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Modern Ideas in Chess by Richard Rèti

23. Akiba Rubinstein

Rubinstein came into publicity with the men of storm and stress. But he was not one of them. Judging by his style he may be accounted an Epigonus. He had adopted the style of his period, that is to say the scientific chess style, and he brought it to the highest stage of artistic perfection. The following story of his youth, which is characteristic, was told to me by a chess votary who hailed from Lodz. Rubinstein went to Lodz as a young Talmudic student. He appeared one day in the Chess Café where Salwe was the undisputed master. Rubinstein selected an opponent from amongst the non-aggressive players who received the odds of a rook; and Rubinstein was one of the weakest of them. For a long time he continued to be a regular patron of that Café and was in the habit, during that period, of playing chess, showing a great passion for the game without making any notable progress in it. There came a time, however, when his visits ceased: he remained away some weeks. But on the day he returned to the Café he went straight up to Salwe and offered him to play him there and then. The unexpected happened. Rubinstein was victorious and remained from that day next to Salwe, the stronger player in Lodz.

We have in Rubinstein an example, not of that fortunate talent which unfolds itself and comes to the fore without any effort on the part of its possessor; but we see in him the intellectual wrestler, who by solitary and deep immersion of himself in his task becomes master of its difficulties.

Rubinstein is the type of man who loves only for his self-appointed task, a veritable ascetic; who denies himself the slightest pleasure, that might have any deleterious influences on his chess-playing capacity. He is never content merely to have discovered a suitable or satisfying move. He goes on cudgelling his brain until he finds the one and only move, that will satisfy or correspond with his grasp of a position. It must speak for itself that with such excessive mental exertion moments of exhaustion must intervene. On that account there is perhaps no master living with whom we get so often such absolutely incomprehensible and big mistakes as with Rubinstein. On the other hand he is the greatest artist amongst chess players. Whilst in all of Schlechter’s beautiful games there is to be found playful delight comparable to the joyful dance, and whilst with Lasker a dramatic struggle captivates the onlooker, with Rubinstein all is refined tranquility; for with him in building up his game the position given to every piece is the necessary one. It is not matter of a fight for him, but the working out of a victory, and so his games create the impression of a great structure from which not one stone dare be shifted.

Rubinstein also said the last word on the technique of scientific chess: especially by his method of developing pieces in close positions. We know what Morphy’s principle was as regards open positions, namely, no unnecessary loss of time; and with each move to develop further as quickly as possible.

We have also seen that in close positions it is not so much a question of “time” but rather of certain permanent positional land-marks. But yet we are left without any general principle as to how we should develop our pieces in close positions until we have gained the well-known permanent positional advantage. These gaps Rubinstein filled up not by writings on theory but by his execution and his numerous novelties in the openings. He developed pieces in close positions not so that they should be immediately effective and have open lines, as was formerly done, but so that they should become ultimately effective in the event of a possible break through, which should take place with the dissolution of the close position.

We will in particular, examine a variation frequently occurring in the French game.

The King’s Bishop is at this point usually developed on what is apparently the most effective square, vis. d3. Rubinstein, however, introduces the system of development by g3 and Bg2. The development of the Bishop after g3 bearing down on the well-protected pawn at d5 seems well-nigh purposeless. But the position is a close one in which Black has little terrain. The only possibility of a break through by Black is by means of c5; in order to be able to play e5; after removal of the pawn at d4 and after f6; exf6, gxf6. Clearly after this break through the Bishop would be more effectively placed at g2 than at d3.

One would think that chess with the principles above described would become quite simple. We have now the Morphy principles for handling open positions and those of Rubinstein for the manipulation of close ones. The greatest difficulty, however, lies in the fact that in chess there never occurs in practice either quite an open or quite a close position, but that we get a position containing open and close elements. We recognise now what we propose later to set forth in detail, namely, that all principles correspond with such simple types, as in reality hardly ever occur in their pure form. It is not possible to deal with a complicated position according to several principles, because the latter often will be found to conflict with each other in their respective application.