(This article was originally published here on this blog on September 4th, 2010. Readers have asked me to update it and re-publish it. So here it is, and I do so with great pleasure! A real Canadian chess legend, Abe Yanofsky!)
Abe Yanofsky’s name is synonymous with Canadian Chess for the better part of the 20th century. Born in Poland in 1925, his parents moved to Canada before Abe was even 1 year old, settling in Winnipeg.
When his father taught him to play chess at age 8 he demonstrated an immense natural talent for the game, and by the time he was 11 years old he was already recognized as a prodigy.
Yanofsky soon became Canada’s good-will ambassador for chess
Buenos Aires 1939
At the age of 11 Yanofsky was invited to play at the Canadian National Exhibition (1936), where he achieved great successes. On his return to Winnipeg he was hailed a hero by the media. Soon afterwards he started to collect chess championships, one after the other.
At the age of 14 , in recognition of his enormous promise, he was chosen to be part of the National Team to the 1939 Olympiad to be held in Buenos Aires.
Abe exceeded expectations when he achieved the best score on board number 2! This sparkling talent soon attracted the attention of none other than the World Champion, Alexander Alekhine
Alekhine saw a great chess future for Yanofsky if he continued in chess…
In particular, Alekhine was impressed with how the 14 year old lad neatly dispatched the Peruvian Champion Dulanto :
POSITION AFTER BLACK’S 21st MOVE:
It looks like White is in trouble, but Abe had something up his sleeve that his opponent was not going to like:22. Rxe6!!White sacrifices a rook to draw the enemy King into the open 22… Kxe6 23. Re1 Kd6 24. Qf6! Kc5 25. Re5 Kc4 26. b3! Kd3 27. Qd6 Kc2 28. Re2 Black resigns. It is forced mate.
Alekhine was so impressed, that he included this example in several of his lectures and in atleast one of his books. The final attack was brilliantly executed by the young Canadian!
With the outbreak of the Second World War, Abe’s chess ambitions were put into the background. He served in the Royal Canadian Navy from 1944 to 1946. Then for a short period he toured Europe, giving simuls, lectures and playing in tournaments. He achieved great success, quickly establishing himself as the strongest player in the CommonWealth.
He even defeated the future World Champion (Botvinnik) in their individual encounter in the 1946 Groningen tournament. Yanofsky soon afterwards returned to his academic studies and became a noted lawyer.
Abe achieved more success than any other Canadian chessplayer had before him, and with the possible exception of this writer, more than any player since.
The 1946 Groningen International Chess Tournament was the first great chess tournament since before the Second World War. It was considered a type of world championship qualifier. Abe did quite well, considering his youth and inexperience! He finished in 14th position (out of 20) with 8.5 points.
The Immortal Botvinnik
Mikhail Botvinnik was Abe’s most famous victim. It took him almost 20 years before he finally levelled the score (in 1964)!
Yes, Abe was a bit lucky, but the Canadian youngster never let the great Botvinnik get away once he had him by the tail!
Former World Champion Euwe against the young Abe at Groningen 1946.
Euwe was always a dangerous adversary. They played in the first round, and a very nervous Yanofsky should have drawn the ending, but a slip gave the Dutchman an opportunity to win. The opposite-colour Bishop ending has been included in virtually every respectable endgame book since!
Wow! That was GREAT!
Yanofsky’s efforts to popularize chess were well received wherever he went.
The Great Bobby Fischer
Bobby Fischer found Abe an exceptionally difficult opponent to beat. His personal score was 1.5 points out of 2 games but at the 1962 Interzonal it took Fischer 112 moves to win. Fischer probably never worked so hard in his life for the whole point!
Although Abe Yanofsky was not interested enough in the game to motivate himself in putting in the dedication necessary to fight to win the World Chess Championship, he remained a top player in the world for a long time. He became a Grandmaster in 1964–the first in the CommonWealth! He won 8 Canadian Chess titles, amongst numerous other championships, and participated on the National Team at the Olympiad 11 times.
Yanofsky was also active in the promotion of chess in Winnipeg, organizing the 1967 Winnipeg International Tournament . He eventually earned the International Arbiter Title (IA). In recognition of Abe’s life-long contributions to chess as well as for his civil leadership (Abe was Mayor of a suburb of Winnipeg and an alderman in Winnipeg), he was awarded the Order of Canada in 1972. He remained active in chess right up until his death in 2000, just 3 weeks shy of his 75th birthday.
Abe wrote several excellent books. Apart from the above book, I was impressed with his”100 years of Canadian Chess”, a wonderful book that I read when I was still in highschool. The book was one of the more popular chess books in the school library.
Yanofsky’s style of play in chess can be characterized as logical and pragmatic. Much like his personality, actually! He was always calm and measured. He did not give into speculative or risky play, instead preferring to build up his position on solid and sound principles. He possessed really excellent endgame technique. In this way , many of his best games remind me of Capablanca.
1951 Canadian Championship Participants and Officials
Dave Creemer, Hayes, Ridout, Holowach, Adrian Russell, Jursevskis, Millar, Taylor Yanofsky, Vaitonis, Anderson, Fox, Bohatirchuk, Divinsky Missing: Yerhoff
However, Abe was also an excellent tactician, capable of calculating many moves ahead and finding cute combinative ideas. Many of opponents found this out to their disadvantage. I give some of my favourite examples:
POSITION AFTER BLACK’S 26th MOVE
Black’s position seems solid enough at first glance.
Dr. Nathan Divinsky, also from Winnipeg and born in the same year as Abe (1925) and a very strong player in his own right, found Yanofsky a very tough adversary. His life-time record in official tournament play is just two draws in 4 games.
In the following example, Ragozin has embarked upon a violent attack against Yanofsky’s uncastled king. Black’s lack of development is a serious problem, and it is not clear how he will be able to coordinate his forces before white will be able to bring to bear on Abe’s king. White has just castled. Yanofsky now comes up with a brilliant tactical solution to the problems in the position:
POSITION AFTER WHITE’S 13th MOVE
Ragozin was one of the leading grandmasters of his day.
13…Qxd4!! This move seems to fall into White’s trap, but Yanofsky had seen very deep into the position. 14.Bb5 Threatening mate as well as the Black Queen. Did Abe overlook it?
14…Qxd1!! 15. Rxd1 axb5
The whole point! Black has managed to give up his queen to eliminate the white attack. It seems as though Ragozin has overestimated his attacking chances. Yanofsky went on to win a brilliant victory over the Soviet grandmaster.
One of my all-time favourites is Szabo vs Yanofsky from the Winnipeg 1967 International Chess Tournament. White has just played his move, advancing his a-pawn, threatening to make a new Queen. It seems as though Abe must have overlooked this strong move. But he did not (!) and instead uncorks a brilliant attack against the white king.
POSITION AFTER WHITE’S 36th MOVE
A brilliant tactical idea. Yanofsky has forseen that the new Queen will be of little use to White, and will not be able to help in the defence of his King. Play continued 37. a8=Q Rxb2 38. Re1 The only move. If he had taken the rook, then black has …Qc1 with a decisive attack against the King. Now it seems as though everything is inorder in Szabo’s position.
38… Bg1!! A very surprising move. The White king finds itself cornered.39. Kh1 Qf2 !
White resigns. If he takes the Bishop with his Rook, then Yanofsky takes the Bishop with his own Rook and mate will shortly follow. A beautiful and surprising finish. Note the white Queen on a8, a sad spectator to the events.
Laszlo Szabo was one of the top European grandmasters during the 50’s and 60’s.
This position is from the game O’Kelly vs Yanofsky, played at the Lugano Olympiad in 1968. White seems to have an excellent position. When Yanofsky played his next move, it must have been like a cold shower to White, for he immediately resigned. (Can you figure it out without seeing the pgn-viewer?)
Grandmaster O’Kelly resigned on the spot!
I have always been impressed with Abe’s knowledge of the French Defence. And especially his skill in handling the delicate positions that often arise and oblige the black player to find hidden counterattacking resources to hold back white’s constant attempts to seize the initiative. In my opinion, Abe’s finest qualities came to the fore in this opening. The following game against the english master Jonathon Penrose is an excellent example of his skill in counterattack.
Jonathon Penrose , 10 times Champion of England, was the brother of Oliver. Neither scored very well against the Canadian!
Penrose, Oliver – Yanofsky, Abe
1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Nf6
Abe never seemed very interested in the Winawar Variation (…Bb4) preferring this classical line. Today it is growing in popularity.
4. Bg5 Be7 5. e5 Nfd7 6. Bxe7 Qxe7 7. f4 O-O!
In my opinion, the best move. Black tucks his king away and prepares to counterattack with c5
8. Nf3 c5 9. g3 cxd4!
A clear solution to the position. Most masters would play …Nc6 first.
10. Qxd4!? Nc6 11. Qd2 a6 12. Bg2 Nb6 !
This move has become a key idea in modern praxis. Black prepares to use the c-file and the threat to play …Nc4 requires white to be careful.
13. Bf1 Bd7 14. Bd3 Qc5 !
I like this move very much. It is almost as if Abe wants White to castle queenside and attack him over on the kingside.
15. g4 Nc4 16. Bxc4 Qxc4 17. O-O-O b5!
Counterplay is the spice of chess
18. Kb1 Rad8 19. Rhg1 f6 !
This is a masterly move. Yanofsky opens up a second front and creates new opportunities. It is important, in these tricky positions, to know when you can put all you apples into one basket (here, black’s queenside attack) and when you have to take some precautionary measures (here, against white’s kingside attack). Abe had exceptional feel in this type of position.
20. exf6 Rxf6 21. f5!?
I do not know if this was designed to grab the initiative or to simply distract black from his attack. In either case, it seems to fail miserably.
Abe Yanofsky was a great chessplayer. For his many fans, and I include myself in this category, we can only regret that Abe did not try to fight for the World Title. Never the less , his best games are a wonderful collection for any student of the game to study and learn from. Abe’s talent and insight into the game was profound.
His games showed great skill in playing dynamic and complex positions. His pragamatic style of play and his ability to keep the game clear and logical are characteristic of the greatest champions.
Abe, for Canadians of my generation, bridged the golden age of chess to the present. He met with Capablanca and Alekhine. He conversed with the great Akiba Rubinstein at the latter’s home. He played Botvinnik, Spassky and Fischer.
When I first met Abe at the Canadian Championship in Calgary 1975, I enjoyed discussing chess history with him. Abe was able to give first hand accounts of personalities that I previously could only read of in texts.
His pleasant personality and natural friendliness will always be remembered fondly by this writer. He encouraged me. Over the next 25 years we dueled fiercely several times at national championships but maintained a warm and cordial relationship. He will be missed.
Abe played an offhand game with the great Rubinstein when he first travelled to Europe
Boris Spassky had the highest opinion of Abe
I consider the styles of Capablanca and Yanofsky very similar.