Abe Yanofsky: Canada's first grandmaster

by Max Berchtenbreiter
3/26/2020 – Today, Canada has a number of strong players, the best-known are probably Eric Hansen and Evgeny Bareev. But in the 20th century Canada had only one really strong player: Daniel "Abe" Yanofsky, the son of Polish immigrants and Canada's first grandmaster. On March 26, 2020 Yanofsky would have celebrated his 95th birthday. Max Berchtenbreiter dedicated a portrait to him.| Photo: Abe Yanofsky and Max Euwe (Dutch National Archive)

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Foto: WikipediaIn the 20th century chess was anything but huge in Canada and the large country had only a few strong players. There was, however, one prominent exception: Daniel "Abe" Yanofsky (26 March 1925 - 5 March 2000).

Born in 1925 in what is now Poland, Daniel Yanofsky, known as Abe, came to Winnipeg with his family at an early age and was considered an exceptional talent at a young age. At the age of 14 he took part in the 1939 Chess Olympiad in Buenos Aires, the last before the outbreak of the Second World War. In Buenos Aires he made a name for himself, among other things with a beautiful attacking game against the Peruvian Alberto Dulanto that way played in the preliminaries.



However, the early death of his father and his service in the Navy during the war delayed his further career. But in the second half of the 1940s Yanofsky participated in several top tournaments in Europe, including the famous Staunton Memorial in Groningen in 1946, which started the era of Soviet dominance in chess. In Groningen the 21-year-old Yanofsky defeated the eventual tournament winner Mihail Botvinnik, who was to become World Champion two years later, and this win is probably Yanofsky's most famous game.


Foto: Kanadischer SchachverbandWith 8.5 out of 19 Abe achieved a respectable result in Groningen. But he suffered another loss against Miguel Najdorf against whom he had also lost at the Olympiad in Buenos Aires 1939. In fact, the Mega Database 2020 shows that Najdorf was a kind of Angstgegner for Yanofsky: they played nine times and Yanofsky only managed five draws: he did not win a single game but lost four.

Deciding against a career as chess professional

After his trip to Europe Yanofsky had to make a decision that many strong amateur players had to make at the time: whether to become a chess professional or whether to remain an amateur. Yanofsky for a classical career and studied law in Oxford. But he still played chess and he did not lose much of his strength. Thus, he won the British Championship 1953 with a 1.5 point margin. His exceptional position in Canadian chess is shown by his eight national championship titles. In 1959 he even won in Fischer-style and had a perfect score of 11/11. In 1964 Yanofsky became grandmaster. Apart from playing he also tried his hand as an author and for a long time he had a weekly chess column in the Winnipeg Free Press.

Yanofsky was a lawyer by profession and a strong amateur chess player but he also had a lot of other talents and interests. For example, he became involved in local politics and, in his role as a financial politician, created the foundations for the construction of a new hospital in his hometown. In this hospital he died of cancer in 2000.

Translation from German: Johannes Fischer



Max Berchtenbreiter, born 1994, has been playing chess for almost 20 years, and since the season 2017/2018 the International Master he has been playing in Germany's second league for the Münchener Schachclub 1836. Currently, Max writes his PhD about Modern History at the Ludwig-Maximilians-University in Munich.


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