Recently I’ve had reason to recall my very first chess tournament. In spring 1974 I played in an unrated scholastic section in a huge affair in Washington DC. I do mean “huge” — the whole event attracted hundreds of players (bear in mind that this was during the “Fischer boom”). Our section had maybe sixteen or twenty players, one of whom I remember quite well — a little gal named Tracey who became my kindasorta “long distance girlfriend” for a while.
What I remember most clearly about the event was finding a ten dollar bill lying on the carpeted grand staircase and using it to buy the tournament book of the 1922 London International. It was my introduction to a “greater world” (as Obi-Wan Kenobi would put it), the grand history of the game of chess. In those days my knowledge of the chess world outside of my own circle of friends was pretty much limited to Bobby Fischer; the London 1922 book began changing all of that. It was my first exposure to greats such as Jose Capablanca and Richard Reti (who are still numbered among my all-time chess favorites), Eugene Znosko-Borovsky (in my opinion one of the greatest chess writers ever), plus Alexander Alekhine and Savielly Tartakower, whose personalities were as opposite as night from day.
Another great from London 1922 who I would come to admire much later in life, was Akiba Rubinstein. Born in Poland in 1882, Rubinstein had a temperament which might best (and most charitably) be described as “nervous” or “high strung”. He was beset by mental and emotional problems throughout his life, but the horrors and ravages of World War I seemed to drive poor Rubinstein over the edge. Of course his condition wasn’t helped by Alekhine playing “pranks” like hiring actors to portray “secret police” and break into Rubinstein’s room in the middle of the night, “arresting” Rubinstein (and all this, of course, on a night before Rubinstein and Alekhine were to face off in a tournament game).
But could that man ever play chess! A volume I treasure is an annotated collection of Rubinstein’s games which I bought about twenty years ago; I still go back and play through a couple of them every so often just to be amazed all over again.
Rubinstein’s play was as erratic as his emotional state; one day he’d toss of a brilliancy like it was nothing, while the next day he’d blow a game like a club duffer. When he was “on”, though, he’d see (and play) some pretty incredible stuff.
Here’s a minor example I (re)discovered the other day, taken from (you guessed it) the 1922 London International. Rubinstein has the White pieces against Italy’s Davide Marotti, today a nearly forgotten master from the “golden age” of the early twentieth century.
Rubinstein,Akiba – Marotti,Davide [B38]
London BCF Congress London (7), 1922
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 g6 5.c4 Bg7 6.Be3 d6 7.Nc3 Nf6 8.f3 Bd7 9.Qd2 Nxd4 10.Bxd4 0-0 11.Be2 Ne8
This move is no longer played. 11…Bc6 or 11…a5 are the modern treatments of this opening.
12.0-0 f5 13.exf5 gxf5
The square c5 is about to become important to White. He doesn’t actually care about c5 itself — he just wants to advance the c4-pawn so he can drop his light-squared Bishop on c4 and take advantage of the open diagonal leading to the Black King.
14.Rfe1 e5 15.Bf2 Bc6 16.Rad1 Rf6 17.c5 Rg6 18.Bc4+
Tah-dah! Bishop to c4 with check, Black King runs to corner…
…and White exploits the diagonal.
19…Rh6 20.f4 Qe7 21.Bd5 e4 22.Bxc6 bxc6 23.cxd6 Rxd6 24.Qe2 Rg6 25.Qc4 Nc7 26.Rd2 Rg8 27.g3 Ne8 28.Nd1 Qh4
Here’s where it starts getting really juicy. Both players launch Kingside attacks, Rubinstein’s predicated on the idea that the best defense is a strong offense.
29.Ne3 Qxf4 30.Qf7 Bh6 31.Rd8 Qe5 32.Nxf5 Rf6 33.Nxh6 Rf8
And here we are, friends, the critical position. Rubinstein (White) to move. What do you think he did here? Have a look and see if you can spot what Rubinstein saw. Don’t bother using a chess engine to try to solve this — they won’t find Rubinstein’s solution.
I’ll be back later to show you what happened.
Have fun! — Steve
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