A Brief Review of Donaldson's and Minev's The Life & Games of Akiva Rubinstein, Volume 2: The Later Years
John Donaldson and Nikolay Minev, The Life and Games of Akiva Rubinstein, Volume 2: The Later Years. (Russell Enterprises 2011.) 440 pp., $34.95. Reviewed by Dennis Monokroussos.
Akiva (Akiba) Rubinstein was one of the greatest players of the early 20th century, and one of the greatest players never to even have a shot at the world championship. His openings and his approach to the openings were ahead of their time, and he was an absolute genius when it came to the ending - rook endings in particular. Of course his middlegame play was at an elite level as well, and his tactical skill is on display in many games - most famously and flashily perhaps in the game with Rotlewi, but in many more besides.
Rubinstein, unlike his great (near) contemporaries Jose Raul Capablanca and Alexander Alekhine, never published a book of his best games, and for whatever reason there's a paucity of English-language literature on this great player. Fortunately IMs John Donaldson and Nikolay Minev have sought to repair this with their two-volume series on Rubinstein. Volume 2, "The Later Years", covers his career from late 1920 on to his retirement from tournament play in 1931, and presents some later battles including a number of training games with his son Sammy played in the mid-to-late 1940s.
In all there are 583 games, many of them annotated with notes going back to early or even original sources. (Examples include Hans Kmoch's book on Rubinstein, tournament books by Nimzowitsch and Alekhine, and on some rare occasions comments by the man himself.) Occasionally the authors (Donaldson and Minev) make some brief parenthetical comments, but theirs is a light touch. As a rule, I think it's to an editor's credit to go light on correcting annotations made in a pre-computer era, but as this wasn't a reissue of Kmoch's Rubinstein's Chess Masterpieces but their own new, original work, it would have been nice to see them annotate some of his classics. They do offer some comments on occasion to some otherwise unannotated games, but more would have been nicer. With the benefit of a more modern understanding, as well as the opportunity to consult with older sources and chess engines, it would have been valuable to see what they could find re-examining Rubinstein's games. (Maybe they'll do that with a "best games" volume in the future? One can only hope.)
Along with the games are a large number of crosstables and photographs, not to mention a fair amount of historical information. The authors typically say a few words about the tournaments and Rubinstein's travels, often quoting reports from contemporary sources. They also offer quite a few mini-biographies and other bits of background on Rubinstein's opponents. About Rubinstein himself they offer 16 pages of biographical material at the start of the book, which is well-supplemented by the background info mentioned above.
All in all it's a treasure trove of information for Rubinstein's fans, who should be many, and for beginners to his oeuvre they offer on page 28 a "sampler" recommending 34 games that "represent some of the high points" of the second half of his career. My only regret - and this is really a request for another book and not a criticism of the one Donaldson and Minev have written - is that we don't have a satisfactory "best of" book on Rubinstein in the English language. Nonethless, I can recommend this book, especially to fans of chess history in general and Rubinstein in particular.