Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Najdorf Interview, part II

The inerview with Najdorf mentioned two posts ago was, as said, published in Shachmat, Nov. 1996. It was conducted by the well-known Israeli player and problemist Yochanan Afek  and published on pp. 24-30. Here are some interesting bits (the context makes clear whether Najdorf or Afek are speaking):

His cousin, Ester Salzman, the last scion of his Polish family, joins us. 'His mother never agreed with his occupation. Like every Jewish mother she wanted him to be a physician and would often throw his chess set out the window'.

Clearly he would prefer the interview to be conducted in Spanish or, preferably, Polish. He would also accept Yiddish. But his overflowing stories show contempt to linguistic limitations.
Miczyslaw [...] is his polish name, as a Jew he is Moshe Mendel and as an Argentinian Miguel. His cousin calls him Munik. All in 'M'.

Q: Try to remember the most piquant event in your career.
A: Maybe my meeting with the pope. In my [chess] column in Clarin I published the chess problems of Karol Wojtyla (John Paul II's original Polish name, but some strongly claim that he never composed the problems, which were published under his name as a joke - Afek). I send the publication to the Vatican, and got as a reply an invitation to meet the pope when I am in Rome. Imagine, I, the Jew Moshe Mendel Najdorf spoke to Karol Wojtyla for an hour and a half only about chess... and in Polish!

I may be the only person in the world who played all the world champions except for Steinitz and Lasker. On second thought, I played with Lasker in Warsaw in 1935... Bridge!

During the [1972 world championship] match, a Jewish reporter from United Press asked me to summarize in two minutes the difference between Spassky and Fischer. Spassky, I answered in Yiddish, is a living person who sometimes plays chess. Fischer is a chess player who sometimes lives.

If we must choose, Capablanca was [the greatest chess player ever], because he came from a chess 'nowhere' and reached the top.

Finally, two games were given (Ibid, p. 30). A quick search found them both in online datacases -- in the web site. The first is known as the "rights of minors" game (for reasons obvious in the game score) and was even that web site's "game of the day" in the past. The second is also well worth looking at.

Andor Lilienthal had, perhaps, a better claim for playing the most world champions than Najdorf, but only by a short margin (he played Lasker; both also played the world's women chmapion, Vera Menchik).

Also, it is considered established today that John Paul II's "chess problems" were, indeed, a hoax, as Tomasz Lissowski conclusively proved. This does not mean Najdorf was concsciously lying: as Lissowski noted, many players, from amateurs to GMs, accepted the problems as genuine for a long time, and Najdorf might well have been one of them.

What seems more doubtful is whether Najdorf actually spoke "only about chess" with the pope for an hour and a half...

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