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Thursday, February 11, 2016

Yuri Averbakh

     Recently while looking over the crosstables of some Russian tournaments the name of Averbakh kept showing up, often near the top. The name Yuri Averbakh is fairly well known, but his games aren't. That's probably because his style is solid and difficult for many pure tactical players to appreciate. Averbakh is also a major endgame study theorist, a not too popular aspect of chess, who has published more than 100 studies, many of which have made notable contributions to endgame theory.  In 1956 he was awarded the title of International Judge of Chess Compositions and in 1969 he became an International Arbiter.
     Averbakh (born February 8, 1922) is the oldest living chess grandmaster. He was born in Kaluga, Russia. He was chairman of the USSR Chess Federation from 1973 to 1978. His father was German Jewish and his mother was Russian. Both sets of grandparents disapproved of their marriage because his father was likely an atheist and his mother was Eastern Orthodox, as well as the fact that his maternal grandmother died very young so his mother was expected to look after the family.
     Averbakh is also an important chess journalist and author. He edited the Soviet chess periodicals Shakhmaty v SSSR and Shakhmatny Bulletin. From 1956 to 1962 he edited a four-volume anthology on the endgame, Shakhmatnye okonchaniya. Interesting fact: In the 1960s, he worked for the Soviet journal Znanie - sila (Knowledge is Power), which published science and science fiction stories. 
     In 1938, the year Smyslov won the USSR junior championship, Averbakh, at the age of 15, came into the limelight by winning the USSR schoolboy's championship. Soon after that he began attending the chess club at the club in the Young Pioneers' in Moscow. Even then he had a reputation as a serious, modest player who willing shared his theoretical analysis with others and as always willing to take advice from better players. He soon come to believe that superficial, flashy play wasn't worth much and that positional planning was more important. In addition, his encounters with strong players soon taught him not to take book variations on faith but to form his own opinions about each position. He followed annotations by masters and studied openings, but also formed his own ideas on theory. As he gradually gained experience his understanding deepened and he began forming more accurate opinions about the positions he faced. As a result, in tournament in Moscow in 1942 he finished quite high in the standings and was awarded the Master title.
     It was noted that Averbakh was an expert in defense who refused to accept dogmas and general considerations; he preferred exact, or as the Soviets liked to call it, concrete analysis. At the time this approach was criticized by some because it was felt his play, lacking a lot of tactical fireworks, was too dull and he did not play in the style of the Russian hero, Mikhail Chogorin.  Actually, Averbakh saw tactical possibilities, but realized they didn't just happen; the groundwork had to be laid on a positional basis. 
     In 1949 and 1950 he won the Moscow championship and made good showing in a tournament in Poland as well as the Soviet Championships. At the Interzonal at Stockholm in 1950 he also had a good result, sharing fifth place with Stahlberg, Gligoric and Szabo and so qualified for the challenger's tournament and was awarded the Grnadmaster title.
     Averbakh is also a prominent opening and endgame theorist, especially R vs. N and minor piece endings. Because of this he became a skilled composer of endgame studies and was often a judge in that field. An interesting interview with him, held at the US Senior Championship in 2004, can be viewed on Youtube HERE.  An article, Yuri Averbakh remembers some old-time players, can be read at Chessdorcom HERE.
     In the following game from the USSR match against Argentina Averbach demonstrates is tactical skills. In it he employs his own Averbakh Variation (6.Bg5) which prevents the immediate 6...e5.  

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