Abe Yanofsky

First chess grandmaster in the British Commonwealth

Born: 26 March 1925, Brody, Poland
Died: 5 March 2000, Winnipeg, Manitoba

Daniel Abraham (Abe) Yanofsky was the son of immigrants who moved to Canada when he was eight months old. His father began teaching him to play chess when he was eight years old after picking up a board and pieces in a local store for a dollar.

In 1936 at the age of eleven, Yanofsky was invited to play in a tournament at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto and won the Canadian senior boys' chess championship. While he was there, Yanofsky played twenty-two adults simultaneously in an exhibition match, winning seventeen games and losing five. He returned home to a hero's welcome. The following year, he won his first provincial title.

Yanofsky came to international attention in 1939 when he was chosen to join the Canadian team at the Buenos Aires Olympiad. During the tournament, the fourteen year old faced Peruvian champion Alberto Dulanto and defeated him with a rook sacrifice, a move that is one of the most studied in chess history.

Yanofsky's father had died the previous year so when he returned home from Argentina, Abe dropped out of high school and took a job at the Atlantic Fruit Company. He continued his studies at night school and earned his high school diploma when he was sixteen. The Navy came calling in 1944 and he served until 1946. After the war, he travelled Europe for a time, playing in tournaments and exhibition matches and giving lectures on chess. He was invited to play in the Staunton Tournament in Groningen in The Netherlands where he defeated world champion Mikhail Botvinnik, a feat of which he was very proud.

He returned home to attend the University of Manitoba, graduating with a law degree in 1951, and then continued his studies at Oxford. While he was in England, he became the 1953 British chess champion and published his autobiography. Yanofsky moved back to Winnipeg to practice law and raise a family. He continued to play chess and, by the end of a tournament in Tel Aviv in 1964, Yanofsky had earned the title of Grandmaster, the first person in the British Commonwealth to do so.

Eventually, Yanofsky entered politics, becoming mayor of the Winnipeg suburb of West Kildonan and then a Winnipeg city councillor. He retired from political life in 1986. That same year, he attempted to win back the title of Canadian champion but finished third.

Abe Yanofsky won eight Canadian chess championships (his first in 1941 at age seventeen, his last in 1965) and was named an Officer of the Order of Canada on 23 June 1972. He played his final tournament in Groningen in 1996, facing many of his old rivals, and died of cancer and congestive heart failure four years later. He was three weeks shy of his 75th birthday.

Additional trivia:

Yanofsky was banned from playing in Manitoba championships in the early 1940s because no one could defeat him.

In 1942, he toured Canada, playing simultaneous exhibition matches. In total, he played 440 people and lost only 8 games.

Yanofsky played Bobby Fischer in 1962 in Stockholm. It took Fischer 112 moves to win the game. The pair met again in 1968 in Israel and played to a draw.

More information:

Tributes to Yanofsky, as well as pictures and games
Yanofsky's chess games


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Added 17 January 2004.