Sicilian Najdorf Polugaevsky Variation

I decided to test out a fun opening in the Sicilian Najdorf to come up with some main ideas. The sideline is called the Polugaevsky variation.

I played a best of 5 with my friend Andres who is a 2150 USCF and has played this line before.

Going into these games, I had only had two games where my opponent accepted my sacrifice. So I was going in blind. [spoiler alert] I was lucky to win the first game but got smoked the next three.

I also have two Polugaevsky games by great players, Peter Leko and Hikaru Nakamura, at the end of this article.

Before looking at the games, let’s look at how the Polugaevsky starts.

How Does the Najdorf Polugaevsky Variation Start

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Bg5 e6 7. f4 b5

Najdorf-Polugaevsky

B96 Sicilian Defense: Najdorf Variation, Polugaevsky Variation

7…b5 signifies the Polugaevsky variation.

The point of 7. f4 was to put pressure on the e5 square and immediately threaten 8. e5.

This is one of the main lines of the Sicilian Najdorf. What black usually does is:

  • Begins the Poisoned Pawn variation with Qb6
  • Blocks the pin with Be7
  • Prevents e5 with Nbd7 (also allowing the queen to move without doubling the pawns if the bishop on g5 takes the knight.

All of these ideas are ignored with the Polugaevsky, which begins right away to go with the eventual plan of Bb7 taking control of the long diagonal.

That begs the question, is black giving up a piece with b5?

There is a sharp tactical line after:

8. e5 dxe5 9. fxe5 Qc7 10. exf6 Qe5+ 11. Be2

The queen has managed to take back the bishop on g5 and activate the queen.

What black gives up in this variation is development, but it turns into a super sharp line that’s very fun to play.

Here are a few games where I learned the main ideas of both sides.

Games Played with Angres (Dres)

For all of these games, we each agreed to play the same line as white and as black, up to move 8, where we wanted to see where things took a turn.

Each of these games were played with 5 minutes and no increment so plenty of these decisions had to come quick.

Game 1: Dres v Ragnarok

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Bg5 e6 7. f4 b5

how-Najdorf-Polugaevsky-starts

Black is welcoming e5, which white is threatening after f4. b5 is a move that black often will play anyway because of the pawn on e6 blocks the light squared bishop.

The point is that black will recapture the pawn on e5 with the d pawn, then Qe6, winning back the bishop.

8. e5 dxe5 9. fxe5 Qc7 10. exf6 Qe5+ 11. Be2

how-Najdorf-Polugaevsky-starts

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White is clearly ahead in development, but black is not without compensation. The bishops have activity on the open diagonal, and the knight will soon be pinned after Bc5.

At least, that was my first idea.

11… Qxg5 12. O-O Bc5?

Najdorf-Polugaevsky-game-1

My first mistake when practicing. Ra7 was best.The bishop will do well on this diagonal, but first the rook needs to come into play via a7-d7. However, I don’t know why until after I play this game.

12… Ra7 13. Qd3 is best

13. Qd3??

My opponent may have thought I’d play the book move, Ra7, which is why this blunder occurred.

13… Bb7

Najdorf-Polugaevsky-game-1-bc5

Seizing the open diagonals with a lot of pressure. My goal is to threaten checkmate and keep pressure.

14. Ne4 Bxe4??

Najdorf-Polugaevsky-game-1-bc5

Definitely a blunder and now I’m behind. Best was to play Qd5 and put two attackers on the pinned knight on d4. The knight on e4 is also pinned because of the threat of checkmate on g2.

Now that my rook is under attack, I decide to trade queens to keep the game relatively even. I didn’t think my rook belonged on a7. This turns out to have been the right decision.

Najdorf-Polugaevsky-game-1-bishop-diagonal

The next series of moves center around the pinned knight on d4 and how I try to put more pressure on it. White doesn’t have time to move the king to h1 just yet.

15. Qxe4 Qd5 16. Qxd5 exd5 17. Rad1 Nc6 18. c3?!

The rest of the game is not instructional for the opening, but shows the ideas that can occur. I was able to win the game with a tactical maneuver.

18… O-O 19. fxg7 Kxg7

Najdorf-Polugaevsky-game-1-blunder

Black has a weak central pawn on d5, but the pressure on the pinned knight will give black activity with the knight.

Here is the game if you’d like to see the rest. This was the only game I won in a best of four.

Game 2 Ragnarok v Dres

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Bg5 e6 7. f4 b5

8. e5 dxe5 9. fxe5 Qc7 10. exf6 Qe5+ 11. Be2 Qxg5 12. O-O Ra7

Najdorf-Polugaevsky-game-2-ra7

The main idea for black is gain activity for the rook by pinning the knight to the queen.

Sure, black continues to delay development, but there is no good place for the minor pieces to develop yet.

This game shows how quickly the rook becomes an issue for white if not taken care of. }

13. Bf3

Already not realizing what’s happening. 13. Qd3 was best as mentioned in the previous game.

13… Rd7 14. Qd3

Najdorf-Polugaevsky-game-2-blunder

Attempting to get both rooks on the d and e files. However, this fails terribly by the next move.

14… Rxd4 15. Qxd4 Bc5

Najdorf-Polugaevsky-game-2-queen-is-pinned

Other Ideas I could Have Tried Instead

(14. Rf2 e5

Najdorf-Polugaevsky-pinning-the-knight

Pushing the pawn is preemptive as white doesn’t lose a piece like it originally looks,

15. Bd5 exd4 16. Qxd4 Bb7 17. Re1+)

Najdorf-Polugaevsky

If black takes the knight, then white is actually way ahead.  The king is very exposed and check with Qb6 is coming if black doesn’t immediately give up a piece.

If black decides not the push the pawn and instead brings the queen back to e5, the position is more solid.  Black should just develop

(14… Qe5 15. Nce2 gxf6 16. c3 16… Bh6)

Najdorf-Polugaevsky-game-2-black-is-fine

Here’s the full game

Game 3 Dres v Ragnarok

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Bg5 e6 7. f4 b5

8. e5 dxe5 9. fxe5 Qc7 10. exf6 Qe5+ 11. Be2 Qxg5 12. O-O Ra7 13. Qd3 Rd7 14. Ne4 Qd5

Najdorf-Polugaevsky-game-3-qd5

The best idea is to play Qe5 and keep the pin on the queen. White needs to respond by protecting the knight

15. Rad1 Bb7 16. Bf3 (16. Qg3 Bc5) 16… Qxd4+ 17. Qxd4 Rxd4 18. Rxd4

Najdorf-Polugaevsky-game-3-centralized-rook

The idea was to pin the rook and get the piece back, but I missed that the rook can take the bishop on e4 right away and sidestep the pin.

Bxe4 19. Rxe4 gxf6 20. Bh5 Bc5+ 21. Kh1 Ke7 22. a4 b4 23. Rc4 Nd7 24. Rd1 Bd6 25. Rcd4

Najdorf-Polugaevsky-game-3-black-loses-a-piece

There’s nothing left to do and another piece will fall

Black resigns.

1-0

Here’s the full game

Game 4 Dres v Ragnarok

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Bg5 e6 7. f4 b5
8. e5 dxe5 9. fxe5 Qc7 10. exf6 Qe5+ 11. Be2 Qxg5 12. O-O Bc5

Najdorf-Polugaevsky-game-4-bc5

Showing how sharp the game is. The engine already puts this game at +2.3 for white. Black needs to play the Ra7-d7 idea to maintain equality.

13. Kh1 Bb7

Najdorf-Polugaevsky-game-4-bb7

Looks good in my book. Bishops dominating the long diagonals. But white is +7.8 right now.

14. Bf3 Bxf3 15. Qxf3 Ra7 16. Ne4 Qe5 17. fxg7 Qxg7

Najdorf-Polugaevsky-game-4-qxg7

+10 for white. Find the winning solution. Black’s pieces are just uncoordinated.

18. Nxe6 fxe6 19. Qh5+

Najdorf-Polugaevsky-game-4-white-is-lost

Black resigns.
1-0

19… Kd8 20. Qxc5

White’s king is so exposed that the game is virtually over.

Here’s the full game

Wang, Hao (2739) – Nakamura, Hikaru (2778) Ra7 Idea

Let’s look at some Grandmaster level games and see what they do in this type of situation.

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Bg5 e6 7. f4 b5

8. e5 dxe5 9. fxe5 Qc7 10. exf6 Qe5+ 11. Be2 Qxg5 12. O-O Ra7 13. Qd3 Rd7 14. Ne4 Qe5

Najdorf-Polugaevsky-hao-vs-nakamura

Black is trying to put pressure on the knight. White will respond with c3 if nothing is done. White opts in this game to counterattack the queen with Nf3.

15. Nf3

15… Qc7 16. Qe3

Najdorf-Polugaevsky-hao-vs-nakamura

Both queens getting out of the way of the attack.

16… Bb7 17. Nfg5 h6 18. Qh3

Najdorf-Polugaevsky-hao-vs-nakamura

18… g6

g6 helps keep the f6 pawn fixed and maintains the structure of black’s pawns. The white pawn can be hard to maintain in an end game if pieces are traded off.

19. Bd3 Nc6 20. Kh1

20. Nxf7 Rxf7 21. Qxe6+ Kd8 22. Rad1

Najdorf-Polugaevsky-hao-vs-nakamura

Getting two pawns for the piece and more activity is a possibility.

The rest of the game is not relevant to this article, but I have it below if you’d like to continue to see how it ends.

Here’s the full game

Leko, Peter (2739) – Ghaem Maghami, Ehsan (2513)

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Bg5 e6 7. f4 b5

8. e5 dxe5 9. fxe5 Qc7 10. exf6 Qe5+ 11. Be2 Qxg5 12. O-O Ra7 13. Qd3 Rd7 14. Ne4 Qe5 15. Nf3 Qxb2

Najdorf-Polugaevsky-leko-vs-maghami

Taking the pawn this time. White gains a small advantage. In general, when you’re behind in development, you should recoordinate your forces.

16. Qe3 Bb7 17. a4 b4

Najdorf-Polugaevsky-leko-vs-maghami

Qf4, keeping the pressure on the black pieces makes the most sense as a continuation. The dark squared bishop struggles to move after b4. This leaves the black king in the center which would be terrible for black.

White opts to attack the queen instead

18. Rab1 18… Qxc2 19. Nfg5 Qc7 20. Rxb4 Bxe4

Najdorf-Polugaevsky-leko-vs-maghami

21. Nxe4 Bxb4 22. fxg7 Rg8 23. Nf6+

Najdorf-Polugaevsky-leko-vs-maghami

There are a lot of weaknesses in black’s camp if the pawn is not dealt with efficiently.

23… Kd8 24. Nxg8 Bc5

Najdorf-Polugaevsky-leko-vs-maghami

Even the loss of a queen is not the biggest threat as the white pawn has reached the 7th and cannot be stopped.

25. Nf6 Bxe3+ 26. Kh1 Kc8

Black has to stop the threats of checkmate after g8=Q# that is incoming so the rook cannot be saved.

Najdorf-Polugaevsky-leko-vs-maghami

Black resigns.

1-0

Here’s the full game

I hope you enjoyed this article. This is a fun opening to try out if you’re having trouble playing against white with the Sicilian Najdorf, or if you just want something in your arsenal to catch your opponent off guard.