Reuben Fine and Miguel Najdorf played a match from Saturday, January 15 to Wednesday, January 26, 1949 at Manhattan Chess Club and Marshall Chess Club in New York and a private address in Englewood, New Jersey. The match had a prize fund of $1,600 1 (approximately $16,000 in 2016 value). Edward Lasker acted as the director of play. 2 Fine and Najdorf had only played once before, in the New York tournament of 1948 where Najdorf lost their individual game (Fine vs Najdorf, 1948) and took second place (with 6/9), two points behind Fine.
Fine was then recognized as the number two American player behind Samuel Reshevsky. During the war he had worked for the Department of the Navy and from August 1941 he had very limited opportunity for master-class tournament play.
Fine won the 1942 Washington DC Chess Divan tournament and took the US speed championships in 1942, 1943 and 1944. In February 1944, he defeated Herman Steiner by 3½ to ½ in an exhibition match at Washington Chess Divan (Fine - Steiner (1944)). 3 Even so, his prospects had been damaged by his ongoing failure to win the US Championship. Fine managed to get time off work to compete in the 5th US Championship (April-May 1944), and played very successfully (scoring +12). Unfortunately, Arnold Denker made an unprecendented +14 score (which was the largest winning score yet in the US Championship).
Fine was also a prolific chess author and journalist. Over the preceding decade, he wrote Basic Chess Endings (1941), Chess The Easy Way (1942), The Ideas Behind the Chess Openings (1943), Chess marches on! (1945) - an analysis of 50 games played by leading masters during the period 1941-1944, and Practical Chess Openings (1948).
Post-war, Fine had to decide on his future. Whilst preparing his doctoral thesis in psychology, he played in the Pan-American tournament held in Hollywood in 1945, finishing undefeated but second, 1½ points behind Reshevsky. His strongest rivals Reshevsky and Isaac Kashdan were also only part-time professionals, as there were few opportunities in the US for an income based on chess. Thus, whilst Fine’s academic work and lack of tournament practice did not appear to damage his chess strength, he took the hard-headed decision to move on from grandmaster chess.
At the end of the war, he was faced with a difficult choice between his two careers. In 1948, he was invited to participate in a select six-man event for the world championship. Realising first that the Soviet players had improved greatly since the pre-war years, and secondly that a career in chess offered no financial security, Fine preferred to concentrate on his final examinations in psychoanalysis. 4
Fine participated in the USSR - USA Radio Match (1945), where he lost ½-1½ to Isaac Boleslavsky, and in the 1946 US-Soviet match in Moscow against Paul Keres, which he lost ½-1½. 5 This may have contributed to his decision that grandmaster chess would be a precarious profession as he would inevitably have had to compete with the state sponsored players from the Soviet Union. Fine had already publicly stated that there was a lack of support and chances for international competition for American masters. Thus, whilst he had a career best in the New York 1948 tournament (ahead of Najdorf and Max Euwe), after he received his PhD he set up in private practice as a psychoanalyst. 6 During the match Fine was consequently working as a doctor. 1
Fine was seeded into the Budapest Candidates (1950) but declined his place and was only to play one further tournament, the Wertheim Memorial in New York in 1951.
Najdorf is a born chess genius and, with a little of the self-discipline which he so strikingly lacks, capable of winning any world championship - Baruch Harold Wood 7
Najdorf was active in establishing himself as an elite player after the war, despite the difficulties involved with expenses and travelling. His efforts paid off, as the post-war to mid 1950's was to be his peak period (http://www.chessmetrics.com/cm/CM2/...), in which he remained in the top ten of world players. In Argentina, Najdorf had come first at Mar del Plata (1947), a half point ahead of Gideon Stahlberg, second at Buenos Aires/La Plata (1947), a half point behind Stahlberg, second at Buenos Aires (1948), a half point behind Stahlberg, and first at Buenos Aires/La Plata (1948). He had made his way to Europe to play in the few international tournaments available to western players.
CHESS printed a report on an interview in the January 1947 issue of El Ajedrez Español in which Najdorf had declared: ‘I believe that I am inferior to none of the players who are to participate in the next world championship, Botvinnik, Fine, Reshevsky, Keres, Euwe. …None of these have a better record than I. I have played much less than they have, admittedly, but I am satisfied with my results.’ 8
"By winning the Treybal Memorial tournament in Prague (1946), he had qualified for the forthcoming world championship tournament under the conditions laid down at the Winterthur Congress (17th FIDE Congress, July 1946)". 9 Yet, he was unexpectedly denied his place when the FIDE congress at The Hague (July 30 - August 2, 1947) changed the regulations for qualification to the FIDE World Championship Tournament (1948).
Najdorf came sixth equal at the Saltsjöbaden Interzonal (1948) and this match with Fine reinforced his credentials as a world-class player. At the Budapest Candidates (1950) (April 7 - May 18, 1950), Najdorf at fifth was the highest scoring non-Soviet player.
Game 1 - Saturday, January 15, 1949
Game 2 - Sunday, January 16, 1949
Game 3 - Thursday, January 20, 1949
Game 4 - Friday, January 21, 1949
Game 5 - Saturday, January 22, 1949
Game 6 - Sunday, January 23, 1949
Game 7 - Tuesday, January 25, 1949
Game 8 - Wednesday, January 26, 1949
The progress of the match
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
Fine 1 1 0 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ 4
Najdorf 0 0 1 1 ½ ½ ½ ½ 4
Fine was White in the odd numbered games.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
Fine 1 2 2 2 2½ 3 3½ 4
Najdorf 0 0 1 2 2½ 3 3½ 4
Overall, Fine should have won the match, but he allowed Najdorf to recover after being two down. He lost Game 3 by superficial analysis of a drawn ending, and should have won Game 7 with a simple combination.
Game 1. "The start of the eight game slugfest was anything but promising for Najdorf. The first game was played at the Manhattan Chess Club, January 15, under the sponsorship of club president Maurice Wertheim. The result was a forty move victory for Fine.” 10
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Najdorf played 20...Qe7, and Savielly Tartakower commented: "Black has managed to get a satisfactory position, but now he shows a pacifism which will bring its own retribution. By playing 20...b5 ... he could have established a lasting equality". 11 After Fine's 21.Na4! he dominated the Q-side and the game.
Game 2. "The second game, also at the Manhattan Chess Club, this time sponsored (by) Don Luis Salmon of Bogota, Columbia, was even more shocking: Fine scored in 27 moves! It was his third consecutive win (the first being in a recent tourney) over the man, who according to his own statement (made two years ago in a Spanish magazine), will one day be world champion. Najdorf had played incredibly lackadaisical chess and even he was at a loss to explain some of his moves." 10
Game 3. The third game took place at the Marshall Chess Club, January 20. It was adjourned after forty moves with Najdorf a pawn ahead but Fine confident that the ending was only a draw. 10
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"The correct move was 64.Nf2 ...(Fine) offered a draw. I wasn't keen to agree since I had an extra pawn. Then he informed me of a similar ending which had occurred in the Anderssen-Steinitz match of 1866 (see Anderssen vs Steinitz, 1866 he had included the position and analysis in his own ending handbook. 'It's an obvious draw', Fine added. I looked at the positions and compared them, and I didn't agree with my opponent's verdict. I played on and won the game." 1 (65...Nc2!! - the threat is 66...Ne1 67.Nd2 h5, creating Zugzwang)
Game 4. "The fourth game was also adjourned. It had been played at the home of Morris Cohen in Englewood. N.J." 10 "Rarely do we witness a player pushed into a loss without making a perceptible error. It does happen, however ... Cramped right from the opening, Black gradually crumbles under the pressure of White's artful manoeuvres." 12 With hindsight and away from the heat of battle, it appears that Fine only blundered late in the game in a cramped but defensible position.
The next two games were at the Marshall Chess Club. They were drawn. The two adjourned games were played off. 10
Game 5. Fine was unable to make his passed <a> pawn a decisive factor, and the game was drawn.
Game 6. A careful positional game which became established theory. Fine methodically equalized as Black.
Game 7. "The seventh game was an all-out tactical battle in which Fine sacrificed two Knights and ended ... in a perpetual check." 10
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Fine had grabbed a hot pawn and came under a strong attack, but
in a sharp position he outplayed Najdorf. Under heavy attack, Najdorf played his Bishop rather than his Knight to g6. Fine continued with 37.f7! and should have won after 37...Kg7
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Game 8. The final game, played at the Marshall Chess Club, was a careful draw. "Najdorf was warmly congratulated upon the success of his uphill struggle. In the opinion of Dr Edward Lasker, who acted as the director of play, Najdorf justified his claim to a place in the forthcoming tournament of challengers for the world title." 2
1 Najdorf: Life and Games, by Adrian Mikhalchishin, Tomasz Lissowski and Miguel Najdorf, p. 33.
2 New York Times, January 27, 1949, p. 28.
3 Chess Review, March 1944, p. 10.
4 William Hartston in The Independent, April 1, 1993, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/p...
5 Chess Review, March 1944, pp. 5-6.
6 Chess Review, February 1949, p. 36: he had a private practice of psychoanalysis in New York at 72 Barrow Street, New York City.
7 Baruch Harold Wood in CHESS, November 1944, p. 19.
8 Quoted by Edward Winter, http://www.chesshistory.com/winter/...
9 Najdorf: Life and Games, by Adrian Mikhalchischin, Tomasz Lissowski and Miguel Najdorf, p. 27.
10 Chess Review, February 1949, p. 34.
11 100 Master Games of Modern Chess, by Tartakower and du Mont, p. 140.
12 Hans Kmoch – quoted in Chess Review, April 1949, p. 108.
Original collection: Game Collection: Fine - Najdorf by User: Chessical.