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Emanuel Lasker vs Jackson Whipps Showalter
London (1899), London ENG, rd 25, Jul-03
French Defense: McCutcheon. Lasker Variation (C12)  ·  1-0



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Kibitzer's Corner
Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: 20...Bg6 21. Rag1 Kf8 22. Nxe6+; 28....f6 29. Rg6.
Premium Chessgames Member
  fredthebear: 36.fxe6 prepares a pin and sets up the win for Black.

I also like 36.f6 jamming the backward pawn and preparing mate on the move. Black's rook is bottled up and there's no good way to prevent Rb8+ or Rg1+ on dark squares. More proof that tactics rain down in a superior position.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: A brilliant display of endgame tactical wizardry by Lasker, but also a very misunderstood game in my opinion.

In response to Showalter's MacCutcheon Variation of the French Defense, Lasker played the very unambitious 8. Bd3 (8. Qg4 is now generally considered best and most aggressive) and succeeded in quickly exchanging down to a materially-even endgame. The commentators all praise Lasker and say that the endgame favored him. I disagree. Lasker by this point in the London 1899 tournament was so far ahead of the rest of the field that he did not need more than a draw in this game. The endgame he reached looks to me as if Lasker was happy with a draw. He won only because Showalter misevaluated the position.

Here is the position--with Showalter to move--that both Lasker and Showalter foresaw and that was reached after a series of exchanges:

click for larger view

Is this position really better for White? Not that I can see. White's Knight is no better than Black's Bishop, and Black's pawn position is more sound.

The problem with this position is that 17...Bxg2 appears to win a pawn for Black, since it looks as if Lasker couldn't win back the pawn with 18. Rhg1 Be4 19. Rxg7 because of 19...Bg6 threatening 20...Kf8 winning Lasker's Rook. At least that is what Showalter apparently (and mistakenly) thought, since he indeed played 17...Bxg2. To his surprise, Lasker fell into the "trap" and played 18. Rhg1 Be4 19. Rxg7!

Only now did Showalter apparently notice that Lasker had seen further ahead since 19...Bg6? 20. Rg1 Kf8 loses to 21. Nxe6+.

That Lasker saw this sequence does indeed prove his amazing tactical powers. But two points must be noted:

1) Showalter didn't have to play 17...Bxg2. With 17...Bd5 or even 17...Rac8 (the move suggested by Reinfeld-Fine in their book on Lasker), Showlater would still have had the better game. Even 17...Kd7 (suggested by Hoffer in the Tournament Book) would have led to an even endgame. Thus, the endgame Lasker envisioned need not had led to any advantage to him, and was probably only good for a draw.

2) Even after playing 17...Bxg2, Showalter's game was fine. After 18. Rhg1, he need only have played 18...Bd5 to have about equal chances. Even after his actual (and slightly inferior) 18...Be4 (and before he noticed the combo Lasker had cooked up) Showalter had at worst a slightly inferior position. After 19. Rxg7, and once he noticed that 19...bg6 20. Rg1 wouldn't be good for him (indeed, even here the game might have been tenable with 20...0-0-0), Showalter's nervous 19...Ke7 (19...Rc8 or 19. Kf8 might have been slightly better) still left him with a very tenable game.

Showalter's losing move came later (22...b6), as did much of Lasker's brilliance in this endgame (all of which I will cover in a subsequent post)

Psychologically, however, 17...Bxg2 may have been the losing move. Once Showalter noticed on his 19th move what Lasker had foreseen in this endgame, who can blame him for his later timid and inaccurate play!

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: As mortified as Showalter must have been to discover that Lasker was able to play 19. Rxg7 with impunity (as shown in my last post), far worse surprises awaited Showalter in this endgame.

The second surprise came after Showalter played 19...Ke7. Now surely Lasker would retreat his Rook. But no, Lasker played the aggressive 20. Ke3. Now Showalter noticed what keypusher pointed out on this site over nine years ago: 20...Bg6 21. Rg1 Kf8 runs into the same devastating 22. Nxe6+. True, after 20...Bg6 21. Rg1 Showalter could still have survived with 21...Bh5, but with a clearly inferior game. Moreover, and as Showalter may also have belatedly noticed, Lasker didn't even need to play keypusher's 21. Rg1 and could have played the arguably even better 21. Rb1 after which 21...Kf8 still loses to 22. Nxe6+ with Lasker's other Rook now poised to invade as well.

Showalter survived Lasker's second surprise for him by playing 20...Bh7 (perhaps 20...Bf5 was a tad more accurate), but now a third surprise confronted Showalter when Lasker played 21. Rag1. The position was now as follows:

click for larger view

Showalter had no doubt thought he would be able to beat off Lasker's attack here with 21...Rag8. But just in time, he noticed that this would lose to the incredible 22. RxB!!! (as noted by Marco and by Reinfeld-Fine in their book on Lasker).

Showalter side-stepped this brilliant trap with 21...Rac8. In fact, Showalter had a brilliant retort at his disposal in 21...Rhg8 as Marco later pointed out, but Showalter was no doubt too stunned by this stage to see this.

Though not best. Showalter's 21...Rac8 at least left him with a probably defensible position. Lasker's next surprise, however, would be too much for him as I will show in my next post.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: As shown in my prior two posts on this game, Showalter had (barely) survived Lasker's first three surprises for him in this endgame. Lasker's fourth surprise, however, was too much for poor Showalter.

After Showalter's 21...Rac8, Lasker played the seemingly impossible 22. Nb5! leaving the position as follows:

click for larger view

Showalter must have been horrified to discover that both 22...Rxc2 and 22...Bxc2 lose to 23. Nd6!!. Wow!!

The theoretically best chance for Showalter here was 22...Kf8. This isn't pretty for him after 23. Nd6 but he might have survived with 23...Rc7. But who would want to defend that position against Lasker!

So Marco decided to play 22...b6. But now his goose was cooked after Lasker's 23. Nd6.

And now surprise number five confronted Showalter. After 22...b6 23. Nd6 Raf8 (best) 24. c4 Rhg8, Lasker played 25. RxR leaving the position as follows with Showalter still to recapture Lasker's Rook on g8:

click for larger view

As Showalter now noticed, he couldn't play 25...RxR because (as Reinfeld-Fine have noted) he would lose a pawn after 26. RxR BxR 27. Nc8+.

As a result, Showalter had to play the miserable 25...RxR.

Now Showalter was in a lost ending with his Rook, Bishop and five pawns against Lasker's Rook, monster Knight, and five pawns. The details of that ending will be covered in my next post.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: After Showalter's sorry but necessary 25...BxR, Lasker had a clearly won endgame. The position was now as follows:

click for larger view

But now, astonishing to relate, and notwithstanding all the praise that has been lavished on Lasker's handling of this endgame, Homer nodded.

Lasker here played the premature 26. h4 (26. Rc1 was clearly better). Lasker's goal, of course, was to keep the Bishop off g6. But Showalter could simply have played 26...Bh7 giving him some chances. Instead, he played the useless 26...Rd8.

After Showalter's weak 26...Rd8, Lasker should have surely played 27. Rc1. But he continued instead with the much-praised 27. h5. Once again, Showalter should have played 27...Bh7, and once again he erred, this time with 27...Kf8. After this, he was toast.

After Lasker's 28. a4, Showalter belatedly played 28...Bh7. As keypusher has pointed out, the superficially appealing 28...f6 would have been demolished by Lasker with 29. Rg6!

After 28...Bh7, Lasker played 29. a5, and yet another horrible surprise was presented to Showalter, since 29...bxa5 loses to 30. Ra1!

What a demon Lasker was in the endgame!

In any case, after 29. a5, Showalter collapsed. His 29...Rb8, 32...Bc2, 33...Bb3, and 34...Bd5 and 35...Bf3 were all awful, but the game was gone anyway.

After Showalter's 35...Bc3, Lasker's 36. fxe6 was a killer. Even prettier would have been 36. f6 as noted on this site by Fred the bear.

After Lasker's 38. Rf1, Showalter rightly gave up. He could safely have resigned several moves earlier.

All in all, an awesome display by Lasker as he marched effortlessly to his victory in the London 1899 tournament.

Feb-10-21  tbontb: 17....Bxg2 was certainly asking for trouble. In fact, 19....Bg6 20. Rg1 Kf8 fails to both Nxe6+ and R1xg6; hard to believe Showalter missed all this ! As played, 21....Rhg8, 22. Rxg8 Bxg8, 23. Rb1 b6 looks like the last chance to hold on.

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