Rubinstein's Opening Developments

Rubinstein's Opening Developments

GM Illingworth
What is so special about Akiba Rubinstein (pictured below)?

He is considered to be one of the greatest players never to become World Champion, but did you know that he also developed a number of completely new opening systems, that today are serious main lines?
First, he developed the Rubinstein System against the Tarrasch Defence, which nowadays is the most popular variation of this opening: 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 c5 4.cxd5 exd5 5.Nf3 Nc6 6.g3 Nf6 7.Bg2:

It took over 100 years for this approach to be neutralized, with Dubov's 7...cxd4! 8.Nxd4 Bc5! pawn sacrifice. And even this idea can be avoided, if White delays Nc3 in favour of 0-0. (Nowadays White's best move is thought to be the greedy 6.dxc5!, but this only started to be understood in 2012).
Rubinstein also invented the Meran Variation of the Semi-Slav, which goes: 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 e6 5.e3 Nbd7 6.Bd3 dxc4 7.Bxc4 b5:

Black has essentially achieved an improved Queen's Gambit Accepted, as compared to this opening, White has needed two moves to bring his bishop to c4. Meanwhile, Black can easily play moves like ...Bb7, ...a6 (or ...b4) and ...c5 to hit back in the centre, with a good game.
In fact, the Meran is considered so effective for Black, that the vast majority of GMs today avoid it with the 'Anti-Meran' 6.Qc2, or 5.Bg5. Rubinstein himself had some success with the creative Stonewall-inspired 6.Ne5!?, though this invention is nowadays mostly forgotten.
Rubinstein even has an Attack named after him. The 'Rubinstein Attack' goes 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 Be7 5.Bg5 0-0 6.e3 Nbd7 7.Qc2, a more active attempt than the main line 7.Rc1.

Nowadays this move is considered harmless after 7...c5, though I've had good results in online blitz as White with 8.Rd1, keeping the tension. (7...c6 is too passive after 8.Bd3, heading for an improved Meran with the bishop outside the pawn chain on g5).
Rubinstein also has a variation of the French named after him: 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3/Nd2 dxe4 4.Nxe4. Black surrenders the centre initially, but ends up with a solid position out of the opening after 4...Nd7 and 5...Ngf6. White does get a small edge out of the opening, as games like this show.  
In the first several years of my playing career, my opening repertoire was very much influenced by Rubinstein. That's becuase, against the Nimzo (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4), I would play the Rubinstein Variation with 4.e3. 
I started out playing it with Bd3/Nf3 in most cases, but later also learned Rubinstein's favoured approach of Nge2, with the idea of a3 and winning the bishop pair without accepting doubled pawns (as would happen in the Samisch Variation, 4.a3 Bxc3 5.bxc3).
Nowadays I like to play the Rubinstein with the modern 4...0-0 5.Bd2!? trend, which has been more successful for me than any other system I've tried against the Nimzo (and I've tried nearly all of them).
Rubinstein's opening developments also helped me greatly as a professional player. I remember that, when I first learned 1.e4 e5 as Black, I found the Spanish Four Knights with 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bb5 slightly unpleasant to face, with neither 4...Bd6 or 4...Bb4 completely satisfying me. However, when I learned Rubinstein's 4...Nd4! equalizer, everything changed for me.
This move is the reason I don't play the Four Knights myself as White. Well, White does have the 'drawish' 5.Nxd4 exd4 6.e5 variation, but even there, Black has been winning a fair share of top GM games, bucking the old reputation.
Rubinstein also developed a very effective antidote to the English Opening, named the 'Rubinstein Variation' of the Symmetrical English. It goes 1.c4 c5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.g3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.Bg2 Nc7:

Black's idea is to play ...Nc6 and ...e5, with a reversed Maroczy Bind. White's extra tempo is enough for him to equalize, but not more than that.
Incidentally, Kramnik lost an important World Championship qualifying match in 1993 to Boris Gelfand by not following Rubinstein's recipe. This is quite a coincidence when you consider that Rubinstein is Gelfand's favourite player! In any case, Kramnik fell into a trap with 5...e6?, and after 6.Nxd5 exd5 7.Qb3! he lost a pawn and the game.
In conclusion, we can see that Rubinstein had a great influence on the development of modern opening theory. Anyone who wants to master 1.d4/2.c4 as White would do well to study his games closely, and his ideas for Black also serve as a strong foundation for a modern Black repertoire with a reliable strategic foundation.
See you in the next post!