Congratulations! Yury Averbakh turns 100!

by André Schulz
2/8/2022 – Yury Averbakh is the world's oldest living Grandmaster. In his prime, he was one of the strongest players in the USSR and the world, and in 1953 he took part in the legendary Candidates Tournament in Zurich. After his active career Averbakch worked as author, editor, theoretician, second and official. Today, 8 February, he turns 100! Congratulations! | Photo: Averbakh at the match USA vs. USSR, New York City, 1954 (via D. Griffith)

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Born on 8 February 1922 in Kaluga, a city in the southwest of Moscow, Yury Averbakh has witnessed and has helped to shape a century of chess. He was born into a Jewish family – his father Lev Lazarevic, who worked as a forester at the time of his son's birth, had immigrated from Germany – the original family name was "Auerbach". His mother's Russian family came from the Kaluga area.

Photo: Eteri Kublashvili

When Averbakh was three years old, the family moved to Moscow and lived at Bolshoi Afanasyesky Pereulok, which was only a few minutes' walk from Gogolevsky Boulevard, where the Central Chess Club took up residence in 1956.

Averbakh had a younger sister and in Moscow the four Averbakhs lived in a municipal flat which they had to share with three other families. There was no heating, no electricity and no electric light in the flat. The four families shared a common kitchen with a simple stove on which to cook. In the mid-1930s, the flats in the multi-storey house received central heating. Since the father could not support the family with his income, the mother also had to go to work.

In 1935, the 2. International Chess Tournament took place in Moscow. The tournament was a major event in the Russian capital and attracted a lot of attention. It was played in the Museum of Fine Arts. Averbakh could not visit the tournament, but he did attend a simul by Emanuel Lasker and Rudolf Spielmann at the House of Young Communists. A fellow student of Averbakh defeated Lasker in the simul, and when he saw this, Averbakh felt the urge to get better at chess.

However, Averbakh's first encounter with chess and a good chess player, occurred several years earlier. His mother was a teacher in Kaluga at the same school where Vasily Panov's older sister Anna taught. The two women kept in touch and during a visit to Kaluga, seven-year-old Averbakh met Panov and was amazed to see him playing chess with himself.

After the Lasker/Spielmann simul, Averbakh regularly took part in chess events and visited the chess pavilion in the sports park. He also enjoyed playing volleyball and basketball.

One day Andor Lilienthal gave a 155-board simul in the sports park. Averbakh took part and won his game when Lilienthal blundered a piece in a winning position. The whole simul lasted 12 hours.

Averbakh joined the Moscow Chess Club, which was located in the basement of the Ministry of Justice on Ilyinka. Here, Averbakh visited a lecture by the famous endgame composer Nikolay Grigoriev and became an endgame enthusiast. He also regularly attended the chess classes at the Pioneer Palace, where he soon took part in solving competitions. The training at the Pioneer Palace also included handicap simuls with Grandmasters such as Alexander Kotov or Alexander Tolush. During one of these simuls, Averbakh first met Isaak Linder, who later became a well-known chess historian.

Averbakh made steady progress and in 1938 won the U16 Soviet Championship. After finishing school he started to study engineering, but in 1952 he gave up his studies to devote himself entirely to chess.

In 1944 Averbakh became a "Master of the USSR", and in 1952 FIDE made him a Grandmaster. In 1949, 1950 and 1962 Averbakh won the Moscow Championship, and with a shared 5th place in the Saltsjöbaden Interzonal Tournament 1952, he qualified for the Candidates Tournament 1953 in Zurich.


In 1954 Averbakh won the USSR Championship, and two years later he shared first place with Mark Taimanov and Boris Spassky. In 1955 Averbakh also worked as a second for the young Spassky at the World Junior Championship. Spassky's regular coach Alexander Tolush had broken his leg and a replacement was needed at short notice.








In the 1950s Averbakh was a sparring partner of Mikhail Botvinnik, who played several training matches against Averbakh to prepare for his World Championship matches.

Averbakh's international tournament successes include victories and shared first places at the tournaments in Dresden 1956, Djakarta 1956, Adelaide 1960, Vienna 1961, Moscow 1962, Bucharest 1971, Polanica-Zdró, and Manila 1979.

Yury Averbakh 1963 in Beverwijk | Photo: Dutch National Archiv

As a member of the Soviet national team Averbakh won, among others, the 1957 European Team Championships in Baden (Austria) and 1965 in Hamburg. But Averbakh never played in the Olympiad because there were too many top players in the USSR who were even better.

Averbakh's best rating after the introduction of the Elo-system in 1966 was 2550 in 1971, but he reached his peak in the mid/late 1950s. In his calculation of historical ratings, the statistician Jeff Sonas sees Averbakh as number eighth in the world during this period.

Averbakh published numerous textbooks, especially on the endgame, and composed more than 200 endgame studies and for a long time he was considered to be the world's leading endgame expert. But Averbakh also contributed to opening theory, and a popular variation of the King's Indian Defence is named after him.

In 1962 Averbakh became the editor of Schachmaty w SSSR. The magazine had its editorial offices in the house of the Central Chess Club on Gogolevsky Boulevard.

Kortschnoi, Petrosian and Averbakh prepare for the Candidates Match Fischer-Petrosian, 1971 | Photo: Tass

From 1969 Averbakh also acted as an arbiter and, among other things, officiated at the PCA World Championship Kasparov v Short, London 1993.

From 1973 to 1978 Averbakh was President of the Soviet Chess Federation, having previously been a member of the Presidium. The sensational escape of Viktor Kortschnoi, who did not return from a tournament in 1976, took place during this period. In reaction, the Soviet Sports Committee had prepared a critical statement, which Averbakh and almost all the top Soviet grandmasters signed. However, Botvinnik and Gulko refused, saying that they would not sign collective statements. Karpov published his own statement and Bronstein did not answer his phone.

In 2020, FIDE made Averbakh a honorary member.

In the following video the 94-year old Averbakh shows an endgame study by V. A. Korolkov.

André Schulz started working for ChessBase in 1991 and is an editor of ChessBase News.


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