When I was young, fresh and foolish, as opposed to old, tired and cynical, I used to play the Sicilian Najdorf. In fact I seem to have played it almost right the way through my teenage years, something which surprised me when I looked it up in the course of writing this piece. I'm not sure I learned anything from those years playing the Najdorf other than I'd learned nothing from those years playing the Najdorf, so after I started playing chess again, a couple of years after university, I dropped it. But, during those teenage years, my problem was, as with any other Najdorf player, what to do against 6.Bg5, since of the many possible alternatives, none seemed to be quite secure.
I seem to have mostly played the Poisoned Pawn with 6...e6 7.f4 Qb6, although eventually I moved over to the old main line with 6...e6 7.f4 Be7. But I looked at more or less everything at one time or another. Including, although I never actually played it, the Polugaevsky Variation with 6...e6 7.f4 b5.
I was, almost certainly, first attracted to the line by the long discussion of its development that takes up more than a quarter of Lev Polugaevsky's book, Grandmaster Preparation, which was issued by Pergamon in an English translation (by Ken Neat) in 1981 and swiftly recognised as a classic. The work the author had put into its creation
Sometimes you see books that have been written in one month. I don't like that. You should take at least two years for a book, or not do it allwas evident, and in some ways mirrored by the twenty years, off and on, he had been prepared to put into the variation that took his name, trying always to keep alive a line too tactical in nature to be anything but fragile.
In his long chapter The Birth Of A Variation, Polugaevsky* went from its birth almost right up to the time of publication, to the point where two extra short sections had to be added just before the book came out, one, by Neat, giving these two games, and an addendum by Polugaevsky giving this one (as did Neat) as well as this one from the same match, and this one from later in the year.
Anyway, if I try and give too many of the games that are referred to in the book, I will never finish this piece and you will never read it, so onwards. Polugaevsky devotes most of his time to what he considered the "most critical" continuation, 8.e5 dxe5 9.fxe5 Qc7
after which there are two lines which most concern him, 10.exf6 and 10.Qe2. After the first of these, the game normally continues 10...Qe5+ 11.Be2 Qxg5 12.O-O (there are alternatives, of course, but we're skimming rather than swimming here) after which Black looked to be in a lot of trouble
until Polugaevsky came up with 12...Qe5!
which (after many games and much analysis) looked satisfactory for Black.
However, scarcely had that resource been discovered than Polugaevsky had to find a reply to 12.Qd3 instead
and although he found a response, it proved inadequate: the blow being sufficiently severe that he abandoned the variation (or, as he has it, The Variation) for more than a decade.
I won't go into the whys and wherefores, or what he discovered that brought him back to his variation, but rather observe that he was also discouraged for a long while by the other major line he discussed after 9...Qc7, which was 10.Qe2.
I mean why not keep more pieces on, if almost all of yours are developed and almost none of the opponent's? Play then usually went 10...Nfd7 11.O-O-O Bb7 12.Qg4 (though other ideas are given, notably 12.Qh5 and 12.Nxe6). Then Black's two ideas - both resulting in "colossal complications" - were 12...Qb6 and 12...Qxe5.
Never mind the colossal complications, one of those options always looked ludicrously dangerous to me, while the other looked to be another move by a piece already developed without the virtue of grabbing any material for it.
To be honest, I don't recall whether I ever seriously intended to play the Polugaevsky, and if so, whether I'd opted for 12...Qb6 (I am sure I was never in a million years going to take on e5) or for another line that Polugaevsky tried, in the 1979 Riga Interzonal. This involved, instead of 11...Bb7, Black playing 11...Nc6
which he did in his game against Grunfeld (given above, and analysed in the extra section added by Ken Neat).
Who knows? It never happened. I never played it, not even once. I took much of the Eighties off, as far as playing chess was concerned, and when I came back to the board at the end of the decade, although there was a new world champion who championed the Najdorf, he wasn't one to play the Polugaevsky. And, although I didn't really think about it at the time (I was on to safer, Scheveningen ground by then) I don't recall seeing any other leading players try their luck with 7...b5. Not then, not since and not right now.
So it's been more than twenty years since I had any real knowledge of contemporary Najdorf theory - thank God - give or take a brief reacquaintance with it during the Kasparov-Short match, though not the 6.Bg5 line (unless you count this).
Where did it all go, eh?
So, as far as I am concerned, it's as if I fell asleep when the Polugaevsky Variation was alive and thriving: then, when I woke up, having forgotten all about it, it was no longer there. And now I've remembered it, and I'm wondering what happened and where it went. Was it refuted? Did it go permanently out of fashion? Or is it, in fact, still being played quite happily by grandmasters even today, but as I'm neither a Najdorf player nor a reader of databases, I just don't know about it?
[* I've chosen to render the surname thus, rather than Polugayevsky, even though the latter variation is the one given in the book. Both have been used previously on this blog!]
[Polugaevsky photo: Perluka Farinn]