12/03/2008 20:27     

Akiba Kivelovic Rubinstein (1882-1961)


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Akiba Rubinstein was born on December 12, 1882 in Stawisk, Poland. Just a few weeks before his birth, his father had died leaving his wife in poverty with twelve children. His grand parents decided to look after the young Akiba and then tried to shape his future as a teacher of the Talmud and a student of Hebrew, as his father and other forebears had been. Consequently his initial education was to be undertaken in Jewish community schools and then in a higher academy of religious instruction.

During the time he spent in the academy, he was introduced to and became fascinated in chess and this became an over-whelming passion of his life, much to his motherís and grand parentís chagrin. A religious career was forgotten and the world was to see and marvel at a player of great talent.

Unfortunately Akiba had a nervous disorder known as anthropophobia being a fear of people and society. This proved to be an extremely difficult disability and he suffered with the problems all his life.

When aged nineteen, Rubinstein discovered that George Salwe Ė a champion who had played against the greatest of the day Ė lived in nearby Lodz. He did not hesitate, and moving to Lodz he eked out a living whilst playing against some of the strongest chess players in Poland. Eventually he had the temerity to challenge Salwe himself. They played a match which finished in deadlock at 5:5. A second deciding match was played that Akiba won by 5:3. Rubinstein had become the champion of Poland and as an acknowledged master, he now received invitations to international tournaments.

The first of these was at Kiev where he finished in fifth place. In 1905 he gained further international recognition by sharing third place with Duras at a Hauptturnier in Bremen.

This heralded the start of a magnificent trail to reach a group of the strongest players in the world. In 1905 he took part in a tournament at Ostende and finished 3rd ahead of Bernstein, Teichman, Marshall and Janowski behind Schlechter and Maroczy. The following year he once more played in Ostende and this time shared first place well ahead of 28 players. Later in the same year he won the Karlsbad tournament outright and followed this in 1909 by sharing first place with Lasker at St. Petersburg. In their individual encounter, Rubinstein put Lasker to the sword (see the games following) and it was probably this game that made Lasker very wary of playing a world championship match against Rubinstein. Although Rubinstein seemed to be the natural contender for the championship, Lasker played Shlechter and just succeeded in drawing the match.

Rubinstein had yet to reach his purple patch which occurred in 1912 during which in twelve months he won first prizes at San Sebastian, Pistyan, Breslau, Warsaw and Vilna. A truly amazing performance.

Following a relative disappointment at St. Petersburg 1914, when he did not reach the finals, the First World War broke out, and this was to mark an extreme change in both the health and results of Rubinstein. He never fully recovered the form he had enjoyed prior to the war, but he did achieve reasonable performances for the next fifteen years. He became increasingly reclusive and his health deteriorated even more harshly.

After 1932 he never appeared again in a tournament and probably because of his infirmity he was left alone by the Nazis in the Second World War. Although he spent considerable time in a sanatorium, he died in the midst of his family in Belgium in 1961.

Rubinsteinís chess heritage is still very evident today. He was the one player of his era who considered the end game in his choice of openings. There are many variations that bear his name.

He originated the Rubinstein System against the Tarrasch Defence variation of The Queen's Gambit Declined 1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 c5 3.c4 e6 4.cxd5 exd5 5.Nc3 Nc6 6.g3 Nf6 7.Bg2 cxd4 8.Nxd4 Qb6 (Rubinstein - Tarrasch, 1912). He is also credited with inventing the Meran Variation, which stems from the Queen's Gambit Declined but reaches a position of the Queen's Gambit Accepted with Black one move ahead.

Today, he certainly has no shortage of lines named for him. The "Rubinstein Attack" often refers to 1 d4 d5 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 Bg5 Be7 5 e3 0-0 6 Nf3 Nbd7 7 Qc2. The Rubinstein variation of the French defence arises after 1 e4 e6 2 d4 d5 3 Nc3 (or 3 Nd2) dxe4 4 Nxe4. The Rubinstein variation of the Nimzo-Indian is the most popular line of the Nimzo: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e3.

(1) Rotlewi,Georg A - Rubinstein,Akiba [D40]
Lodz1 Lodz, 1907

The following game has found its way into many anthologies mainly because of the beauty of the winning combination. Some commentators have dubbed it Rubinstein's "Immortal Game".

                                                         1.d4                       d5  

                                                         2.Nf3                     e6  

                                                         3.e3                      c5  

                                                         4.c4                       Nc6  

                                                         5.Nc3                    Nf6  


Most modern players would continue 6.a3 here.

                                                         6...                          Bxc5  

                                                         7.a3                       a6  

                                                         8.b4                      Bd6

                                                         9.Bb2                   0-0


The text move has been severely criticised by many annotators. At the time the game was played the most popular move was 10.Bd3.

                                                        10...                        Qe7  

A very strong response which makes the bishop and queen a formidable duo and prepares to bring the king's rook to d8 opposing the white queen. It would seem that the black d-pawn is now on offer, but it would be a brave player to take it. 10...Qe7 11.cxd5 exd5 12.Nxd5 Nxd5 13.Qxd5 and now 13...Rd8 puts the fox in the chicken run. In view of the threat to his queen, White has to play 14.Qb3 when after 14...Be6 15.Bc4 Bxc4 16.Qxc4 Rac8 it would appear that Black has much the better chances as White has yet to find a safe haven for his queen and is, as yet, uncastled whilst Black will soon be in control of the the two open files.

                                                    11.Bd3                    dxc4  

                                                    12.Bxc4                   b5  

                                                     13.Bd3                   Rd8  

Making the white queen on d2 feel rather uncomfortable.


Now the faulty placement of the queen on move 10 becomes apparent. White has wasted too many moves to avoid punishment.

                                                    14...                            Bb7  

                                                    15.0-0                     Ne5  


This exchange is virtually forced. If White 16.Rfe1 Bxf3 17.gxf3 Nxd3 wins either a piece or the queen for a minor pieces with 18.Qxd3 Bxh2+ 19.Kxh2 Rxd3.

                                                   16...                           Bxe5  


White is still neglecting his development.

                                                  17...                            Bc7  


In view of what follows, White would have been better advised to tuck his king away on h1. 18.Kh1.

                                                   18...                          Rac8  

Black's forces are poised for a stunning attack and White's next move gives him just the right opportunity.


Now the flood-gates are opened.

                                                 19...                           Bb6+  

                                                 20.Kh1                    Ng4!  

Tempting the deflection of the queen from guarding the bishop on d3.


The desperado motif does not help White i.e. 21.Bxh7+ Kxh7 22.Qxg4 Rd2 23.Rac1 Bxg2+ 24.Qxg2 Rxg2 25.Kxg2 ; Kasparov points out the variation 21.Ne4 Rxd3 22.Qxd3 Bxe4 23.Qxe4 Qh4 24.h3 Qg3 25.hxg4 Qh4#  

                                                21...                           Qh4  


Not the best defence as now the long diagonal from a8 can come into play. However, 22.h3 does not help either i.e. 22...Rxc3! 23.Bxc3 Bxe4 24.Qxg4 Qxg4 25.hxg4 Rd3 26.Kh2 Rxc3.

                                               22...                            Rxc3!  

A stunning conception.


If he had played 23.Bxc3 he gets mated after 23...Bxe4+ 24.Rf3 Bxf3+ 25.Qxf3 Qxh2#  

                                              23...                           Rd2!!  


Should White try 24.Qxg4 there follows 24...Bxe4+ 25.Rf3 Rxf3 or; 24.Bxc3 Bxe4+ 25.Rf3 Bxf3+ 26.Qxf3 Rxh2#  

                                               24...                          Bxe4+  

                                               25.Qg2                    Rh3  

 Mate is now unavoidable. After 26.Bd4 Rxh2+ 27.Kg1 Rxg2+ 28.Kh1 Rg3+ 29.Rf3 Bxf3#  0-1