Saturday, December 27, 2008

New York 1924: The Honorable British Master, Mr. Frederick Yates

Born January 16, 1884 made Frederick Dewhurst Yates 40 at this event. He was a respected British chess master winning the British championship six times with his tenacious and sharp playing style. I could not find much information about this player in my limited research ( without investing in other printed memoirs of players of the time). There is quite a bit of material about his death which I will try to honor later in this article.

Outside of the New York 1924 event, he has been known to defeat attacking players like Alexander Alekhine, Max Euwe, Akiba Rubinstein, and Milan Vidmar while not fairing so well with Positional players like Jose Capablanca and Geza Maroczy. Neither of these players he ever had a plus score against throughout his entire chess playing career.

A look at the games he played in this tournament reveals a tactical and resourceful player who was not all that strong in the opening lines. Rather, he’d make due of his given position and out- maneuver his opponent in the middlegame.

He managed to beat Edward Lasker in both encounters. As White in round 4, he advances the d4 pawn a little early giving Edward a chance cramp Yate’s position. He hangs on until he opens up the position to further complications. Ed. Lasker decides to exchange queens at the wrong time in an effort to simplify and Yates just plays it through to a victory. In round 12, this time as Black, Yates in a similar fashion, plays a passive Indian defense allowing Ed to over extend himself in the center. This was a relatively new hypermodern way to play. However, Yates to a risk at allowing too much central control for white. Luckily, Ed. Lasker decided to play into what Alekhine calls a “strategic Blunder of serious consequences” advancing a pawn to d5 here:

But this weakens the queen side as Ed. Lasker attempts a king side attack further weakening the position by castling queenside. Yates makes best use of the bishop pair like lasers on the queenside. The game ends in a B v N endgame with stronger pawns in Yate’s favor.

In round 14 as Black against Janowski, he plays a queenside strategy with minor pieces instead of freeing his position with a c5 lever advance against the center and almost costs him the middle game as he inherits a cramped position. Janowski, starts a series of exchanges which falls in Yates’ favor. If your opponent has a cramped position, one should avoid exchanges.

He demonstrates his knowledge of defending against the Ruy Lopez in round 11 and draws Emanual Lasker in a game that allowed him the bishop pair as compensation for a slightly weakened pawn position. As the game transitioned from the later middle game to endgame, it becomes clear that with both sides activating the kings and minor pieces, neither was penetrating through to the other side and a draw was agreed upon.

His most resourceful moment was in round 20 against Jose Capablanca. Yates had the white side of a Ruy Lopez . Capablanca managed to grab a strong central defender in the middle game which caused a lot of problems for Yates as Black’s bishops pinned pieces and limited his mobility. Yates sends off a desperado in this position and manages a draw a few moves later with a perpetual check.

In round 18, he was White against Tartakower’s Paulsen Variation of the Sicilian. Tartakower jumps the gun with a premature Ne5 before finishing development and Yates takes full advantage by controlling the center and the open c-file. In a moment of desperation and hopes of a perpetual check, Tartakower throws a piece away. His plan didn’t work out so well and Yates pulls off the win.

In Round 19, Yates plays white against Reti’s Caro-Kann. He doesn’t chase the bishop like we see in typical main lines. Reti gets greedy in the middle game and goes after pawns while Yates sets up a nice attack. Reti resigns after this position:

Overall, Yates finishes in 9th place with 7 points ( +5, -11, = 4 ) With $25 paid to every won game and $12.50 for every drawn to the non-prize winners, Frederick Yates still walked away with $175. I still like the idea of these old tournaments awarding at least some compensation to non-prize winners for games won.


Not much can be found on Frederick Yates following New York 1924. He was an honored British Chess Master. On November 11th, 1932, Yates was found dead in his apartment from asphyxiation due to a leaky gas fitting. The controversy surrounding his death seems to stem from a very speculative quote in Ed Lasker’s book, “ Chess Secrets I Learned from the Masters” ( NY 1951) :

‘It made me very sad to learn, some time during the last war, that Yates had committed suicide, apparently for financial reasons. He had probably been too modest to ask British chessplayers for help.’
To set the record straight, this excerpt was recorded from the court verdict:

It came out at the inquest before the St Pancras coroner on 15 November that, though the gas-taps in the room were securely turned off, there had been an escape from what a gas company’s official described as an obsolete type of fitting attached to the meter in the room. The meter, it appears, was on the floor, and the fitting must have been accidentally dislodged. A verdict was recorded of Accidental Death; and the coroner directed that the gas-pipes from the room should remain in the custody of the court. The body was conveyed to Leeds for burial on the morning of 16 November.’

I’d prefer to remember Mr. Yates for his creativity in mediocre middle games and his ability to pounce when his opponent makes a blunder in strategy.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

New York 1924: The Other Lasker, Edward.

"It has been said that man is distinguished from animal in that he buys more books than he can read. I should like to suggest that the inclusion of a few chess books would help to make the distinction unmistakable."
Ed. Lasker

Edward Lasker wrote in his memoirs of the New York 1924 tournament as published in the March 1974 edition of Chess Life magazine: "I did not discover that we were actually related until he (Emanuel Lasker) told me shortly before his death that someone had shown him a Lasker family tree on one of whose branches I was dangling." Note, this was 1974. ( 7th cousins). He was born on December 3, 1885.

He was a remarkable man. With a Mechanical and Electrical Engineering degree from the Technical College of Berlin, he invented the popular mechanical breast pump (U.S. Patent Office issued Patent No. 1,644,257 ) for nursing woman on the go as well as saving the lives of premature babies. His close colleagues teased him with the label “The Chest Player”. The invention made him some good money which allowed him the chess diversions. Who’s laughing now?

Along with Harry Nelson Pillsbury and other strong American Chess players ( Like Harry Lyman), Ed Lasker was also skilled at other games like Checkers and Go, publishing books on these subjects as well as chess.

He won 5 U.S. Opens ( 1916, 1917, 1919, 1920, and 1921) and narrowly lost a match against Frank Marshall at 8.5 -9.5 for the U.S. Championship. This strong performance got an invitation to this New York 1924 International Event.

Unfortunately, his performs placed him second to last ( 10th). He drew Alekhine both games. His round 10 draw with Alekhine, demonstrates his aggressive style as this endgame became a race to the finish. Alekhine, as Black, had an advanced passed pawn on the 2nd rank ready for the queening square, while Ed delivers a perpetual check to squeak a half point.

In round 6, Ed Lasker as Black, almost beats his distant cousin, Emanuel in a very dynamic Ruy Lopez endgame with Rook versus Knight. Emanuel got behind in the exchange as he fired off a dubious combination in hopes to gain some middle game edge with extra pawns on the king side. He held the position and slowly simplified the position through careful exchanges. Ed tried to secure the point but had to settle for the ½ point.

Against Tartakower in round 13, he was able to get the upper hand while Tartakower played several wasted queen moves as black in a QGD triangle defense. Finally, with a battery of major pieces centralized, he delivers a nice combination and wins the game:

Another strong opponent was round 21 with Reti on the black side of well played Ruy Lopez. Transitioning out of the opening, Reti chooses to open up the king side with an f5 advance to break up the pawn center. This turned out to be a mistake as Ed was able to launch a nice King side attack. Tactically, he delivers this shot with his knight that wins the game.

Those were his only two wins of the event. He managed 9 draws against some tough competition but not enough to pull him out of 10th place.


Edward Lasker deserves a little more mention here. He died in 1981 at the age of 95! In his long lifespan, he bridges the players of the Hypermodern era with the modern players like Petrosian, Tal, Fisher, and Kasparov. Though he never made it to World Champion strength he did manage a few U.S open titles and continued to play and write chess well into his old age.

He was consulted by Claude Shannon at MIT who pioneered information theory and perhaps the first attempt at a chess computer made from relays. Claude went on to publish a paper on computer chess entitled Programming a Computer for Playing Chess.

Edward Lasker was an engineer and a chess player. So am I , what can I say?

Next up: Frederick Yates

Sunday, December 14, 2008

NY 1924: The return of the Janowski

I’ll begin this series with the eleventh place finisher ( last) Dawid Janowski, the representative from France who was 56 at the time of this event. He’s a good cross-over point from the Hasting’s 1895 event where he finished 13th ( top of the lower half) when he was merely 25 years old.

Noted by both Alekhine and Capablanca, Janowski’s play is inconsistent to his actual strength. A little passed his prime, he lost a lot of games due to poor opening strategies. That’s not to say he played badly in all his games, rather, in some games, he took unnecessary risks as he tried to transition to a playable middle game.

As an example of when his idea worked, in round one against Jose Capablanca, he launches a novelty in the QGD that spooked the stronger player into launching a knight sacrifice to play to a forced draw so as not lose.

In round 5 as Black against Ed Lasker ( two Lasker’s at this event… one, the BIG Dr. Lasker, the second, a distant relative Ed.), he manages to get behind in material ( pawns) out of the opening. He’s a strong defensive player and holds his ground. Later, he sacrifices a Bishop to gain entry to the weakened King and wins the queen and the game.

In round 7 against Bogoljubow, he inherits a cramped position out of the opening but has the bishop pair. Janowski had a reputation of being quite deadly with such a pair and proves true after a series of exchanges to free his game. He sets up a nice deflection tactic that squeezes out a win with vice like pressure on the 2nd rank.


This is probably his best game of the event and the one to watch.

In round 10 against Tartakower, a proponent of the Hypermodern defenses, he gets behind in material and is faced with an advanced passed pawn and strong knight outpost. In a do or die scenario, he exchanges his rook for the invasive duo and frees his game enough to later pull off a draw by repetition in an otherwise lost game.

As White against Maroczy in round 17, he gambits a pawn to grab a lead in development and initiative early on but then seems to squander it as he drops a central pawn. A misstep by Maroczy allows him to recover gracefully as he gets an advanced knight out post and traps his opponent’s rook and goes on to win the game.

Comments on his playing style by others in the tournament : ( source Wiki)

Janowski played very quickly and was known as a sharp tactician who was devastating with the bishop pair. Capablanca annotated some Janowski games with great admiration, and said, "when in form [he] is one of the most feared opponents who can exist". Capablanca noted that Janowski's greatest weakness as a player was in the endgame, and Janowski reportedly told him, "I detest the endgame."

American champion Frank Marshall remembered Janowski's talent and his stubbornness. In "Marshall's Best Games of Chess" he wrote that Janowski "could follow the wrong path with greater determination than any man I ever met!"

Edward Lasker in his book Chess Secrets I Learned from the Masters recalled that Janowski was an inveterate but undisciplined gambler who would often lose all of his chess winnings at the roulette wheel.

This was not his best match as in the recent past ( relative to 1924), he actually tied for 1st place in New York 1916 ahead of Capablanca and won in Atlantic City in 1921. It appears that New York 1924 became his swan song as he died 3 years later of tuberculosis.
I'll remember him for his tenacious style of play. Despite not playing the top move in a given position, he always gave his best effort to sustain the choice he made. ( Better to have a bad plan than no plan at all).
Next Up : Ed Lasker

Saturday, December 06, 2008

More Time traveling: Landing in New York 1924

As I exit the time machine set for spring time in 1924, New York is bustling about with anticipation for the Yankees with Babe Ruth in the Roster. But the activity that really is getting some media attention is the International Tournament happening at the Almanac Hotel organized only two months prior, following a visit from Alekhine on New Years eve.

Mr. Harry Latz of the Alamac Hotel was hoping to consider hosting a match of the then World champion, Jose Capablanca and Alekhine for World championship. The discussion with a few representatives from the Manhattan chess club felt they might find more financial support hosting an international tournament. The cost was estimated to be $10,000.

Mr. Latz put up $2500 as a seed to promote this event. Others soon followed with subscriptions ranging from $1 to $500 ( from the Manhattan Chess Club) to support the event. The Boston Chess Club paid $39 and the Providence Chess Club provided $25.

With Venue in place, invitations, passports and steamer tickets were sent out to the European masters. Emanuel Lasker tried to travel from Finland, but his ferry stuck in the ice. The 56-years-old Emanuel left the boat and walked many miles to a railway station. He arrived timely in Hamburg to board the SS Cleveland with Alexander Alekhine, Efim Bogoljubow, Géza Maróczy, Richard Réti, Savielly Tartakower and Frederick Yates. They arrived in New York and met up with Jose Capablanca, Frank Marshall, David Janowski and Edward Lasker in New York. Rubinstein and Nimzovitch could not make the event.

No one under 30 was entered in this event. Some speculate that WWI may have slowed the growth of new blood entering international tournaments.

The time limit was 30 moves in 2 hours and 15 moves per hour thereafter. Prizes were 1st: $1500, 2nd: $1000; 3rd $750 ; 4th $500; 5th $250. Consolation money to none prize winners were paid at the rate of $25/win and $12.50 /draw.

A “rapid transit” tournament was held at the Manhattan Chess Club where 7 of the masters joined the amateurs while the premier event was going on.

Jose Capablanca was the favored one to win. Emanuel Lasker was 56 at this event and still had enough kick in him to take out the new champion. After all, he was world champion for 27 years between 1894 and 1918. David Janowski, from France, was another carry over from the Hastings 1895, was also pushing 56 at this event. Jose Capablanca commented that Janowski was devastating with a bishop pair but weak in the endgame. I will explore this personality more and his games in the next post.

Editor's note: Corrected spelling of the Hotel to Alamac 1-13-2009

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Pilsbury Doughboy Memorial

I Played all four rounds at the Harry Nelson Pillsbury Memorial and managed to score 2.5 points. The games are post turkey , Pillsbury doughboys… not thatr nutritional if you get my drift. I may post the game scores on a couple but for now I’d rather save my energy on better examples down the road. This was my "rust remover" event.

My only loss was in the first round against an 1800+ player. Despite having a slight advantage out of the a English turned Slav like defense as black, I managed to throw it away with careless pawn advance on the f-file that allowed my opponent to have the upper hand in the end game. I should have taken the draw he offered on Move 20 but I looked at his clock and thought could squeeze him for a point ( OK I got Greedy).

The second round had me paired with a guy who was experiencing his first tournament after only playing on He didn’t even know how to notate the game. It was not a satisfying win. I suggested he play in the lower section and advocated for him with the TD. The guy never showed up for round three.

I was paired against our club president in round 3. We’ve gone back and forth on several occasions. This was not a pretty game. I had white, and played into a QGA with advancing a pawn center. I knew if I threw him out of book I’d stand a better chance at this memory machine. I played a difficult line with Bd3 ( after recovering the c4 pawn and he kicks it with b5). But I was also not that familiar with QGA lines since all I’ve been looking at were QGD games of Pillsbury and the likes in my 1895 time machine journey. I played a howler of a move setting him up for a nice Bishop sac on f2 to net at least a rook. He over looked it ( I had a good poker face I guess) and I managed to get a winning knight fork on his king and rook.

The last round I was paired with another under-rated shooting star kid. About part way through I was down a pawn but had a bishop versus knight ending. I looked at the kid’s score and saw he still had a chance at the class prize in our section. I offered a draw and said “ You will still be in for the U1750 prize.” His eyes lit up, he went to the pairings board and checked the scores. He saw one other player might be in contention as well and checked out that game. After ascertaining that this other game was not in favor of the contender, he accepted my draw offer. I thanked him. I walked away with 10 rating points. Not too bad since I was 2 and half months rusty after the teaching gig.

I printed out a poster of the HN Pillsbury based on my biographical post, complete with pictures. It was well received and I donated it to the care of MACA ( Massachusetts Chess Association). I also made several copies of a chessbase CD I created on the Hastings 1895 series I did here, augmented with Frttz’s analysis and training exercises. I sold 3 at the event so I broke even.

I went back to the Club last night and was paired with a13 year old rated 1844. He must have been tired because he missed two tactics that allowed me to first net a knight then later, his rook. So the MDLM stuff is still paying some dividends… and I am one knight who refuses to burn out.

Stay tuned, I got the time machine all primed for New York 1924. This is an event with Em Lasker, Capablanca, Tartakover, Reti, Alekhine and Frank Marshall to name a few. The book I scored on e-bay has annotations by Alekhine as well as a 21 page essay on the openings used in this tournament. I am psyched to get started on this hypermodern themed event. I find that going through the romantic style of play from London 1851 helped me understand the positional theme of the Hastings event. Both of these will help me fathom the depths of the “new wave” of hypermodernism seen in this event.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Gawd I am FULL

Happy T-day to all you fellow chess players on this side of the Atlantic.

We had all the kids home. I even got a couple games of chess in with my Step son.

I am charging the Delorean's flux capacitor and adjusting the settings to New York 1924. I managed to score an out of print tournament book annotated by Alekhine on ebay. I am psyched.

The teaching gig is over. Chess is back on the front burner. I am going to the Harry Nelson Pillsbury memorial on Sunday November 30th. A fitting event to mark my completion of the Hastings 1895 event.

I have a CD ready to sell at the event in chess base format complete with biographies, annotations, commentary and training positions. I plan on setting up a pay pal thingy in thenear future so my online freinds can get this as well.

Lastly, I may do a blunder-presentation of the hastings series like I did with the London 1851 event. But we'll see.

For now, time to prepare for the tournament.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Hastings 1895: The rest of the players

In order of last place to 11th ( note: the games are lightly annotated for this post, highlighting only the major theme of the game):

Winning only 2 games and two draws, last place finisher Benjamin Vergani manages to get a favorable endgame against Schlechter in his only memorable win against one of the top ten finishers. This Italian businessman is claimed to have been playing in tournaments for about 30 years prior to Hastings according the Cheshire, the author of the text I reference. Wiki, however, claims he learned the game in 1884 which makes a little more sense since he was born in 1863. In 1892, he finished in 2nd place at the Italian National Tournament in Turin. Torre was the first place finisher. But his lack of experience with other European and Russian counterparts was probably what placed him dead last in a field of strong international competitors.
Rare Hastings 1895 photo of C.A. Walbrodt, B. Vergani, A. Albin

Jacque Mieses, a 30 year old natural historian and composer at the event, he was also a friend Dr. Tarrasch. It is rumored that he allowed the distracting beauties of the town to take his attention away from the tournament. Dr. Tarrash was also known for this distractibility. He beats Blackburne with a discovered attack. He draws his friend and Steinitz. He went on to organize chess tournaments over the years and in the 1930’s escaped Nazi persecution to England. According to wiki, I’ll have you know, that in 1950, at the age of 85, he became the first British grandmaster. But I can’t find a second source, so for now, Tony Miles still holds that claim.

Samuel Tinsley was 48 at the time of the tournament and is claimed to have only taken up chess seriously in his FORTIES! So there! He was one of the first Blitz players with those old clocks. He was a fun loving guy ready with a joke. His attacking style is in true form against Von Barldelben where he makes better use of his bishops.

William Pollock was an Irish–British–American chess Master, and a surgeon. He was 36 at the time of the tournament. A glimpse of his playing style shows that given a chance, he can be a fearless attacker. In the game as Black against Steinitz, he took advantage of a misstep by the elder statesman. With Tarrasch, who was also a classical player cut from the same cloth of Steinitz, Pollock managed to keep the initiative and deliver a power drive up the center .

George Marco was jokingly named “ the strongest chess player in the world” due to his muscular physique. He was reported as a fun loving jovial player like Tinsley. In one of his strongest games, he manages to trap a rook of Blackburnes . Like a lot of these players, he wrote a chess periodical for the local area.

Adolf Albin was another 40 something player at the event ( 47). He learned chess later in life ( 20) and wasn’t until he was well in his 40’s before he played in international events. He came in 2nd place in New York 1893 behind Lasker. His strength can be seen in this come from behind win against Schiffers .

Isidor Gunsberg’s claim to fame was the man behind the Automaton, a fully remote controlled chess playing machine. Unlike the Turk of the late 1700’s and early part of the 1800’s, he didn’t have to sit like a contortionist inside the machine. Rather, he was able to sit in a remote room and the machine copied his movements. He was 40 at the time of Hastings and had a modest record of accomplishments in London that spanned a decade of competitive play. Though he had good matches in earlier competitions with Bird, Steinitz, and Tchigoran, he didn’t fair as well at this event with the same competition. He did show his tenacity by winning a knight and pawn ending that looked drawn against Teichman. Against Blackburne, he took advantage of his opponent’s loss of material.

James Mason was another in his forties at the event ( 45) was declared only a recreational player by the author of the tournament book in the biography section claiming “ He lacks the strength to take the game seriously, while playing for recreation only, and is an extreme illustration of what the English players generally have been accused of- playing while the clocks are ticking and taking no heed otherwise.” In that light, his strongest win was against Tarrasch when, at move 30 for the Doctor, he thought he already made the time limit only to be told by Mason and the arbiter that his time indeed did elapse and therefore the win goes to Mason.

David Janowski was a frequent fixture at the Café Regence. His motto was “ While there are any pieces left there is always a chance!” He was able to beat number 2 Tchigoran in round 20 with a nice sacrifice. He was able to defeat Steinitz with a strong central attack.

Amos Burns was another 40-something ( 46) Englishman playing in this strong event. Making an early livelihood as a merchant and doing well, he took up chess as a simple pastime. He had a dry sense of humor and kept to himself pretty much. He had an overly cautious style of play ( much like his personality). He almost beat Steinitz in round 14 , but despite being down a knight, Steinitz managed to draw the game.

Carl Waldbrodt was born in Amersterdam in 1871 ( 23 at the time of the event) but was educated in Germany where he and his brother owned a stencil and pattern factory in Berlin. In round 1, he beats Teichmann in a tricky R +B+N vs 2R endgame and again shoes his endgame skills beating the other 10 ten finisher, Von Bardelben with an extra pawn.
Rare photo of H.E. Bird, G. Marco, M. Chigorin at Hastings 1895


In taking the time to go through these wonderful games following my study of the London 1851 series, I can see an evolutionary trend of the style of play. In the London 1851 tournament sharp tactics ruled the games. The old timers who were exposed to that were more cautious in this tournament. Positional play seemed to debut at Hastings. True, there were some Evan’s gambits and even a King’s gambit or two represented here. The Queens Gambit declined was played as much as the Ruy Lopez. Care was taken for control of the center pawns versus the blatant contempt for central pawns of the romantic age. Pillsbury popularized the QGD with his king side attacks which later became the inspiration for hypermodern defenses. Blackburne and Tchigoran had their innovative approach to openings that added to modern theory. Steinitz’s positional teachings reinforced by Dr. Tarrasch’s dogmatic approach to classical modern play reached the amateurs of the day and formed the basis of the next generation of players to come.

Learning about the players also was a plus as it’s nice to put a story or face behind a name of a player or an opening it’s named after. These stories are easier memory tags for me than a series of alpha-numeric sequence of moves. It adds color and flavor to my study. I hope you all enjoyed this series.

My next jaunt in the time machine is pointing to New York 1924 at the dawn of the hypermodern era. Until then, play the board and don’t forget to hit the clock.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Hastings 1895: Harry Nelson Pillsbury, the Hero of Hastings

Born on December 5th, 1872, he was 22 at the time of this tournament. He learned chess in 1888 at the relatively late age of 15. His first chess teacher was Addison Smith, a member of the Boston Chess Club who lived in Somerville. Pillsbury grew up in Philadelphia and made a name for himself at the Franklin Chess Club.

He didn’t start taking this game seriously until he was 17 years old when, in 1890, Pillsbury played a series of Evans Gambits with the veteran Baltimore expert, H.N. Stone. He was one of the inventors of the Stone-Ware defense in the Evans. Pillsbury smashed him 5-2.
His knowledge of openings showed his resourcefulness to garnish older variations with his own added twists. This is especially seen in a couple Evans Gambits ( against Bird I covered back in the first chapter of this series). With Schiffers, he plays a 5…Bd6 , something not seen in Europe since the days of Kieseritzky and Mayet. Having trained with this variation from local American players H.N Stone, he had an advantage over his European contemporaries. Oddly enough, playing this against both Shiffers and Bird, was a bit of a risk since both opponents would have been old enough to remember games by Mayet and Kieseritzky.

His treatment of the Ruy Lopez against Teichmann, produced what was barely known as the Barnes Defense ( 3…g6) back in those days later became known as the Smyslov Variation of the Ruy Lopez and takes on a very positional feel. But in this position:

Teichmann allows Pillsbury to plant a dangerous knight on g4 followed up with a series of forcing moves.

Tarrasch uses the Tarrasch defense against Pillsbury power 1.d4 system but in the end a carefully staged knight sac seen here counters the queen side push. Throughout this game, black’s plan was to capitalize on a queenside push while White kept the pressure on the kingside. This finally comes to a head starting with the characteristic Ne5 leading what will later be called the “Pillsbury attack”.

He meets Steinitz in round 7. He picks up a small advantage in the opening and holds on to it. His aggressive handling of the Tarrasch defense of the QGD allows him to weaken black’s kingside pawns and gave him a more flexible position.

Clearly, at Hastings 1895, Pillsbury had command of the popular QGD Orthodox defense from the white side. Several of the first few rounds he was victorious as he dispatched his queens bishop early to g5 pinning Black’s knight and delayed the king bishop until the decision was made on how to handle the center.
Effective use of semi-open c-files distracts Burns for instance, as he is busily defending the weak c-pawn, BAM!

Bxh7 and a series of attacks crumbles an undefended king. He managed to handle a solid semi slav ( Moscow variation) defense with Tinsley in a difficult Rook vs Knight endgame in round 19.

His last round victory over Gunsburg ( who by the way was the man in the automaton known as the Mephisto ... a copy of the older one known as "the Turk") was almost drawn. He thought as long as he had a draw he would win. Upon learning of Chigorin's win over Schlechter, he managed to pull a win out of a drawn position.

(223) Pillsbury,H - Gunsberg,I []Hastings (21), 1895
1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.e3 g6 4.Nc3 Bg7 5.Nf3 Nf6 6.Bd3 0-0 7.Ne5 dxc4 8.Bxc4 Nd5 9.f4 Be6 10.Qb3 b5 11.Bxd5 Bxd5 12.Nxd5 Qxd5 13.Qxd5 cxd5 14.Nd3 Nd7 15.Bd2 Rfc8 16.Ke2 e6 17.Rhc1 Bf8 18.Rxc8 Rxc8 19.Rc1 Rxc1 20.Bxc1 Bd6 21.Bd2 Kf8 22.Bb4 Ke7 23.Bc5 a6 24.b4 f6 25.g4 Bxc5 26.bxc5 Nb8 27.f5 g5 28.Nb4 a5 29.c6 Kd6 30.fxe6 Nxc6 31.Nxc6 Kxc6 32.e4 dxe4 33.d5+ Kd6 34.Ke3 b4 35.Kxe4 a4 36.Kd4 h5 37.gxh5 a3 38.Kc4 f5 39.h6 f4 40.h7 1-0

His style of play at the turn of the century and that of others like Lasker, with attacks on h7 and knights on e5 and so forth, prompted the dawn of hypermodernism and the Indian defense. The Fianchetto of the king’s bishop was an early remedy for Bxh7 attacks and knight and queen mating nets.

Pillsbury was also know for his ability as a very strong blindfold chess player, and could play checkers and chess simultaneously while playing a hand of whist(a trick taking card game), and reciting a list of long words. He’s been known to play up to 22 blindfold games at a time.

He was a bit quirly at the tournament. He refused to stay at the hotel where everyone else stayed and preferred the quiet solitude at another establishment down the road.

He was virtually an unknown at this event. He walked in and finished ahead of great players like Lasker, Chigorin, Tarrasch and Steinitz. He’s been called the “Hero of Hastings” or the “ sensation of Hastings” for his first place finish that netted 150 pounds.


His next big tournament was in Saint Petersburg the same year, a six-round round-robin tournament between four of the top five finishers at Hastings (Pillsbury, Chigorin, Lasker and Steinitz; Tarrasch did not play). Pillsbury appears to have contracted syphilis prior to the start of the event. Although he was in the lead after the first half of the tournament (Pillsbury 6½ points out of 9, Lasker 5½, Steinitz 4½, Chigorin 1½), he was affected by severe headaches and scored only 1½/9 in the second half, ultimately finishing third (Lasker 11½/18, Steinitz 9½, Pillsbury 8, Chigorin 7). He lost a critical fourth cycle encounter to Lasker.

In spite of his ill health, Pillsbury beat American champion Jackson Showalter in 1897 to win the U.S. Chess Championship, a title he held until his death in 1906.

Poor health would prevent him from realizing his full potential throughout the rest of his life. The stigma surrounding syphilis makes it unlikely that he sought medical treatment. He succumbed to the illness in 1906.

Pillsbury is buried in Laurel Hill Cemetery in Reading, MA. A ceremony honoring the 100th anniversary of the death of Harry Nelson Pillsbury was held on June 17,2006 in Laurel Hill Cemetery. A memorial marker was unveiled at that time. Guests of honor at the ceremony were Pillsbury's great-grandniece, Deborah Hart of South Hadley, and her son, Christopher Logan Hart, a resident of Hastings, England

I want to finish this series with a wrap up of the other players not already mentioned.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Hastings 1895: Mikhail Tchigorin, Cornerstone for the Soviet School of Chess

Mikhail Tchigorin ( Chigorin is “western” spelling and will be used in the rest of the text), was born on October 31st in 1850 ( according to the bio in the Hastings manual) and orphaned by age 10. In 1859-68, he was brought up in Gatchina Orphan Boarding School of Emperor Nicholas I. It was there, at age 16 he learned the moves from a teacher. It wouldn’t be until he reached his twenties that Chigorin would get competitive. After starting his career as a government official, he decided to bag that idea and take up chess after having some success in the late 1870’s and early 1880’s with the likes of his teacher, Schiffers and other players like Alapin and Blackburne.

By the time Hastings 1895 rolled around, at age 45, he was considered one of the top 4 or 5 players in the world having played several matches with others in the elite class of chess players. Hastings 1895 was to be his best performance and had he not lost in round 20 against Janowski in only 16 moves, he would have won this event outright!

Prior to that, Pillsbury and Chigorin were neck and neck. He led the pack up until round 10 when he drew against Bird. Pillsbury was either on par or a half point trailing until round 20.

Clearly, against Pillsbury in round 1, he dominated tactically while being a rook down in round 1.

He definitely had a style rooted in the old school of the romantic period as seen in this Kings Gambit. I believe he had an edge tactically and this allowed Pillsbury to take his rook with the advantage of gaining a relentless attack. If you like some swashbuckling, this is one of those that is almost on par with the Anderssen vs Keiseritsky immortal match.

In round 2, he is paired against the OTHER top seed, Lasker.As black, he drives the game into an imbalanced dual bishops against his dual knights. The only concession being a better pawn position for the knights. After a long arduous battle, Lasker makes a subtle rook blunder in this position:

Lasker takes the pawn on d3. Better would have been 55 Bc7 to keep pressure on the kingside advance as well. Steinitz’ annotations suggests that after Bc7, it is unclear that Black can win and a draw might have been eminent.

With the two power houses out of the way, one would think Hastings would be a breeze for Chigorin, but the competition shows that the opposite is true. When faced with a tough position, it’s been noted that Chigorin’s temperament would show an agitated man. However, his playing style featured a well honed tactical ability and an imaginative approach to the opening.

He rejected many of the inflexible doctrines put forward by Tarrasch and Steinitz, but accepted Steinitz' teachings about the soundness of the defensive center. It comes to no surprise that his treatment of the French defense seen in games against Teichmann in Round 6 and Blackburne in Round 8 has his signature 2.Qe2 move designed to delay black from playing 2...d5 because of the tempo grabbing 3.exd5 Qxd5 4.Nc3. In both games, he defends the center rather well before opening it up with an advantage that allows him to either penetrate on the queen side or gain material for a favorable endgame.

His win against Blackburne in round 8 won him a special prize from MR. Bradshaw ( an enlarged photograph of the players at this event ( I’m led to believe) for the first to win 7 games.

In round 14, as black against Kurt Von Bardeleben, he takes down a stonewall attack effectively.

This is partially due to the fact that his opponent plays blindly into an attack that requires the support of his king’s bishop which Chigorin removed early on.

Along with the Prize of 115 british pounds for placing second at this event, he also received a “handsome ring” presented by Mr. J. Cooke and a book, Theory and Practice of Chess by Carlo Salvioli for winning the most Evans Gambits accepted. ( He beat Pollock as Black, Drew against Bird and won Gunsberg as white with the Evans gambit).


He started the St. Petersburg Chess club in Russia and took over Schiffer’s role as Russia’s prominent Chess Teacher at the turn of the century giving lectures, writing articles and supporting periodicals. His tournament results post Hastings included a couple more strong performances at Budapest in 1896 and Cologne in 1898. Sortly after that he had some disappointing results. In 1907 he had an exceptionally poor result which may have been a result of his poor health. Later, in 1908, he died of complications of diabetes and a degenerative liver ( from drinking a little too much).

Through his original talent, lively games and prolific teachings, many Russians regard Mikhail Chigorin as the founder of their 'School of Chess', later to become known as the Soviet School of Chess.

Next up: Harry Nelson Pillsbury

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Hastings 1895: Emanuel Lasker, the Game Theorist

At age 26, he came to Hastings at was supposed to be the height of his climb to world champion status having defeated Wilhelm Steinitz convincingly in 1894 in a series of matches in New York, Philadelphia and Montreal. The prize fund of that match was reduced form 5000 to 2000. Steinitz had the money but as a gentleman agreed to the lesser since the young Mathematician (teaching at Tulane University in New Orleans) had trouble raising the funds.

After being titled the 2nd world champion as result of the matches in 1894, it was expected he would rule Hastings. One of the rumors explaining his third place finish was that he was also recovering from Typhoid fever. The book mentions his health in the biographies.

At the age of 11 he was sent to Berlin to study mathematics, where he lived with his brother Berthold (shown in picture on left), eight years his senior, who taught him how to play chess. Berthold shows up in some competitions in the early 1880’s and 1890’s as a strong player for his time.

In 1895 Lasker published two mathematical articles in Nature on convergent series which later formed the basis for some fundamental elements in modern algebra and geometric algebra ( known as the Lasker-Noether Theorem after a further refinement),. He later got his doctorate in mathematics. His attempt to create a general theory of all competitive activities had some influence on von Neumann's work on game theory.

Some claim that Lasker played his opponent as well as he played the board as he brought in the psychological element to the game. In round three, he had black against the draw master, Schlecter. Perhaps the style of play, where by move 8, with the exception of a knight already exchanged, he still had all his pieces on the back rank, was ploy to through the draw master off his guard since Carl was known to go for early piece exchanges.

Instead, Lasker forms a tight pawn formation in the center and plays for the long term goal. One last dig in the end has Schlechter offering his rook in an attempt to pull off a perpetual check. Lasker sees through this and continues the march of the penguins right down the middle. Historically, later in 1910, these two are in a heated match deciding the world championship. Schlechter's decision to play for a win in the 10th game, when he could have forced a draw quite easily and thus won the match. Some commentators have argued that there was a secret clause that required Schlechter to have a 2-game lead in order to claim victory.

At Hastings, Round 9 had the match against former world champion Wilhem Steinitz. Having defeated him in 1894 in a match, this game is a game to watch because of the sacrifices that Lasker tosses to break open the game. Knowing his older “positional modern theorist” plays a central game with limited opening moves and central control, the contemporary Lasker, seemed to have an insight to closed positions and plays his queen knight over to the king side which caused for negative commentary from independent analysis in the book. Perhaps, again, using the psychological element ( which he flat out denies BTW) he plays the seemingly unpractical moves only to open the game up later with a sacrifice ( move 25. Nxe5!) to give him initiative for a king side attack. This initiative is later turned into a material advantage with strategical long term goals. One last rook sacrifice and he wins the game.

Pillsbury in round 12 tries to throw off the second world champion with an unknown ( at the time) financhetto defense of the Ruy Lopez. Pillsbury, actually seems to come out of the middle game with a central pawn advantage but Lasker is allowed counterplay on the queenside. The endgame becomes a day at the races as both sides sprint their respective passed pawns for the win. The exception is that Pillsbury rook is now misplaced and can’t come into active play in time. ( another game to watch).


Lasker goes on to gets his doctorate in Mathematics at the turn of last century, while still ruling the chess championship world for 27 years. His academic and chess contributions leaves a legacy in class rooms and chess clubs throughout the world. Lasker was shocked by the poverty in which Steinitz died and did not intend to die in similar circumstances. He became notorious for demanding high fees for playing matches and tournaments, and he argued that players should own the copyright in their games rather than let publishers get all the profits. He published his last book, The Community of the Future, in which he proposed solutions for serious political problems, including anti-Semitism and unemployment. He died of a kidney infection in New York on January 11, 1941, at the age of 72, as a charity patient at Mount Sinai Hospital.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Professor Blunder

With only three more in my Hastings 1895 series ( Lasker, Chigoran, and Pillsbury) I regret to inform my readers that the frequency of updates will be sporadic at best.

A while back, I inquired at a nearby college about being an adjunct professor for an evening class since I had a prior professional relationship as well as being an Alumni when I was going for my undergraduate degree. I got a call Monday to ask if I could jump in for Wednesday due to the previous Professor bailing on them. Talk about trial by fire! I had 2 days to prepare a class without the book! I have the book now and the class went great as if there was never a gap ( I came in week 2 and picked up where the other left off).
Long story short, my teaching an evening electrical engineering course is taking me away from chess at the club during the semester. I do plan on completing my Hastings series but be patient as the posts will be less frequent ( as well as posting comments on my fellow blogger's sites).

The good news is that it's a paying gig... and pays more than chess... which in my case...isn't saying all that much.

Thanks for your patronage and interest in this site. I'll be back.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Hastings 1895: Dr. Seigbert Tarrasch , The Architect of Modern Chess

Note: To ease the viewing of the games, I created single post games at linked in this post.

Tarrasch’s rule: “ Rooks belong behind passed pawns.”

It isn’t that uncanny that he placed 4th at Hastings just ahead of Wilhelm Steinitz. In their long 72 move game , these two positional players of the modern era were well matched. Tarrasch was Steinitz’s contemporary and was able to finally edge his way to a win with patience and tenacity over his predecessor who was almost twice his age.

Dr. Seigbert Tarrasch, a medical doctor in practice, was a very influential chess writer who wrote several books, including Die moderne Schachpartie ( the Modern Chess) and Three hundred chess games. Although his teachings became famous throughout the chess world, until recently his books had not been translated into English.

In the 1890’s, Modern Chess took some of Wilhelm Steinitz's ideas (e.g., control of the center, bishop pair, space advantage) and made them more accessible to the average chess player. He wrote rather dogmatically about the game making it more like formula. In other areas he departed from Steinitz. He emphasized piece mobility much more than Steinitz did, and disliked cramped positions, saying that they "had the germ of defeat."

One of the little known facts about Tarrasch is his revelation of the importance of pattern recognition, 50 years before DeGroot published his studies and 100 years before Michael De La Maza’s Circle training ( launching the “cult” of the knights errant).

“ A thorough understanding of the typical mating combinations makes the most
complicated sacrificial combinations leading up to them not only not difficult,
but almost a matter of course” - Tarrasch

One of Tarrasch’s most famous combinations comes out of his round 4 victory over Walbrodt. The position below follows after move 33… Nh5.

Tarrash’s position isn’t all that great as he’s facing a battery of rooks, Bishops and Knights precipitating down on the king side like a hurricane with its eye, the queen on e5 approaching rapidly.

So he finds a way out by offering his rook first by 34. Rxd4 Nxg3 35. Nxg3, Rxg3+ 36. hxg3, Rxg3+ 37. Kf1 Rxd3 38 Rg4 and there is no stopping mate.

Against Blackburne in round 16, the position below is after he plays 27.Rxh6! Both his rook and Bishop are hanging in the position but it is too much for the Drunken Master.

Tarrasch had opportunities to become world champion in the late 1880’s and early part of the 1890’s often time getting invited to play such rivals like Steinitz and Lasker. He declined the offers because of the demands of his medical practice only to be second fiddle to Lasker over the next few decades. At Hastings he managed to defeat Lasker in an endgame with Knight versus Bishop ending that Lasker takes a misstep with an advanced pawn allowing Tarrasch to sacrifice his knight but then march his connected passed pawns to a win.

His dogmatic approach to the game was probably overstated. Rather, following the romanticism of the Anderssen and Morphy era of chess, he provided an antidote that augmented Steinitz’s Positional ideas marked with new concepts of piece mobility and control of the center not only through direct occupation but through long distance influences. Some say that his ideas was what sparked the Hypermodern movement. I think, if anything it laid the ground work for the next generation of players. Whether it was an IQP position played with precision against Janowski, or a more hypermodern control of the center against Steinitz, his ideas were refreshingly effective and timely.
He scored a total of 14 points at this event with defeating 12 : Lasker, Steinitz, Schiffers, BlackBurne, Wlabrodt, Burn, Janowski, Bird, Albin, Marco, Tinsley and Vergani ( most of the lower half) with draws against 4: Bardeleben, Schlecter( but most everyone drew against him), Gunsberg and Meises.

In 1908 he was asked for a match against Lasker. The story goes that when they were introduced at the opening of their 1908 championship match, Tarrasch clicked his heels, bowed stiffly, and said, "To you, Dr. Lasker, I have only three words, check and mate" - then left the room. Lasker did beat him decidedly with 8 wins, 3 losses and 5 draws.

His "swan song" event was probably Saint Petersburg 1914 where he placed 4th again but it earned him the title of grandmaster when Czar Nicholas was granting the original titles to Capablanca, Lasker and Alekhine in addition to Tarrasch.

Not that I am obsessed with "the tragic lives of chess players, however I will mention that Tarrasch had three sons. One of his sons, Fritz, died in the First World War. He died on May 14, 1915. He was a Lieutenant in the 15th Bavarian reserve infantry regiment. Tarrasch's second son committed suicide. Tarrasch's 3rd son was run over by a train in Munich in 1916 and died. This probably explains why he pretty much dropped out of chess after 1914.

His last chess book, Das Schachspiel was published in 1931. In 1932 he published his own chess magazine, the Tarraschs Schachzeitung. He published his magazine the last 18 months of his life. He died on February 17, 1934 in Munich at the age of 71.
Seigbert Tarrasch March 5, 1862 -February 17, 1834