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Emanuel Lasker vs James Mortimer
Paris (1900), Paris FRA, rd 13, Jun-11
Philidor Defense: Hanham Variation (C41)  ·  1-0



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Kibitzer's Corner
Mar-13-05  goldthread: 6.Bxf7!? would have been fun.
Mar-13-05  percyblakeney: ...and it seems to work fine: P Skatchkov vs K Krovelschikov, 2001
Mar-14-05  goldthread: <percyblakeney> Thanks for leading us to that massacre, poor Krovelschikov never knew what hit him. But it canĀ“t be that easy or Lasker would not have passed it up. I must say that looking at this game with 5...h6 (the Patzer move) followed by 6.g4 (the coffee house move) it is difficult to believe a world champ is playing. But I have never been able to understand Lasker's play, he is way over my head.
Mar-14-05  Ziggurat: 6. g4 is certainly not a move one would play after reading Lasker's own books about opening strategy (develop the knight first, then the bishops, occupy the centre with pawns, don't weaken your kingside etc - you know the drill). It's the kind of outrageous pawn thrust that John Watson talks about in his bok Chess Strategy in Action. He believes this type of move is characteristic for modern play but here Lasker plays it in 1900. There seems to be no immediate tactical justification for it; it's just a "space grab", as Watson calls it.
Apr-01-06  WhoKeres: One thing about Lasker; when he felt he was clearly stronger than his opponent, he would stop at nothing to mix it up in hopes of obtaining complications. It's fair to say he felt he was stronger than Mortimer, hence his 6th move, g4. His judgment proved completely correct.
Aug-17-08  chocobonbon: <goldthread> According to Soltis Lasker began playing in coffee houses. He had seen it all & could play many styles. IMO he is the Grand Old Man of Chess, bearing in mind it takes more than age to merit that title. He delights the mind.
Premium Chessgames Member
  FSR: 6.g4?! was a very eccentric choice. 6.Bxf7+!, which Lasker surely considered, wins. Opening Explorer
Dec-21-12  dehanne: Mortimer should've played 5...f6 after which he survives.

According to theory, 4.Bc4! is superior to what Lasker played.

But both 3...Nd7 and 3...Nf6 are kinda rubbish. Taking on d4 third move leads to solid play for black.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: The two mysteries explored by most of the prior users who commented on this game on this site are: (i) Why didn't Lasker play 6. Bxf7! (which wins); and (ii) why did he play the anti-positional 6. g4?!

I will address the first issue in this post, and then turn to the second question and the balance of the game in subsequent posts.

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 d6
3. d4 Nd7

User dehanne calls this "kinda rubbish," but it is a well-recognized line and--if properly followed up--quite playable and at worst marginally inferior to the more usual 3...exd4.

4. dxe5

dehanne says that "According to theory, 4. Bc4 is superior to what Lasker played. It is certainly correct that 4. Bc4 is the usual move here and is covered in opening treatises, but the text is also fine, as are 4. Nc3 and 4. c4.

Lasker may have wanted to get Mortimer out of the books.

4... dxe5
5. Bc4 h6?

Rightly called "The Patzer move" by goldthread. dehanne is quite correct in calling 5...f6 better, but White then gets much the better game with either 6. Be3 or 6. Qe2. Best for Black here is 5...Bb4+.

After Mortimer's 5...h6?, the position was:

click for larger view

As previously pointed out on this site, 6. Bxf7! wins here. So why didn't Lasker play it? I think we all are reasonably certain that Lasker at least considered the move.

The problem with 6. Bxf7 is that the win--which I have confirmed after hours of analysis and after allowing Fritz 15 to perform a deep search--is that it involves a long variation in which White may have to sacrifice a second piece to keep his winning attack going. To give just one line:

6. Bxf7! Kxf7
7. Nxe5+ Kf6

Anything else is suicide (e.g., 7...Ke7 8. Ng6+)

8. Nc3 KxN

"Best" play for Black is 8...Bb4 9. Qd4 BxN+ 10. bxB Qe8 11. Nxd7+ Kg6 12. Ne5+ Kh7 13. 0-0 leaving White up two pawns. But I suspect that Lasker was more concerned about the win after 8...Kxe5 in which he is now down two pieces. Play might then continue.

9. Qd5+ Kf6
10. Qf5+ Ke7
11. Nd5+ Kd6
12. Bf4+ Kc6
13. Qe6+ Bd6
14. Nb4+ Kb6
15. BxB cxB

If 15...Ndf6 16. Bc5+ 17. Nd3+ and Black must sacrifice his Queen to avoid mate with 17...QxN 18. Qe5+ Kc6 19. cxQ leaving:

click for larger view

White should win here.

Alternatively, if Black plays 15...cxB, then:

16. Qxd6+ Ka5
17. Nd5 b6
18. c4


click for larger view

White is still down two pieces, but has a pretty easy win.

So why didn't Lasker play this "winning" line. By now the answer is simple. He didn't have hours to analyze the position and didn't have a computer to check his calculations. Lasker was 11-1 going into this game. Mortimer was 2-10. Obviously Lasker was a huge favorite. Lasker was leading Pillsbury (9.5-1.5) and Marshall (8-3) going into this round. Lasker's last three remaining opponents were Showalter, Pillsbury, and Tchigorin. It was obviously essential that he win this game.

One way Lasker could lose to Mortimer was by an incorrect sacrifice of two pieces. Lasker had played Mortimer three times prior to this game (all in 1892 or before) and had lost two and drawn one. Thus, he knew Mortimer could beat him if he blundered. Why chance a long difficult line when he by this stage of his career he was overwhelmingly likely to win in any "normal" game?

So Lasker, ever the pragmatist, avoided a long variation in which one misstep or miscalculation could cost him the game.

But why did he play the seemingly bizarre 6. g4? That issue will be addressed in my next post.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post II

Returning to the actual game, after Mortimer's 5...h6?, the position was:

click for larger view

Lasker here played:

6. g4?!

Why this strange move. Assuming that Lasker was not prepared to play 6. Bxf7+, why not play something solid such as 6. 0-0 which would have given Lasker a comfortable advantage?

Here is my take: In a long tournament, avoiding long games saves time and effort. And at Paris 1900, draws were replayed. Many of the contestants therefore had to play extra games. For example, Mason had to replay seven games because of this rule. He therefore played 23 games in this tournament. By contrast, Lasker had only one drawn game to replay before the final round (by which time he had clinched first place).

Lasker's strategy in this tournament seems to have been to play sharp lines to avoid long games and draws. So he sometimes played off-beat sharp moves such as 6. g4?! here. Lasker did not play moves that put him in real danger of losing.

As I have learned from painful experience playing grandmasters and other very strong players, sharp unexpected moves are intimidating. Imagine Mortimer's reaction on seeing 6. g4?!

As will be seen,Lasker made several theoretically second-best moves in this game. But none of them put him in any real danger of losing. And they elicited some serious errors from Mortimer. So...Lasker's strategy paid dividends. And he won another short game here. This was important, given that: (i) Lasker had not had his bye round, so staying fresh was an important task; and (ii) Lasker's three remaining opponents were Showalter, Pillsbury, and Tchigorin. So a fast game allowing him to rest up for the battles just ahead were important.

6... c6!

With the d5 square covered, Bxf7 was no longer a threat.

If 6...Ngf6? Lasker would have had the better game with 7. g5! (though Rosenthal's claim that this would yield him a winning position was a major overstatement).

7. Nc3

7. h3 or 7. Nbd2 were--theoretically--better. The text, though not ideal, is consistent with Lasker's plan, and did not put him at any major risk.

7... Bc5

7...Qc7 was much better.

8. Qe2

Better was 8. a4 to prevent b5. But Lasker has correctly judged that b5 was not part of Mortimer's mental data-base.

8... Qe7

Mortimer does not understand the position.

9. Rg1

Launching a King-side attack.

9... g5

Giving Lasker a target. Once again, 9...b5 was better. Remarkably, Black's b-pawn remains on b7 until the end of the game.

10. h4?!

A coffee-house move that works like a charm here. Had Lasker been playing a stronger player, he would no doubt have played the better and sounder 10.Be3

10... f6

The seemingly obvious 10...gxh4 was best and would have given Mortimer the advantage. Rosenthal's claim in the Tournament Book that 10...gxh4 would have given Lasker the better game is simply wrong. Rosenthal claims Lasker would have played 11. g5 [11. Bd2 is better]. Had Mortimer replied 11...hxg5 to 11. g5, Lasker would indeed have had excellent chances after 12. Bxg5. But 11...h3 or 11...b5 would have given Mortimer the better game.

11. Bd2 Nb6
12. Bb3 Be6
13. Nd1

13. 0-0-0 was better

13... Qf7

13...0-0-0 was preferable.

14. Ne3

14. Rh1 was better.

14... BxN

He could have played 14...Ne7 or 14...0-0-0

15. QxB Ne7
16. Ba5

16. Qd3 was better.

The position was now:

click for larger view

For all of Lasker's coffee house moves, there is nothing wrong with his position here.

What followed vindicated Lasker's strategy, as I will show in my next post. Mortimer lost the thread at this point and made some very poor moves. Once Lasker got a significant advantage, he played with his usual precision and gave Mortimer no chances. No more messing around for Lasker after Mortimer's next move. Withing about 5 moves, the game--as I will show in my next post-- was essentially over.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post III

Despite Lasker's efforts to complicate, the game remained competitive and chances were about equal through 16. Ba5. But from there, Lasker's strategy succeeded, Mortimer went badly astray, and Lasker finished the game off nicely.

16... Nbc8?

A worse than useless move. Indeed, Mortimer returns this Knight to b6 only three moves later. 16...Nc4 as recommended by Rosenthal in the Tournament Book was much better. 16...Ng6 was also fine.

Even worse than the actual move was Mortimer's suicidal plan to castle King-side.

17. 0-0-0!

Lasker could also have played 17. hxg5 here and then castled Queen-side.

17... 0-0

Rosenthal's characterization of this move as "dangerous" is an understatement. Given Mortimer's poor 16th move, 17...b6 was his best chance here.

To appreciate just how badly Mortimer has mangled his position, compare the alignment now with the position prior to his 16...Nbc8:

click for larger view

What follows is little short of a massacre.

18. hxg5 BxB
19. gxf6!

Mortimer apparently overlooked (among other things) this neat intermediate move.

19... Ng6

As Rosenthal noted in his commentary, 19...Qxf6 loses to 20. QxB+. The text, however, is even worse.

20. axB

Had Marshall held the White pieces here, I bet he would have played the lovely 20. g5! Lasker, however, chooses the more prosaic (and slightly slower) road to victory.

20... Nb6?

Another thoughtless move with this Knight. Mortimer--if he wanted to play on--should have bit the bullet and just played 20...Qxf6. That would have been bad, but from here the only real question is how long it will take Lasker to mate Mortimer.

21. g5!

A dagger through Mortimer's heart.

21... Rad8

Equivalent to resignation. 21...hxg5 was even worse, since Lasker would then have mated quickly after 22. Qxg5. The only move remaining for Mortimer here (and giving him no real chances) was 21...h5.

22. RxR RxR
23. gxh6 Qxf6

The position was now:

click for larger view

24. Nxe5!

"Very well played. This move concludes the game brilliantly." (Rosenthal).

24... QxN
25. RxN+ Kf7
26. RG&+ Ke6
27. Qh3+ Kd6
28. Qd3+ Ke6
29. QxR


Down a Rook and three pawns, and facing inevitable mate, Mortimer decides to call it a day.

Premium Chessgames Member
  fredthebear: If the logical 29...QxBa5 (which threatens back rank mate on the move) 30.Qe7#. See partial diagram.

Does anybody know the proper name for this type of mate by queen and her pawn on the same file? It's no stranger to middlegames with a king in flight. It resembles a ghostly Gueridon Mate.

click for larger view


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