Mar Del Plata

  • GM BryanSmith
  • | Jun 28, 2012

The city of Mar Del Plata is located on the coast of the Atlantic – its name means “Sea of Silver”. It is one of Argentina’s biggest fishing ports.

One alluring thing about chess, for those just beginning, is the names of the openings. Far away places, long-dead people – most openings have some sort of creative or evocative name. I remember when I first moved out of Alaska, going to my first big tournaments in 1999 and taking the Greyhound bus, I saw listings for buses going to Cambridge Springs, Pennyslvania – known to me from the Cambridge Springs variation of the Queen’s Gambit.

Mar Del Plata has a population of over 600,000 people, skyscrapers, and a large tourist industry; so it is not really the sleepy fishing village you might imagine. It has been the site of many strong tournaments, including one held in 1953 where a game took place between Miguel Najdorf and Svetozar Gligoric in what became one of the most critical lines of the King’s Indian Defense. Sixty years later, it is still a huge battleground and still as mysterious as ever.

Later this unbelievably sharp variation became called the “Mar Del Plata” variation. To this day, many consider it the iconic King’s Indian Variation. Black induces white to close the center, and the battle lines are drawn.


As you can see, both sides have pawn chains. White’s points toward the queenside – which means he will generally play there, while Black’s points to the kingside, where he will look for his play. Black almost always prepares …f5 in the next few moves, since he has no other reasonable plan. Piece play will not achieve anything in this closed position, and playing on the queenside, where White has more space, usually only does harm. In response to Black’s …f5 plan White can either prepare to meet it by a possible later Ng5 move (9.b4, 9.Bd2) or he can shift his knight to the queenside while preparing to meet …f5 with f2-f3 (9.Ne1, Nd2). In the first case, the play tends to take place more over the entire board, while in the second both sides have a huge advantage on “their” side of the board, and the game can almost become a race, at least for some time. Let’s look at some of the themes.

The g3 square

After Black plays …f5, he often continues his attack by playing …f4 and beginning a pawn storm. Typically the g3 square becomes very important. A breakthrough by the move …g3 is the key. Black often plays it as a pawn sacrifice, to open lines on the kingside – this happened in one of the earliest Mar Del Plata games, a revolutionary game which changed the reputation of the variation. After the Mar Del Plata tournament, this line was considered dubious for Black, but Najdorf showed the way:

Often the g3 square becomes home to a very dangerous piece (knight or bishop) as in the following game, which ended with a beautiful queen sacrifice:

The b6 square

Symmetrically, White’s key square is often the b6 square. If White manages the b5-b6 push, he undermines the base of Black’s pawn chain, which can lead to the collapse of the black position.

In many cases, the b6 square becomes White’s invasion point, with a knight, bishop, or queen entering on that square. The following game is particularly instructive:

White’s g2-g4 push

As a measure to slow Black down on the kingside, White often resorts to playing the move g2-g4. Although it “breaks the rules” to play on the side where you are defending, sometimes the rules are meant to be broken:

Black’s light-squared bishop

Normally you would imagine that the crucial piece for Black in the King’s Indian is the famous dark-squared bishop. That might be true in some other variations, but not in the Mar Del Plata! In this particular structure, Black’s light-squared bishop is golden. It is crucial for enabling the important …g5-g4 pawn push, and often for sacrificing on h3.

It is worth noting that Black’s play, up to a certain point, is based around the dark squares. He places his pawns on dark squares and brings his pieces up on the dark squares. But for the final breakthrough he has to conquer the light ones – h3 and g2.

If White can manage to trade this bishop off, he can often stop the black attack cold. Sometimes even an exchange is sacrificed for that bishop.

The f-file

Not always does the standard pawn storm with …f4, …g5-g4, etc make sense for Black. In lines where White keeps a little more flexibility in his position, Black often cannot afford to release the tension on e4. In this case, he sometimes pursues his attack  in a different way – by playing …f5xe4, opening the f-file. Often this involves the move …Bh3 (taking control of f1) as well as knight invasions like …Ng4 or …Nf4, building storm clouds around the white king.

Play on both flanks

While the Mar Del Plata can turn into a race, it is important that it is not always that way. Usually when White is successful, his queenside invasion turns into a turning movement, eventually leading to an attack on the kingside. Or, Black may get desperate in his attack, creating weaknesses and allowing White to take the initiative on the kingside, as in the following famous game:

And while there are thousands of examples where Black’s attack reached immediate success early in the game, typically if the players play with similar strengths the black attack will not lead to an immediate mate, but rather complications will proliferate as the game goes on, the game will open up and play will leave the straightforward “Black – kingside; White – queenside” paths. When Black is successful, often it is due to the long-term weakness of the white king in complications, later in the game.

One of the major factors in the Mar Del Plata variation’s richness is its resistance to computer analysis. Computers simply have problems with this line. A player can be completely lost (typically, White) but the decisive attack is not within the computer’s horizon, so it will often evaluate the position as won for White. An experienced human player may know otherwise. While computers can be amazing in many positions, especially when the pieces are in direct conflict, I would warn that you often cannot trust them in the Mar Del Plata.

While there are ways to play the King’s Indian without entering the Mar Del Plata, most King’s Indian players have played it at some point in their careers. It is certainly not for careful players. While it is the most principled way to play against the classical variation (5.Nf3 and 6.Be2), it is also hazardous for Black to try to “force” the game from the beginning. Nevertheless, Black is certainly not the only one facing risks in this variation.


  • 2 years ago


  • 4 years ago


    Un artículo genial realmente! Espectacular para los amantes de la India de Rey. Muchísimas garcias desde Argentina!

  • 4 years ago


    In the very first game between Taimanov and Najdorf, isn't it mate on move 36 if 36...Qxg2 istead of Qh4?

  • 4 years ago


    Very interesting reading, articulate and detailed. 

    On the other hand, I wish to believe that the author made an undeliberate mistake , so here is the explanation.

     It was GM Svetozar Gligoric who is to `blame` for the Mar Del Plata variation, and not GM Miguel Najdorf.

    GM Gligoric won several games during that competition , introducing the very line we read about here. 

    Of course, it was Aronin - Taimanov game in 1952 , where it appeared for the first time. That is why this variation was called Aronin - Taimanov in the USSR. The participants of the Mar Del Plata 1953 were not aware of it since the information travelled pretty slow in those days. In 1953. Mar Del Plata Tournament GM Gligoric found the correct line for black, winning a few games, so the variation became known as the Mar Del Plata all over the world.

  • 4 years ago


    Inspired.  You are the man.  The chess man.  Awesome article.

  • 4 years ago


    Nice article, Bryan.  Thanks for putting in all that effort for us!

    I've written my share of articles about the same line.  An excerpt from the first article:

    If you are going to play the King's Indian Defense as Black, you have to have the mindset of being committed to your kingside attack.  Halfway attacking gestures, unnecessary defensive moves on the queenside, and fearful moves just don't cut it.  You're either going to attack and play for mate or you're not.  If you don't like attacking, play the Queen's Gambit.  The main idea you have to keep in mind is this:  "If his queenside attack works, he wins material.  If my kingside attack works, I checkmate him."  That thought will give you courage as your queenside gets decimated.  Think of his captures of your material as a good thing, that is, he is spending time over there and giving your attack more time to develop over here.  Time is the important thing, not a rook on a8 that is contributing nothing to the attack.

    ttp:// (Games 2 & 3) (Game 5)


  • 4 years ago


    great article.

  • 4 years ago


    Excellent article! This one must have taken some time preparing.

  • 4 years ago


    The move 7...Nc6 was first played in the game Taimanov-Bronstein from the 20. Soviet championship, 1952. Taimanov won that game, and the move stayed unnoticed.

    Then, at the Mar del Plata tournament 1953, it was tryed in game Naidorf-Gligoric(12th round), Eliskases-Gligoric and Naidorf-Trifunovic(16th round). Mar del Plata tournament was held March 15 to April 7. It is therefore obvious that in his game with Taimanov Naidorf simply used experience from his game against Gligoric. Also, it is not Naidorf but Gligoric  who "invented" this plan and the later should be credited as a "genius". Here are abovementioned games.

  • 4 years ago


    a very long article its going to be tough to read :) lol

  • 4 years ago

    FM VPA

    A wonderful article enlightening our minds & widening our mental horizonKiss

  • 4 years ago


    As someone who is trying to slowly pick up the KID, this article was exactly what I have been searching for. If only more opening books were written in this manner--highlighting key themes and ideas with illustrative games and well-written prose!

  • 4 years ago


    Thanks for the nice article :) I lived there all mi childhood and use to spend half of my time there now. It has grown a little bit up to 800.000 people and now it sustains a mild internal economy, besides that of the seaport and turist (turism beign greater than the other). It is really one of the best places I've ever been in the winters. It get's really calm and beautifull!

  • 4 years ago


    great article.

  • 4 years ago


    In october we have a great continental tournament !!

  • 4 years ago


    Really, a fantastic discussion of the opening.  Anyone reading this article carefully will be well prepared for the serious study of the subtleties.  Thank you.

  • 4 years ago


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