Akiba Rubinstein

Akiba Rubinstein

Rubinstein c. 1907/1908
Full name Akiba Kiwelowicz Rubinstein
Country Russian Empire
Born (1880-12-01)1 December 1880
Stawiski, Congress Poland
Died 14 March 1961(1961-03-14) (aged 80)
Antwerp, Belgium
Title Grandmaster (1950)

Akiba Kiwelowicz Rubinstein (1 December 1880 – 14 March 1961) was a Polish chess grandmaster who is considered to be one of the strongest players never to have become World Chess Champion.[1]

In his youth, he defeated top players such as José Raúl Capablanca and Carl Schlechter and was scheduled to play a match with Emanuel Lasker for the World Chess Championship in 1914, but it was cancelled due to the outbreak of World War I. He was unable to recreate the same form after the War, and his later life was plagued by mental illness.


Akiba Kiwelowicz Rubinstein was born on 1 December 1880 in Stawiski, Congress Poland to a Jewish family.[2][3] He learned to play chess at the relatively late age of 16, and his family had planned for him to become a rabbi.[4] He trained with and played against the strong master Gersz Salwe in Łódź and in 1903, after finishing fifth in a tournament in Kiev, Rubinstein decided to abandon his rabbinical studies and devote himself entirely to chess.

Between 1907 and 1912, Rubinstein established himself as one of the strongest players in the world. In 1907, he won the Karlovy Vary tournament and shared first at St. Petersburg. In 1912 he had a record string of wins, finishing first in five consecutive major tournaments: San Sebastian, Piešťany, Breslau, Warsaw and Vilnius, although none of these events included Lasker or Capablanca.[5] Some believe that he was better than World Champion Emanuel Lasker at this time.[6] Ratings from Chessmetrics support this conclusion, placing him as world No. 1 between mid-1912 and mid-1914.[7]

At the time when it was common for the reigning World Champion to handpick his challengers, Rubinstein was never given a chance to play Lasker for the World Chess Championship because he was unable to raise enough money to meet Lasker's financial demands. In the St. Petersburg tournament in 1909, he had tied with Lasker and won his individual encounter with him.[8] However, he had a poor showing at the 1914 St. Petersburg tournament, not placing in the top five. A match with Lasker was arranged for October 1914, but it did not take place because of the outbreak of World War I.[9]

After the war Rubinstein was still an elite player, but his results lacked their previous consistency. Nevertheless, he won at Vienna in 1922, ahead of future World Champion Alexander Alekhine, and was the leader of the Polish team that won the 1930 Chess Olympiad at Hamburg with a record of thirteen wins and four draws. He also he won an Olympic silver at the 1931 Chess Olympiad, again leading the Polish team.

After 1932 he withdrew from tournament play as his noted anthropophobia showed traces of schizophrenia during a mental breakdown.[10] In one period, after making a chess move he would go and hide in the corner of the tournament hall while awaiting his opponent's reply.[11] Regardless, his former strength was recognized by FIDE when he was one of 27 players awarded the inaugural Grandmaster title in 1950.[12] Unlike many other grandmasters, he left behind no literary legacy, which may be attributed to his mental problems. He spent the last 29 years of his life suffering from severe mental illness, living at various times at home with his family and in a sanatorium. It is not clear how the Jewish grandmaster survived World War II in German-occupied Belgium.[13]


He was one of the earliest chess players to take the endgame into account when choosing and playing the opening. He was exceptionally talented in the endgame, particularly in rook endings, where he broke new ground in knowledge. Jeremy Silman ranked him as one of the five best endgame players of all time, and a master of rook endgames.[14]

He originated the Rubinstein System against the Tarrasch Defense 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 (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 an extra move for Black.

Many opening variations are named for him. According to Grandmaster Boris Gelfand, "Most of the modern openings are based on Rubinstein."[15] 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. Apart from 4.Qc2, the Rubinstein Variation of the Nimzo-Indian:[16] 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e3. There are also the Rubinstein Variation of the Four Knights Game, which arises after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bb5 Nd4, and the Rubinstein Variation of the Symmetrical English, 1.c4 c5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.g3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.Bg2 Nc7, a complex system that is very popular at the grandmaster level.

The Rubinstein Trap, an opening trap in the Queen's Gambit Declined that loses at least a pawn for Black, is named for him because he fell into it twice. One version of it runs 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.cxd5 exd5 5.Bg5 Be7 6.e3 0-0 7.Nf3 Nbd7 8.Bd3 c6 10.0-0 Re8 11.Rc1 h6 12. Bf4 Nh5? 13. Nxd5! Now 13...cxd5?? is met by 14.Bc7, winning the queen, while 13...Nxf4 14.Nxf4 leaves White a pawn ahead.

The Rubinstein Memorial tournament in his honor has been held annually since 1963 in Polanica Zdrój, with a glittering list of top-flight winners. Boris Gelfand has named Rubinstein as his favourite player,[15] and once said, "what I like in chess ... comes from Akiba."[17]

Notable chess games

Mattison vs. Rubinstein, 1929
c8 black king
d8 black rook
b7 black pawn
g7 black pawn
h7 black pawn
a6 black pawn
d6 black pawn
f6 black pawn
c5 black pawn
d5 white rook
e4 white pawn
f3 white pawn
a2 white pawn
b2 white pawn
c2 white pawn
g2 white pawn
h2 white pawn
c1 white king
Position after 20.Rxd5


  1. "ChessBase show: Rubinstein-Alekhine, Karlsbad 1911". ChessBase.
  2. Rubinstein's DOB, Ken Whyld Foundation & Association for the Bibliography and History of Chess, 19 April 2014
  3. Edward Winter, Chess and Jews, 2003, retrieved April 26, 2007
  4. Hooper and Whyld, The Oxford Companion to Chess
  5. The World's Great Chess Games, Reuben Fine, (McKay, 1976), p.79–80 ISBN 4-87187-532-6
  6. Silman, Jeremy (2007). Silman's Complete Endgame Course: From Beginner to Master. Siles Press. p. 477. ISBN 1-890085-10-3.
  7. Chessmetrics Summary for 1905–15, retrieved on 25-Apr-2007
  8. B.F. Winkelman, "Biography of Akiba Rubinstein", in RUBINSTEIN'S Chess Masterpieces: 100 Selected Games, Annotated by Hans Kmoch, Translated by Barnie F. Winkelman (Dover 1960).
  9. Silman 2007, p. 477
  10. Barbara Wyllie, Vladimir Nabokov, Reaktion Books p.193n.64
  11. How Life Imitates Chess by Garry Kasparov
  12. Elo, Arpad (1978), The Rating of Chessplayers, Past and Present, Arco, p. 66, ISBN 978-0-668-04721-0
  13. Akiba Rubinstein’s Later Years by Edward Winter
  14. Silman 2007, pp. 477–88
  15. 1 2 "Boris Gelfand: "Kasparov offered his help, but I said no" | Interview, part 2 of 2". ChessVibes. 9 June 2012. Retrieved 11 February 2013.
  16. Popularity of the non-classical line of the Nimzo–Indian from chessgames.com
  17. "Gelfand at Crestbook Part I | Interview, part 2 of 2". Chess in Translation. 6 May 2012. Retrieved 11 February 2013.
  18. Purdy, C.J.S. (2003). C.J.S. Purdy on the Endgame. Thinker's Press. pp. 223–26. ISBN 1-888710-03-9.

Further reading

External links

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