Kindred’s Special: Akiba K. Rubinstein Revisited

Akiba K. Rubinstein (1882-1961) was one of the giants of chess during the period 1907-1922. Born in/about October 12, 1882 in the small Polish town of Stawiski, he was the 12th child born; his Jewish education was preparing him to perhaps be a Rabbi. He learned chess fairly late by today’s standards about the age of 16-17. He moved to Lodz where he met Salwe and others who destroyed his ego and he left for some months, later to return and challenge Salwe to a game. He won and a match was soon arranged with the Lodz champion. Rubinstein drew one match 7-7 and a later match 5.5-4.5.  By 1907 he was regarded as one of the top players along with Salwe and by 1912 had won five major international tournaments. Of the upstart, World Champion Emmanuel Lasker wrote in his chess magazine that while he considered Rubinstein an accomplished player, mastering the elements and position play, he did not have the qualities of the fighting spirit and drive to ever become World Champion.  However, perhaps he decided differently because he agreed to a match with Rubinstein in 1912 and it is unfortunate for the chessworld that World War I started before the match could be played.  He was injured in war and scarred to the point that emotionally he was not quite the same again.  Subsequently, Jose R. Capablanca had won the World Championship from Lasker and agreed to a match with Rubinstein in 1922 but Rubinstein was unable to raise the stakes Capablanca required.  He retired in 1932 after mixed results and lived out his later life in poverty and deprivation.

The Rubinstein Variation against the Nimzo-Indian Defensive set up was very popular and successful in the hands of Samuel Reshevsky, Mikhail Botvinnik and others that covered more than seven decades and remains one of the main weapons in meeting the defense.

1.d4  Nf6  2.c4  e6  3.Nc3  Bb4  4.e3

This is the initial position of the Rubinstein variation. Black has a number of ways to continue: 4…O-O; 4…d5; 4…c5; 4…b6; 4…miscellaneous tries.  Detailed lines are shown in numerous book sources: Modern Chess Openings (MCO), Nunn’s Chess Openings (NCO), World’s Great Chess Games, Akiba Rubinstein–Uncrowned King, books I and II.

Time stands still for no man and this is just as true in the hallmark of opening theories. In fact, it is most factual that over modern chess history, style will likely alter thoughts and opinions about individual opening practice.  The Rubinstein set up using 5.Nge2, 5.Bd3, 5.Nf3 or variation on all three ideas held the attention of world class players as well as amateurs. In time, the classical 4.Qc2 returned to popularity made mostly through the games of GM Garry Kasparov. The older 4.Qb3 was shown to have teeth in the hands of GM Seirawan. 4.a3 or 4.f3 known as the Samisch lines likewise have their supporters. 4.Bg5 was oft times played by Boris Spassky.

In Lodz 1907-8 Rubinstein met Georg Rotlewi (1889-1920) who achieved considerable success during his short life.

          White:  G. Rotlewi          vs       Black:  A. Rubinstein

                                      Queen’s Gambit Declined

1.d4  d5  2.Nf3  e6  3.e3  c5  4.c4  Nc6  5.Nc3  Nf6  6.dxc5  Bxc5  7.a3  a6  8.b4  Bd6  9.Bb2  O-O  10.Qd2

White wants to play Rd1 so as to threaten d5 that is not immediately possible because 10.cxd5 exd5 11.Nxd5 Nxd5 12.Qxd5 Bb4+ winning the Queen. Better is the current favorite 10.cxd5 exd5 11.Be2.


Interestingly offering up the d-pawn with hope that after the Queen comes to d5 after exchanges, he has …Be6 with a sharp play and good chances.

11.Bd3  dxc4  12.Bxc4  b5  13.Bd3  Rd8  14.Qe2

Acknowledging that the Queen was ill placed. After 14.O-O Bxh2+ 15.Nxh2  Ne5 16.Bxh7+ Nxh7 17.Qc2 Nc4 is strong for Black.

14…Bb7  15.O-O  Ne5  16.Nxe5  Bxe5  17.f4  Bc7  18.e4  Rac8  19.e5 Bb6+ 20.Kh1  Ng4  21.Be4  Qh4  22.g3  Rxc3!!  23.gxh4 Rd2  24.Qxd2 Bxe4+  25.Qg2  Rh3! 26.Rf2  Rxh2+ 27.Kg1  Bxf2+ 28.Kf1  Bd3 mate or 26.Rf3 Bxf3 27.Qxf3 Rxh2 mate.

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