Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Amazing Sicilian Najdorf

I can trace my improvement up to beyond the 2000 level back to when I started playing the Sicilian Najdorf for both white and black. Back in those days the English Attack was in it's early days, and was usually called the Byrne System, the Sozin hadn't been countered by Nbd7-c5 as a main weapon, and the Bg5 main lines had not been analysed as deeply as they are now. Of course, compared to other openings the Najdorf was investigated very deeply, even back in the early 1980's, and I remember getting my hands on a copy of Nunn's book on the opening. I think this may have been the last openings book I bought. Soon after Nunn's Najdorf book, NIC Yearbooks started to appear with regular contributions on the Najdorf, and I discovered that Nunn's brilliant book was full of holes. Even I had managed to prove some things wrong, and I remember talking to GM Peter Wells about this, and his reaction was something like 'of course, all opening's books are full of holes'.

While Nunn's book inspired me, it also disillusioned me when it came down to opening study. Perhaps this was a good thing in as much as I worked harder on other parts of my game. However, it also meant that I never really deeply understood any opening systems, which is something that can take your game to another level. It is probably too late for me now to start working on opening systems with any ambition, though I was fired up by a Najdorf I played at my local club the other week. I was white and after playing 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 I took a think to work out what line I wanted to play. In the end I went back to the move I played 30 years ago, 6.Bg5, which leads to some of the craziest positions in the whole of chess.

From here, the game can go in a lot of directions.

1. Polugaevsky 6..e6 7.f4 b5 I used to play this for black!
2. Poisoned Pawn 6..e6 7.f4 Qb6
3. A line that wasn't popular when I last played the Najdorf, but seems to be doing well is 6..Nbd7 7.Bc4 Qb6
4. My opponent played the main line move, 6..e6 7.f4 Be7. Black breaks the pin on f6, and develops. Couldn't be simpler. Both sides improve their pieces with 8.Qf3 Qc7 9.O-O-O Nbd7
Back in the early 80's it was almost automatic to play 10.g4 in this position, though looking through the database I see 10.Bd3 scores better, though with a lower amount of games. I stuck with the main move, and I remember feeling somewhat nostalgic as I looked at the position. Unfortunately, my opponent didn't play the best move and succumbed quickly, which is an occupational hazard of playing such a sharp opening as the Najdorf. The mainline goes 10..b5 11.Bxf6 Nxf6 12.g5 Nd7
I know that the most popular move in the position is 13.f5, though I always used to play 13.h4 in this position. I seem to remember seeing some games of Ljubojevic playing in this way which impressed me, so I took the move up. I have also used the unusual 13.Rg1 once, in the Victorian Championship 2006 against Dusan Stojic. While still a great player, at the time Dusan wasn't as formidable as he is now, and I was to happy to walk away with a draw in that game. I wonder which move I would have chosen? I seem to remember thinking about 13.h4 during the game but who knows what I'd have done? Hopefully I'd have continued like Ljubojevic did in this game breaking through on e6 and bringing the light squred bishop into effect on the h3-c8 diagonal. Maybe even a little sacrifice a la Ljubo! Enjoy...

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