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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Reshevsky - Najdorf Matches

Time Magazine article, Monday, Mar. 31, 1952

The double-faced clocks, which inexorably mark the time limits for tournament chess players, ticked off the carefully allotted seconds at Havana's Capablanca Chess Club. It was the final of a 23-day round-robin tournament involving 23 chess masters from eight countries.  The frowning concentration of the chess grand masters had barely been ruffled by the Cuban revolution. On the final day of play last week, first place was narrowed down to two Polish-born players: Samuel Reshevsky, 40, five-time U.S. champion, who toured his adopted land as a nine-year-old prodigy, and Argentina's Miguel Najdorf, 42, a mathematics professor who is one of the few men ever to beat Russian World Champion Mikhail Botvinnik. In personality, the two Poles were poles apart.

Truculent. Blunt, taciturn Chess Master Reshevsky had outraged his Cuban hosts by his point-blank refusal to join the other players in a Friday visit to the tomb of Cuban World Champion José Capablanca. Reshevsky later explained that he could not make the trip on Friday, since his Jewish religion forbids public travel after sundown. But he also demanded that the player's day off should be Friday, not Sunday. Furthermore, Reshevsky refused, up to the final day, to agree to leave the winner's trophy in Cuba. Originally donated by Argentina, the cup had been renamed in memory of Cuban Player Juan Queseda, a contestant who died of a heart attack while the tournament was in progress. Reshevsky's truculent explanation for wanting the trophy: "Because the cup was donated by Peron for the winner, not for Cubans."

Jolly. In contrast to Reshevsky's concentrated grumpiness, Argentina's jolly Najdorf acted like an earnest student of Dale Carnegie. On the tense final day, most of the other players were discreetly rooting for Najdorf. Reshevsky made short work of his final opponent, Manhattan's Dr. Edward Lasker, whipping him in 38 implacable moves when Lasker overstepped his allowable time limit of 40 moves in 2¼ hours. Interest promptly centered on the match between Cuba's Rogelio Ortega and Najdorf, who moved into a technical position known to chessplayers as a Sicilian defense. After six feverish, hours and 60 moves, Najdorf finally gained an attacking advantage, turned it into a game-ending checkmate, and tied for top honors with Reshevsky.

Differences were happily settled as the two players split the $4,000 first-and second-place jackpot. The matter of which man is the better player will be settled when the two get together next month in an 18-game tour in New York, Mexico City and San Salvador

These two met twice, in 1951 and in 1952, for a match in what was billed as Championship of the Free World. Both matches were won by Reshevsky. In 1951 the score was +8 -4 =6 and in the return match played the following year, it was +6 -5 =7.

One has to admire Najdorf for his admission that he had lost to the better player. That’s a trait rarely seen by today’s players be they Grandmaster or Patzer.

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