Saturday, December 19, 2009

Najdorf in Israel, II -- Quips, Opinions, and Jews

Miguel Najdorf was well known for his stories -- not all of them necessarily strictly true. Here are some stories he told Davar, in an interview published on 30.12.1960:

The secret of my success? You need a Jewish head. Most of the great chess players are Jews, I too am a Jew.

I wrote three chess books, but if you ask me what I've read about chess -- very little, practically nothing.

How do I play so many blindfold games? .... I have excellent visual memory. In 1946 I played in an international tournament in Prague. I met a Jewish girl and she invited me to her apartment. We took the subway, then a bus, then continued on foot in some suburb for over half and hour, and then reach a building that looked just like all the rest in the area. I didn't know her name or the street's name. Seven years later, I was there again, and decided to visit her. I took a subway in the direction I remembered, got off at the same stop, took the bus, reached an apartment -- and an old woman opened the door. 'Didn't a Jewish girl live here?', I asked. 'Yes, she moved to New York, here is her address.'

When the 1939 Olympiad began, war broke out. My situation was very difficult. I didn't want to return to Poland -- I knew that would be suicidal. A friend offered me to be a 'mnemotechnician' -- to appear in a show as a man with a prodigious memory. People wrote ten, twenty, and more numbers on a piece of paper. I would look at the paper for a few minutes and write the numbers down from memory. I made a lot of money in these shows, but it was a crippling effort.

One cannot make a living from chess. I worked in insurance, and now have my own important / export company. Once the game saved my life -- when I was in the Olympiad in Argentina instead of Poland. But apart from that, the only thing I gained from the game is to see the world. For me chess is just a hobby and even a very expensive hobby, for it takes much time. If I had more time for it, I would surely have been a better player, and could play in all the international tournaments. But what can you do? One must make a living.

In another interview (from the same collection of press clippings from Late 1960-early 1961 in the Israeli press as the previous post -- see "Najdorf in Israel I" below, no exact date or paper given), he told the reporter that in one of his blindfold displays, he was politely asked by one of the contestants: 'Excuse me, Herr Grossmeister: would you mind if I use a pocket set?'

In a third interview (same collection as clippings, no exact date or paper), Najdorf, in a less serious mood, quips about his 'last visit to Paris' and several other matters:

[I] went into a coffee house of professional players [in Paris], who play for money with amateurs. Someone told me, 'If sir knows know how to play, I am willing to give him a bishop's odds, 1000 franks a game.' 'OK', I said, 'but let's play even.' After I won six games -- and 6000 franks -- he spoke up. 'Where are you from?'. 'Argentina', I said. 'Argentina? You play almost like Najdorf...'

Chess is a Jewish art. In every international tournament, the "official" language is Yiddish. Most of the Soviet team, for example, speaks Yiddish. Even Euwe, a Dutch gentile, once told me, 'Najdorf, redet mama loshen' (Najdorf, speak Yiddish.)

I am bald because in every time I play a game of chess, I lose one hair.

His view of Israelis in chess, from La'Merchav, 16.1.1961:

Mr. Najdorf said that when he started his exhibitions in Israel, it seemed to him he would easily win all the games due to his opponents' lack of theoretical knowledge. But as the games went on, he found that sometimes he cannot find the way to win, and even loses. He believes that if the Israeli players had more theoretical knowledge, they would do better in the Olympiads.

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