Grandmasters are not especially noted for their longevity, but Yuri Averbakh, whose death at the age of 100 was announced the other day, was a notable exception.
He will be remembered for his work on endings, but also for various opening variations bearing his name, most notably the Averbakh Variation against the King’s Indian Defence.
It starts like this:
1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. e4 d6 5. Be2 O-O 6. Bg5, reaching this position.
The immediate point is that 6.. e5?! loses material after 7. dxe5 dxe5 8. Qxd8 Rxd8 9. Nd5, although Stockfish 15 considers Black has reasonable compensation for the exchange ater 9.. Nxd5 10. Bxd8 Nf4.
The engines consider the position about equal after 6.. c5, which is Black’s most popular reply, preferring the main line, 6. Nf3, or 6. Be3 for White. The statistics, however, tell a different story, with White scoring rather better with the Averbakh than with other variations. It’s also played by marginally higher rated opponents. So it might be a good choice if you’re looking for a new weapon against the King’s Indian Defence.
The earliest Averbakh game with this variation on my database was a long draw against Matanovic (who is now the oldest surviving GM) in the 1952 Interzonal, 70 years ago. Averbakh was better most of the game but miscalculated on move 64, turning a +13 ending into a 0.00 ending. Chess news travelled very slowly in those days, and it was only after he scored a series of wins in the mid 50s that the variation took off.
These games demonstrate how easily White can get a strong kingside attack against unprepared opponents. They also demonstrate what a formidable player Yuri Averbakh was back in the 1950s.
Let’s have a look at some of them now. The annotations are by Stockfish 15.