Eliot Hearst and John Knott blog about blindfold chess
Saturday, April 11, 2009

Najdorf’s Only Surviving 1947 Opponent?

After reading about Najdorf’s world-record blindfold simultaneous display against 45 players in our book, Luciano Nilo de Andrade wrote us that we had presented an accurate picture of the exhibition and the results. He knew, because in partnership with Alfredo Schair he had played and lost on Board 27 against Najdorf in that display. (Note by E. Hearst: The game is given on page 304 in our book, which contains all the games from that event.) Since Andrade may well be the only surviving opponent of Najdorf’s from 62 years ago, we asked him to record some of his recollections of the exhibition. Now living in Rio de Janeiro, he complied. Here is what he had to say (in English, somewhat edited by E. Hearst):

The Venue: The exhibition took place in the new Galleria Prestes Maia, opened just two years before. It was summertime (January 24, 1947). Sixty years ago the use of air conditioning was not common. Fortunately the city of São Paulo is 750 meters above sea level. This helped minimize the temperature in the room. Nevertheless, after hours of play Najdorf needed to leave the place, to take a shower and change clothes, because his shirt was wet from perspiration. The hotel he was staying at was nearby and he walked there and rested his eyes for awhile.

“The Galeria is located in the center of the city, is spacious and properly furnished for the occasion. There, before and after the Najdorf display, the place has been used for different types of exhibitions, such as the Wax Museum of Madame Tussaud (Paris), Expositions of Art, etc.

The Simultaneous: Before the exhibition began there were the usual introductions by municipal authorities and representatives of the Brazilian Chess Confederation and São Paulo Chess Federation. Then the regulations for the event were loudly read. I will mention two strikingly unusual details for this kind of event. They are the result of Najdorf’s generous personality and behavior that made him admired, famous, and self-confident.

“First, on each board of the 45 boards, five players could share in the conduct of the game. Each one could leave the playing area as he or she pleased, with the agreement of his partners, to answer a call of nature, rest, or go home — so long as one player remained. Just for the record I do not believe that more than three players partnered on any board. I think that five players are too many to reach a clear decision about what is the best move in a position.

“My board was the 27th and we were two, I and Alfredo Schair. At that time we were studying at the Brazilian Air Force School, Escola Técnica de Aviação, in São Paulo. This school was associated with the John Paul Riddle School of Aviation in Miami, Florida. Its original purpose was to train the Brazilian Air Force in the use of engines, hydraulic systems, radio transmitters/ receptors, electronic instruments, etc., in order to fight the fascists in Italy. Brazil sent thousands of soldiers and a squadron of pilots to fly Thunderbolt airplanes in the Italian battle field. This expedition of the Brazilian military fought bravely and victoriously from the South to the North of Italy, under the command of the distinguished North American general, Mark Clark of the U.S.A.

“After leaving the school I never saw Alfredo Schair again. I was sent to an Air Force Base in Salvador, Bahia.

“Second, after a player had made a move in front of the teller, he or she could take back the move at any time before Najdorf announced his own move to the teller. This is fantastic! It indeed happened in what was the most interesting episode in the exhibition. I trust my memory even though 62 years have elapsed.

“When at a certain point the teller, GM Eliskases, approached Board 13, where Mrs.Otilia Frihe, the ex-women’s champion of Austria, was handling the game by herself , she played a move that was announced to Najdorf. A silence ensued during the seconds before Najdorf was to call out his reply to Frihe’s move. During that time Eliskases (also a former Austrian) said: ‘The player wants to take back the move and replace it with move X.’ After a time Najdorf said, typically jokingly, ‘Eliskases, you are whispering to your fellow countrywoman! The first move is better than the second. She can choose whichever of the two moves she wants.’ A contagious laughter filled the room. And the game continued. (Note by E. Hearst: It is on page 300 in our book and resulted in a draw.) The humor of Najdorf was revealed in this exchange and is characteristic of his personality. Eliskases remained very polite. The loudspeakers were well positioned in the playing room and in the separate room where Najdorf was sitting, hearing his opponents’ moves and calling out his own via microphones.

“I remember that on some boards Najdorf announced mate in 3, 4, 5, or 6 moves. Several times he allowed newspaper reporters to interrupt his play and then he would say where the pieces were located in any particular game or he would announce all the moves in a game up to that point, in exactly the right order.

“Other memories: Admission to the event was free. I remember that during the display I heard a man speaking in a loud and disorderly voice, saying ‘I don’t believe it. It is spiritualism, macumba, magic.’ He shouted this in front of the separate room where Najdorf was seated. The intruder opened the door and saw Najdorf sitting in front of a small covered table containing a glass of water and a jar. Nearby were an electric refrigerator and a few minor pieces of furniture. From where I was seated I could not see the man. The organizers of the event quickly removed him from the premises and everything was quiet again. Very few photos of that incident or of the entire event were permitted because of the blinding effect of flashbulbs in those days. Today many people always carry a camera but not then.

“Fortunately I am still alive, approaching my 85th birthday in August, and quite well. I can testify that I played on Board 27 of the total of 45 boards.”

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