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Frank Marshall vs Emanuel Lasker
Lasker - Marshall World Championship Match (1907), USA, rd 11, Mar-16
Dutch Defense: Staunton Gambit. Chigorin Variation (A83)  ·  1/2-1/2



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Kibitzer's Corner
Mar-01-08  Knight13: Marshall, having his knight trapped on the rim, goes Kd2? and drops a pawn. A bit surprised Marshall pulled off a draw out of this.
Feb-07-15  poorthylacine: Yes: very good defense by Marshall!!
Jun-27-19  rcs784: Why didn't Lasker play on a bit here and try to win the R+B vs. R? Was it known in 1907 how hard that endgame is in practical terms for the defending side?
Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: <rcs784>. Lasker defended the ending in his next match.

Tarrasch vs Lasker, 1908

Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: <rcs 784>

In his notes Tarrasch said that the endgame in practice was almost always won. So I think it was known to be difficult for the weaker side.

Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: Looks like Lasker was right to concede a draw here:

analysis of move 51...?

Jun-28-19  rcs784: <keypusher> Well, the computer says 0.00 because it's looking at a tablebase eval that says it's a draw. In practice, it's not trivial at all, and Lasker certainly could have played on.
Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: <rcs784: <keypusher> Well, the computer says 0.00 because it's looking at a tablebase eval that says it's a draw. In practice, it's not trivial at all, and Lasker certainly could have played on.>

True enough. Anyway, all I can say is (i) they knew in 1907 that this endgame was tough to hold (ii) Lasker elected not to test Marshall in it.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Quite a fascinating game. The issue discussed on this site as to why Lasker agreed to a draw after Marshall's 51st move (at which point he stood no chance of losing and had at very least significant practical chances to win) is one as to which certainty is impossible at this time. Nonetheless, after analyzing the game, I will venture my own opinion on this topic.

1. d4 f5

The Dutch Defense.

Marshall had opened with 1. e4 in game 1, but had switched to 1. d4 in Games 3,5,7, and 9. In each case, Lasker had responded 1...d5, winning Game 3 and drawing Games 5,7, and 9. So why change to 1...f5?

After playing over and analyzing the first 11 games of this match, my impression is that Marshall--after losing the first three games--had decided to try to wear Lasker down, repeating the same opening variations. He had managed to draw six of the prior seven games.

In games 11, 12, and 13, Lasker changed his opening repertoire. Maybe he wanted to outdo Tarrasch (who had needed only 17 games to rack up eight wins against Marshall in their 1905 match). And maybe he was indeed concerned about getting worn down by his younger opponent. In any case, Lasker did well in these three games, winning two and coming close to victory in this game.

2. e4

A Marshall favorite. He had played this twice before against the Dutch, and was to play it at least three more times later in his career. Lasker, in turn, also played 2. e4 against the Dutch, including in his game against Pillsbury at Paris 1900. It is sometimes good strategy to play an opponent's own lines against them.

2... fxe4
3. Nc3 Nf6
4. Bg5 c6

As played by Pillsbury against Lasker at Paris 1900.

4...g6 and 4...b6 (the latter was recommended by Fine and Reinfeld in their analysis of the Lasker-Pillsbury game) are also good options for Black.

5. f3

Fine/Reinfeld called this "The only continuation which enables White to maintain the initiative.

5... Qa5?!

Marshall likely knew that Pillsbury had lost after playing (the not unreasonable) 5...exf3.

The text is definitely double-edged. Perhaps 5...d5 is Black's best choice. In any case, the text worked out OK for Lasker, the position at this point being:

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6. BxN

"Prefunctory." (Teichmann)

The text can hardly be best or even sound strategy. Marshall would have retained some initiative with 6. Bd2 or maybe 6. Qd2.

6... exB
7. fxe4

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7... Bb4

As played in Tarrasch-Tchigorin, Ostend 1905. But far stronger, and the only way for Black to obtain any advantage following Marshall's weak 6th move, was 6...Ba3!

8. Qf3


Tarrasch played 8. Qd2 against Tchigorin.

"Better is 8. Qd2 in order to be able to develop the King's Bishop at d3." (Tarrasch).

Tarrasch and Marshall notwithstanding, simplest and best for White here was 8. Nge2.

8... d5

Given Lasker's endgame prowess, I am surprised that he didn't play the simplifying and stronger 8...BxN+ 9. QxB QxQ+ 10. bxQ with at least even chances for Black. My guess is that Lasker didn't want to extend the match by getting into a likely drawn endgame. But instead, he now ended up in a slightly inferior ending.

9. Nge2 0-0

With 9...dxe4, Lasker would certainly not have been worse. After the text, he wound up in an endgame in which Marshall had whatever advantage existed:

10. exd5 Qxd5
11. QxQ+ cxQ
12. 0-0-0 Rd8

click for larger view

I prefer White here because of the isolated d-pawn, but Teichmann disagreed:

"In spite of his idolated Pawn, Black has the better end-game with his two Bishops and the open Queen's Bishop file."

Whatever the relative merits of the White and Black positions, a spirited fight ensued.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post II

13. a3


"There is no point whatever in this move, and it gives Black the chance, later on, to break up the White Queen's side." (Teichmann)

Actually, the text is not so bad at all. It creates no immediate weakness, put the question to Black's Bishop, and it keeps Nf4 (the move favored by Tarrasch) in the picture. Indeed, Stockfish says the text is best!

13. Nf4 is also entirely reasonable, but the condemnation of the text looks more like Monday-morning quarterbacking to me (i.e., Marshall soon got into trouble, so he must have screwed up--maybe here).

13... Ba5

13...BxN may be more accurate, but Lasker seemingly wanted to avoid anything drawish or anything that would lead to a long fight (thus playing into Marshall's strategy to try to wear him down).

14. h3

It is hard to understand why Marshall by-passed 14. Nf4 (unless he was unduly frightened to have his c-pawns doubled). It is even harder to understand why Tarrasch and Teichmann, who were so critical of Marshall's 13th move, said nothing about 14. h3 instead of 14. Nf4.

The text, of course, did not give Marshall a bad game, but it did little to give him serious winning chances.

14... Nc6
15. g3

Yet again declining to play Nf4. And if Marshall was adamant on pushing the g-pawn, why not 15. g4?

15... Be6
16. Bg2 Bf7
17. Rhf1 Rac8
18. Na4

Not awful, but it looks silly in light of Marshall's 20th move.

18... Bc7
19. Nf4

Only here did Marshall play Nf4. By this time, however, it had little sting. In fairness, however, nothing else looks all that much better for White.

The position after 19. Nf4 was:

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For all my quibbling, Marshall's game was not all that bad at this point. But beginning here, Lasker began to press hard, and his dynamic play brought him close to victory:

19... b5


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20. Nc3

Much better than 20. Nc5. This latter move, however, is hardly as bad as Moran suggests. His line after 20. Nc5 [to which he unfairly assigns a "?"] is badly flawed: 20...Nxd4 21. Nb7 ? [This is needless and awful. White is only slightly inferior after 21. RxN BxN+ 22. RfxB RxN after which Black's extra isolated pawn is under such attack that White should be able to hold the game] 21...BxN+ 22. gxB Nxc2?? [This probably blows the win that was there for Black after 22...Rxc2+ 23. Kb1 Rd7] 23. NxR Ne3+ 24. Kd2 NxR+ 25. BxN RxN 26. Bxb5 Rb8 27. a4 Be6 after which White, though down a pawn, has real chances to hold the ending.

20... b4!


"Fine play and forcing an advantage." (Teichmann)

The position was now:

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21. axb4

Teichmann correctly noted that 21. Ncxd5? would be bad, but his analysis beyond that was flawed. 21...BxN+ [This move given by Teichmann likely wins, but 21...bxa3 is much stronger (though Black gets another chance on his next move), e.g., 21...bxa3 22. bxa3 BxN+ 23. NxB Nxd4 24. Be4 Nb3+! 25. Kb2 Nd2 26. Rfe1 Rb8+ 27. Ka1 Rd4 28. Bf5 Ra4 29. Re3 Nc4 after which Black wins a pawn and the game] 22. NxB Nxd4? [This move does indeed blow the win (despite Teichmann's claim to the contrary), which was still there to be had after 22...bxa3 23. BxN a2 [the point] 24. Kd2 Rxd4+ 25. Nd3 RxB 26. Ra1 Rcd6 27. Rf4 RxR 28. gxR Bc4 29. Kc3 BxN 30. cxB Rc6+ 31. Kd4 Ra6 32, Kc4 Kf7 33. f5 g6 34. b4 gxf5 35. b5 Ra3 36. Kb4 Rxd3 37. Rxa2 Rd7 and Black should win the Rook and pawn ending albeit (though it's not easy!] After 22...Nxd4? White can hold the game--Teichmann's comments notwithstanding--with 23. Bd5 BxB 24. RxN Bc4 25. RxR+ RxR 26. Rf3 g5 27. b3! Bf7 28. Ne2.

21... Nxb4

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Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post III

22. Nd3

Too passive for my taste. Rather than just wait for Lasker's attack to materialize, Marshall should have tried to create play on the King-side with 22. g4 or 22. h4.

22... a5


Lasker had now presented Marshall with dangers on the King-side:

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23. g4 Bb6
24. NxN axN
25. Na4

Putting a Knight on the edge of the board was not savory, but there was nothing better. Anything else seems to lose.

25... b3
26. c3 Ba7!

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'Now Black threatens Rc4." (Tarrasch).

27. Kd2?


"Marshall, having his Knight trapped [?--KEG] on the rim, plays Kd2? and drops a pawn." (<Knight13>).

Teichmann attempted to defend the text:

"Black threatens, of course, Rc4, and White gives up the Pawn at once, in order to remain with Knight against Bishop." (Teichmann)

Teichmann was no doubt correct, but 27. Nc5 BxN 28. dxB Rxc5 29. Rf4 with good play against the isolated Black d-pawn looks far better. White would have good chances to hold the game in that line, whereas now he was probably lost.

Did Marshall actually miss the coming (rather simple) combination from Lasker?

27... Bxd4!


28. cxB Rc2+
29. Ke3 RxB

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30. Rf2 Rg3+

30...RxR 31. KxR Bc6 amounts to pretty much the same thing. Lasker may have played the text to gain time on the clock (especially if there were a move-30 time control). The advantage of the text--ifit is such--is that Black gets his Rook to e8.

31. Rf3+ Re8+
32. Kf2 RxR+
33. KxR Bg6
34. Nc5

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Is this position a theoretical win for Black. This is hard to assess. But had I been a spectator, I would have bet Lasker would convert his edge into a win, especially against a player whose endgame abilities were nowhere near his caliber. But, as will be seen, that is not what happened. In my next post, I will try to evaluate the prospects and the contemporary commentaries on the game.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post IV

34... h5


It is far from certain that the text cost Lasker the win--as Tarrasch claimed. As I will discuss below, later moves by Lasker were more likely culprits. Nonetheless, Tarrasch was certainly correct that the text was not best, and his analysis still warrants consideration:

"...To be certain, the endgame is not easy, despite the extra Pawn. White threatens to play R-a1-a7, and attack [Black's] Pawns from the rear. Because Black cannot prevent White from gaining possession of the a-file, he should prepare to counter the penetration of White's Rook. Thus, 34...Kf7 35. Ra1 Bc2 36. Ra7+ Re7."

Tarrasch's line seems spot-on until the last move, since 36...Kg6! looks far better than 36...Re7.

Black could, of course, reverse the order of Tarrasch's 34th and 35th moves.

However, Tarrasch's alternate suggestion of 34...Re7 seems inferior to his 34...Kf7 (along with 34...Bc2 and then 35...Kf7) which looks best.

But, despite Tarrasch's insight, Lasker may still have a theoretical win after his actual 34...h5.

35. Ra1

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35... hxg4+

This gave Marshall targets and excellent drawing chances. The simple 35...Kh7 was best. One possible line would be 35...Kh7 36. Nxb3 Rb8 37. Nc5 Rxb2 after which White would be hard-pressed to survive.

36. hxg4 Bc2

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37. g5!

"Very well played! White gets rid of his g-Pawn which otherwise would be blocked by ...g5 and then attacked by Bd1." (Tarrasch)

"By this well-timed move White increases his chances of drawing the game." (Teichmann)

37... Kf7

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38. Ra7+

Losing a tempo and putting Lasker back in the cat-bird seat. His best chance was to follow up 37. g5! with 38. Kf4.

Now, Lasker gets his King to a key square:

38... Kg6!
39. gxf6 gxf6
40. Kf2

This retreat can't be right. 40. Rd7 is Stockfish's choice. Perhaps the simple 40. Ra1 would give Marshall drawing chances.

After the text (40. Kf2), the position was:

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40... Rh8?

The wrong way to penetrate. After Marshall's last move, Lasker likely had a win with 40...Bd1. One possible line is 41. Ra1 Bg4 42. Re1 (Not 42. Nxb3 Re2+) RxR 43. KxR Kf5 and Black should win the minor piece ending.

41. Rd7

White's best chance.

The position was now:

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Another difficult position had now been reached, and Lasker again had to make a critical choice.

In Tarrasch's view, as will be seen, it was here that Lasker threw away his last chance to win the game. Tarrasch's analysis of this position is profound, but I'm not certain that his ultimate conclusion was correct. More on this in my next post on this game.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post V

41... Ra8

"With this move, Lasker throws away the win...The win was to be gained by 41...Be4." (Tarrasch)

Tarrasch was correct that 41...Be4 was the best chance for Black, but would it actually have won? After 41...Be4 42. Rb7 Rh2+ 43. Ke3 Rxb2 44. Rxb3 RxR+ 45. NxR after which the minor piece ending would not be easy--or so far as I can see even possible with decent play--to win.

42. Ke3 Ra2
43. Kd2

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43... Rxb2

If there is still a win here for Black--and I think that doubtful, 43...Be4 holding onto the d-pawn looks like the best chance.

44. Kc3 Rb1
45. Rxd5

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45... f5

Lasker put his hopes on his f-Pawn. Meanwhile, Marshall planned a Knight sacrifice in order to leave Lasker with--at best--a brutally difficult and lengthy winning task with an extra piece.

46. Rd8 f4
47. Rf8 Bf5
48. Nxb3

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48... f3
49. Nd2 f2
50. Rg8+ Kf7
51. Rg2

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In this position, Lasker agreed to a draw.

Was this premature? Play would now have continued: 51...f1(Q) 52. NxQ RxN

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Can Black win this endgame. Probably not. <keypusher> cites a Stockfish evaluation of 0.00. But whether this is a theoretical win for Black or not is almost besides the point. At best, and even assuming Black could eventually win the White d-Pawn, the game would--at best--be a chore to try to win. As <keypusher> points out, Tarrasch tried until move 119 to win a similar ending against Lasker in Game 14 of their 1908 match.

As I mentioned in the first of my posts on this game, Marshall's strategy after losing four games seems to have been to wear Lasker down. Carrying on for another 50 or 60 moves here might have played into Marshall's hands.

Note also that this Game 11 was the only game played in Chicago. Lasker and Marshall then had to pack up and travel to Memphis for Games 12-14, and then back to New York for Game 15. Given this tough schedule, Lasker understandably decided to give himself a break.

Would Lasker have been able to win a marathon game here against Marshall. I bet Magnus Carlsen would have tried. But under the circumstances, I think Lasker's decision was reasonable. And it certainly worked out, since he went on to win all three games in Memphis and then wrapped up the match in Game 15 in New York.

Lasker was in most things a pragmatist. And agreeing to a draw in the final position was probably the most pragmatic decision under the circumstances.

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