Thursday, August 17, 2017

Rubinstein's Immortal Game

Today we will look at a game showcasing the power of bishops on open diagonals. Our hero of the day is Polish chess master Akiba Rubinstein, who was considered one of the strongest players to never become world champion.

Rubinstein (right) vs Lasker, 1909

In this game, Rubinstein took advantage of his opponent's exposed king to execute a well-planned queen sacrifice, opening the diagonals for his bishop pair to swoop in for the kill. The resulting combination was called "perhaps the most magnificient... of all time" by Carl Schlechter (Wikipedia).

Rotlwei, George vs Rubinstein, Akiba
Łódź 1907

1. d4 d5
2. Nf3 e6
3. e3 c5
4. c4 Nc6
5. Nc3 Nf6
6. dxc5?!

Helping Black develop his bishop. More accurate was 6. cxd5 exd5 (6... Nxd5 7. Bc4) 7. Bb5 (7. dxc5 Bxc5 Black has an isolated pawn but has the possibility of pushing ... d4 creating problems for White.)

6... Bxc5
7. a3 a6
8. b4 Bd6
9. Bb2 O-O
10. Qd2?

Tatakower criticised this move as a "loss of time". Indeed, this is not the best square for the queen, as it does not exert any useful control over the centre. Better would have been 10. Qc2.

11... Qe7! (D)

Position after 11... Qe7

Giving up a pawn. The idea is to play ... Rd8 creating an indirect attack on White's queen.

11. Bd3

White was wise not to go for 11. cxd5 exd5 12. Nxd5 Nxd5 13. Qxd5 Rd8! gaining tempo with a strong attack.

11... dxc4
12. Bxc4 b5
13. Bd3 Rd8
14. Qe2 Bb7
15. O-O Ne5

Exchanging off the defender of h2.

16. Nxe5 Bxe5
17. f4

Black was threatening the following tactical combination after for example 17. Rab1? Bxh2+! 18. Kxh2 Qd6+ 19. Kg1 Qxd3 winning a pawn and forcing their way into White's camp.

17... Bc7
18. e4?!

White is planning for an e5 push, restricting the squares of Black's dark-squared bishop. But this exposes the king.

18... Rac8
19. e5 Bb6+

Alas, after all that effort in denying Black the h2-b8 diagonal, the bishop simply switches to another diagonal! White's king is in a precarious position now.

20. Kh1 Ng4!

Rubinstein wastes no time and goes straight for the attack. 20... Ne4 was possible too.

21. Be4

At last, Rotlewi realizes the danger his pawn pushes have created, and hurries to exchange off the bishop pair.

21... Qh4

Of course, Black is not going to exchange! He must press on the assault before White's king can find any safety.

22. g3 (D)

Position after 22. g3

A critical moment. Can you find Rubinstein's next move?


A stunning queen sacrifice, banked on the fact that that two bishops are strong enough to fence in White's king. Black's plan is to remove the two defenders of e4 so that he can capture White's light-squared bishop with check.

23. gxh4 Rd2!

Continuing with the plan, removing White's last defender of e4 with another sacrifice.

24. Qxd2 Bxe4+

White's king has no escape.

25. Qg2 Rh3 (D)

Position after 25... Rh3

There is no defense to ... Rxh2#. 25... Rc2 would have finished the game off in a similar manner.

This game was known as Rubinstein's Immortal and rightfully so; it is a spectacular demonstration of the power that two bishops possess on open diagonals.


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