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Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Rubinstein's Masterpiece

     Akiba Kiwelowicz Rubinstein (12 December 1882, in Stawiski, Poland - 15 March 1961 in Antwerp, Belgium) was a famous Polish player at the beginning of the 20th century.
     Stawiski is a town in north-eastern Poland situated on the Dzierzbia River. The population as of 31 December 2008 was 2,417. The town was destroyed by fire in 1812 in the course of the French campaign against Russia and rebuilt again and became a trade and commercial center known for its furs, fabrics and hats. It was burned to the ground during the Russian–Prussian war of 1915, soon before the re-establishment of the sovereign Republic of Poland. The Polish army fought a battle with the Bolsheviks there in July 1920 during the Polish-Soviet War and by 1932, over 50 percent of the town's population was Jewish, numbering approximately 2,000. 
     Upon the Soviet invasion of eastern Poland in 1939, the local administration was abolished by the Soviet NKVD and replaced with Jewish communists who declared Soviet allegiance. Ethnic Polish families were being rounded up and deported to Siberia. The Soviet terror lingered until the Nazi took control in 1941. A German command arrived in Stawiski on July 4–5, 1941 and massacred 700 local Jews in nearby Płaszczatka Forest. The Nazis created a Jewish ghetto in Stawiski, then transferred all its occupants to a much larger Ghetto in Łomża, which was annihilated in November 1942. This history accounts for the fact that in the early 1900's Rubinstein actually participated in the Soviet championships.
     His father Kiwe died before he was born and because of his family's poverty, he was raised by grandparents in Bialystok. Akiba married Eugenie Lew around 1917; they moved to Belgium in 1926 and in 1931 his wife opened a restaurant in Brussels at which time Rubinstein he stopped playing chess. His wife died in 1954. 
     His family planned for him to become a rabbi but he chose not to finish his studies but to devote himself entirely to chess. The decision came in 1903 after he won fifth place at a tournament in Kiev. He had been training with Gersz Salwe in Lódz. 
     Rubinstein flourished from 1907 to 1912. Beginning from his win at Karlovy Vary in 1907, through a shared win at St. Petersburg in the same year, he culminated it in a record string of wins in 1912. He won five consecutive major tournaments that year: San Sebastian, Piestany, Breslau (the German championship), Warsaw and Vilnius (although none of these events included Lasker or Capablanca). 
     Some believe that he was better than world champion Emanuel Lasker at this time. Ratings from Chessmetrics support this conclusion, placing him as number one in the world between mid-1912 and mid-1914. Reuben Fine disagreed, believing he was not quite as strong as Lasker and he was eclipsed by Capablanca after 1911. 
     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 championship because he was unable to raise enough money to meet Lasker's financial demands. His plans were also damaged by a poor showing at the St. Petersburg tournament in 1914 when he failed to finish in the top five. A match with Lasker was arranged for October 1914, but it never took place because of the outbreak of World War I.
     After the war Rubinstein was still an elite player, but his results lacked their previous consistency. He won Vienna in 1922 ahead of the future world champion Alexander Alekhine and was the leader of the Polish team that won the Chess Olympiad at Hamburg in 1930 with a record of thirteen wins and four draws. A year later he won an Olympic silver.
     Known for superb endgame play, particularly in Rook endings, he took the ending into account when playing the opening. After 1932 he withdrew from tournament play, mostly because his schizophrenic tendencies and was suffering from anthropophobia, a fear of people and society. During World War II when the Nazis eventually arrived and deported Rubinstein from his asylum to the death camps, he was so insane that they let him live. Edward Winter details his later years HERE.
     One of the most beautiful games ever played was the following game against Rotlevi. Soltis wrote , "Every great player has a game which became his visiting card to chess history...this was Rubinstein's." Kmoch called it "The Rubinstein Immortal Game," Schlecter called this perhaps the most magnificent combination of all time and Tartakower said it was one of the great games of chess of all time. Even Botvinnik and Flohr said it was a fantastic game adding that it was “perhaps the first game to be played in the scientific method, developed by the Russian chess-players." Irving Chernev wrote, "The great artist of the endgame displays his virtuosity in yet another field. He unleashes an attack with the fire and elegance of a Morphy, and unfolds combinations and brilliant sacrifices that would do honor to Tahl or Alekhine." 
      Rubinstein was a classical player and rarely ventured outside the confines of the double QP openings as Black when he faced 1. d4 and this game has been annotated in dozens of books and magazines over the years. 

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