The Najdorf. The ultimate desire for many, a common-place occurrence for others. I have a feeling that when it comes to the Najdorf there are two possible feelings about it: you either love it or you’re petrified of it.
I have always fallen into the first category. The reason is that I’ve played it since I was a kid and the main reason for the fear of the second category, the mind-boggling amount of theory, didn’t bother me because I learned it as I was growing up and that knowledge built itself inside me.
I have been approached way too many times with lamentations of “I would like to play the Najdorf, but there’s so much theory, I cannot study all that.” And I understood them, starting to learn the Najdorf from scratch is not a task for the faint-hearted.
However. When I stopped to think a little about it, I realised that a lot in the Najdorf is based on good understanding. And that understanding mostly revolves around the d5-square and what should be done about it. When I pushed the concept a bit further I realised that with the help of modern theory there is a chance for not-too-theoretical repertoire to be created.
The result of these ruminations is my Najdorf repertoire for Chessable.
My main goal with this repertoire was to provide the student with a feeling for the Najdorf positions. Once you have that feeling then even a surprise in the opening will not be enough to disturb you or prevent you from finding a good antidote. I provided ample textual explanations of the critical positions and the chapters with model games and typical strategic and tactical motifs were aimed exactly at this.
The second goal was of course the theoretical knowledge. The Najdorf is theoretical, there is no going around it. I tried to present the basic theoretical knowledge necessary for the student to be able to play the Najdorf. I concentrated on the modern lines, the ones that are most popular today, with enough information on the traditional variations that are less trendy nowadays.
The repertoire consists of the following chapters: Introduction, The Positional 6 Be2, The Sozin 6 Bc4, The English Attack 6 Be3, The Aggressive 6 Bg5, The 6 f4 Line, The Fianchetto 6 g3, The Modern 6 h3, Odds and Ends and also the afore-mentioned chapters Model Games and Strategy and Tactics. The theoretically heaviest ones (meaning with the most forcing lines requiring memorisation) are The Sozin and the Aggressive 6 Bg5.
Wherever possible (or practical) I proposed the typical Najdorf move 6…e5 as a reply to White’s 6th move attempts. Theoretically speaking Black is in fantastic shape in these lines so there was no reason not to take advantage of it!
I think that the main advantage of this repertoire, and this aspect took a lot of hard work, was that I succeeded to narrow down the theory to a manageable level. A lot of secondary variations were explained in textual terms rather than lines – from my experience of working with students I discovered that they remember better when things are described with words rather than with moves.
The books I used to learn the Najdorf from, The Sicilian Defence by Lepeshkin (in Russian), Najdorf for the Tournament Player, The Complete Najdorf: Modern Lines and The Complete Najdorf: 6 Bg5, all by John Nunn, were hefty tomes. I never found them difficult and always enjoyed working with them, but to be honest, had I had the resources available now, I would have definitely chosen the much more efficient ways provided by modern technology.
My effort to provide a concise yet profound Najdorf repertoire and to give a chance to everybody to try this wonderful opening is now before you to judge. I can only hope I did a good job.
The Najdorf Sicilian: Simplified is out on Chessable