Study of the Month: The Centennial

by Siegfried Hornecker
2/26/2022 – Humans formed belief systems based on stellar bodies. If you ask an astrologer about it, he might tell you his beliefs which of those have the most influence on your life. If you ask a scientist, he will likely name at least two: Sun and Earth. Ancient cultures already measured a phenomenon that - relative to each other - Earth rotates around the sun as well as around its own axis. A full rotation around itself is called a "day", a full rotation around the sun a "year". Relatively speaking, that is in relation to the sun, Earth returns to its current position after one year. One hundred such rotations are called a "century". A man who is on Earth for such a time is called a "centennial". A centennial who contributes to endgame theory is called... Yuri Averbakh. | Photo of Averbakh: Eteri Kublashvili

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The Centennial

The world in 1922 was vastly different in a technological sense, but also similar in some regards. People around the world faced poverty and war - in my own country, Germany, the war had ended a few years ago, the Republic was established, but soon the economy would completely collapse, leading to the rise of a convicted felon as chancellor, and another global war.

It is hard to imagine how, not only for a German, but also for a Russian, it must have been to spend some teenage years in a direct war, unlike my same years that were spent in war as well, but in nearly complete safety as we were at less risk of being attacked. Even wars were vastly different - the "War on Terror" was aimed at low civilian casualties compared with the second "World War".

Yuri Averbakh grew up in the Soviet Union, born in Kaluga, with the German jewish Auerbach family on the paternal side of the ancestry, a Russian mother that was Eastern Orthodox Christian and whose own mother died very young on the maternal side. Yuri's father likely was an atheist, but with Adolf Hitler's race theory believing that jews remain jews by blood, young Yuri and his father's side of the family would have been at risk of being murdered if Germany won the war or conquered Moscow.

With his family (father, mother, sister), Yuri grew up in Moscow in strong poverty, as I learned from the Schulz article linked below.

Averbakh, we learn from Wikipedia where we also found the information about his family, called himself a fatalist. This isn't surprising to me with the circumstances of his youth.

Personally your author has a dark and cynical humor, but believes that humans can change their own future to a degree, so he disagrees with fatalism. The term stems from "fatal" in the sense of fate and destiny, not from the other meaning of the word that includes destruction.

Wikipedia for some information quotes the article by the ChessBase team celebrating the 85th birthday in 2007, which despite removed pictures contains some information about his practical play career. André Schulz added much more information in this month's 100th birthday celebration. So I only repeated what is necessary to establish Averbakh's mentality and recommend those two articles for further reading on the practical player Averbakh and how he came to chess.

The February 2022 issue of the German chess problem society magazine "Die Schwalbe" has a short honoration of Averbakh. They write that Averbakh is a renowned book collector, not only author. The German translations of his books usually were published in the Sportverlag Berlin. In 1956, when the title was introduced, he was named an International Judge for Chess Composition (for endgame studies). So as a top player Averbakh also became a top critic of invented endgames. It is surprising that of the 251 endgame studies attributed to him, at least from my perception, not much is talked compared to his practical career. In the database of Harold van der Heijden, we often see "source unknown". What does this mean? Are the studies just attributed to him, or are they really by him but the source was lost somehow?

Let us lighten the mood for now with a small humorous endgame study.


Yuri Averbakh, "EG" 78, August 1984. White to move and win.

1.Rb7+! Kc4 2.Ka7 a5 3.Ka6/b6 a4 4.Ka5 a3 5.Ka4 a2 makes the pawn chase look even more hopeless than in Réti's study. But, of course, there is a friend who saves the day: 6.Rc7+ and 7.Rc1 wins

Now the study above is relevant for our article not because of its content, but because it is a small curiosity. In 1984, Averbakh's endgame studies used to be published in "Шахматные окончания. Ладейные", featuring often the material of... King and Rook against King and Pawn. So the EG study is one that was not published in that book first. The book title means "Chess endings. Rooks." It was part of his five books series from 1980 to 1984. According to the Russian language entry in Wikipedia, the publishing house "Fizkultura i Sport" published three more unofficial books in the series by other authors from 1986 to 1989. They had other titles but a similar design. Those endgame books were by Levenfish and Smyslov (1986), Sherevshenko (1988), Slushkin and Sherevshenko (1989). However, in my opinion the different names make it clear that they were not intended to be confused with Averbakh's series, which was also published in German in the Sportverlag Berlin.

According to the various Wikipedia entries, Averbakh's first book on endgames was published in German in 1958 to 1964 in four issues as "Lehrbuch der Endspiele" (literally translated "Endgame Manual" - such translations follow in brackets). Mark Dvoretzky used that English title for his work, so his German title was "Die Endspieluniversität" (The Endgame University). Strangely, Averbakh's earliest book seems to be 1957's "Как решать шахматные этюды" (How to solve endgame studies). His latest is the co-authorship of "Учебник шахматной игры" (Textbook of Chess Play). So I might miss something here. I can't imagine his solving book to be translated as a manual for endgames, so the list I found is likely incomplete.

The timelines for endgame studies aren't as confusing. The first appeared in 1948 in Shakhmaty v SSSR, which was, as far as I understand it, the Soviet Union's leading chess magazine with a corner for endgame studies and chess problems. Famously, in March 1983, the Babson task by Leonid Yarosh was published there, which is also the only issue where I have a copy of. Disregarding the "source unknown" studies, the same magazine was Averbakh's only study publication until his endgame books were written, starting in 1956. After his 1958 book he published also in "Shakhmatny Bulletin" which, together with future books, seems to be the only sources for his endgame studies (i.e. Shakhmaty v SSSR, Shakhmatny Bulletin, once in EG, and often in his books). Only one endgame study was ever awarded, at least from those with known sources. The modified version is shown below, but many readers likely know it. Looking up the publication details, it was not only reproduced in EG at the same page the study above was published, but in November 1983 the semi-final candidate matches for the World Chess Championship (in practical play) were held in London, where Averbakh showed the improved version. Pal Benko, apparently unaware, published the same setting in "Chess Life", June 1984, while Averbakh had published it in "Shakhmaty v SSSR", January 1984 (source: EG 78, page 382).


Yuri Averbakh. Shakhmaty v SSSR, July 1980, 2nd special prize (version). White to move and win

After 1.Ke6 e4 the original setting is reached, but the study is enriched with the new try 1.Rg5? Kf4 2.Kf6 e4 3.Rf5+ Kg3(Kg4) 4.Re6 Kf3 draws. Averbakh's brilliant finding was that now only 2.Rg5!! wins. Two main variations prove the win: 2.-Kf3 3.Rf5+! Kg2 4.Re5 Kf3 5.Kd5 e3 6.Kd4 e2 7.Kd3 wins or mirrored after 2.-Kd3 3.Rd5+! Kc2 4.Re5 Kd3 5.Kf3 e3 6.Kf4 e2 7.Kf3 wins

The new rook endgames book appeared in 1984, so Averbakh likely didn't want to wait for another several years to publish his finding, and sent it to the magazine. In 1991 Ivanov presented a tactical study that ended with the position, which is also replayable below.

Let us return to 1956 and the title of an International Judge for endgame studies. The minutes of the Budapest congress are available only in French, but an entire double page is dedicated to who has received that title. Next to Yuri Averbakh is another endgame study judge who might be recognized by some readers. You see, the names are sorted by country and in alphabetical order, so after A comes B: Averbakh, Botvinnik... yes, Mikhail Botvinnik. The same title. The man Averbakh played training matches with at the time. They shared more than one chess hobby... (unfortunately I found no game from the training matches that would be interesting enough to be added here).

Sharing a title with Averbakh and Botvinnik doesn't bestow their gravity onto someone. Yours Truly received the same title in 2014, but hardly ever judged since then. The first tourney he fully judges since then is only now in 2022 - for fairy chess, which is not included in his title. Unfortunately, I am unaware of how to search for what judge was responsible for what tourney, so no information can be provided on Averbakh - or Botvinnik - being the judges of tourneys at this moment. On the bright side, the readers of this monthly series are among the best-informed, so I have high hopes that they can provide additional knowledge (see the erratum at the end of this article, again, for an example). In 2011 Averbakh talked about Botvinnik with a Russian magazine: Interview in Russian, archived

From this interview it seems the two got along pretty well. One example, translated with DeepL:

Averbakh replied to a question: "Botvinnik was friendly and asked me what I did, apart from chess. My arm was bandaged and he asked if I had been wounded at the front. I said I wasn't at the front."

A few years later, Botvinnik became the sixth World Chess Champion. Averbakh started writing his endgame books. It's not difficult to believe Botvinnik read Averbakh's books, but the author himself didn't manage to conquer the highest over-the-board title. But he managed to have another top title. I don't mean the International Grandmaster that was awarded in 1952, but rather being the chairman of the Soviet Chess Federation in 1973 to 1978. Among his achievements is also the title of "Honored Master of Sports of the USSR". The international work of Averbakh was honored with the "Order of Friendship of Peoples" in 1981. During the nearly 20 years of the medal's existence, over 72,000 were awarded. As a side note, Russia later kept this tradition intact afterwards with an own "Order of Friendship", decreed by Boris Yeltsin in 1994.

Following a reference in Wikipedia, I looked in the book "The Day Kasparov Quit" by Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam. Indeed there is an interview from Leiden, May 1997, where Averbakh talks about his life. He recalls most friends being killed during WWII. The death of Ragozin made him Shakhmaty's editor, and later the match of Fischer v. Spassky saw nobody wanting to be president of the Soviet Chess Federation, so as deputy he automatically filled that role when everyone else resigned. The office became more attractive again when Karpov won the title...

Apart from his friendship with Smyslov, which started in 1935, nothing is found that could be relevant to endgame study compsing. The chess history book that 75 year old Averbakh wanted to write also either never came to pass, or Yours Truly hasn't heard about it.

Unfortunately, that is all the relevant information about chess composition that your writer can provide about Averbakh. A selection of his endgame studies is replayable, as usual. Please allow a small epilogue:

Averbakh is retired from practical chess since 1992. His last endgame study is from 1989. Will he give this writer the great honor to read this article, and possibly smile at the thought that he is admired by a young man who was born when all but one of his endgame studies has been published? If so, he might want to reminisce in memories while replaying the endgame studies below. Your 100th birthday was celebrated by many. Your endgame studies are celebrated by me. :-)


The complete incompetence of this author who despite checking everything with the computer failed to find a relevant line prompted our reader "erony" to point out the mistake by Yours Truly:


Analysis of the game Tal - Kortschnoi, Moscow 1968

Black to move draws with (we keep the move numbers of the previous month): 7.-f4+!! 8.g:f4 e:f4+ 9.K:f4 Kf6 10.Ke4 Ke7 11.a4 c4 12.a5! c:b3 13.Kd3 Kd6 14.Kc3


Here 14.-Kc5?? 15.K:b3 leads to mutual zugzwang, so Black should play 14.-Kd5 or 14.-Kc6 15.K:b3 Kc5!! (16.f3 e5!) with a draw.

This refutes an analysis of Paul Keres in "Chess Life & Review", December 1968, there based on an analysis by Smyslov and Furman.



Siegfried (*1986) is a German chess composer and member of the World Federation for Chess Composition, subcommitee for endgame studies. His autobiographical book "Weltenfern" (in English only) can be found on the ARVES website. He presents an interesting endgame study with detailed explanation each month.


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