50 games you should know: Rotlewi-Rubinstein

by Johannes Fischer
12/3/2017 – Some players seem to be able to give their pieces magical powers. An invisible force seems to unite the pieces, and even if one, two or more of them are hanging or have to be sacrificed, the power of the remaining pieces easily compensate this. A classic example for such a dynamic is the game Rotlewi against Rubinstein. | Photo: Deutsche Schachzeitung 1908

Master Class Vol.9: Paul Morphy Master Class Vol.9: Paul Morphy

Learn about one of the greatest geniuses in the history of chess! Paul Morphy's career (1837-1884) lasted only a few years and yet he managed to defeat the best chess players of his time.


Rubinstein's "Immortal"

The chess of Akiba Rubinstein was clear and logical and has inspired generations of chess players. But Rubinstein's life was tragic. He was born in Stawiski, a small village in Poland, about 160 kilometers from Warsaw, but experts argue about the exact date of his birth. His gravestone gives December 1, 1880, other sources date Rubinstein's birth on October 12, or December 12, 1882.

Rubinstein's family was poor. He was the youngest of twelve children, his father died shortly before Rubinstein's birth and ten of Rubinstein's siblings died from tuberculosis at a young age. Rubinstein was supposed to follow the tradition of his family and become a rabbi and a scribe. But, as Ernst Strouhal writes:

[at 16 years of age] Rubinstein left the childhood misery of Stawiski and abandoned the study of Thora and Talmud to play chess. He now was one of the 'luftmenschn', as the jews without money or education were called, who moved from the shtetl to the slums of Warsaw, Lodz or Minsk. In the urban centres they formed a Jewish subproletariat, a class of parias among the parias.

(Ernst Strouhal, "Alles Schöne war geistig...", KARL, 03/2013, p. 12.)

Rubinstein later described his development as a chess player in an article for the Deutsche Zeitung Bohemia:

With chess I was already acquainted as a 14-year in the Cheder [the Jewish elementary school -Ed.]. When I was 16, I studied theory. Then I was told to go to Lodz where the great master Salwe lived. With him I perfected my chess, I was, so to speak, his apprentice. That's how became a master. I felt passion and talent vividly within me. I also have an extraordinarily good memory. For example, I still remember all the games I have played during my 21 years as a chess master. I do not have a good memory for names and locations, just a special chess memory. I am captivated by the aesthetic pleasure, which arises from a beautiful combination. I almost get into a feverish state. Chess is not only art, but also science. Fighting and victory take place on a scientific basis.

(Akiba Rubinstein, "Wie wurde ich Schachmeister?", Deutsche Zeitung Bohemia, 18. April 1926, p. 19, quoted in Strouhal, "Alles Schöne war geistig...", KARL, 03/2013, p. 17.)

In just a few years, Rubinstein's talent and hard work made him one of the best players in the world. In 1912 he won a number of major tournaments and in 1913 he achieved his best historical Elo rating of 2789. In retrospect, this makes him the world's best player at that time. However, all plans to play a world championship match against reigning world champion Dr. Emanuel Lasker came to nought, and were finally ruined by the outbreak of World War I, in 1914.

Akiba Rubinstein (right) against Emanuel Lasker, St. Petersburg 1909 | Photo: Tournament book

After the First World War, Rubinstein, despite a number of good results, no longer had his old playing strength. Moreover, mental and psychological problems from which he had suffered for a long time were now becoming more and more evident and led to a whole series of anecdotes about Rubinstein's strange behaviour at tournaments.

In 1917 Rubinstein married Eugenie Lew, who was eleven years younger than him. Jonas, the first son, was born in 1918, Samy, the second son, in 1927. In 1919, the Rubinstein family moved to Gothenburg and in 1926 to Belgium. In 1931 Rubinstein stopped playing tournament chess.

In 1942, his wife sent him to a mental hospital where he survived the Nazi persecution of the Jews. His wife and two sons could also save themselves from the Nazis. Rubinstein's wife Eugenie died in 1954, seven years before her husband, who died on March 15, 1961.

Rubinstein has made numerous contributions to opening theory and he is famous for the clarity and logic of his positional play and for his skill in rook endings, but his best-known game is a tactical masterpiece. It was played in Lodz, in 1907. Rubinstein had black, his opponent was Georg Rotlewi.


A World Champion's Repertoire against the Queen's Gambit Declined

This DVD offers a complete repertoire for handling this solid opening, often featuring a dynamic approach to pose the opponent more practical problems. Both of the main continuations 3...Nf6 and 3...Be7 are covered in two separate parts.


Rubinstein's games have influenced whole generations of chess players. Perhaps the best still active player among the many Rubinstein fans is Boris Gelfand, who has repeatedly emphasized how much he admires Rubinstein and how much his games influenced and inspired him. Gelfand's book Positional Decision Making in Chess, published in 2016, was a tribute to Rubinstein.

Boris Gelfand at the Aeroflot-Open 2016 | Photo: Amruta Mokal)

But it was Vishy Anand, who managed to "replay" the game Rotlewi vs Rubinstein against Levon Aronian at the Tata Steel Tournament in Wijk aan Zee 2013.

In the footsteps of Rubinstein: Vishy Anand | Photo: Amruta Mokal


My Career Vol. 1

The first DVD with videos from Anand's chess career reflects the very beginning of that career and goes as far as 1999. It starts with his memories of how he first learned chess and shows his first great games (including those from the 1984 WCh for juniors). The high point of his early developmental phase was the winning of the 1987 WCh for juniors. After that, things continue in quick succession: the first victories over Kasparov, WCh candidate in both the FIDE and PCA cycles and the high point of the WCh match against Kasparov in 1995.
Running time: 3:48 hours


My Career Vol. 2

Vishy Anand is one of the greatest chess talents of all times. On this DVD he speaks about his career, his views on chess, and presents the most beautiful and interesting games of his career.


50 games every chessplayer should know...

  1. McDonnell vs. Labourdonnais
  2. Anderssen vs. Kieseritzky, The Immortal Game
  3. Morphy vs Duke of Brunswick, Count Isouard
  4. Steinitz vs von Bardeleben
  5. Pillsbury vs Lasker, 1896


Johannes Fischer was born in 1963 in Hamburg and studied English and German literature in Frankfurt. He now lives as a writer and translator in Nürnberg. He is a FIDE-Master and regularly writes for KARL, a German chess magazine focusing on the links between culture and chess. On his own blog he regularly publishes notes on "Film, Literature and Chess".
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Anthe Anthe 12/5/2017 09:01
Simply beautiful!
barzileel barzileel 12/4/2017 07:03
Why must Rotlewi always be Totlewi? I'd love to see one of his victories.
thirteen thirteen 12/4/2017 01:03
@shutrunja...dare i repeat myself from previous similarities...get Mega database 2018!
Johannes Fischer Johannes Fischer 12/4/2017 11:20
@mdamien @Peter B @BarOni
Thanks for checking the historical rating of Rubinstein again. I also did and according to these historical ratings Rubinstein was indeed the number one player in 1913.
Pieces in Motion Pieces in Motion 12/4/2017 09:49
One of the games that enthralled and inspired me when I first got into the game. A masterpiece of attack and coordination, it still appeals to this day.
shutrunja shutrunja 12/4/2017 06:46
Can you not just put the list of the 50 games in this article too? This is called being a tease...one game per month.
sshivaji sshivaji 12/4/2017 06:06
Legendary game by Rubinstein. However, 25..Rh3!! is not the only solution. 25.. Rc2! also wins.
mdamien mdamien 12/4/2017 03:38
(I was looking at the old chessmetrics site where Sonas used a different formula.)
mdamien mdamien 12/4/2017 03:30
@Peter B: Thank you. I found the chart that supports the claim, but agree the results are strange. I guess I missed the dip there for Lasker. (Apologies to Author.)
Peter B Peter B 12/4/2017 02:13
@Mdamien Rubinstein is indeed chessmetrics #1 for all of 1913, but this is due to a flaw in Chessmetrics. Chessmetrics ratings fall if a player is inactive, so if you look at the graph, Lasker's rating is in free fall, only playing one game in 1912 and 1913 before re establishing himself as #1 at the great St. Petersburg tournament of 1914. Without the inactivity penalty, Lasker is always well ahead of Rubinstein. I can understand why Chessmetrics has an inactivity penalty, but it gives some strange results in the early days when tournaments were not frequent.
BarOni BarOni 12/4/2017 12:48
What on earth are you talking about? This is a well known fact . Rubinstein was the best in the world for at least a few years. He was clearly better than Capa at that time and arguably better than Lasker. For a short period of time he was best and by estimated rating too he was better.
KevinC KevinC 12/3/2017 10:49
Why do people keep referencing the TOTALLY BOGUS Sonas ratings?
mdamien mdamien 12/3/2017 10:15
I am a huge fan of Rubinstein's chess, but I am puzzled by the claim that Rubinstein was the "world's best player" in 1913. He certainly had a nice run of tournament wins in 1912, but he was facing neither Lasker nor Capablanca in these. He was certainly a contender for the title (though unable to raise the stakes for a match with Lasker at the time) but even a finding that Lasker's conditions were unfair (true or not) hardly makes him world champion by default. The referenced 2789 historical rating is from Sonas's chessmetrics, but the same metrics put Rubinstein well below Lasker and Capablanca at the time.