The Polugaevsky Variation

90% of chess books you can open, read page 1, and close the book for ever.” – Polugaevsky

In August, 2015 it will be 20 years since Lev Abramovich Polugaevsky departed this Checkerboard of Nights and Days. I’m currently reading  Grandmaster Preparation (Pergammon Press, 1981, ISBN 0-08-024099-2 hardcover 0-08-024098-4 paperback), Kenneth P. Neat’s English translation of Polu’s Rozhdenie Varianta (“Birth of a Variation”).

The variation the birth of which is subject of the book is the Polugaevsky Variation of the Najdorf Sicilian, 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Bg5 e6 7. f4 b5 where Black ignores the threat of 8. e5 and counts on recovering the value of his knight by 8 … dxe5 9. fxe5 Qc7 10. exf6 Qe5+ .

“The Variation”, as the author calls it, was Polugaevsky’s pride and joy, or his problem child, or both. A mercurial character, Polugaevsky, by his own impassioned testimony, was alternately elevated to the heavens or cast down to Tartarus by the ebb and flow of the theory of his variation as it played out over the 35 years from the time he began his career-long analysis until his passing.

The purely practical value of an “old chess book” like this is that one is introduced to all the nuances and divergences as seen at the time a variation is young, not omitting lines which might be dismissed in a more modern book without explanation.

The more esoteric value of this book, written by one of the finest analysts of the soviet era of chess, is the peek into the process, the vicarious gaze into the abysmal depths of combinatorial complexity at the cusp of opening and midgame.

The Variation has done gone on, for the most part, currently regarded as dangerous for Black, much as the King’s Gambit has been for decades at a time viewed as dangerous for White. Again like the King’s Gambit, there is no conclusive proof of The Variation’s unsoundness. It is still occasionally played, a good deal of its rareness in practice attributable to the popularity of 6. Be3.  A few years ago, Tibor Karolyi did some modern computer-aided analysis of the Polugaevsky Variation for New In Chess.

Here’s the first grandmaster occurrence of 11. Be2 in the Polugaevsky Variation.

“Chess is my love. I owe it the happiest moments of my life. It steeled me and shaped my character”. – Polugaevsky

Jacques Delaguerre