A QUESTION frequently asked is: “Who was the strongest player never to become world champion?” Akiba Kiwelowicz Rubinstein is probably the most prominent, and tragic, example of a player not to get a chance to face a reigning champion.
In his youth, he defeated top players in tournaments such as future champion José Raúl Capablanca in 1911 and Carl Schlechte, who in 1910 had drawn a match against Emanuel Lasker. Rubinstein was due to play Lasker for the Championship in 1914, but it was cancelled due to the outbreak of World War I.
Rubinstein was born in 1880 in Stawiski, Poland, and his family had planned for him to become a rabbi. He learned to play chess at the relatively late age of 16.
He trained with and played against the strong master Gersz Salwe in and in 1903, after finishing fifth in a tournament in Kiev, Rubinstein decided to abandon his rabbinical studies and devote himself entirely to chess.
Between 1907 and 1912, Rubinstein established himself as one of the strongest players in the world. In 1907, he won the Karlovy Vary tournament and shared first at St Petersburg.
In 1912 he had a record string of wins, finishing first in five consecutive major tournaments: San Sebastian, Pieš any, Breslau, Warsaw and Vilnius, although neither Lasker or Capablanca competed.
Ratings from Chessmetrics place Rubinstein as world No 1 between mid-1912 and mid-1914.
At the time when it was common for the reigning champion to hand-pick his challengers, Rubinstein was never given a chance to play Lasker for the championship because he was unable to raise enough money to meet Lasker’s financial demands.
In the St. Petersburg tournament in 1909, he had tied with Lasker and won their individual encounter. After the war Rubinstein was still an elite player, but his results lacked their previous consistency. Nevertheless, he won at Vienna in 1922, ahead of future World Champion Alexander Alekhine, and was the leader of the Polish team that won the 1930 Olym- piad at Hamburg with a record of thirteen wins and four draws. He also won a silver at the 1931 Chess Olympiad.
Today Chess WP Blitz festival starts at 9 at the Erswa Centre, 11 Warner Crescent, Riverton Estate.
Prize fund guaranteed: Individual Blitz: 1st: R1 000; Team Blitz: 1st: R1 200
The next big event on the WP calendar is the DSK, German School, tournament on Saturday 26 November. Contact Ricardo Minnaar: 081 546 2221.