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Thursday, June 14, 2018

Jacob Yuchtman, Forgotten Artist

     His talent was ignored by the political machinery of the Soviet Union and his best games were not published. Whatever his “crimes” were, in 1964, Shakhmaty v SSSR held him up as an example of bad behavior by a Soviet master. 
     Being Jewish didn't help and in the 1970s he was one of the first of many players to leave the Soviet Union, first going to Israel and then West Germany before finally settling in the United States. 
     Chessmetrics puts his highest ever rating at 2622 which was on its April 1960 list. This put him in a group that included such GMs as William Lombardy, Evgeny Vasiukov, Aivars Gipslis, Lothar Schmid, Lev Aronin, Pal Benko and Nikolay Krogius. Yuchtman himself never had an international title.
     Jacob Yuchtman was born January 14, 1935 in Voronezsh, a city in central Russia about 250 miles south of Moscow. He was six years old when the Nazis invaded the USSR on June 22, 1941 without a prior declaration of war. His father enlisted in the Red Army and that was the last time his family saw him because he was killed in the war. Shortly after the Nazi invasion the rest of the family was evacuated to Tashkent where they lived for 10 years. 
     It was in Tashkent that Yuchtman learned to play chess at the age of 13. By the age of 14 he was already a First Category player (about 2000 Elo) and he won the Uzbekistan Under-20 championship in 1950. 
     In 1951 his family moved to Odessa, Ukraine and he won the 1953 Ukrainian championship in Kiev, the 1959 Ukrainian lightning championship and he finished 2nd-3rd in the 1964 Ukrainian championship. In 1956 he achieved the coveted title of "Master of Sport of the USSR.” He won the Odessa Championship in 1964, 1967, and 1969. 
     In the 26th Soviet Championship in Tbilisi, 1959, Tigran Petrosian finished first with 13.5-5.5 followed by Tal and Spassky at 12.5-6.5. Yuchtman's game with Spassky in round 11 was adjourned with Yuchtman having the better position. There had been a three fold repetition, but the rule states the game is not automatically drawn if a position occurs for the third time – one of the players, on their move turn, must claim the draw with the arbiter, and neither player had done so. In any case, after the game was adjourned the arbiter declared the game drawn. If Yuchtman would have won, Tal would have had clear second and extra half point for would have put Yuchtman in a 12th place tie with Gufeld and Bronstein. 
     Not long after this tournament, Yuchtman was invited to play in an international tournament in Yugoslavia in 1959, but a run in with officials in a tournament in Tiumen caused him to face sanctions and he was banned from playing for three years. 
     Although he was a 3-time Odessa champion, he received no official support and so left for Israel where he won the Israeli championship in 1972. In the 1974-75 season he sojourned in Germany and belonged to King Springer Frankfurt team in the Chess Bundesliga. 
     After moving to the United States he won several open tournaments, but was unable to make a living playing chess. New York players found him somewhat sullen and a little strange. 
     In the movie Searching Bobby Fischer, Yuchtman is shown as a Soviet emigre who played in Greenwich Village with a sign proclaiming you could play the one who beat world champion Mikhail Tal. 
     While in New York he turned more to playing backgammon instead of chess. In 1994 a book authored by Dr. Arkady L. Vainer with 177 of Yukhtman's games was published in Odessa and that under the title of Forgotten Artist
     The Czech Benoni in Action, by FM Asa Hoffmann and Greg Keener, relates how Hoffmann met Yuchtman at the Chess and Checker Club of New York, also known as the Flea House. Hoffmann described him as short and stocky with a smile like a Cheshire Cat, but when he was displeased with something, a dark cloud would come over his face. 
     Because there was nobody his equal at the Flea House, he moved on to The Game Room where he could play chess, Scrabble, backgammon, and gin rummy day and night. 
     The resident champion of The Game Room was master Steve Brandwein and they played countless hours of blitz with about equal results. In a 1998 Chess Life article Leonid Shamkovich described Yukhtman as able to give odds of five minutes to one not only to masters, but even a lot of GMs. Yuchtman died January 26, 1985. 
     For a good discussion of the opening used in this game, the Czech Benoni, see the article at The Chess World. In reviewing Andrew Martin's DVD on the Czech Benoni for Chessbase, Steve Giddins called it The No-theory Defense, or how to meet 1 d4 if you are over 35 years old. Giddins added, “ if you prefer to avoid well-analysed complications, and enjoy a patient, slower, manoeuvering type of game, this is an opening you would do well to check out. You don’t have to be over 35 to play the Czech Benoni, although it helps, but if you wear cardigans, believe that mobile phones should be banned on public transport, and think that the Arctic Monkeys are something you would expect to see at the zoo, than I feel sure that this is the opening for you.” 

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