The chess world is mourning. On May 7, 2022, the world’s oldest grandmaster passed away. Yuri Averbakh. He is known not only for the fact that he lived to be 100 years old. Yuri Lvovich is a man of amazing destiny, who passed through many outstanding events in the chess world of the middle of the 20th century. He traveled to Portugal to investigate the mysterious death of Alexander Alekhine; he was approaching the fight for the world title in the mid-50s; he was the chief arbiter of the great battles for the crown between Karpov and Kasparov and between Kasparov and Kramnik.

“He was a man of world renown. His career as a chess player did not last very long – perhaps the sporting character was not enough. But at the same time, he devoted his life to educational activities, being an expert on the history of chess and the theory of the endgame. He actively traveled around the world, participated in conferences, gave lectures, wrote a bunch of papers. He headed several magazines, was a public figure. Of course, he will be missed,” Anatoly Karpov cites the reaction to the tragic event “R-Sport”.

All life is in chess

Yuri Lvovich was born on February 8, 1922 in Kaluga. He became interested in chess from an early age, and won significant victories: for example, at the age of 16 he won the championship of the Soviet Union. However, Averbakh did not immediately become a professional chess player in the usual sense of the word: after studying, he worked as an engineer in the aviation industry, was engaged in science, and went into chess with his head already closer to 30 years.
Averbakh received the title of grandmaster in 1952.

At the age of 40, Yuri Lvovich left professional sports, but not the chess world. For five years (1972 – 1977) he was the chairman of the USSR Chess Federation, for many years he was deputy chairman. Worked as an arbitrator at the highest level competitions. For a long time he was a member of the FIDE Central Committee and an honorary member of the organization.

Yuri Averbakh

Yuri Averbakh

Photo: RIA Novosti

Averbakh’s nominal debut

During his career, Yuri Averbakh won more than a dozen international competitions, and also took part in the Candidates Tournament, which was held in 1953 in Switzerland. In a round-robin tournament among 15 participants, Averbakh took 10-11th place. And Vasily Smyslov became its winner – he played with Mikhail Botvinnik a match for the title of world champion in 1954.

However, Averbakh was interested not so much in sports as in research in chess. When he retired as a professional, he actively took up the study of the game. He was especially well versed in the endgame – most of the grandmasters studied his fundamental work “Chess Endings”. However, Yuri Lvovich wrote more than 50 books, many of which have been translated into foreign languages.

Separately, it is worth noting that one of the variants of the King’s Indian Defense was named after Averbakh (1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. e4 d6 5. Be2 0-0 6. Bg5.). But not all champions have nominal debuts!

Crossed the Moscow River on a dare

Yuri Lvovich was a man of good health. As a child, he willingly went in for skiing, volleyball, hockey and boxing. He himself said that in the fifth grade he easily swam across the Moscow River, and in the ninth grade he swam across it on a dare with his hands and feet tied. The grandmaster retained his love for swimming until his advanced years – until 84 he went to the pool.

It is worth noting that good health allowed Yuri Lvovich to suffer coronavirus twice in recent months. The disease was not easy, but the oldest grandmaster, according to the assurances of the people who communicated with him, fully recovered and was in excellent shape for his age.

Yuri Averbakh

Yuri Averbakh

Photo: RIA Novosti

Investigated the death of Alekhine

In the 50s, the authorities sent Yuri Averbakh to the Portuguese Estoril to investigate the mysterious death of the great Alexander Alekhine.

“Everything was based on the testimony of the waiter, who confessed before his death that he had poisoned the world champion. But there were no documents. It all happened at the Estoril Hotel. That’s where I went. But finding something was impossible. Even the hotel itself was demolished. There are no witnesses at all. Many are for, many are against. Questions for a good investigator. What could I do?” – Averbakh told Sport-Express many years after that trip.

Judge for Karpov and Kasparov

Yuri Lvovich worked in three matches for the world title. For the first time, he received such an honor in 1984 during the “endless” match between Anatoly Karpov and Garry Kasparov. The rivals then played 48 games, but could not reveal the best in the battle to 6 victories. And Averbakh was one of the members of the group that decided to hold a rematch with a score of 0:0.

“For two hours we discussed what to do. Until we come to an option – a rematch will take place, it will start with a score of 0:0. Kasparov was upset that the match was interrupted. Tolik [Анатолий Карпов] – that he did not keep the advantage. In this match up to six victories, he had to win one game! But he couldn’t!

Averbakh was also one of the two main referees of the 1993 match, in which Garry Kasparov dealt with Briton Nigel Short.

The third match for the world title in Averbakh’s refereeing career took place in 2000. In it, Vladimir Kramnik stripped Garry Kasparov of his title.

Yuri Averbakh

Yuri Averbakh

Photo: RIA Novosti

“Averbakh collects a chess school”

Those who are not deeply immersed in the chess world can remember Averbakh’s last name from a line from Alexander Barykin’s famous song “TV Guide”. It sounds like this: “Averbakh collects the chess school.”
Yuri Lvovich has been organizing a chess school on Soviet television for 16 years! And it was during this period that he was most often recognized on the streets. In general, the great grandmaster made an invaluable contribution to the chess education of the USSR and Russia. In addition to the well-known TV show, Averbakh headed several periodicals at once, including Chess in Russia and Chess Bulletin.

Until the last days of his life, Yuri Lvovich retained clarity of mind and was engaged in research work, wrote books, and lectured.

On February 8, 2022, he celebrated his centenary, and on May 4, literally three days before his death, Yuri Lvovich was awarded the Order of Honor.


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