Wednesday, January 30, 2013


One of the most curious photos of chess history is found in Arthur Rubinstein's (1887-1982) Memoir: (Vol 1) My Young Years. New York: Knopf, 1973. It is simply called: "Sunday Afternoon in Berlin" with no identification as to who the people in the photograph are.  Indeed, from left to right we have Akiba Rubinstein, the nanny, one of Arthur's sisters (Arthur was the youngest of 7 children) and finally the young music prodigy himself, Arthur. In the center of the table is a small chess set. The mystery is: was Akiba giving lessons to the you pianist?  Or did Artur know how to play already. We'll never know.  I spoke with John Rubinstein (b. 1946, in LA) who when asked about his father's chess activities, said he was not familiar with the matter. Arthur explicitly stated in his book that most of the photos which appear in this volume (1973) were given to him by friends. He had none. They were all destroyed by the Nazis in World War II.  Be that as it may, I'm sure there was a strong and fond relationship between the two prodigies. Akiba (1882-1961) was born in Stawiski (est. 1407) a small Polish town in northeastern Poland. The last of 13 children, Akiba was sent to his maternal grandparent's home in Bialystok (reminiscent of Fiddler on the Roof cultural ethos) to be raised. His family had hoped that Akiba become a rabbi.  Yet, due to circumstances beyond his contro, this was not to be. AR found chess, mastered it, and would have become World Champion had it not been for World War 1 which devastated Poland and Akiba's sense of emotional equilibrium. He played many brilliant games and won many tournaments, but the world chess championship was just out of his historical reach. He was in his prime in 1914. By 1920 after the war, Akiba was just not quite himself and never regained his composure to prosecute the arrangement of another championship match. Rubinstein was set to play Lasker in 1914, but the War interrupted the match.
Photo Above: GM Akiba (left), nanny, Artur's sister, Frania, 
and Artur, circa 1900 (Akiba 18; Artur 13)
 Artur Rubinstein at the keyboard, circa 1950

 שחוק השאך
   Ś’hok ha-shakh (Check and Chess)
Joseph Judah Loeb Sossnitz
[Sossnitz, Joseph Judah Löb, 1837-1910]
Vilnus, Russian Empire c 1880
Sossnitz Check and Chess Primer, 1880 title page (above)
Note: publication information (under horizontal line) is in Russian, 
as the work was produced in Vilnius, Russian Empire.
Page 15 of Sossnitz' Chess and Check, 1880, The text of this work in in Hebrew,
which is written and read right to left.  Note display of chess game above: 1.e2-e4 is white's first move, whereas if the text had been printed in English, the location of this move on the page would indicate, the second player's or Black's move.
The above title is the first chess book (a primer) which AR studied. A copy of this relic may be found in the Houghton Library at Harvard University. 
(Above: Early chess game of AR, 1897)

Jewish boys playing chess in Poland, circa 1920
 At some point, AR was beating all players in Bialystok. He heard that there was a chess master (Gersz Salwe) in Lodz, so AR traveled there to test his chess skills. It is from his attraction to the chess of Lodz that AR no doubt was received by the Rubinstein family (Arthur's parents) establishing a long-lasting relationship.   After a number of credible tries, AR finally beat Salwe, thus launching the career of one of the most artistic chess masters in history. Also, AR was received as a member of the Lodz Chess Society, in 1906. AR had two matches with Salwe in 1903. The 1st was drawn with the score of 5 - 5, the second AR won 5.5 - 4.5.
AR, circa 1907
There are more than one version of AR's early years. I found interesting two points: AR's father, died of TB  8 months before AR was born--thus Akiba was named after his father, a practice Jews did not engage in if the parent were alive. And, AR was the last of 14 children (many of his siblings died in early childhood). AR moved from Stawiski to Bialystok to live with AR's mother, Raisel's, family (Raisel's father, Aaron Denenberg, AR's maternal grandfather, was a wealthy lumber merchant). AR continued his Jewish studies and was set to attend Yeshiva (Jewish high school) to become a rabbi but the family was very warry of AR catching TB (and dying of it like his father did), so it was the family's decision and not AR's that he not to attend yeshiva. [It is to be noted on Page 25 of The Life and Games of Akiva Rubinstein: The Later Years, 2nd edition 2011, that Jonas Rubinstein, Akiba's eldest son, is quoted reporting that all but two children in AR's family died in early childhood. Only a sister and Akiba survived. The others perished from TB!]  AR, with lots of free time on his hands, was often found in Bialystok's taverns where he observed men playing chess.  Akiba became fascinated with the game. And it was from this friendly exposure to chess that AR became hooked on chess,  and began to study and analyze games and play seriously. So, unwittingly, it was AR's family's [justified] fear of TB which gave the chess world one of its most artistic players.
Akiba Rubinstein married Eugenie Lev on March 30, 1917. Jonas was born in Poland. Then the family moved to Sweden, and again to Rehbroeke, a small town near Potsdam, in eastern Germany, where World Chess Champion Emanuel Lasker (seen in above photo playing AR in 1909) was said to be a frequent guest. The Rubinstein family then moved to Antwerp, Belgium in 1926. A year later, Sammy was born. The family then moved to Brussels in 1931 where they stayed put for the most part. It is to be noted that Akiba Rubinstein spoke Polish, Russian, Hebrew, German and Yiddish, fluently. Indeed AR conversed with his wife in Russian. Yet AR's sons did not learn Russian.
Akiba Rubinstein had two sons: Jonas (b. 1918, engineer)
Jonas Rubinstein, eldest son of GM Akiba Rubinstein. Photo on commemorative stamp.

 and Solomon "Sammy" (b. 1920, chessmaster FIDE: 2380 and artist) 
With natural artistic talent, Sammy received formal training in art at the Ecole des Beau Arts, Paris 1951-54. An example of his work is featured in the portrait of AR below:
 Akiba Rubinstein, drawn by his son Sammy, 1954
Sammy also did the portrait of David Bronstein (1924-2006) which appears on the grandmaster's magnum opus: The Sorcerer's Apprentice. London/New York: Cadogan Press, 1995.
And speaking of chess publications, IM John Donaldson, along with IM Nikolay Minev produced an absolutely marvelous Rubinstein history, with almost all AR's games, in easy to read algebraic notation as well as a rich assortment of historical notes on the Rubinstein Family covering over half a century, in 2 volumes. The work is called The Life and Games of Akiva Rubinstein Vol. 1 Uncrowned King. Milford CT: Russell Enterprise, Inc. 2006; and Volume 2: The Later Years, (2nd Edition) Russell Enterprise, Inc.  2011.
[Note of clarification on the name "Akiba" which is a derivation of the name Yaakov (Jacob): It is my experience that the common pronunciation of the name, at least in the USA of "Ayin Qoph Yodh Beth Aleph" is pronounced Akiba. Some Hebrew speaking communities say Akiva. The actual word is vowelized to read: A(gutteral)Kee(gutteral) Boh. Yet we say: A'Kee-ba. I choose to use the spelling: Akiba. Donaldson in his Rubinstein work, quoted here, uses the spelling Akiva.  The interesting point about the Hebrew alphabet and written language: there are no actual letters which serve as vowels, like in English (A, E, I, O, U).  So the Beth (second letter of Akiba's name can be pronounced either as a B or a V sound according to the custom of the linguistic region in which the name is pronounced.]
Akiba Rubinstein engaged in simultaneous exhibition in Palestine, May 1931.
This was AR's second visit. He had already visited the Holy Land in April, 1931, also giving simuls
at various locations.
Finally, a Rubinstein Family (son vs father) Master Chess Game:
Solomon ("Sammy") Rubinstein v Akiba Rubinstein
Brussels [Training Game] 1948 D06

1.d4 d5 2.c4 c5 3.cxd5 Nf6 4.e4 Nxe4 5.dxc5 Nxc5 6.Nc3 e5 7.Nf3 Bd6 8.Be2 O-O 9.O-O Bf5 10.Be3 Nbd7 11.Nb5 Qe7 12.Nh4 Bg6 13.Nxg6 hxg6 14.Rc1 a6 15.Nxd6 Qxd6 16.Qc2 Rac8 17.b4 Ne6 18.Qxc8 Rxc8 19.Rxc8+ Nef8 20.Rfc1 Qxb4 21.Rd8 Qb2 22.Bf1 Qxa2 23.Bc5 Nxc5 24.Rxc5 g5 25.d6 Qd2 26.Rxf8+ Kh7 27.Rd8 f6 28.d7 e4 29.Rh8+ Kxh8 30.Rc8+ Kh7 31.d8=Q Qe1 32.Qg8+ Kg6 33.Rc7 e3 34.Qf7+ Kf5 35.Rc5+ Kg4 36.h3+ Kf4 37.g3+ 1-0

It is to be noted that Sammy Rubinstein 
became Champion of Brussels in 1949.
One last note for the aficianados of the issue of inheritance of "cognitive" traits as suggested by chess prowess. On Page 25 of Donaldson's book, 2011, Anna Rubinstein, Jonas's wife wrote that Akiba Rubinstein might be proud of his grandchildren from his eldest son: daughter Daniele, b. 1956 who is an MD psychotherapist and medical journalist and Michel, b. 1957 who is a specialist in nuclear medicine. 
Akiba Rubinstein: Swan Song
Rubinstein - Bogoljubov, Prague (ol) 1931 D10
1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e3 e6 5.f4 c5 6.Nf3 Nc6 7.Be2 Be7
8.O-O O-O 9.Ne5 dxc4 10.Nxc6 bxc6 11.dxc5 Bxc5 12.Bxc4 Qxd1
13.Rxd1 Nd5 14.Kf2 a5 15.Kf3 Bb7 16.Bd2 Nb6 17.Be2 Be7 18.e4
c5 19.Kf2 Rfb8 20.Be3 a4 21.Rac1 Bc6 22.Rc2 g6 23.Bb5 Bb7
24.a3 Ra5 25.Be2 Bc6 26.Rdc1 Nd7 27.e5 Nb6 28.Nd1 Be4 29.Rd2
Bd5 30.g3 Bb3 31.Nc3 Kg7 32.Ne4 Rc8 33.Nd6 Rc6 34.Bb5 Rxb5
35.Nxb5 Nd5 36.Nc3 h5 37.Ne4 Nxe3 38.Kxe3 Rc7 39.Nd6 Kf8
40.Rd3 Rc6 41.Nc4 Rc7 42.h4 Ra7 43.Nb6 Rc7 44.Rd7 Rc6 45.Nc4
Ra6 46.Rb7 Ra8 47.Nb6 Rd8 48.Nd7+ Ke8 49.Nxc5 1-0
Interesting to note are the medal winners and team members of the Prague Olympiad 1931. Gold: USA 48 points (Kashdan, Marshall, Dake, Horowitz and Steiner) Silver: Poland 47 points (Rubinstein, Tartakower, Przepiorka, Makarczyk, Frydman) Bronze: Czechoslovakia 46.5 points (Flohr, Gilig, Rejif, Opochensky, Skailcka) 4th place: Yugoslavia 46 points (Vidmar, Asztalos, Kostic, Pirc, Konig)
 Bogoljubov (left) vs Rubinstein, Moscow 1925 C28
1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.d3 Bc5 5.Bg5 h6 6.Bh4 d6 7.Nd5
g5 8.Bg3 Nxd5 9.Bxd5 Ne7 10.Bb3 Ng6 11.Ne2 Qf6 12.d4 exd4  (time of photo) 13.Qd3 h5 14.h3 h4 15.Bh2 Ne5 16.Bxe5 dxe5 17.Qb5+ Qc6
18.Qxc6+ bxc6 19.Ba4 Bd7 20.Nc1 f6 21.Nd3 Bb6 22.c4 dxc3
23.bxc3 c5 24.Bxd7+ Kxd7 25.Nb2 Kc6 26.a4 c4 27.Nxc4 Rhd8
28.Ke2 Rd7 29.Rhd1 Rad8 30.Rxd7 Rxd7 31.Rb1 a6 32.Rb4 Rd8
33.Rb3 Rd7 34.Rb4 Rd8 35.Rb1 Rd7 36.Rb2 Rd8 37.Rb4 Rd7 38.Rb3
Rd8 1/2-1/2


Robert Oresick said...

Steve, very very interesting. btw, are the onion rolls called "bialy"s from Bialostoi?

Hana Čechová said...

The names of Czech players are confused. Correct is: Gilg, Rejfíř (without diacritics = Rejfir), Opočenský (= Opocensky), Skalička (= Skalicka).