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Counterplay in the Najdorf Sicilian E-mail
Written by WGM Raluca Sgîrcea, IM Renier Castellanos   
Friday, 04 March 2016 00:00

najdorfThe Najdorf Sicilian is perhaps the most popular defense among chess players. No matter if you play it or not, you know it and you have probably seen many great historical games in this variation. The great world champions played it quite often as did many other classic Grandmasters of that time.

For Bobby Fischer, it was his favorite and only weapon against 1.e4 and the same for Garry Kasparov, who played it in Scheveningen style many times. The Najdorf is a declaration of intentions right from the start; black is offering white a forest of deep complications if he goes for the kill. If instead white chooses to play it safe, the Najdorf is positionally sound and black has a solid ground to create winning chances of his own.

The purpose of this article is to show our readers some great games played in this variation, explaining the typical tactics of counterplay. We will examine three main games but let's start by looking at some classical positions that are quite instructive:

Counterplay in the Scheveningen

Training Position 1

counter play

Anand,V – Kasparov,G Frankfurt 2000

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In the position above white has just played 21.Bd4 with the threat of weakening the dark squares around the black king after the trade of bishops. The pressure of the white rooks along the F file also looks threatening. However, black is able to obtain just enough counterplay with a thematic pawn sacrifice. Can you spot it?

See the solution here:

Training Position 2

counter play

Karpov – Kasparov Moscow 1985

This is a typical situation in this variation. White combines the pressure on black's queenside (the b6 pawn) with the attack on the kingside. Black must create counterplay, otherwise he will eventually get crushed.

Kasparov's energetic plan opened a new way for black to handle this type of positions. He played the mysterious looking move 23...Re7! With the idea of doubling rooks on the E file and striking white's center with f7-f5! The rook on the 7th rank does a fantastic job defending h7 as well.  See the details here:

Counterplay in the Najdorf structure

Training position 3

counter play

Unzicker,W – Fischer,R Varna 1962 

One of the main problems when playing the positional line 6.Be2 against the Najdorf is that the white knight can end up being useless on b3. In the diagram above we see a typical scenario in which white is trying to obtain full control of the light squares and then improve his knight, ideally to d5.

However, realizing this idea is way too far at the moment, but how can black seize the initiative and put white under pressure? Discover how Fischer played here:

Training position 4

counter play

Yanofsky,D – Gligoric,S Stockholm Interzonal 1962

In the diagram above white has just started his attack with g4. The threat of g5 is unpleasant; not only would white get his pawns too close to the black king with g5-f6, but also, by removing the f6 knight, the d5 square becomes weak.

However, as we know, attacks on flanks are often responded with a counterattack in the centre and this is no exception. Can you find the best continuation for black?

After examining these few examples, we would like to finish our survey with three selected games on the Scheveningen / Najdorf which show the energy of this fantastic defense against 1.e4.

The first game was played between two strong bulgarian Grandmasters, Kiril Georgiev with white, against Veselin Topalov in the World Cup held in New Delhi in the year 2000. The game shows the typical play in the Scheveningen and the dangers for white if he is too slow in organizing his attack.

Insert Georgiev-Topalov.pgn

Our second example has Anand as white against Garry Kasparov.  This game shows how in the Najdorf certain positions resemble the King's Indian or Benoni defenses. Black's activity along the E file and the bishop on g7 was too difficult to handle.

We cannot finish the article without mentioning any Najdorf played by Bobby Fischer. Our example is a crushing victory over Croatian Grandmaster Milan Matulovic. White tried to fight for the control of the light squares (d5) from the very beginning, but Fischer managed to refute white's idea and seize the initiative.

If you want to improve your chess level, you need to have a clear study plan. If you aim for a dramatic improvement at chess you need to work on all of the elements of the game in a systematic way:

  • tactics
  • positional play
  • attacking skills
  • endgame technique
  • classical games analysis
  • psychological preparation
  • and much more

That seems to be like a lot of things, and that is. But no worries, we have made it easy for you. Our comprehensive training course covers it all and much more. Sign up for 21 Day Training right now!

About the Authors:

Raluca Sgîrcea

WGM Raluca Sgîrcea is an active chess player and teaching chess for over two years.  European champion U10, winner of several Romanian national championship medals, Woman International Master title since 2011. One Woman Grandmaster norm. Highest FIDE rating 2302.

Renier Castellanos

IM Renier Castellanos is an active chess player and trainer for over 10 years, have worked for Chessbase and done live commentary on several major events, winner of many international tournaments. One Grandmaster norm. Highest FIDE rating 2529.

Image Credits: Flickr creative commons license by Samuele Ghilardi.

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Last Updated on Sunday, 06 March 2016 20:26

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