One of Russia’s top-players during the Cold War period through the 1950s, Yuri Averbakh, an influential endgame theorist, study composer, writer, Chess’s first Centenarian Grandmaster, and who was the last surviving player from one of the greatest Candidates’ tournament of all time, sadly passed away at his home in Moscow on Saturday at the age of 100.
Yuri Lvovich Averbakh was born in Kaluga, Russia, on 8 February 1922, just a year after Cuban José Raúl Capablanca ended the long 27-year reign of second World Champion Emanuel Lasker. As a young teenager, Averbakh also recalled meeting Lasker in person at the 1935 Moscow tournament; and on the occasion of his 100th birthday earlier this year, he was congratulated by the current World Champion, Magnus Carlsen.
And from Lasker to Carlsen, Averbakh has left his mark on almost all spheres of the game. Awarded the IM title in 1950 and the GM title in 1952, he went on to win the very strong 1954 Soviet Championship and only missed out again after a play-off in 1956. He also played in the historic Zurich Candidates Tournament of 1953, finishing mid-table in the demanding, 15-player double-round all-play-all – with a stellar field that included the future world champions Vasily Smyslov and Tigran Petrosian, and the former world champion Dr Max Euwe – that lasted for nearly two months.
And while at his peak, Averbakh contributed enormously to opening theory in the 1950s with key variations of the King’s Indian and Modern Defences being named after him. He effectively retired from elite-level chess in 1962, going on to became Editor-in-Chief of the Russian magazine Shakhmaty v SSSR until it ceased publication in 1991; he also edited Shakhmatny Bulletin. He was the President of the Soviet Chess Federation from 1973-1978, a noted historian on the game, and was the chief arbiter at world championship matches, too.
For many though, Averbakh will be best remembered for his many classic endgame books, particularly his co-authoring (in collaboration with Vitaly Chekover) of the incredibly important, valuable and influential five-volume series Comprehensive Chess Endings that was regarded as the ultimate “Endgame Bible” and essential reading for any aspiring player – both East and West – for over 30 years.
Averbakh was never a showboating tactical player in the mould of Mikhail Tal, preferring instead to grind down his opponents in technical endgames. Maybe that is why he was put in charge of the endgame project! However, occasionally he did show some tactical flair, as today’s training tournament win ahead of the Zurich Candidates Tournament demonstrates.
Photo: Grandmaster Yuri Lvovich Averbakh, 1922-2022 | © Russian Chess Federation
GM Yuri Averbakh – GM Alexander Tolush
Training Tournament, 1953
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 e6 4.Nc3 exd5 5.cxd5 d6 6.e4 g6 The Benoni is the most Biblical of openings, the name Rachel gives her son in the Old Testament – Genesis 35:18 – and means “son of sorrow” in Hebrew. And as many Benoni diehards will readily testify to, never was an opening more aptly associated with sorrow than the Benoni! 7.Be2 Bg7 8.Nf3 0-0 9.0-0 Re8 10.Qc2 a6 A suggestion by future world champion Mikhail Tal, then the Benoni guru of the era, was 10…Na6 11.Bf4 Nb4 12.Qb1 Nxe4?! but Ratmir Kholmov found 13.Nxe4 Bf5 14.Nfd2 Nxd5 15.Bg3! Bh6 16.Bb5! which is more than OK for White. 11.a4 Nbd7 12.Bf4! Qc7 Also possible was 12…Qe7 13.Rfe1 Ng4 14.Nd2 Nde5 15.h3 g5!? with complications on both sides. 13.Nd2 Ne5 14.h3 Nfd7?! Also seen here has been 14…h6 15.Bg3 g5 16.f4! which turned out to be strong for White in Malich-Browne, Amsterdam 1972. 15.Be3! The tempi lost by moving the bishop twice will soon be regained when the knight is kicked away with f4. 15…f6 16.f4 Nf7 17.Bf2 f5? This is the breaking down move Black would like to play if it were possible – but Averbakh soon demonstrates that it isn’t! 18.exf5 Bxc3 If 18…gxf5 19.Qxf5 Bxc3 20.bxc3! Rxe2 21.Qg4+ picks up the loose rook. 19.fxg6 hxg6 20.bxc3! Not 20.Qxg6+? Bg7 and White has work to do to prove any advantage – if any. 20…Rxe2 21.Qxg6+ Kf8 22.Rae1! There lurks a very clever tactical point spotted by Averbakh. 22…Rxe1 23.Rxe1 Nb6 24.Re8+! [see diagram] Splat! A stunning rook sacrifice, the point of Averbakh’s play. 24…Kxe8 25.Qg8+ 1-0 Tolush resigns in view of 25…Ke7 26.Bh4+ Ng5 27.Bxg5+ Kd7 28.Qe6#