphasis on variations. Some of the books could be used as a doorstop. When my review copy, published by Mongoose Press (https://mongoosepress.com/), arrived I was pleasantly surprised to see it was only a small volume of 162 pages. The book is heavy on words, and ideas, rather than being yet another “data-dump.” Some have written books like the magnificent Zurich International Chess Tournament 1953,

by David Bronstein,

et al, cannot be published today because words, conveying ideas, are predominate. This book proves those writers wrong. Most of the variations included are short enough one does not need a board with which to visualize them. One of the players from my early days told me he liked to read a Chess book without using a board. There are enough diagrams for one to utilize this book in that way, which is exactly how I read the book. Then I read it again using a board and pieces because it is that good.

The book begins with an Introduction: The Cadillac of Openings.

“With this book, I present a collection of games played in the Najdorf Sicilian. The purpose of this book is not to be exhaustive – that would require at least ten times the content, and even then it would not encompass a fraction of the analysis and relevant games played in the Najdorf. This book also does not suggest a repertoire for either White or Black – although players can glean some ideas, since I have generally picked games played in the lines I favor. I think it is dishonest for a writer to try to portray an opening in only a positive light: ultimately, even the most objective writers of repertoire books have to massage the facts and minimize the problems of an opening – and every opening has them.

The purpose of this book, rather, is to show how to play the Najdorf, with White or Black, through archetypal games. I believe that by studying the games in this book, one can develop a solid general sense of the different types of game resulting from the Najdorf as played in the twenty-first century. It is my hope that readers will also gain some degree of enjoyment or entertainment from the games, which have been selected not only on their instructional merits, but also for their aesthetic value.”

The book will be judged by the criteria chosen by the author. The question is whether Bryan delivered on his promise. The answer is a resounding “Yes!” In Baseball terms this book is like hitting a walk-off grand slam home run in the bottom of the ninth inning of the seventh game of the World Series!

Bryan continues the introduction. “Having a lifelong opening that one knows inside and out like one’s own house is a major advantage to a chess player. It means that the player can always rely on reaching position that he understands in general terms and knows something about. Perhaps more importantly, though, it gives confidence.”

Reading the above caused me to reflect upon my early days playing the Najdorf. I have never felt as confident playing any opening as I did when playing the Najdorf system. Why did I stop playing the Najdorf system? Bryan continues the introduction, “A sufficiently rich opening will provide immunity against the winds of theory – if one variation is refuted, another can be found, so long as the opening is built on proper principles. I believe the Najdorf can be such an opening. Some may imagine that is is a theoretical labyrinth, suitable only for those with an incredible memory and a willingness to play twenty or more moves of known theory before beginning the game. It is true that there are certain lines in the Najdorf where this is the norm – for instance, the Poisoned Pawn Variation (6.Bg5 e6 7,f4 Qb6). However, the reader will see in this book that these variations can be sidestepped, and that it is indeed possible to play the Najdorf “by the light of nature,” with experience providing a guide. Most of the games I have chosen feature ways of avoiding these quagmires. Despite its sharpness, the Najdorf is an opening built on solid positional principles. It is basically a positional opening.”

When first beginning the Chess road the Dragon variation was very popular. Once a strong player advocated against purchasing a book on the Dragon because “It is written in disappearing ink.” He said that because the theory was changing so fast by the time you read the book, much of it had been refuted. The same could have been said about the Najdorf system. I also recall reading something about there being players who knew the Najdorf, but did not know Chess. I was one of those people, because like others, I knew the Najdorf, but not Chess. After leaving Chess for Backgammon, upon my return to Chess I simply did not have time to keep abreast of the constantly changing theory of the Najdorf system, so decided to learn, and play, other openings. Yet what I learned about Bobby Fischer’s favorite opening has stuck with me, while the other openings never infused me with the confidence felt when playing the Najdorf system.

After the introduction, and before the first chapter, one finds, The Development Of the Najdorf Sicilian, a seven page historical perspective of the Najdorf system. It begins, “The Najdorf can trace its origins to the nineteenth-century German master Louis Paulsen.

Paulsen was an innovator of defense. In an era when 1.e4 e5 was the dominant opening and direct attacking play was the main method of winning, Paulsen understood the concept of asymmetrical play and counterattack. His openings and positional play were often a full century ahead of their time.”

Louis Paulsen was one of the most interesting, and underappreciated, players from the early days of the nineteenth century. Paulsen’s ideas influenced the development of the Royal game greatly. I played openings such as the C26 Vienna, Paulsen-Mieses variation, for example.

Bryan gives a game between Lewis Isaacs and Abraham Kupchick played at Bradley Beach in 1928, writing, “A forgotten 1928 game from a tournament in the U. S. might be the first use of the “real” Najdorf.”

Lewis Isaacs vs Abraham Kupchik

Bradley Beach 1928

ECO: B92 Sicilian, Najdorf, Opovcensky variation

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Be2 b5 7. Bf3 e5 8. Nb3 Bb7 9. O-O Nbd7 10. Bg5 Be7 11. Re1 O-O 12. Rc1 Nb6 13. Na5 Rb8 14. Nxb7 Rxb7 15. b3 Rc7 16. Qd3 Nbd7 17. Be3 Nc5 18. Qd1 Qa8 19. Bg5 Ncd7 20. Nb1 h6 21. Bd2 Rfc8 22. Ba5 Rc6 23. g3 Nc5 24. Nc3 Bd8 25. Bxd8 Rxd8 26. Nd5 Nxd5 27. Qxd5 Qc8 28. Red1 Ne6 29. Bg4 Rc5 30. Qd2 Rc3 31. Re1 Qc5 32. Re3 Rxe3 33. fxe3 Ng5 34. Qd3 d5 35. exd5 Rxd5 36. Qe2 Qc3 37. h4 Rd2 38. Qe1 Ne4 39. Bf5 Nf2 40. Bd3 Nxd3 41. cxd3 Qxd3 42. Rc8+ Kh7 43. Rc1 f5 44. a4 b4 45. g4 Re2 0-1

He culminates the chapter with, “Despite the opening’s great popularity and constant use at the top level for many decades, the Najdorf remains mysterious and has its unexplored areas, with the new ideas waiting to be born. Its attraction for the chess professional today is easy to understand, since it is an opening where it is possible to play for a win with Black, while it is also unquestionably sound. Although positionally and tactically very sharp, the Najdorf player still controls his own fate.”

Chapter one is titled, Va Banque: 6.Bg5. After 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Bg5 e6 7. f4 the author advocates Qc7. I never played any move other than 7…Be7 because, well, you know, that is the move played by Bobby Fischer. After studying the games, and positions, I came to understand why the author would advocate the move Qc7 for those taking their first Najdorf steps. The amount of material in the main line can be daunting for a neophyte. The fourth game of the chapter is one in which the author had white against Hristos Banikas at Retymnon in 2009. After the obligatory first five moves of the Najdorf Bryan played 6 Bg5, which was answered with Nbd7. “An old and new move – it was played frequently in the 1950s and again in the 2010s – and not so much in-between.” After 7 f4 we have Qc7.

The other chapters are:

2) The Classicist’s Preference: 6 Be2
3) Add Some English: 6 Be3
4) In Morphy’s Style: 6 Bc4
5) White to Play and Win: 6 h3
6) Systematic: g3
7) Healthy Aggression: 6 f4
8) Action-Reaction: 6 a4
9) Odds and Ends

To illustrate what I mean by the use of words, in lieu of variations, to explain what is happening on both sides of the board, look at the position from Game 11: Zaven Andriasian-Ian Nepomniachtchi, played at the 2010 Aeroflot Open in Moscow. After 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Be3 e5 7. Nf3

The reader finds, “The retreat of the knight to f3 rather than b3 changes nothing in the structure (at least not right away), but the choice of this square has a dramatic effect on the course of the game. In contrast to 7. Nb3, putting the knight on f3 leads to much quieter, more positional play, where White tries t dominate the d5 square. And why is this? Whereas 7.Nb3 allows for White to play f2-f3 with queen-side castling and a king-side pawn storm, after 7,Nf3 this is not possible. White will almost certainly castle king-side. In the meantime, b3 is left free as a retreat square for the bishop from c4. Consequently, rather than opposite-side castling and mutual attacks, you get a more positional struggle.”

Another fine example is from Game 14, Nigel Short

vs Garry Kasparov,

PCA World Championship, game 8, London 1993: 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Bc4 e6 7. Bb3 Nbd7 8. f4 Nc5 9. e5 dxe5 10. fxe5 Nfd7 11. Bf4 b5

“In this way, Black places the bishop on its best diagonal (the long diagonal) before White can prevent it by Qd1-f3. Such a position might look good for White on the surface-the e5-pawn confers some space advantage and White has rapid development, plus the f-file is open and the white pieces are placed in threatening-looking positions. But such is the poison of the Sicilian. Black too has his advantages, and they tend to be more long-lasting. The bishop which will come to b7 will be very well placed. The advanced e5-pawn is not only a strength, but a weakness. And most importantly, Black has a well placed knight on c5 and a substantial advantage in space on the queen-side – the advance…b5-b4 is constantly looming over White, and the b3-bishop, if not activated in some dramatic fashion, could turn out to be a complete dud.”

One can turn to almost any page and find nuggets of wisdom such as the above illustrating the aims of BOTH SIDES! If one wishes to play the Najdorf system, or play against it, this is the book for you.

The author has dug deep, unearthing this game, found in the notes to Game 24, Judit Polgar

vs Dariusz Swiercz,

which I was unable to locate in any database. Bryan writes, “6…e6 is likely to be met by 7.g4, which looks like a fairly promising line for White – although 7…Nc6 is another possibility for Black to look into. Instead, the originator of 6.Qf3, American master Andrew Karklins, liked to continue with 7.b3. His record against grandmasters with this line was not very good, but he did have one major scalp:

Andrew Karklins

vs Peter Svidler,

World Open 1995

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6.Qf3 e6 7. b3 Qb6 8. Nde2 Qc7 9. Bb2 b5 10. a3 Bb7 11. g4 d5 12. exd5 Nxd5 13.
Bg2 Nd7 14. O-O Bd6 15. Qh3 Nxc3 16. Nxc3 Be5 17. Bxb7 Qxb7 18. Rad1 O-O 19.Qe3 Bb8 20. Ne4 Ne5 21. Bxe5 Bxe5 22. Nc5 Qc7 23. f4 Bf6 24. Rd7 Qb6 25. Rfd1 Rfd8 26. b4 a5 27. Qf3 axb4 28. axb4 Kf8 29. Kg2 Rdc8 30. R1d6 Qb8 31. Qd3 1-0

This book achieves its aim, hitting the target with a bullseye!

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The Perdomo Class Championship

When the Legendary Georgia Ironman first mentioned the Georgia Class had been changed to the Perdomo Class Championship I was stunned, saying, “When did Carlos die?” Fortunately, IM Carlos Perdomo lives. The usual practice has been to name a tournament after someone, or even two former players, whose spirits have departed for the chessboard in the sky. Those in control of the GCA have seen fit to do things differently. For example, the current Fun E administration seems loathe to take entry fees at the door on the day of the tournament. It was therefore no surprise when the Ironman told me he had picked up an extra lesson on Saturday, the second day of the tournament. When Tim said to the chess dad, “But I thought your son was playing in the Perdomo.” (As in the “BoKo” which is short for the Boris Kogan Memorial. Since Carlos is still with us it is the “Perdomo.” Once his spirit heads to the sky it will, no doubt, become the “Domo.”) The chess dad said, “I could not enter online, and I tried many times, until finally giving up. Every time I tried to enter it would go back a page.” Sometimes progress ain’t…I cannot help but wonder how many others had the same problem and did not participate?

Unfortunately, I only learned some of the games were broadcast live on Chess Stream after the tournament ended. LM David Vest, who, according to Tim, also had trouble entering, had mentioned the fact to the Ironman, asking him to let me know, but it slipped the Ironmind. I had previously seen the announcement on the moribund GCA website (http://www.georgiachess.org/), but nothing was mentioned about any games being broadcast live, and having been to the GCA online magazine (http://georgiachessnews.com/), I can attest to the fact that there was no mention of this fact. What is the point of having games broadcast if the news is not advertised?

Mr. Vest mentioned something about Masters receiving free entry providing they jumped through many GCA hoops. The man from the High Planes did just that but said “Katie was in Alaska and by the time I was able to enter it was too late.” I was, therefore, pleased to see the Drifter was able to play four rounds after a first round half point bye. David is a fellow Senior and obviously not ready to drift away toward the sky.

There were seventy-five players in all sections combined, about what we used to get at the House of Pain when the usual suspects were rounded up. Unfortunately, there were only eight players in the top section. This makes me wonder about reports being received concerning a boycott of GCA tournaments by the higher rated players. I have learned it is not an “official” boycott per se, in the sense that anyone has led a boycott, but more of an unofficial type boycott. Word must not have gotten to the eight intrepid players who chose to “cross the line.”

NM Michael Coralllo, who has been playing very well the past several years, was the top rated player when he sat down in the first round to play a former student of the Legendary Georgia Ironman, Albert Liang, who is now learning from GM Alsonso Zapata. I went with Tim to the home of Albert where we double-teamed the young man during a lesson, and I can relate that after leaving, the Ironman and I were the ones who felt double teamed!

Albert Liang (2019) – Michael Corallo (2371)

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Bc4 e6 7. O-O b5 8. Bb3 Be7 9. Qf3 Qb6 10. Be3 Qb7 11. Qg3 O-O 12. Bh6 Ne8 13. f3 Bd7 14. Rad1 Nc6 15. Nxc6 Bxc6 16. Ne2 Kh8 17. Be3 Nf6 18. Nd4 Be8 19. Kh1 Nd7 20. Bf4 Qb6 21. Ne2 Ne5 22. c3 Qc5 23. Nc1 Qc7 24. Nd3 Ng6 25. Be3 Rg8 26. f4 Qb7 27. f5 Nf8 28. Nf4 exf5 29. exf5 Bc6 30. Bxf7 Bh4 31. Qxh4 Qxf7 32. Rxd6 Rc8 33. Kg1 Qxf5 34. Bd4 Bb7 35. Nh5 Qc2 36. Qg3 1-0

Can you spell U-P-S-E-T? Mr. Corallo did not let this loss upset him, playing the swiss gambit the way it is supposed to be played by winning his next four games and taking clear first. That is showing your class in style!
I was surprised to see the move 6 Bc4 has only scored 48% according to the CBDB. Back in the day it was THE MOVE. White has scored 54% against 11…0-0, and it is the preferred move of the big three “engines” shown on the CBDB, but 11…b4 has held White to only 45%. After 12…Ne8 365Chess.com calls this the, B90 Sicilian, Najdorf, Lipnitzky attack, which is a new one on me…
The game Rojas, Luis (2432) – Andaur, Claudio (2095) CHI-ch, 02/12/2002, varied with 13…Kh8 14. Bg5 Bxg5 15. Qxg5 Qb6 16. Qe3 Bd7 17. Qf2 Nc6 18. Nxc6 Qxf2+ 19. Rxf2 Bxc6 20. Rd2 Rd8 21. Rad1 g5 22. Ne2 Rg8 23. h3 Rg6 24. c4 bxc4 25. Bxc4 Bb7 26. b4 h5 27. Kf2 Kg7 28. e5 d5 29. Bd3 Rh6 30. Nd4 Nc7 31. Rc2 Rd7 32. Rdc1 Na8 33. Nb3 f6 34. Nc5 Re7 35. Nxb7 Rxb7 36. Bxa6 Rf7 37. Rc6 fxe5 38. b5 g4 39. b6 Nxb6 40. Rxb6 gxf3 41. gxf3 Rhf6 42. Rg1+ Kh6 43. Ke2 Rxf3 44. Rxe6+ R3f6 45. Rxf6+ Rxf6 46. Bb5 e4 47. Rd1 Rf3 48. Rxd5 Ra3 49. Rd2 Rxh3 50. a4 Kg5 51. Rd8 Ra3 52. Rd5+ Kf4 53. Rxh5 Ra2+ 54. Kd1 e3 55. Rh8 Ke4 56. Kc1 Kd4 57. Rd8+ Ke4 58. Kb1 Rh2 59. Rc8 Kd4 60. Rc2 Rh1+ 61. Kb2 Rh5 62. Kb3 Rh3 63. Kb4 Rh1 64. Ka5 Rh6 65. Be2 Kd5 66. Kb5 Rh1 67. a5 Rb1+ 68. Ka4 Rb8 69. a6 Ra8 70. Kb5 Rb8+ 71. Ka5 Kd6 72. Bb5 Rd8 1-0

The third round featured this game between the two Masters in the field.

David Vest (2200) – Michael Corallo (2371)

1. Nf3 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. g3 a6 4. Bg2 b5 5. O-O Bb7 6. b3 Be7 7. d3 O-O 8. e4 d6 9. Nc3 Nfd7 10. Rb1 c5 11. Qe2 Bf6 12. Bb2 Nc6 13. cxb5 axb5 14. Nxb5 Nde5 15. Bxe5 Nxe5 16. Nxe5 Bxe5 17. f4 Bf6 18. Rfc1 Qb6 19. a4 Rad8 20. Kh1 Ba6 21. Na3 g6 22. Nc4 Qb4 23. e5 dxe5 24. fxe5 Bg5 25. Rc2 Rd4 26. Be4 Rfd8 27. Qf3 Bxc4 28. Rxc4 Rxc4 29. dxc4 Qb8 30. h4 Bh6 31. Rf1 Rf8 32. a5 Bg7 33. a6 Bxe5 34. Kg2 Qb6 35. Bb7 Bb8 36. h5 Qd6 37. Rd1 Qe5 38. Rh1 Rd8 39. hxg6 Rd2 40. Kh3 hxg6 41. Rf1 Qh8 0-1

This is cutting edge theory being played here in the Deep South folks, as Bartosz Socko (2631) played 8…d5 against Hristos Banikas (2572) in Beijing at the 1st WMSG Blitz Pair, 10/08/2008, and lost. Vereslav Eingorn (2560) also played 8…d6 versus Bogomil Andonov (2415) at Uzhgorod in 1988 and won after 9. Nc3 b4 10. Ne2 c5 11. Ne1 Nc6 12. f4 a5 13. Nf3 a4 14. Rb1 axb3 15. axb3 Ra2 16. h3 Nd7 17. g4 Bf6 18. Bd2 g6 19. g5 Bg7 20. f5 Re8 21. f6 Bf8 22. Nf4 Nb6 23. Re1 d5 24. exd5 exd5 25. Rxe8 Qxe8 26. cxd5 Ne5 27. Ra1 Ra3 28. Rb1 Nxd5 29. Qe2 Nxf3+ 30. Bxf3 Qxe2 31. Bxe2 Ra2 32. Bf3 Nxf4 0-1
FYI, 365Chess calls this the, A13 English, Romanishin gambit.

The fourth round Sunday morning saw the grizzled veteran facing the new kid on the block.

David Vest (2200) – Albert Liang (2019)

1. c4 e6 2. g3 Nf6 3. Bg2 d5 4. Nf3 Be7 5. O-O O-O 6. b3 b6 7. Bb2 Bb7 8. d3 c5 9. Nbd2 Nc6 10. a3 Nd7 11. Rb1 dxc4 12. Nxc4 Qc7 13. Qc1 Rac8 14. Qe3 Bf6 15. Ng5 Bxb2 16. Rxb2 Rb8 17. b4 cxb4 18. axb4 Nce5 19. Nxe5 Qxe5 20. Qxe5 Nxe5 21. Bxb7 Rxb7 22. Rc1 h6 23. Ne4 Rd7 24. f3 Ng6 25. Rbc2 Ne7 26. Kf2 Nd5 27. b5 Rfd8 28. Rc4 Kf8 29. Ra4 Rb8 30. Nd2 Ne7 31. Nc4 Rbb7 32. Rca1 f6 33. R1a3 Nf5 34. e3 Ke7 35. Ke2 Nd6 36. Nxd6 Kxd6 37. d4 Rbc7 38. Kd2 e5 39. Rd3 Ke6 40. dxe5 Rxd3 41. Kxd3 Kxe5 42. f4 Kd6 43. Rd4 Ke6 44. e4 Rc5 45. f5 Ke7 46. Ra4 Rxb5 47. Rxa7 Kf8 48. Ke3 Re5 49. Rb7 b5 50. Kd4 Kg8 51. Rc7 Kf8 52. Rc5 Re7 53. Rxb5 Ra7 54. Rb3 Ra2 55. h3 Ra7 56. Ke3 Kf7 57. Kf4 g5 58. Kg4 Re7 59. Rb4 Kg7 60. Kh5 Kh7 61. Rb6 Kg7 62. Re6 Rd7 63. e5 fxe5 64. Rxh6 Rd3 65. Rg6 Kf7 66. Kg4 e4 67. Re6 Re3 68. Rg6 Re1 69. Kxg5 e3 70. Re6 e2 71. g4 Rh1 72. Rxe2 Rxh3 73. Ra2 1-0

As Bobby Fischer famously said, “That’s what chess is all about. One day you give your opponent a lesson, the next day he gives you one.” (http://www.chessquotes.com/player-fischer)
Playing over this English brings back memories of the High Planes Drifter regaling us with tales of the daze he was moving around the left coast in LA and of GM Eduard Gufeld and NM Jerry Hanken, who loved playing 1 c4. Up through 4…Be7 365Chess shows this as “A13 English opening,” but when Mr. Vest played 5 0-0 it became a, “A14 English, Neo-Catalan declined.” 10…Nd7 is the new move. Previously the two most common moves have been Qc7 and Qd7, the move of Houdini, but the new World Chess Champion thing, known as Komodo, prefers 10…Re8, but what does IT know?

Albert drew with the always dangerous Carter Peatman in the last round to finish in a three-way tie for second place with Djordje Nedeljkovic, who is a provisionally rated NM after eighteen games, and Expert Sinclair Gray, all with a score of 3-2.

Jeremy Banta took clear first in the class A section, Matt Mayhew, from Tennessee was also clear first in the B class, as was Anthony John Morse in the C class, and Sanjeev Anand did the same in class D. Not to be outdone, Harold Blackmarr also won the below section, for everyone else, a half-point ahead of the pack.

Games can be found here: http://chessstream.com/TournamentGames.aspx?TournamentID=98