Yuri Averbakh – The Chess Improver

Yuri Averbakh, the world’s oldest grandmaster, was born 100 years ago, on 8 February 1922, making him the first grandmaster to reach three figures.

Averbakh was awarded the grandmaster title in 1952, and was a world championship candidate in 1953. He scored many tournament successes in the 1950s and 1960s, his solid style making him a tough opponent for all but the best. He was ranked in the world top 20 for a decade between 1954 and 1963.

He gives his name to a number of opening variations, most notably the Averbakh variation against the King’s Indian Defense (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.Be2 0-0 6.Bg5) but is best known for his expertise in the ending. As a young man he had to choose between a career as a and a chess professional, and discovered that, by applying a scientific study to endgames he could combine both interests.

If you’d like to find out more I can recommend a recent book by Andrew Soltis on Smyslov, Bronstein, Geller, Taimanov and Averbakh, which I reviewed here.

This position is based on a game between Smyslov and Averbakh from the 1950 Soviet Championship in which Averbakh was able to hold the draw. Being a scientist (and, of course, not having Stockfish to hand) he wanted to know whether Smyslov had missed a win and came up with this position.

Soltis calls it a study: it’s not as there are multiple solutions. Consider it instead an instructive position which provides a piece of essential knowledge about bishops of opposite color endings. White’s winning plan is probably obvious to most master standard players today, but back then it wasn’t. And, as I keep on telling everyone, the endings are much more important now than they were then. It’s an idea that you really ought to know.

1. g4 hxg4 2. fxg4 fxg4 3. Kxg4 Kf6 should draw, although it’s possible for Black to go wrong and lose, for instance by allowing the white bishop to reach f6 when the black bishop isn’t on e4.

Here’s the ‘official’ answer.

1. f4!! Be4 2. Bf2 Kg7 3. g4! hxg4 4. h5! gxh5 5. a8Q! Bxa8 6. Kxf5 Kf7 7. Kg5 and Black can’t stop both pawns.

In fact White can also win with 1. g4 hxg4 2. f4!!, or, in the ‘official’ answer, 1. f4!! Be4 2. g4!.

The sacrificial to create a passed pawn is familiar from king and pawn endings as well, and should be a theme you recognise in bishops of opposite color endings.

As I always say, play the position out yourself against a training partner or a computer to make sure you really understand the idea.

Here’s the complete game. Stockfish tells me White was winning the ending until 59. Ke3? Ba8? (Kd7 and Ke5 were the drawing moves) 60. f4? (Kf4! returns to the winning position), after which the position was drawn.

Again, if you play the position out you’ll learn a lot about endings of this nature.

Richard James

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Richard James

Author: Richard James

Richard James is a professional chess teacher and writer living in Twickenham, and working mostly with younger children and beginners. He was the co-founder of Richmond Junior Chess Club in 1975 and its director until 2005. He is the webmaster of chessKIDS academy (www.chesskids.org.uk or www.chesskids.me.uk) and, most recently, the author of Chess for Kids and The Right Way to Teach Chess to Kids, both published by Right Way Books. Richard has been a member of Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club since 1966. Richard is a published author and his books can be found at Amazon. Richard is currently promoting minichess (games and puzzles using subsets of chess) for younger children through his website www.minichess.uk, and writing coaching materials for children (and adults) who want to start playing serious competitive chess, through www.chessheroes. uk. View all posts by Richard James

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