Person of day - 15 APRIL 2023
Miguel (Mojsze Mendel) Najdorf was born in Grodzisk Mazowiecki in the Warsaw Governorate, which was part of the Russian Empire. After falling in love with chess, he studied with respected master Dawid Przepiórka before he went to Savielly Tartakower, whom he called Teacher for the rest of his life. In the 1930s, the young chess player became one of his country’s strongest, after winning the Warsaw, Polish and Hungarian championships. In 1935, playing black, he beat master Gluksberg in a beautiful game with a stream of sacrifices; it was published in all the Old World’s chess papers and Tartakower dubbed it the “Polish Immortal”.
In those years, the Polish team was one of the world’s strongest, regularly fighting for gold medals at Olympiads. In 1930, the Poles, led by Akiba Rubinstein, won the Tournament of Nations. A year later, they came second, a few years later- third. Their bronze medals in 1937 and silver medals in 1936 and 1939 were won with Najdorf at the second board and Tartakower at the first. In 1939 in Buenos Aires, Miguel won his board with 14 points out of 18.
During the Olympiad in Argentina, World War II broke out in Europe and Poland was split between Hitler and Stalin. Like many others, Miguel did not return home, thus avoiding the Holocaust. His family died in Nazi concentration camps. Najdorf stayed in Argentina and became its new chess leader: thanks to his energy and enthusiasm, the South American state became one of the leading chess counties.
Najdorf was considered one of the world’s strongest grandmasters for a long time; he came 5thand 6thin the candidates’ tournaments in 1950 and 1953 respectively, won Capablanca Memorial in 1962 that was contested by several world champions and, in individual matches, he defeated Euwe, Botvinnik, Tal, Petrosian, Spassky and Fischer! Many of Miguel Najdorf’s attacks- conducted in the Old Indian Defence and in his favourite line of the Sicilian Defence that bears his name- have entered chess history.
“Don Miguel” tirelessly promoted chess in Argentina through multiple chess simuls, including blindfold ones, where he set a record of 45 simultaneous blindfold games. He played at the first board in two Olympiads and regularly lead Argentina’s team to silver and bronze medals. At Najdorf’s initiative, several friendly matches were played between Argentinian and Soviet teams. In 1970, in the Match of the Century, he fought Tal- the match at the ninth board finished with a 2:2 draw.
Interestingly enough, Najdorf never became a professional, despite being one the best players in the Western world for many years. He was successful in business and admitted that he played in tournaments out of his love for the game rather than for any prizes or recognition. Najdorf never stopped playing throughout his long life. Sociability and amicability made his a charming man and a favourite of the public. He was called Miguel El Grande (“The Great Miguel”) by many Argentinians and colleagues alike. He was invited to meet Fidel Castro, Winston Churchill, Nikita Khrushchev, Shah of Iran, Juan Peron and Che Guevara. Every notable politician considered it his duty to meet Argentina’s chess star.
Miguel made his last start at the national championship at the age of 81, and he performed fairly well. He died at the age of 87 in Malaga and he is buried in Argentina, where a museum has been erected in the honour of the national champion.