This is my third and final Cracked Grandmaster Tales article. Click the links if you haven’t seen Cracked Grandmaster Tales and More Cracked Grandmaster Tales.
We’ll start with Najdorf again since some people felt that he wouldn’t resort to the gremlin-like antics I wrote about (as seen in More Cracked Grandmaster Tales). The fact is he did such things all the time. If anyone else acted that way, the opponent would go berserk with rage. But when Najdorf did it the “victim” just rolled his eyes, perhaps raved for a moment to let off steam, and then all would be well. He was a once-in-a-lifetime personality and the people around him took this stuff in stride.
Here are two quotes (by Pal Benko) from Benko’s and Silman’s PAL BENKO, MY LIFE, GAMES, AND COMPOSITIONS (John Watson added an opening survey to the book).
Pal Benko: “Once, Najdorf asked an opponent if he was playing for a win. The guy said, ‘No, I’m not. Would you like a draw?’ When Najdorf refused, his opponent became very irate and wanted to now why he asked if he was playing for a win in the first place. Najdorf said, ‘I was just wondering.’”
Pal Benko: “It must be understood that Najdorf was an incredibly nice guy, but he would use every trick in the book to win. During our third game, we adjourned in a position where I was up a pawn in a rook endgame. I didn’t have a chance to analyze the position, and was thinking about a move when we resumed on the next day. Suddenly he looked at me, his face showing pain and some outrage at the same time, and he said, ‘How can you do this to an old man like me? How can you play this out? I analyzed all night and it’s a dead draw! A dead draw! I guarantee it. In fact, I’ll bet you a thousand dollars it’s a draw! A thousand dollars!’ I ignored him and tried to think but he wouldn’t shut up, he just kept gibbering on and on. Finally I just gave him the draw, anything to get some quiet. Then I went upstairs to my room and looked at the position. Instantly I saw that it was easily winning for me – he had been lying through his teeth. So I rushed downstairs and confronted him. ‘Why did you lie to me like that? What in the hell is wrong with you? Why didn’t you let me think?’ He just smiled, put his arm around me and said, ‘Don’t worry about it. Come on, I’ll take you out to a nice nightclub!’ How can you stay mad at a guy like that?”