Akiba Kiwelowicz Rubinstein was born on 1 December 1880 in Stawiski, Congress Poland to a Jewish family. He had several siblings, but only one sister survived to adulthood. Rubinstein learned to play chess at the relatively late age of 16, and his family had planned for him to become a rabbi. He trained with and played against the strong master Gersz Salwe in Łódź and in 1903, after finishing fifth in a tournament in Kiev, Rubinstein decided to abandon his rabbinical studies and devote himself entirely to chess.
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