Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Part 3: Em. Lasker; The Champion returns to Europe.

In the last post, we explored the ramp up to Emanuel Lasker’s becoming the 2nd official World Champion following Willhelm Steinitz. He returns to Europe in the later part of 1894 on the heels of his new title but was seriously ill with typhoid fever and had a very long recovery. His brother, Berthold, kept vigil the whole time. He was invited to play at Hastings in the spring of 1895. While he was convalescing, he gave a series of lectures in Europe which later became the material for a book, Common Sense in Chess. This series focused on some of the basics and I found a CBH version available on line for free. So if anyone is interested in this and can’t find it, drop me an email and I might be able to help.

Lasker really needed to finish strong at Hasting’s to dispel the doubts of critics who were still unconvinced by the match with Steinitz. Here is one of his wins against Pillsbury who went on to win the event despite this loss.

This turns into a day at the races. Even though Lasker placed third, Tarrasch, who was his biggest rival admitted that at Hastings “ Lasker has proved for the first time that he is a strong player.”

Shortly after this event, Lasker dominated the St. Petersburg event in 1895/96 in the famous Quadrangular Tournament. His victory was decisive as well as his games were on the ”high artistic plane” ( so claims Fred Reinfeld). Here is a game against Tchigoran where Lasker takes his opponent to task after a premature attack.

After St. Petersburg, he had another convincing victory at Nuremberg in the summer of 1896 where he took an early lead in the event never to have any of his rivals catch up. Here is a game against one of his biggest rivals, Tarrasch. He gets an early lead with a massive and mobile pawn center that soon becomes unstoppable.

He follows up this event with a return match With Steinitz. This time Steinitz’ games are less strenuous for Lasker. Rather than show a game where a strong up and comer takes over a Legend who’s prime has passed, I will take a play from Lasker and offer a tribute to Steinitz’ genius through the eyes and words of Lasker (from his book ” Lasker’s Manual of Chess” where he writes in great detail on this legendary genius):

“Another circumstance, a weakness of Steinitz, handicapped his style. He was obstinate.
Naturally, he wanted to follow his maxim and beat those who did not follow it,;
but thereby, though he was not aware of it, his Chess style became provocative.
He provoked his antagonists into playing to win, by giving them an excuse or at least a pretext for doing so. To this end he made the most unusual moves. Then, as a punishment for their presumption, he would beat them. That by his new methods he manifested his desire not to play to win from the start was entirely lost on his opponents, because their
experience had taught them to expect just the contrary. This whole process was
subconscious with Steinitz, and no logical necessity brought it about, but it
was the outcome of Steinitz’s Psychology.”

Sounds like Lasker took a lead from his greatest predecessor as it is said that Lasker emulated the very obstinate nature o f this in some of his “unusual moves” as a psychological ploy.

Next, Lasker’s brief break and triumphant return to chess into the new century.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Part 2: Dr. Emanuel Lasker World Champion contender.

In part 1, I brought you up to speed on how Emanuel Lasker first came on the chess scene along with his brother Berthold. This took us into the dawn of the 1890’s with a nice finish in Berlin.

He traveled to London and did rather well at a couple of tournaments in the spring of 1892. The first event landed him a seat in the much stronger event, Quintangular Tournament, in 1892 where he met the British contemporary players of the day Bird, Blackburne, Gunsburg and Mason. Bird was a little passed his prime ( at 60) but Blackburne, the Black death ( I prefer the nickname “drunken Master” for his partiality for scotch whiskey and anecdotal tales of his drinking and playing), was still considered rather strong at 51. Regardless, Lasker amazed the chess world winning this stronger event. He had a decisive victory over Blackburne and Bird. Lasker’s placement among the foremost players of the day could not be denied.

He further demonstrated his ability to several individual matches with the strong players of the time. Two in particular, were matches with Blackburne and Bird. In both of these games against Blackurne and Bird in 1892, Lasker demonstrates how to attack the uncastled king quite convincingly.

With this game against Blackburne, on move 5 we see a novelty by the young Lasker. Blackburne, unaccustomed to the new idea, plays a slow move which creates disharmony with the White pieces. By move 10, Black is ready to build an attack. On move 16, Black doesn’t really sacrifice a Bishop. Instead he trades it for 4 connected passed pawns against a king whose pieces can’t coordinate to stop the incoming attack.

In this game against Bird, Lasker plays a novelty against the Bird opening that later became the strongest continuation for Black. As white tries to retain the extra pawn, he gets a weak position that Lasker begins to take advantage of. In this game as well as the previous, I see Lasker intentionally making moves and plans that leave his opponent either immobile or pieces so uncoordinated that he can do WHATEVER HE WANTS! In the later half of this game, he begins a 13 move combination that includes a rook sacrifice, calculated because he had gained so much tempo!

After his head-turning successes in both tournament and match play in England, Lasker heads to America where he continues to shock the world. He plays in the New York 1893 event and wins all 13 games despite the participation of Pillsbury, Showalter, Hodges and Albin. Here is a game against Pillsbury at this event. It’s a Ruy Lopez where Lasker exchanges the Spanish Bishop on c6 and a long positional closed game ensues. He whittles down Pillsbury by fixing all of Black’s center pawns on Dark squares rendering his Bishop useless. Then, he exchanges his own bishop for a couple pawns on the Kingside that allows him enough of an edge to make a run for it.

At the age of 26, Lasker was now ready to challenge the World Champion. Lasker challenged Tarrasch to a match but Tarrasch refused to play him in a match, stating that Lasker should first prove his mettle by attempting to win one or two major international events.

Fine, the young and up and comer turned his energy to challenging the then World Champion, Wilhelm Steinitz, for his title. Initially Lasker wanted to play for $5,000 a side and a match was agreed at stakes of $3,000 a side, but Steinitz agreed to a series of reductions when Lasker found it difficult to raise the money. The final figure was $2,000, which was less than for some of Steinitz' earlier matches. Although this was publicly praised as an act of sportsmanship on Steinitz' part, Steinitz may have desperately needed the money. The match was played in 1894, at venues in New York, Philadelphia, and Montreal. Steinitz had previously declared he would win without doubt, so it came as a shock when Lasker won the first game. Steinitz responded by winning the second, and was able to maintain the balance through the sixth. However, Lasker won all the games from the seventh to the eleventh, and Steinitz asked for a week's rest. When the match resumed, Steinitz looked in better shape and won the 13th and 14th games. Lasker struck back in the 15th and 16th, and Steinitz was unable to compensate for his losses in the middle of the match. Hence Lasker won convincingly with ten wins, five losses and four draws. Lasker thus became the second formally-recognized World Chess Champion, and confirmed his title by beating Steinitz even more convincingly in their re-match in 1896–1897 (ten wins, five draws, and two losses).

Here is the 11th game of the match played in Philadelphia. Steinitz makes a subtle miscalculation closing in his QB. Had this been any other player at the time, the former World champion could have recovered just fine. Not against Lasker, he saw well into the endgame with this misstep and went into the mode of making sure Black’s pieces could not find harmony. By move 18, Black’s pieces are so badly placed that he could not formulate a plan.

Contemporary critics of the time were very harsh on Steinitz, who in his 1870’s heyday was passing his prime. They were more focused on castigating Steinitz rather than praising the young Lasker. The common thread in these evaluations were that Steinitz had lost the match rather than Lasker won it.

Bardeleben commented on the match

“ Lasker lacks Steinitz’s profundity, but he makes up for this by his extraordinary self possession. His play is quite free from oversights, and that is the main cause of his victory over Steinitz. Another interesting characteristic of Lasker’s play is that when he has a bad game he defends himself with serenity and circumspection, thus making his opponent’s task as difficult as possible; whereas most players lose hope in such positions and make blunders which hasten the end. Lasker’s play in the opening is generally correct but never forceful and occasionally he passes by blunders of his opponent without exploiting them.”

Next up, Lasker returns to Europe as the new World Champion.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Part 1: Dr. Emanuel Lasker, The Beginnings of the double sacrifice

Christmas Eve of 1868 in a suburb of Berlin called Berlinchen, one of the greatest Chess players in the history of this Royal game arrived to turn heads and challenge the status quo.

His big brother, Berthold Lasker had a growing reputation as a master chess player and taught his kid brother at the age of 12. I wanted to research some of his games to try and get a feel for his style to contrast with the more historically famous world Champion. I could only find a collection of 8 games here.

Rather than posting them here and making it take longer to view, I recommend at least checking out the games that Berthold had against Tarrasch. What strikes me is that these are not his strongest games since I am reading that Berthold was a master. Rather, what I see is a player who is not afraid of experimenting in the opening and breaking the chains of the dogmatic classical play. I believe this was an early influence for his younger brother though Emanuel didn’t really start playing seriously until his he was 15.

At 21, the younger Lasker surprised the Berlin in 1889 by taking first prize. In one of his most astounding games against a stalwart classical player, Jacques Mieses, Lasker sacrifices two knights. The Vienna game was a sign of the times as an alternative to the King’s Gambit.

As Black, Lasker plays a novelty for the time with 2…Bc5 and fires off a rapid development. He jumps a whole two tempi in development and opens the game up with a knight sacrifice and demonstrates how a well coordinated set of pieces can work together to take out a king still stuck in the center. Then he closes the deal and sacrifices a second knight to push the envelope even further as White’s forces are so disorganized he ends up resigning.

Quite the reputation he gained in his first strong event. A month later, he shows up in Breslau at the Hauptturnier, finishing first place earning him the title of Master. This secured him a place in 1889’s Amsterdam’s event where he placed second to Amos Burns. It was at this event where we first see “Lasker’s Sacrifice” of the double Bishops. The game is Lasker- Bauer. He plays a Bird’s opening. This colors reversed Dutch defense places strong emphasis on e5.

White is allowed to align his forces rather well at the expense of Black’s queenside special edge. It provides Black with a false sense of security as White then pounces on e5 first followed by removing the only defender left on the Kingside. Once Black’s Knight is expunged, BAM! Bxh7+ followed by a Bxg7. Like the previous game, he demonstrates a well coordinated attack by sacrificing two pieces.

I will close part one with a game between brothers in the following year. Berlin 1890 shows the two hometown brothers to be tough contenders to a prize recently won by the younger brother. This short game is really not a good characteristic of Berthold’s ability as he and Emanuel went on to share first place with his Brother at Berlin. In this game, the student becomes the master as he teaches his older brother the perils of underdevelopment ( albeit forced).

Final Note: thanks for all the suggestions both in posts and offline. I decided to move forward with Lasker for now ( since this was the most popular choice).