This twelve game match between Najdorf and Trifunovic took place in July 1949, when both players were 38 years old. They had played each other five times previously with Najdorf scoring two victories to one defeat and with two draws.
Petar Trifunovic was a leading Yugoslav player, and at this point in his career he had been three times national champion (1945, 1946, and jointly in 1947). His International Master title had been awarded in 1950 and he would secure the Grandmaster title in 1953. In the post-war decade he was playing at his peak. Trifunovic had proved himself to be a strong grandmaster as his solid result of ninth ahead of Svetozar Gligoric (+3 -2 =10) in the very strong Chigorin Memorial (Moscow (1947)) had shown. Beside this match against Najdorf, Trifunovic's greatest career performances were the Treybal Memorial tournament (Prague (1946)) 1, and the Dubrovnik Olympiad 2 where he scored 10/13 which was the best performance on Board 3. 3 His playing strength declined from the mid 1950s but only slowly, and he usually gained mid table results even in strong tournaments; he was second to Mikhail Botvinnik at Noteboom Memorial (1965). He continued to play strongly in the Yugoslav championships being third in 1960, champion in 1961 and third again in the 1963. He played for Yugoslavia in the Olympiads his last being Varna 1962.
Miguel Najdorf emerged as an elite player after the war by tying for 4th–5th at Groningen (1946) with 11½/19. Indeed, the decade after the war was the most successful period of his chess career. 4 His consistent run of high positions in very strong tournaments led him to be awarded the Grandmaster title in 1950. Najdorf was especially active coming to Europe to maximise his chances of playing in the relatively few top tournaments of the time against world-class grandmasters. He was on the cusp of being a world championship candidate, but controversially he was denied the opportunity in 1948. It was only due to a late change to FIDE regulations that Najdorf was not allocated Reuben Fine 's declined and vacant place at the FIDE World Championship Tournament (1948).
Originally the 17th FIDE Congress at Winterthur (July 1946) stipulated that if the winners of the tournaments in Groningen (Botvinnik) and Prague (Najdorf) were not already qualified, one of these tournament winners would be allocated a place in the forthcoming response world chess championship tournament. "They shall play a match in Prague ... The winner of that match shall be added to the list of participants. If one of the winners is already on the list of participants, the other shall automatically qualify". 5 At the next FIDE congress (The Hague, 30th July - 2nd August 1947), however, this was amended so that no extra player would be added.
Coming up to the present match Najdorf had greater tournament opportunities than Trifunovic. In Argentina Nadjorf competed in a series of tough tournaments usually involving Gideon Stahlberg and Erich Eliskases. Nadjorf came first a half point ahead of Ståhlberg at Mar del Plata (1947), second a half point behind Ståhlberg at Buenos Aires/La Plata (1947), second a half point behind Ståhlberg at Buenos Aires (1948), first at Buenos Aires/La Plata (1948) and had beaten Julio Bolbochan (Argentine champion in 1946 and 1948) in a match in Buenos Aires (1949) by 5½ to 4½. Abroad, he was second to Fine at New York (1948) but went onto draw a match with him in early 1949 (+2 =4 -2). Nadjorf came first at Venice (1948) 7 ahead of Max Euwe, and his only slight dip in performance was coming fourth at Mar del Plata (1948). 8
On paper Nadjorf was the favourite in this match. There was no doubt that he would be very tough competition for Trifunovic. In 1946, Nadjorf had dominated the Treybal Memorial tournament, Prague (1946), ahead of both Gligoric and Trifunovic. In 1948 at the Saltsjöbaden Interzonal (1948), he had again outpaced the top Yugoslavs - Gligoric, Vasja Pirc and Trifunovic.
Nadjorf's form and tough schedule continued beyond this match. He won at Amsterdam (1950), with 15/19 (+11 -0 =8), ahead a very strong field including Samuel Reshevsky, Ståhlberg, Gligoric, Pirc, Euwe, and his current opponent Trifunovic (+4 -2 =13). Before returning home to Argentina, Nadjorf was the highest scoring non-Soviet player at the Budapest Candidates (1950) (April 7th - May 18th, 1950). Then he scored equal first on Board one at the Dubrovnik Olympiad (20th August - 11th September 1950). Nadjorf kept up this impressive run by trip against strong Yugoslav opposition (including their promising young players) despite their home advantage in the Bled tournament (September 24th - October 15th, 1950). 9
In 1949, as part of a plan to develop their leading players (Gligoric, Pirc and Trifunovic) by providing top-flight competition (Ståhlberg, Euwe and Najdorf) and to underline the cultural progress of their state, the Yugoslav state sponsored matches against leading international grandmasters. Soviet or other Eastern European opposition was not available as from 1948 Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union were involved in an increasingly bitter political and diplomatic dispute.
This was the third of such matches; and in 1950, the Yugoslav state would finance the Chess Olympiad in Dubrovnik.
This match of twelve games between Najdorf and Trifunovic took place in Opatija (Abbazia), a sea-side resort in western Croatia, Yugoslavia. It commenced on Thursday 7th July, and ended on Saturday 23rd July, 1949. 10
Game 1 - Opatija - Thursday, 7th July 1949
Game 2 - Opatija - Friday, 8th July 1949
Game 3 - Opatija - Sunday, 10th July 1949
Game 4 - Opatija - Monday, 11th July 1949
Game 5 - Opatija - Wednesday, 13th July 1949
Game 6 - Opatija - Thursday, 14th July 1949
Game 7 - Opatija - Saturday, 16th July 1949
Game 8 - Opatija - Sunday, 17th July 1949
Game 9 - Opatija - Tuesday, 19th July 1949
Game 10 - Opatija - Wednesday, 20th July 1949
Game 11 - Opatija - Friday, 22nd July 1949
Game 12 - Opatija - Saturday, 23rd July 1949
The match was tied at +1 =10 -1. Najdorf blundered one game but had chances to win two others which he failed to do. Overall, Trifunovic did well to hold the match to a draw.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2
Najdorf 0 ½ 1 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 6
Trifunovic 1 ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 6
Nadjorf was White in the odd numbered games. Nadjorf lost as White in the first game. He appears to suddenly have panicked in the face of his oppponent's three connected passed pawns bearing down on him:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2
Najdorf 0 ½ 1½ 2 2½ 3 3½ 4 4½ 5 5½ 6
Trifunovic 1 1½ 1½ 2 2½ 3 3½ 4 4½ 5 5½ 6
Nadjorf equalised the match in Game 3 which was the one of only two King pawn openings, and a particularly fine king-side attack. Nadjorf could have added to his score in Game 4 when Trifunovic unnecessarily weakened his K-side, but Nadjorf missed a key move and his opponent held on to draw with two pawns against a Knight.
In Game 5, Nadjorf outplayed Trifunovic and won two pawns, but in a Rook and Pawns ending he was not precise enough and after a long struggle he had to concede a draw.
Having survived a crisis, Trifunovic conserved his strength with a quick draw as White in Game 6, and equalised efficiently in Game 7 using the Sicilian Defence. After this, neither player appears to have wanted to play particularly sharply but instead Games 8, 9 and 10 were cautiously played. The last two games were little more than the formalities being concluded.