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Akiba Rubinstein
Rubinstein around 1907/1908
Full name Akiba Rubinstein
Country  Poland
Born 12 December 1882
Stawiski, Poland
Died 15 March 1961
Antwerp, Belgium
Title Grandmaster

Akiba Rubinstein (Stawiski, Poland, 12 December 1882 – 15 March 1961, Antwerp, Belgium) was a Polish chess Grandmaster in the first part of the 20th century. Around 1910 he was one of the three best players in the world.p346


Rubinstein was Jewish, and his family planned for him to become a rabbi. However, 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 learned to play chess when he was 16, and played with the strong master Gersz Salwe in Łódź.

Rubinstein's best period was from 1907 to 1912. It began with his win at Karlovy Vary in 1907, and a shared win at St. Petersburg in the same year. It closed in a string of wins in 1912. He won five consecutive major tournaments that year: San Sebastian, Piešťany, Breslau (the German championship), Warsaw and Vilnius (although none of these events included Lasker or Capablanca).p79 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. Others believe he was not quite so strong as Lasker, and was eclipsed by José Raúl Capablanca after 1911.

Rubinstein was never given a chance to play Lasker for the world chess championship: he was unable to raise enough money to meet Lasker's financial demands. In the 1909 St. Petersburg tournament, he had tied with Lasker and won his individual encounter with him. However, he had a poor result at St. Petersburg tournament 1914, not reaching the final pool of five players. 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.

Mental health

After 1932 he withdrew from tournament play, mostly because his symptoms of schizophrenia prevented normal life. He suffered from a fear of people and society. He lived then in a sanitorium, and later rejoined his family.

Rubinstein lived on for almost 30 years afterwards. He left behind no literary works (perhaps because of his mental problems), but a great heritage in his games. During World War II he was placed in an asylum. One account says that 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.

Chess heritage

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. Silman ranks 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 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 Slav defence.

Today, he certainly has no shortage of lines named for him. 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e3. is the Rubinstein variation of the Nimzo-Indian defence.

The Rubinstein Trap, a trap in the Queen's Gambit declined is named after him because he fell into it twice. One version of the trap 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 Zdroj, with a glittering list of top-flight winners.

Notable chess games

  • Donaldson, John and Nikolay Minev 1994. Akiba Rubinstein: uncrowned king. International Chess Enterprises, Seattle. ISBN: 1-879479-19-2 Volume 1 of Rubinstein's games, with annotations and biographical material.
  • Donaldson, John and Nikolay Minev 1995. Akiba Rubinstein: the later years. International Chess Enterprises, Seattle. ISBN: 1-879479-26-5 Volume 2 of Rubinstein's games, with annotations and biographical material.

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