Congratulations – Yuri Averbakh turns ninety!

2/8/2012 – He was a world class player, knew Emanuel Lasker personally, beat a number of World Champions ( Euwe, Botvinnik, Petrosian) and has a number of chess openings named after him. In addition Yuri Averbakh, born on February 8, 1922, has composed hundreds of endgame studies, written books and edited magazines. Averbakh is currently the oldest living chess grandmaster.

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Yuri Averbakh, 1922 – and still going strong!

Yuri Lvovich Averbakh was born on February 8, 1922, in Kaluga, Russia, the son of a German Jewish father whose ancestral name was Auerbach (German for meadow brook) and a Russian mother. She was an Eastern Orthodox, he an atheist, which led to great resistance in both families to the marriage.

Yuri's first major success was first place in the Moscow Championship of 1949, ahead of players such as Andor Lilienthal, Yakov Estrin and Vladimir Simagin. He became an International Grandmaster in 1952. In 1954 he won the USSR Chess Championship ahead of players including Mark Taimanov, Viktor Korchnoi, Tigran Petrosian, Efim Geller and Salo Flohr. In the 1956 Championship he came equal first with Taimanov and Boris Spassky in the main event, finishing second after the playoff. Averbakh's other major tournament victories included Vienna 1961 and Moscow 1962. He qualified for the 1953 Candidates' Tournament, finishing joint tenth of the fifteen participants. He also qualified for the 1958 Interzonal at Portorož, where he finished half a point short of advancing to the Candidates' Tournament. His solid style was difficult for many pure attackers to overcome, an example being Rashid Nezhmetdinov, who, Averbakh wrote, "if he had the attack, could kill anybody, including Tal. But my score against him was something like 8½–½ because I did not give him any possibility for an active game. In such cases he would immediately start to spoil his position because he was looking for complications."

Averbakh is the eponym of several opening variations, perhaps most notably the Averbakh System in the King's Indian Defence (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.Be2 0-0 6.Bg5). He is also a major endgame study theorist. He has published hundreds of studies, many of which have made notable contributions to endgame theory. Averbakh was also an important chess journalist and author. He edited the Soviet chess periodicals Shakhmaty v SSSR and Shakhmatny Bulletin. From 1956 to 1962 he co-edited a four-volume anthology on the endgame, Shakhmatnye okonchaniya. – Source: Wikipedia.


A chess legend turns ninety

Interview by Dagobert Kohlmeyer

Yuri Lvovich, what is planned for your ninetieth birthday?

A lot. The celebrations will last a number of days. On Wednesday there will be a banquet dinner in the chess centre I founded many years ago, on Thursday there will be a tribute in the Central Chess Club, where I will be giving a lecture for young players.

You founded a chess centre in a library. What was the idea behind that?

We were looking to attract older people to the game. They should not play in tough tournaments but rather spend their time solving chess problems. Working with studies helps prevent Alzheimers. If you are over seventy the stress of a tournament can be dangerous to your health. There are drastic cases where players have died during a game – recently this happened to Valeri Zeschkovski. But a calm and reflective attitude to chess is very useful, especially when you are very old. A healthy lifestyle with a lot of exercise is also important. Until two years ago I would go swimming very regularly, but then the doctors told me to stop.

You have written about the termination of the "endless" match between Karpov and Kasparov in 1984-85. What happened, what led to its being stopped?

Karpov made the tactical mistake of trying to win 6-0. Although he was in the lead with 5-0 points he did not realize how much progress Kasparov was making, as a chess player, during the match. The match dragged on and Karpov took three losses. Who know how it would have ended had they gone on playing.

What was the exact reason for abandoning the match? Who pushed FIDE President Campomanes into taking this decision?

I was one of the arbiters in the match, together with Gligoric and Mikenas. We all could see under what pressure the FIDE President was acting. He was practically between two fronts. On the one side there was the Central Committee of the CPSU (Communist Party of the Soviet Union), which supported it protégé Anatoly Karpov, and also the President of the Soviet Chess Federation Vitaly Sevastyanov was Karpov's friend. Kasparov on the other hand was supported by Geidar Aliev, who was the party leader and later the president of Azerbaijan. I think the interruption of the match was the only solution for both sides.

You have known the Russian chess scene for over seventy years, you played a secret training match with Mikhail Botvinnik and were the second of many of the top stars. What is your recollection of the great nemesis of your country Bobby Fischer?

Actually I had a very cordial relationship with him, and got him a lot of chess books. Fischer was often quite odd in his behaviour, but he maintained friendly contact with a few of the Soviet chess players, including me. We faced each other just once over the board, in 1958 at the Interzonals in Portoroz. The game was drawn.

You have been in Germany many times, at meetings of the Lasker Society and of chess historians. Are you coming again this year?


Averbakh, Viktor Korchnoi at the Berlin Lasker Society

I hope that fate is kind and I still have a few years left – it would make me the last living person to have known Emanuel Lasker personally. Not many players have had the privilege of living so long – a large part of my generation was lost in the war. I will be in Dresden in June, to speak about presenting chess studies or games as dramatic works. Every exciting game can be staged as a kind of a theatre piece – a drama, a comedy or a tragedy.

Which was your greatest game, and which your most memorable defeat?

I find it difficult to name just one win, since I have been able to beat a number of top players, amongst them world champions Max Euwe, Mikhail Botvinnik and Tigran Petrosian, and of course the unforgettable David Bronstein. In 1961 at the Moscow team championship I beat Petrosian and in 1964 at the Moscow Individual Championship the Correspondence Chess World Champion Yakov Estrin. Maybe we should start with that?!

[Event "Moscow-ch"] [Site "Moscow"] [Date "1964.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Averbakh, Yuri L"] [Black "Estrin, Yakov"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D39"] [PlyCount "33"] [EventDate "1964.??.??"] [EventType "tourn"] [EventRounds "17"] [EventCountry "URS"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "1999.07.01"] 1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Nf3 dxc4 5. Bg5 Bb4 6. e4 c5 7. Bxc4 cxd4 8. Nxd4 Qc7 9. Qb3 Bxc3+ 10. Qxc3 Nxe4 11. Nb5 Qc5 12. Qxg7 Rf8 13. Bh6 Qxf2+ 14. Kd1 Nd7 15. Re1 Nef6 16. Bxe6 Qxb2 17. Rc1 1-0

And my most memorable defeat:

[Event "Candidates Tournament"] [Site "Zuerich"] [Date "1953.09.23"] [Round "14"] [White "Averbakh, Yuri L"] [Black "Kotov, Alexander"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A55"] [PlyCount "102"] [EventDate "1953.08.30"] [EventType "tourn"] [EventRounds "30"] [EventCountry "SUI"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "1999.07.01"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 d6 3. Nf3 Nbd7 4. Nc3 e5 5. e4 Be7 6. Be2 O-O 7. O-O c6 8. Qc2 Re8 9. Rd1 Bf8 10. Rb1 a5 11. d5 Nc5 12. Be3 Qc7 13. h3 Bd7 14. Rbc1 g6 15. Nd2 Rab8 16. Nb3 Nxb3 17. Qxb3 c5 18. Kh2 Kh8 19. Qc2 Ng8 20. Bg4 Nh6 21. Bxd7 Qxd7 22. Qd2 Ng8 23. g4 f5 24. f3 Be7 25. Rg1 Rf8 26. Rcf1 Rf7 27. gxf5 gxf5 28. Rg2 f4 29. Bf2 Rf6 30. Ne2 Qxh3+ 31. Kxh3 Rh6+ 32. Kg4 Nf6+ 33. Kf5 Nd7 34. Rg5 Rf8+ 35. Kg4 Nf6+ 36. Kf5 Ng8+ 37. Kg4 Nf6+ 38. Kf5 Nxd5+ 39. Kg4 Nf6+ 40. Kf5 Ng8+ 41. Kg4 Nf6+ 42. Kf5 Ng8+ 43. Kg4 Bxg5 44. Kxg5 Rf7 45. Bh4 Rg6+ 46. Kh5 Rfg7 47. Bg5 Rxg5+ 48. Kh4 Nf6 49. Ng3 Rxg3 50. Qxd6 R3g6 51. Qb8+ Rg8 0-1

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