Akiba Kiwelowicz Rubinstein (12 December 1882, in Stawiski, Poland - 15 March
1961 in Antwerp, Belgium) was a famous Polish chess Grandmaster at the beginning
of the 20th century.
Akiba Kiwelowicz Rubinstein
December 12, 1882
March 15, 1961
He was Jewish, and his family
planned for him to become a rabbi, yet he did not finish his studies and chose
to devote himself to chess entirely. The decision came in 1903 after he won
fifth place at a tournament in Kiev. He had been training with the strong master Gersz Salwe in Lódz, and playing frequently against him.
Rubinstein flourished especially 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 world #1
between mid 1912 and mid 1914.
Reuben Fine, on the other hand, believed he was not quite as strong as Lasker,
and was also eclipsed by José Raúl 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 chess championship because he was unable to raise enough money to meet
Lasker's financial demands. His plans were damaged by a poor showing at the St.
Petersburg in 1914 (not placing 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 grandmaster, but his results
lacked their previous formidable 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 Chess Olympiad at Hamburg in 1930 with a superb
record of thirteen wins and four draws. A year later he won an Olympic silver.
After 1932 he withdrew from tournament play, mostly because his schizophrenic
became prevalent; he was suffering from anthropophobia,
a fear of people and society.
Although he lived for almost 30 years afterwards, he left behind no literary
heritage like the other great grandmasters, which may be attributed to his
During World War II when the Nazis eventually arrived to haul the aged Jewish
grandmaster from his asylum to the death camps, he was so patently insane that
they abandoned the attempt.
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.
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 cxd4 8.Nxd4 Qb6 (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 Black one move
Today, he certainly has no shortage of lines named for him. 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 Defense arises after 1 e4 e6 2 d4
d5 3 Nc3 (or 3 Nd2) dxe4 4 Nxe4. The Rubinstein Variation of the Nimzo-Indian is
the most popular line of the Nimzo: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e3. Of course,
there is 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
highly complex system which is very popular at the grandmaster level.
The Rubinstein Memorial tournament in his honor has been held annually since
1963 in Polanica Zdroj, with a glittering list of top-flight winners.
Notable Chess Games
- George Rotlewi vs Akiba Rubinstein, Lodz 1907, Tarrasch Defense:
Symmetrical Variation (D02), 0-1 A very impressive attacking combination;
"perhaps the most magnificent combination of all time" (Carl Schlechter)
- Akiba Rubinstein vs Emanuel Lasker, St.Petersburg 1909, Queen's Gambit
Declined: Traditional Variation (D30), 1-0 This game ends in an interesting
position where Lasker has no good moves (zugzwang).
- Akiba Rubinstein vs Karel Hromádka, Moravská Ostrava 1923, King's Gambit:
Declined. Classical Variation (C30), 1-0 A nice game full of tactics and
hanging pieces. The former Czech champion Karel Hromádka fights well, but at
the end Rubinstein prevails.
- Akiba Rubinstein vs Carl Schlechter. San Sebastian 1912, 1-0 Capablanca
has heaped enormous praise on this game, calling it "a monument of magnificent
precision." A quintessential game of Rubinstein.
1. Edward Winter, Chess and Jews, 2003,
retrieved April 26, 2007
2. The World's Great Chess Games, Reuben Fine, (McKay, 1976), p.79-80
3. Silman, Jeremy (2007), Silman's Complete Endgame Course: From Beginner
to Master, Siles Press, p. 477, ISBN 1-890085-10-3
4. Chessmetrics Summary for 1905-1915, retrieved on 25-Apr-2007
5. Silman 2007, p. 477
8. Silman 2007, pp. 477-88