Lev Abramovich Polugaevsky () (20 November 1934 30 August 1995) was an International Grandmaster of chess and frequent contender for the world chess championship, although he never achieved that title. He was one of the strongest players in the world from the late 1960s until the early 1980s, as well as a distinguished author and opening theorist whose contributions in this field remain important to the present day.
Lev Polugaevsky was born in Mogilev in the Soviet Union (now Mahilyow, Belarus). Unlike many of his grandmaster colleagues, his development in chess came slowly, and he did not receive even the Soviet master title until he was an adult. His progress then accelerated rapidly, however, and by the late 1960s he was one of the world's strongest players, as was recognized by his participation in the famous "USSR vs. Rest of the World" match of 1970. In this match he occupied fourth board, losing one game to Vlastimil Hort and drawing his other three. Polugaevsky won at Mar del Plata in 1962 and 1971. He won or tied in the USSR Chess Championship three times. He played regularly in qualifying events to select a challenger for the world championship, qualifying for Candidates matches on four occasions. His greatest advancement toward the title came during the 1977 and 1980 cycles, when he defeated Henrique Mecking and former world champion Mikhail Tal, respectively, in quarterfinal Candidates matches, before succumbing both times in the semifinals to the eventual challenger, Viktor Korchnoi.
Polugaevsky was a noted theorist whose work on a number of openings has stood the test of time. He is best remembered for a variation of the Sicilian Defense that bears his name: 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Bg5 e6 7. f4 b5!? This "Polugaevsky Variation" of the Najdorf Sicilian leads to extraordinarily complicated tactical play on which the last word has still not been said, although theory seems to give White the upper hand.
In addition to his over-the-board and theoretical successes, Polugaevsky was a highly respected chess author. His book Grandmaster Preparation (now out of print) is a classic that contains notable insights into his own thinking as he crafted the variation in the Sicilian that bears his name. He went about his writing with the same meticulous care as characterized his analyses, and was contemptuous of the many less thorough authors who sought to profit from the post-Fischer chess boom with shoddy work, memorably writing, "Ninety per cent of all chess books you can open at page one and then immediately close again for ever. 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 all."
This game from the 1969 Soviet championship against Tal would seem at first glance to be an example of Polugaevsky beating "The Magician of Riga" at his own sacrificial game. More subtly, however, it also reveals the depth of his opening knowledge and preparation. Polugaevsky had worked with Boris Spassky as the latter was preparing for his successful 1969 world championship match with Tigran Petrosian, and the two had made a searching analysis of the opening used in this game. Polugaevsky remarked later that the position as late as move 25 had appeared on the board during his analysis the morning of the game.
Polugaevsky-Tal, Queen's Gambit Declined:
1. c4 Nf6 2. Nc3 e6 3. Nf3 d5 4. d4 c5 5. cxd5 Nxd5 6. e4 Nxc3 7. bxc3 cxd4 8. cxd4 Bb4+ 9. Bd2 Bxd2+ 10. Qxd2 O-O 11. Bc4 Nc6 12. O-O b6 13. Rad1 Bb7 14. Rfe1 Na5 15. Bd3 Rc8 16. d5 exd5 17. e5 Nc4 18. Qf4 Nb2 19. Bxh7+ Kxh7 20. Ng5+ Kg6 21. h4 Rc4 22. h5+ Kh6 23. Nxf7+ Kh7 24. Qf5+ Kg8 25. e6 Qf6 26. Qxf6 gxf6 27. Rd2 Rc6 28. Rxb2 Re8 29. Nh6+ Kh7 30. Nf5 Rexe6 31. Rxe6 Rxe6 32. Rc2 Rc6 33. Re2 Bc8 34. Re7+ Kh8 35. Nh4 f5 36. Ng6+ Kg8 37. Rxa7 1-0.
To celebrate Polugaevsky's 60th birthday a Sicilian Defense themed tournament was held in recognition of his contributions to the opening. The event was funded by Luis Rentero and took place in Buenos Aires in October 1994. Sadly, Polugaevsky was too ill to participate. He died of a brain tumour in 1995.
Books by Polugaevsky
- Queen's Gambit: Orthodox Defence
Grandmaster Preparation, ISBN 0-08-024098-4
Grandmaster Performance, ISBN 0-08-029749-8
- Grandmaster Achievement
- Art of Defence in Chess
- The Sicilian Labyrinth
Sicilian Love Lev Polugaevsky Chess Tournament 1994 (Buenos Aires), with Jeroen Piket, the New in Chess Editorial team, 1995, 240 p., ISBN 90-71689-99-9
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