Review: Luis Engel "Najdorf: A dynamic grandmaster repertoire against 1. e4"

by Christian Hoethe
12/13/2023 – The Sicilian Najdorf is one of the most aggressive answers to 1.e4, and its theory develops dynamically - the young German grandmaster Luis Engel brings all aficionados up to date with his two-volume Fritztrainer course. Christian Höthe had a look at the course and is enthusiastic.

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The Sicilian Najdorf is often referred to as the "Rolls Royce" of chess openings, and it is clear why: the great Robert James "Bobby" Fischer played it with more virtuosity than almost anyone else. Soon after, Garry Kasparov took up the baton from his American idol and made the Sicilian his main opening too.

Najdorf: A dynamic grandmaster repertoire against 1.e4 Vol.1 & 2

In the first part of the video series, we will look at White’s four main moves: 6. Bg5, 6. Be3, 6. Be2 and 6. Bc4.

Both world champions made the Najdorf immensely popular with their spectacular successes, and soon amateur and club players as well as grandmasters were using it. I remember that one of my first chess books had a chapter entitled "Success with Black: The Sicilian Najdorf"! It was clear that the Najdorf Sicilian would quickly become my first great love on the 64 squares.

But what makes this opening so attractive?

First of all - and this is a very important advantage - the Sicilian hardly allows any early exchange variations and simplifications, as you might encounter in the French, the Caro Kann and the Alekhine Defence when White is content with a draw. It is precisely in these openings that the exchange variations, which used to be frowned upon as harmless, become increasingly uncomfortable or even difficult for Black, especially if you want to play for a win against nominally weaker opponents. This problem is practically non-existent in the Sicilian.

Secondly, the statistics speak a clear language: hardly any other opening is statistically as good for Black as 1. e4 c5! Many Sicilian lines score well, but the Najdorf can boast with really impressive statistics!

And last but not least: let's be honest - for Najdorf fans there's hardly anything cooler than seeing that seemingly magical and mysterious position after 5. ...a6! on the board and seeing which line White will choose!

The two new Fritz opening trainers "Najdorf: A dynamic grandmaster repertoire against 1. e4" by grandmaster Luis Engel make it much easier to build up an up-to-date and complete Najdorf repertoire!

Volume 1 deals with the sharpest plays in the Najdorf, such as the main variation with 6.Bg5, the more modern 6.Qe3, Fischer's favourite 6.Bc4 and the move 6.Be2, favoured by Geller and Karpov.

Volume 2 then looks in detail at the rarer variations such as 6.g3, 6.h3, 6.f4, which was once recommended by Nunn, the underrated 6.Bd3 occasionally played by Adams, 6.Rg1, 6.Bb3, 6.h4, 6. Nf3 and other rare variations.

It should be mentioned that in most of the lines Engel opts for the typical Najdorf move e7-e5, just as Fischer and Najdorf played it. This should be very well received by most Najdorf followers and future users, I think! This also applies for the total length of about 8 hours of pure "Najdorf run-time"!

After the Najdorf Fritztrainers by King, Bologan and Pelletier, I was particularly keen to see what Engel recommends against the still critical 6.Bg5. Previously, both the Poisoned Pawn Variation and the classic line with Be7 - each with the insertion of h7-h6 - had been recommended by Bologan and King respectively.

Engel takes the far more modern route, which continues with 6.Bg5 e6 7.f4 h6 (there it is again!) 8.Bh4 Nbd7!? and typically does not lead to the Classical or the Gelfand Variation.

The idea is rather to counter the usual move 9.Qf3 with e6-e5! A variation which is so modern that I could only find about 75 games with this central counter in my database. It is a variation that scores above average for Black and will probably force White to look for alternatives like 9.Bc4.

By the way, if Engel's recommendation 9.Bc4 b5!? doesn't quite appeal to you because of the slightly exposed king after 10.Bxe6 - Black is perfectly fine here too, as both Engel and the engines prove - you can follow the 1997 Solomon-Agdestein game with 9.Bc4 Qb6!? and improve it on move 14 or 15 with the help of the engine. The future Carlsen coach was in a perfectly acceptable position at this point and even had chances for more.

Engel has indeed done some exemplary analytical pioneering work here! The chances of surprising even die-hard 6th Bg5 players with this variation are quite high! Because I couldn't find it in Jarmula's "The Najdorf Bg5 revisited" 1 or 2 from 2021 either.

As usual, the course include a repertoire database, which allows users to save and integrate the lines into their own repertoire, as well as interactive exercises with video feedback on key positions, allowing the user to test their acquired knowledge.

Conclusion: I am deeply impressed by the analytical hard work that Grandmaster Engel has invested in these two Najdorf Fritz trainers! Engel has updated for you and your repertoire everything that has happened in the Najdorf Sicilian since the King, Bologan and Pelletier DVDs appeared. Engel also polished these new lines with engine tests to really make them shine!

By the way, if you are bothered by one of the numerous "Anti-Sicilians", we recommend the Fritztrainers "A Black Repertoire against the Anti-Sicilians" by GM Pert or "Power Play 21: A Repertoire for Black against the Anti-Sicilians" by GM King!

A Black Repertoire versus the Anti-Sicilians

In this video series Pert gives a strong and practical Black repertoire against the Anti-Sicilians such as the Bb5 Sicilian, the Grand Prix Attack, the Alapin and many more, from my years of experience playing the Sicilian.

Power Play 21: A repertoire for black against the Anti-Sicilians

Accept the Morra Gambit with confidence. Tame the Grand Prix Attack. Put fear into the heart of every tedious 2 c3 player. You can make 1...c5 a dangerous weapon whether it's an open or closed Sicilian.

Najdorf: A dynamic grandmaster repertoire against 1.e4 Vol.1 & 2

In the first part of the video series, we will look at White’s four main moves: 6. Bg5, 6. Be3, 6. Be2 and 6. Bc4.

Christian Hoethe was born in 1975, is father of two daughters and one son, lives in Brunswick, Germany, and learned chess relatively late, at the age of 13, from his father. At his peak he reached an Elo of 2247. He plays for the German club SC Wolfsburg where he also teaches once a month.