Endgame riddle: Tal vs Najdorf, Bled 1961

by Karsten Müller
4/3/2022 – A strong 20-player round-robin tournament took place in 1961 at the traditional chess city of Bled. Mikhail Tal won the event ahead of a young Bobby Fischer, who impressed with his undefeated performance. In the final round, Tal converted an endgame with rook and bishop against rook and knight in his game against Miguel Najdorf. But was the endgame winning all along? Or could have Najdorf held a draw? Help GM Karsten Müller find the answer to these questions!

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A jubilee celebration in Bled

Bobby Fischer, Mikhail TalThirty years after Alexander Alekhine dominated the 1931 Bled Tournament, obtaining an undefeated 20½/26 score against strong opposition, the then-Yugoslav city organized a jubilee celebration to commemorate the event. A 20-player single round-robin tournament took place from September 3 until October 3 at the traditional chess city.

About four months after losing the World Championship title to Mikhail Botvinnik, Mikhail Tal was among the participants. An 18-year-old Bobby Fischer also made his way to Bled, where, besides Tal, he joined the likes of Tigran Petrosian, Paul Keres, Svetozar Gligoric, Efim Geller and Miguel Najdorf.

In the end, Tal, aged 24 at the time, prevailed. The magician from Riga scored eleven wins and only lost to Fischer. The young American was the only player to finish undefeated, but his eight wins left him a full point behind the Soviet genius in the final standings table.

Going into the final round, Fischer was trailing Tal by a half point. The rising star from Chicago had the black pieces against Borislav Ivkov, while Tal faced a 51-year-old Najdorf. Fischer and Ivkov drew, as Tal got the better of Najdorf after converting an endgame with rook and bishop against rook and knight — which takes us to our riddle.

The duel bishop against knight can be very deep and fascinating. On an 8x8 board, both pieces are approximately of equal value, and who gets an edge depends on the circumstances. In this case, Tal’s bishop is superior. But the advantage is surprisingly difficult to convert.

Was the endgame winning all along? Or could have Najdorf held a draw?

 

Please share any analysis you come up with on the comments section. You may also like to use more powerful engines to assist you in your efforts. Fat Fritz, for instance, goes for some unconventional continuations and surprises. I will evaluate your submissions and discuss them with you.


Magical Chess Endgames Vol. 1 & 2 + The magic of chess tactics

In over 4 hours in front of the camera, Karsten Müller presents to you sensations from the world of endgames - partly reaching far beyond standard techniques and rules of thumb - and rounds off with some cases of with own examples.


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Karsten Müller is considered to be one of the greatest endgame experts in the world. His books on the endgame - among them "Fundamentals of Chess Endings", co-authored with Frank Lamprecht, that helped to improve Magnus Carlsen's endgame knowledge - and his endgame columns for the ChessCafe website and the ChessBase Magazine helped to establish and to confirm this reputation. Karsten's Fritztrainer DVDs on the endgame are bestsellers. The mathematician with a PhD lives in Hamburg, and for more than 25 years he has been scoring points for the Hamburger Schachklub (HSK) in the Bundesliga.

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