Rubinstein's Mastery on the Black Side of the Ruy Lopez

Rubinstein's Mastery on the Black Side of the Ruy Lopez


Hi, everyone!

A few things I wish to share with you all. First of all here are some of Kramnik's thoughts:

Vladimir Kramnik, World Champion 2000-2008

Kramnik – I did not have the opportunity to study chess classics when I was a child. I was born in the Russian provincial town of Tuapse where chess literature was difficult to obtain; only books on modern players, such as Karpov, Petrosian, etc. were available. Of course, later I filled the gap in my education. However, it is much easier for me to talk about those who I met over the board, i.e. Karpov, Kasparov.

Interviewer – As you see it, should young chess players study the classics?

Kramnik – "In my view, if you want to reach the heights, you should study the entire history of chess. I can’t give any clear logical explanation for it, but I think it is absolutely essential to soak up the whole of chess history."

Interviewer – Starting from Gioachino Greco?

Kramnik – "I don’t think it is important to start with those ancient times because that is just the ABC of chess. However, Philidor’s games should be gone through, not to mention Anderssen and Morphy, whose games should be studied without fail. This knowledge will be a real help in self-improvement."

And here is Bronstein's recommendation on how to study chess:

Botvinnik-Bronstein, World Championship Match 1951 (tied)

"You should not "read" a chess creation but you should move the pieces on the chessboard and make move by move exactly as the work of Chess Art was created for the very first time. On your own chessboard with your own chess pieces and in complete silence, to be able to follow closely the events as they unfold before your very eyes. The best way is to do this in three stages."


"First, play through the whole game without hesitating more than a couple of seconds at each move. If you have the urge to pause longer-don't! Take a piece of paper and make some notes if you wish, and continue to play the game to the end. Then get a cup of tea or coffee, relax and try your best to recall from memory the spectacle you have just seen. Try to establish the reasons why certain decisions were made."


"Second, play through the game again, somewhat slower this time,and make notes of everything that you did not see the first time."


"Third, now go straight to those pencil marks and give your imaginative and creative energy free reign. Try to play better than my partner and I. If you do not agree, look closely at each decision, either for White or for Black, with a critical eye. If you look at a game like this you will discover a lot of new and useful knowledge, which you can use for your own benefit."


"Write your findings in a notebook in order to look at them later when you are in a different mood, especially if you like the game. If, during stage one, you took no notes, don't look at this game again. Go on to the next one that, hopefully, will give you more pleasure and satisfaction. It just means that it did not appeal to you. Although I consider chess an Art, I will not blame you at all if you do not like a particular game. In a museum you cannot like every painting you see. As French gourmets say, taste is a very personal matter."


"When I was learning to play chess, I studied thousands and thousands of games played by the older generation in exactly the same way and gained a lot from them."


OK! Back to the main subject of this article, Rubinstein from the Black side of a Ruy Lopez.

At the end of the 19th Century and beginning of the 20th Century, it was typical to start a game of chess with 1.d4 d5 or 1.e4 e5. In the Open Games (starting with 1.e4), many openings were tried, some of which are now in fashion again.

For example, in the Italian Game (also known as the Giouco Piano), a few different systems were tried, including the Evans Gambit. Nowadays the d3 system is in fashion for the last few years. But did you know this system was being played as early as 1837? (maybe even earlier!) Please take a look!

Does this look familiar?

I bet it does, if you saw this recent game:


Now, in the Closed Ruy Lopez, there is a system called the Chigorin Variation, and here is a game from 1906 in which chigorin demonstrates some of the basic ideas of this system. See how systematically Chigorin prepared the ....f5 advance!

Here is a more recent example of the Chigorin Variation, played with great skill recently by 21 year-old Norwegian GM Aryan Tari:

                       GM Aryan Tari (1999-     )


Another variation which is used by World champion Carlsen is the Breyer System in the Closed Ruy. Hungarian GM Gyula Breyer recommended this system as far back as 1911, but it became popular in the 1960's, thanks to Boris Spassky....

                                              Gyula Breyer (1893-1921)

Here is the first available game in the database.....this game is a masterpiece by Borisenko! 

                                            GM Georgy Borisenko (1922-2012)

"Georgy Konstantinovich Borisenko (May 25, 1922 in Chuhuiv, Ukraine—December 3, 2012 in Tashkent, Uzbekistan) was a Soviet correspondence chess grandmaster and chess theoretician.[2] Among the players he trained were Nona Gaprindashvili, Valentina Borisenko (who was also his wife),[2] Viktor Korchnoi, Mark Taimanov,[3] and Timur Gareyev.[citation needed] He became a Russian Master of Sport in 1950 and a Russian Correspondence Grandmaster in 1966. He won the USSR Correspondence Championship twice, in 1957 and 1962, and came in second in 1965.[3] One of his best-known games was played from 1960 to 1963 against Anatoly Rubezov, and is included in multiple anthologies of brilliant chess games.[4] In 1973, David Bronstein described Borisenko as "one of our greatest theoretical experts."[5] In Russia, the Breyer Variation of the Ruy Lopez is known as the "Borisenko-Furman" variation because Borisenko and Semyon Furman were central in bringing it into use in the 1950s.[6] Another line of the Closed Ruy Lopez is also named after him; specifically, the line in the Chigorin Variation which goes 9...Na5 10.Bc2 c5 11.d4 Nc6.[7][8]- "

-from Wikipedia

Here is a great game by WGM Natalia Pogonina, again showing the resilience of the Breyer System....

    WGM Natalia Pogonina (1985-     )    Photograph courtesy of


Another major system in the Ruy Lopez is the famous Marshall Attack. \

                                                  Frank Marshall (1877-1944)

Aronian is one of the main exponents of these systems. But what many people might not know is that it was probably not Marshall's idea, but Chigorin!

                                                  Mikhail Chigorin (1850-1908)

Please look at this game from Ostende, 1905

In his book about Chigorin, Jimmy Adams writes:

 "It is astonishing, but before us lies the prototype of the Marshall Attack, introduced into practice after the sensational encounter Capablanca-Marshall, played in 1918, 13 years after this game. Marshall also played in Ostende and it is very likely that it was there in particular that he took note of Chigorin's method of counterattack beginning with the move 11....d5."

13 years later, Marshall tried this idea against Capablanca:


Now, back to Rubinstein with the Black side of the Ruy Lopez, but first a word or two about Rubinstein!

Here is what Kramnik has to say about Rubinstein:

"We should not forget Rubinstein, an incredibly talented and fantastic chess player. It is a pity that with his extensive knowledge of chess, he was not a World Champion. Sometimes he created true masterpieces and was way ahead of his time. To understand this, you should just go through the collection of his best games. Why didn’t he become a World Champion? That’s a mystery to me. "

Now, going back to the Open systems (1.e4 e5)....most of the great Masters of the late 19th Century and early 20th Century were great at handling both sides of this kind of game. Among them, Zukertort, Chigorin, Schlechter, Lasker and Rubinstein stand out.

One thing I have discovered recently, by exploring Rubinstein's games, is how good a tactical player he was! He is already famous for his contributions to opening ideas and understanding, he is also famous for his rook endgames, but not many people mention how brilliant a tactician he was.

And it stands to reason that any player who is at a level like Rubinstein's, who was considered a worthy challenger for the World Championship, should be proficient in every aspect of the game; strategy, tactics, endgames, etc.

Now, a personal note. I remember how delighted I was when I first saw Rubinstein's system in the Ruy, with the black knights on g7 and looked so solid and secure!

Here are some games by Rubinstein, with my annotations. Please forgive; there will be mistakes in my notes. I provide my own notes because I do not have the time or energy to go to Minev's book on Rubinstein, and go through the tedious process of typing those notes in. So here we go!

                                                Ossip Bernstein (1882-1962)

Game 1

                                             Leo Forgacs (1881-1930)

Game 2

                                                     Paul S. Leonhardt

Game 3

                                               Amos Burn (1848-1925)

Game 4

                                        Rudolf Spielmann (1883-1942)

Game 5

                                                     Efim Bogoljubov

Game 6

                                      Fred Dewhirst Yates (1884-1932)

Game 7

Richard Reti (1889-1929)

Game 8

Game 9

Game 10

Game 11

Game 12

Sir George A. Thomas (1881-1972)

Game 13

                         Hermanis Mattison (1894-1932)

Game 14


OK, one more example of how chess culture can help increase your chess strength.

First of all, all great Masters study their predecessors. Let us take, for example, Paul Morphy. Who did he study? McDonnell vs. La Bourdonnais.

These two gentlemen played six matches in 1834, a total of 85 games. They are considered the fathers of positional chess. Morphy studied their games, and even annotated 31 of these games! Here is one example:

Now, many of these games which started as a Sicilian Defense with 1.e4 c5 soon transposed to a French Defense-type formation.

I remember how, in 1976, the following game made a strong impression on me, and inspired me to take a closer look at the French Defense. Do you think Vaganian knew about the McDonnell-La Bourdonnais game? You bet! Take a look!


Morphy studied La Bourdonnais, Capablanca studied Morphy, etc.........the Master Class from one generation to another continues!
It is my hope that chess players of all strengths will realize the importance of a wide chess culture and how it will help them to understand chess more. There is an intuitive feeling one gets from going over the moves of the great Masters; a knowledge and wisdom that is passed from generation to generation. Best wishes to all!