Find more information about

at the Center for Jewish History:

NOTE: you will be redirected
to the Web site for the

Rubinstein, Akiba

(1882–1961), chess grand master, often called the greatest player not to have become a world champion. The youngest of 12 children born to an Orthodox Jewish family in Stawiski, Russian Poland, Rubinstein learned chess moves relatively late, at about age 16. Most notable players learn to play at a significantly earlier age, and Rubinstein’s delayed start was blamed for the number of major blunders he occasionally made.

From 1901, Rubinstein lived in Łódź, and from about 1905 to 1912 he developed into one of the strongest players in the world, winning many leading tournaments, including the first All-Russian Tournament (i.e., the Russian Championships) in 1907–1908 and four major competitions in 1912 alone. By 1912, he was recognized as the obvious challenger to world champion Emanuel Lasker’s title, but a number of mishaps prevented a match. Rubinstein, who was very poor, had difficulty raising the money for a title match, which at the time was the responsibility of the challenger. In 1914, he played in the great Saint Petersburg Tournament but finished disappointingly. In the meantime, the great Cuban player José Raúl Capablanca (1888–1942), known as the chess machine for his ability, came to the fore. The outbreak of World War I effectively ended Rubinstein’s aspirations for the world title.

Rubinstein continued to be a very strong player during the 1920s, and he represented Poland in international events. Increasingly, however, he developed signs of mental instability, especially a phobia of meeting other people, and withdrew from competitive chess in 1932. From the later 1930s, Rubinstein and his family lived in Antwerp. Incredibly, they all survived the war. Impoverished, Rubinstein was assisted by an international fund in the later 1940s. Although he never again competed in a chess tournament, he played many offhand games with leading players and was reportedly as good as ever. Prior to his death in 1961, he was one of the last survivors of the great players of the Edwardian era.

Rubinstein is regarded as one of the greatest artists among chess masters and is particularly renowned for his skill in the endgame, at which he had few equals in chess history. His celebrated competition against Gersz Rotlevi (Gersh Rotlewi) in Łódź in 1907, with its extraordinary concluding combination, is one of the most famous chess games in history, and is widely known as Rubinstein’s Immortal Game.

Suggested Reading

John Donaldson and Nikolai Minev, Akiba Rubinstein, 2 vols. (Seattle, 1995–1996); Akiba Rubinstein, Rubinstein’s Chess Masterpieces: 100 Selected Games, ed. Hans Kmoch (New York, 1960).