Averbakh Speaks at the Marshall
By Joseph M.Calisi   
June 5, 2008
President of the Marshall Chess Club, Dr. Frank Brady introduces GM Yury Averbakh. Photo Joseph M.Calisi

The legendary Russian Chess Grandmaster Yuri Averbakh, made an appearance at the Marshall Chess Club and spoke about the history of chess, some favorite endgame combinations and his impressions of the general chess scene.

The 85-year old Averbakh’s credentials are many within the world of chess: international grandmaster, international arbiter, international grandmaster of chess composition, former president of the Russian Chess Federation and world-renowned author of a three-volume book on endgame study among the dozens of books he’s authored in his lifetime. During his playing days, he was regarded as a sound tactician but not necessarily with a straight-forward style.

During his appearance at the club, he spoke of many things – some end-game positions, theories on chess and how he groups various players over the years. He clearly had a lot to say, as one would expect from a veteran of the chess wars that was born in 1923.

One of the first things GM Averbakh spoke of was his draw against Bobby Fischer. “I was afraid to lose to a boy and he didn’t want to lose to me, so we made it a draw,” he said. He laughed like he stole one, revealing that Fischer’s prowess was already legend.

The leadoff topic of the night’s lecture was that chess is a game of beauty in addition to its psychological aspects. “It is right to teach young people that chess is not a game of war, but is a beautiful game.” 

The next idea discussed was his chess player classification system. He later added to me in an interview afterwards that, “I was a coach, a second and sparring partner of many great chess players and got to know them personally.”  Because of this vast personal and historical knowledge of the game and its players, he was able to make these determinations.  Here are his categories and the players that fit them:
1.    Killers – played for a knockout in the opening. He added that these kinds of players came from difficult families. He said that Spaniards, Korchnoi, Fischer and Botvinnik fit into this class.
2.    Fighters – while they are not killers, they fight with all their strength and it is important for them to win. Lasker, Reshevsky and Bronstein all fit this category but that Tal also had traits of an artist in him.
3.    Sportsmen – once a game is finished, they are normal people. Smyslov, Keres, Spassky and Capablanca all displayed this trait.
4.    Players and gamblers – they played all kinds of games – cards, backgammon and the like. Karpov, Geller and Petrosian all dabbled in different games.
5.    Artists – it is important to win beautifully.
6.    Investigators and researchers of chess – Rubenstein, Fine, Tarrasch (the teacher of chess to Germany) and Nimzowitsch. After making this list, he said he was a sportsman and that types five and six are never world champions.

Averbakh then moved on to discussion of chess in the USSR. Botvinnik’s outspokenness was mentioned. Averbakh said he never saw any evidence of drawn or thrown games at the Russian Chess Federation which drew some snickers from the crowd.

GM Yury Averbakh with Dr.Frank Brady

In answering a question from the room about the once-projected Fischer – Karpov match, Yuri Averbakh made a couple of interesting statements. According to the GM, “Fischer lived in his own world and we can criticize him for his 9/11 statements, but I believe he was a great player that was NOT afraid of Karpov.” After fielding another couple of follow-up questions, he stuck to his guns and his position was unmoved about Fischer.

The end-game strategy demonstration proved to be very interesting. He began with the invention of chess in the 9th century. At that time, there were three ways to win: checkmate, king solo and stalemate. With his vast knowledge of the Medieval end-game, he concluded that the accepted solution to a 9th century position was wrong. Using the theory of corresponding squares, the ‘book solution’ was rewritten to reflect GM Averbakh’s new analysis.

In the following photos, he emphasized the ‘comedy’ of chess: the solutions were so surprising that they were humorous. Can you recognize any of the gems pictured below? Perhaps the photo of the attempt to capture the lecture on paper will help. 





After speaking and performing his famous endgame analysis for a crowded room of chess players, Averbakh continued to field questions and sign autographs until the crowd left contented. This is the mark of a true teacher and champion.

Look for more news on the Marshall Chess Club later this month, when the New York International (June 21-25) kicks off. The tournament is open to all players 2200+ and will award a whooping 200 Grand Prix points. For more details, check the official website of the Marshall Chess Club.