- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 28, 2012

They were polar opposites at the chessboard and, because of that, produced one of the most intriguing collections of head-to-head battles in the history of the game.

Akiba Rubinstein was one of the greatest positional players of the first half of the 20th century, as well as one of the top endgame specialists of all time. Rudolf Spielmann, born just five months after Rubinstein in 1883, was by contrast a great attacking player who literally wrote the book on “The Art of the Sacrifice.” Rubinstein’s best games were masterpieces of precision and judgment, while Spielmann once famously remarked that “a good sacrifice is one that is not necessarily sound but leaves your opponent dazed and confused.”

In their 35 games over the years, Rubinstein won 15 and Spielmann 12, with eight draws. Some of the best games were played 100 years ago this year, when both were emerging as part of a new generation of players who would dominate the game nearly up until World War II.

Rubinstein had a monster year in 1912, winning five consecutive tournaments. He got the better of Spielmann while winning a strong all-master event in Breslau, for once besting his rival at his own tactical game. Spielmann as White chooses a characteristically sharp line in this Sicilian, but after 11. Nxc6 bxc6 12. Bd4 Qf4, Black is up a pawn and has no real weaknesses for White’s bishops to target.

By 18. Be3 Nxe3 19. Rxe3 Rf8, one White bishop is gone and the other is out of play. White’s gambit clearly hasn’t paid off and now Rubinstein goes on the offensive: 20. Bc6?! (patient defense was never Spielmann’s strong card, but Black is also better after 20. Qh5+ Kg8 21. Bc2 f5) Rb8 21. Bxd5 (White’s idea - if now 21. … exd5?, then 22. Qh5+ Kg8 23. Qxd5+ Kh8 24. Rxe7) Rd8! 22. Ra4 (Bf3 Rxb2 spells big trouble for White, as does 22. Be4 f5 23. Bd3 [Qh5+ Kg8 24. Rh3 Qxd2 25. Qxh7+ Kf8 26. Qh8+ Kf7 27. Qh5+ Kf6 28. Rg3 Qh6 holds] Rxb2) Qg5 23. Bc4 Rxb2 24. Bd3 Ba6?! ( more forceful was 24. … Qxe3! 25. fxe3 Rxd3 26. Qh5+ Kf8 27. Nf1 Bb7, a line Spielmann no doubt would have chosen) 25. Rg4? (missing his last chance: 25. Nc4 Bxc4 26. Rxc4 f5, and White can at least fight on) Rxd2!, and White gives up because 26. Qxd2 Qxg4 27. Rg3 Qf5 is hopeless.

Rubinstein-Spielmann after 25. b4.
Rubinstein-Spielmann after 25. b4. more >

Spielmann returned the compliment with a very Spielmannesque performance at a tournament that same year in San Sebastian, Spain (which Rubinstein again won). On the Black side of a Dutch Defense, Spielmann here plays much more soundly in the opening phase, and by 15. Qb3 Rc7 16. Ne1 Nc5, Black has fully equalized. A careless move by White allows Spielmann to shift over to the attack on 17. Qb4 f4! 18. Nd3?! (Nf3 was safer here) fxg3 19. fxg3 Nxd3 20. Rxd3 Qf2+ 21. Kh1 Bc6! (Qxe2?! 22. Rd2 Qxc4 23. Qxc4 Rxc4 24. Rxd6 Bc8, and White has decent compensation for the pawns), putting pressure on the critical White defensive piece on g2.

Rubinstein tries to turn back the attack on his kingside, but is just a move too late: 24. Qc3 Qc5 25. b4 (see diagram) Bxe4! 26. Rxe4 (bxc5?? Rf1+ leads to mate, while Black gets full compensation after 26. Bxe4 Rf1+ 27. Rxf1 Rxf1+ 28. Kg2 Rg1+ 29. Kf3 [Kh3 Qh5 mate] Qh5+ 30. Ke3 [Kf4!?] Qxh2 31. Qd2 Qxg3+ 32. Ke2 Qg4+ 33. Kf2 Rb1) Rf1+! 27. Bxf1 Rxf1+ 28. Kg2 Qf2+ 29. Kh3.

White is a full rook ahead but his major pieces aren’t much help fending off the Black attack. Spielmann is in his element and finishes things with panache: 33. Kg4 g5! (weaving a mating net, threatening both 34. … Qh5 mate and 34. … Rh4+ 35. gxh4 Qxh4 mate) 34. Rxe6 (Rf8+ Kxf8 35. Kf3 Qh5+ 36. Rg4 Rf1+ 37. Kg2 Qh1 mate) Qxe6+ 35. Rf5 (Kxg5 h6+ 36. Kf4 h5, with the threat of 37. … Rc1! 38. Qxc1 Qh6+, winning) h6.

In a touch his opponent would appreciate, Spielmann pragmatically simplifies down to a won pawn ending with 37. Kf3 Rf1+! 38. Qxf1 (Kg4 h5+ 39. Kxg5 Qg6+ 40. Kh4 Rh1 mate) Qxf5+ 39. Kg2 Qxf1+ 40. Kxf1 axb4 41. axb4 42. Kf2 h5. With his king tied down dealing with Black’s extra kingside pawn, White can’t defend his queenside as well; White resigned.

Spielmann-Rubinstein, Breslau, 1912

1. e4 c5 2. d4 cxd4 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. e5 Nd5 5. Nxd4 Nc6 6. Bc4 Qa5+ 7. c3 Nb6 8. Bb3 Qxe5+ 9. Be3 e6 10. O-O Be7 11. Nxc6 bxc6 12. Bd4 Qf4 13. Re1 f6 14. Nd2 d5 15. a4 c5 16. a5 Nc4 17. Ba4+ Kf7 18. Be3 Nxe3 19. Rxe3 Rf8 20. Bc6 Rb8 21. Bxd5 Rd8 22. Ra4 Qg5 23. Bc4 Rxb2 24. Bd3 Ba6 25. Rg4 Rxd2 White resigns.

Rubinstein-Spielmann, San Sebastian, 1912

1. d4 e6 2. c4 f5 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. Bd2 Nf6 5. g3 O-O 6. Bg2 d6 7. a3 Bxc3 8. Bxc3 Nbd7 9. Qc2 c5 10. dxc5 Nxc5 11. Nf3 Nce4 12. O-O Bd7 13. Rfd1 Rc8 14. Bxf6 Qxf6 15. Qb3 Rc7 16. Ne1 Nc5 17. Qb4 f4 18. Nd3 fxg3 19. fxg3 Nxd3 20. Rxd3 Qf2+ 21. Kh1 Bc6 22. e4 Rcf7 23. Re1 a5 24. Qc3 Qc5 25. b4 Bxe4 26. Rxe4 Rf1+ 27. Bxf1 Rxf1+ 28. Kg2 Qf2+ 29. Kh3 Rh1 30. Rf3 Qxh2+ 31. Kg4 Qh5+ 32. Kf4 Qh6+ 33. Kg4 g5 34. Rxe6 Qxe6+ 35. Rf5 h6 36. Qd3 Kg7 37. Kf3 Rf1+ 38. Qxf1 Qxf5+ 39. Kg2 Qxf1+ 40. Kxf1 axb4 41. axb4 Kf6 42. Kf2 h5 White resigns.

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