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Emanuel Lasker vs Siegbert Tarrasch
"Schach und Matt!" (game of the day Jul-08-2014)
Lasker - Tarrasch World Championship Match (1908), Duesseldorf GER, rd 1, Aug-17
Spanish Game: Exchange Variation. General (C68)  ·  1-0



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Given 28 times; par: 111 [what's this?]

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Kibitzer's Corner
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Premium Chessgames Member
  kevin86: Lasker wins endgames! Is that news to anyone?
Jul-08-14  BOSTER: Nice <POTD > White to play 46, or White to play 52.
Jul-08-14  posoo: Easy game. WHY allow white to play da ruy lopes if you are just going to be an EXCHANGE MONGER all game and allow it to come down to da pons?!

Turrush should've been ASHASMED of his performance in dis.

NOTE: I once played a simul against a Hungarian GM and he said dat my style reminded him of "Da Great Dr. Lasker," HOHO!

Jul-08-14  Nova: Thanks <Infohunter> for the great story!
Jul-08-14  Mr Bigz: Fantastic game.
Jul-10-14  Infohunter: <Nova> Delighted, I'm sure.
Feb-23-15  offramp: The reason Lasker didn't castle on move 5 when he played the exchange variation was that he liked to castle queenside.
Premium Chessgames Member
  thegoodanarchist: Astounding endgame play! And an incredible testament to the abilities of Dr. Lasker in the endgame, as he completely commanded it from the start.

It seems that he foresaw the ending, aimed for it, then systematically exploited it as he knew that he could. Nothing but adulation for his achievement, especially since he did so against the great Dr. Tarrasch!

Premium Chessgames Member
  profK: In the Lopez exchange variation with black playing exd4 at some point, white gets a K side pawn majority...and this can often lead to positive endgame chances for white. This is a perfect example.
Dec-13-17  aliejin: 35.... bxe4 leads a easy draw , at least, for black.
Premium Chessgames Member
  whiteshark: REQUEST ANALYSIS

click for larger view

Black to move

1) =0.00 (28 ply) <35...Bxe4 36.fxe4 Kd6 37.Rh3 Rf1+ 38.Rf3 Rh1 39.Kg4 Ke5 40.Rf7 Rg1+ 41.Kh4 Rh1+ 42.Kg4>

2) +0.60 (28 ply) 35...Bc8 36.Re3 Rd8 37.Nf2 Rd4+ 38.Re4 Kd8 39.Ke5 Rd2 40.Ng4 Bxg4 41.fxg4 Ke7 42.Kf5+ Kd7 43.g6 Rf2+ 44.Kg5 h6+ 45.Kh4 Rf1 46.Re3 Rh1+ 47.Rh3 Rf1 48.g5 hxg5+ 49.Kxg5 Rg1+ 50.Kf5 Rf1+ 51.Ke5 Re1+ 52.Kf4 Rf1+ 53.Ke4 Re1+ 54.Kd3 Rd1+ 55.Kc2 Rg1 56.Rf3 Ke6 57.Rf7 Rg2+ 58.Kd3 Rg3+ 59.Ke4 Rh3 60.Rxg7 Rxh5

3) +0.60 (27 ply) 35...Bh3 36.h6 gxh6 37.gxh6 Rh1 38.Ke5 Bd7 39.f4 Rxh6 40.f5 Rh1 41.Ng5 Re1+ 42.Kf6 h5 43.Rh3 Rd1 44.Rxh5 Rf1 45.Ne4 Rf3 46.Ke5 Rxb3 47.f6 Rf3 48.Nd6 Re3+ 49.Kf4

1.0 minute analysis by Stockfish 8 v270317

Jan-02-18  circleVIII: Great game. Cannot help but notice the endgame after move 8. Ne2 looks like an inferior Berlin endgame for white, but after only 13 more moves black has misplayed and it already seems quite favourable.

After 21... Re8 white has managed (or been given) the exchange of dark squared bishops and has a secure kingside structure preventing black's kingside majority from mobilizing. From here on in it is only white to make any progress, and Lasker does an impressive job of doing so.

Premium Chessgames Member
  Messiah: Well played by Lasker, nice win.
Aug-31-22  Saniyat24: The Messiah has spoken...! :D
Premium Chessgames Member
  chancho: Lasker's technique is flawless but obviously, that's nothing new.
Premium Chessgames Member
  perfidious: Lasker and iron technique are synonymous.
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: The analysis of this game already appearing on this site--most notably by <keypusher>--is so excellent and scholarly that I initially hesitated to comment further. But, while I agree with most of what has been said here before, I do have some further thoughts and have decided to add my own thoughts.

Unlike the 1907 match against Marshall, this contest represented a real challenge to Lasker's title. Lasker defeated Marshall 8-0-7 in their very one-sided title match, But only two years previously in 1905 Tarrasch had beaten Marshall nearly as badly (8-1-8). Lasker and Tarrasch had only played two games previously; Tarrasch winning at Hastings 1896 and Lasker returning the favor at Nuremberg 1896. Lasker finished ahead of Tarrasch at both these tournaments (but his loss to Tarrasch at Hastings provided Pillsbury's margin of victory at Hastings 1895).

This long-awaited match in fact was probably less competitive than it would have been in or around 1899-1900. Tarrasch had won the massive double round-robin tournament at Vienna 1898 (winning a tie-break match narrowly over Pillsbury); and Lasker had triumphed brilliantly at London 1899 and Paris 1901. Between that time and the playing of this match, Lasker had played only one major tournament: Cambridge Springs 1904 in which he finished two points below first-place Marshall and played only one match: his 1907 slaughter of Marshall. During that same gap, Tarrasch played no tournaments after his triumph at Vienna 1898 until Monte Carlo 1902 at which his play was rusty and far below his usual standard. Tarrasch rebounded by winning at Monte Carlo 1903; finishing tied for second at Ostend 1905 and winning at Ostend 1907 and decisively defeating Marshall in their 1905 match. But his minus score at Nuremberg 1906 suggests that Tarrasch was no longer at his peak. He never won a major tournament after 1906. By contrast, many of Lasker's greatest tournament results still lay in the future: his sharing of first-place with Rubinstein at St. Petersburg 1909; his first-place finish at St. Petersburg 1914 over an all-star field (Capablanca, Alekhine, Tarrasch, Marshall, Rubininstein etc.); his first-place finishes at Moravsky-Ostrava 1923 and New York 1924; his second-place finish at Moscow 1925 ahead of Capablanca; and his remarkable third-place finish at Moscow 1935 (including his win against Capablanca) at age 67!

In sum, Lasker was much closer to his top form in 1908 than was Tarrasch. I suspect Lasker would most likely have won a match against Tarrasch in 1900, but I think it would have been far more competitive. While the 1908 match provides much of interest, it was posterity's loss that these two giants did not play when they were both at their best.

The first game of the match was a wonderful battle marred by Tarrasch's blunder on move 35.

1. e4

Lasker played 1. e4 the first six times he had White in this match, winning four, losing one, and drawing the other. He switched to 1. d4 in his final two games as White, winning Game 13 and drawing Game 15.

1... e5

Tarrasch responded 1...e5 in Games 1, 3, and 5, winning Game 3 but losing the other two. In Games 7, 9, and 11 he switched to the French Defense, managing only a single draw in these two games.

2. Nf3 Nc6
3. Bb5

Both Lasker played 3. Bb5 in all the games beginning 1. e4 e5, Lasker playing this in Games 1, 3, and 5 and Tarrasch in each of the seven games he had the opportunity (although Games 12 and 16 later transposed to the Four Knights Game). In short, the Ruy Lopez got quite a work-out in this match!

3... a6

Tarrasch played this in all three games in which he faced the Ruy Lopez in this match. By contrast, Lasker played 3...Nf6 all seven time he faced 3. Bb5 (winning three, losing two, and drawing the other two).

4. BxN

According to Schroeder, Lasker stated his intention to play 4. BxN before the match, suggesting that he couldn't lose in such a game. Lasker had indeed played 4. BxN in his 1896 win against Tarrasch at Nuremberg 1896, and of course used it to spectacular effect in his win against Capablanca at St. Petersberg 1914. In that latter game, however, Lasker needed a win to catch up to Capablanca. Thus, the notion that Lasker was only seeking a draw in this first game of the match against Tarrasch seems highly questionable.

Notably, in his other two Ruy Lopez games as White in this match, Lasker switched to 4. Ba4.

As for Lasker's claim that White cannot lose with the Exchange Variation, it is notable that he DID play this move in Game 13 of his 1894 match against Steinitz and was defeated (though not because of the opening).

4... dxB

As Wilson points out, Lasker played the weaker 4...bxB against Fox at Cambridge Springs 1904 and got into difficulties after 5. d4 (though Lasker eventually won the game anyway).

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post II

5. d4

This leads to an early exchange of Queens. As a result, Schroeder calls it "the drawing move" and states that Lasker played 5. Nc3 when he wanted to win (as he did against Tarrasch at Nuremberg 1896 and in his win in Game 10 of his 1896-1897 re-match against Steinitz). But this overlooks Lasker's employment of 5. d4 against Capablanca at St. Petersberg 1914, a game Lasker needed to win.

In fact, there is quite a bit of poison in the resulting endgame here for Black. And if Lasker was looking for an alternative way to play for a win, he might have tried 5. 0-0.

5... exd4
6. Qxd4 QxQ
7. NxQ

click for larger view

Much ink has been spilled discussing the respective advantages in this position: White's superior pawn structure vs. Black's two Bishops. Having encountered this position as Black many times in my youth, it was my experience that the superior played usually won here from either side of the board.

7... c5

According to <keypusher>, Tarrasch called this a "weak move" that he adopted only because Steinitz played it against Lasker in his above-cited win over Lasker in Game 13 of their 1894 World Championship match. Reinfeld/Fine point out that 7...c5 weakens Black's Queen-side pawns and that 7...Bd7 is likely best.

But the move is certainly not all that bad and poses an awkward question for the White Knight. It was Tarrasch's follow-up that led to Lasker's emerging from the opening with an advantage, not this move. In this regard, it is notable that Schlechter, who as will be seen provided some fascinating commentary on this position, played 7...c5 here at least three times. From his comments, Schlechter though the move was best for Black here.

8. Ne2

click for larger view

As Soltis points out, the text was a novelty when played by Lasker in his 1894 match with Steinitz. It is more flexible than 8. Nf3 and is almost certainly best.

8... Bd7

As played by Steinitz in the above-referenced 1894 game against Lasker. The move is probably best, but Schlechter, according to Wilson, recommended 8...f5?! since if then 9. exf5 Black gets an excellent and clearly superior game after 9...Bxf5. Black would also, again according to Schlechter, get a good game after 9. e5 Bd7, though Marco strongly disagreed and worried that White's passed e-pawn would be too strong. While Schlechter seems to have had the better assessment of the position after 9. e5 Bd7, this all is probably beside the point since White after 8...f5 can just develop his pieces via 9. Nbc3 or 9. Bf4 with at least even chances.

9. b3

click for larger view

Lasker, according to Schroeder, called this "An attempt at a novel method of development." Other commentators were skeptical. Tarrasch, according to the translation provided here by <keypusher> said the idea of developing the c1 Bishop on b2 was "not at all a happy one." Reinfeld/Fine called the move "An indifferent idea." As will be discussed below, Tarrasch's play against 9. b3 was questionable at best.

In his 1894 game against Steinitz, Lasker played the probably superior 9. Nbc3 as given by Soltis.. Also good is 9. Bf4 as recommended by Reinfeld/Fine, in either case leading to approximately equal chances. But, as Soltis also points out, there was some logic backing Lasker's move; i.e., the idea of getting his Queen-side pawns on the color of Black's light-square Bishop and this attempting to neutralize Black's most important edge in the position.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post III

9... Bc6

While hardly a blunder or serious mistake, there were three superior options to the text:

(A) 9...c4!. Schlechter was, I believe, the first to advocate this move. Alekhine, who played 9...c4 as early as 1909 overstated the case in saying (as given by <keypusher>) that 9...c4 "demolishes 9. b3. I am more cautious about this. Thus after 9...c4 10. bxc4 Ne7 or 10...0-0-0 White's chances hardly seem worse, while Soltis' suggested 10...Be6 allows White to obtain a fine game with the simple developing 11. Nd2.

(B) 9...f5 the move Lasker, according to Schroeder, said was "in order to create open lines for the two Bishops."

(C) 9...0-0-0 as suggested by Reinfeld/Fine.

10. f3

click for larger view

10... Be7

With what Reinfeld/Fine called the "illogical" [Solits called it "curious"] idea of exchanging dark-square Bishops.

10...f5; 10...Ne7; and 10...0-0-0 all look a bit better. But yet again, there is some hyperbole here. Tarrasch's move is not all that bad, and as Soltis points out there are variations in which Black's dark-square Bishop could turn out to be a liability.

The major problem with Tarrasch's idea, of course, is that it removes his one significant compensation for his inferior pawn structure: the possession of the two Bishops. I cannot imagine Janowski (to give just one example) adopting this course.

11. Bb2

All according to Lasker's plan:

click for larger view

11... Bf6

Tarrasch was not to be dissuaded from his idea of trading Bishops. The commentators were not impressed.

"An unnecessary fear of White's Bishop. 11...Nf6 followed by 0-0-0 seems good enough for any emergency. Black might as well avoid exchanges, his opponent's aim, and keep his Bishops." (Hoffer).

Soltis, like Hoffer, recommends 11...Nf6. Perhaps better still were 11...f6 or 11...Bh4+.

In any case, if anyone is better here, it is White.

12. BxB NxB

click for larger view

"A further disadvantage, the Knight is unsatisfactorily placed at f6, where it blocks the f-pawn." (Reinfeld/Fine).

13. Nd2 0-0-0

click for larger view

Soltis here summarizes the various opinions as to where Black's King belongs in this line. Capablanca (according to Soltis) who castled king-side in his 1914 loss to Lasker claimed it should be on the King-side to deal with any White passed pawns that might develop. Reinfeld/Fine thought the Black King was best placed on the Queen-side to defend any weak Black pawns there.

All in all, I see nothing better than 13...0-0-0 and see no reason Black (though slightly inferior) should lose the game after the text. Tarrasch's more serious problems arose from his subsequent play.

14. 0-0-0

If Lasker was playing for a win, he might have considered 14. Nc4 or maybe the re-positioning 14. Nf1 rather than the committal text. But Lasker's move paid unexpected (and perhaps unwarranted) benefits in light of Tarrasch's poor reply, the position now being:

click for larger view

Nov-28-22  Olavi: <KEG> <4. BxN According to Schroeder, Lasker stated his intention to play 4. BxN before the match, suggesting that he couldn't lose in such a game. Lasker had indeed played 4. BxN in his 1896 win against Tarrasch at Nuremberg 1896, and of course used it to spectacular effect in his win against Capablanca at St. Petersberg 1914. In that latter game, however, Lasker needed a win to catch up to Capablanca. Thus, the notion that Lasker was only seeking a draw in this first game of the match against Tarrasch seems highly questionable.>

Edward Lasker writes in Chess Secrets I Learned from the Masters that Emanuel said to him: "Well, tomorrow, if I should be lucky and draw White in the first game, I think I will play the exchange variation of the Ruy Lopez. Can you tell me how anyone can lose that opening?" And afterwards: "Everything went according to schedule. But I won't play that variation again."

Suggesting that safety was his main concern in the first game. Edward Lasker is not always the most reliable witness, but he was present at the match in Düsseldorf, playing a tournament held concurrently in the same hall.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: <Olavi>Thank you for this addition. I had not realized that Edward Lasker was a source--and maybe THE source--for Emmanuel Lasker's prior statement about 4. BxN.

Whether Edward Lasker was or was not an especially reliable source, I still find it curious that Lasker's intention in playing 4. BxN was only to obtain a draw. Having lost with this move in his 1894 match with Steinitz and having won with it in 1896 against Tarrasch, Emmanuel Lasker surely knew full well that 4. BxN could be a weapon in seeking a win, as Bobby Fischer later demonstrated.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post IV

14... Rd7


Most of the commentators failed to comment on this move, but its defects were spotted by Tarrasch and <keypusher>. See the notes here by <keypusher> for an excellent discussion of why this was bad.

After 14...Rd7, Tarrasch's position--though not lost by any means--was difficult, especially with Lasker wielding the White army.

15. Nf4

Not 15. Nc4 immediately which would, as Tarrasch pointed out, run into trouble after 15...Bb5!

15... Re8

As several commentators have observed, doubling Rooks by 15...Rhd8? would lead to loss of material after 16. Nd3 b6 [16...Re7 and 16...g6 and just abandoning the pawn on c5 were perhaps marginally better, but also clearly lose] 17. Ne5.

After 15...Re8, the position was:

click for larger view

Lasker's minor pieces were obviously much better placed, the Black Bishop corralled by all the pawns on White squares.

Lasker now had various ways to try to tighten the pressure.

16. Nc4

Now that the other Knight had vacated e2, Nc4 was very strong and if now 16...Bb5 Lasker could just have responded 17. Ne3. Moreover, and as noted by Tarrasch, the White Knight was now threatening Na5.

Other good choices for White here were 16. a4 and 16. h4.

16... b6

Preventing 17. Na5 but at the cost of weakening the Black Queen-side.

17. a4

A multi-purpose move (see Tarrasch's comments translated here in the commentary by <keypusher>.

click for larger view

17... a5?

Rightly condemned by Reinfeld/Fine but, strangely, by nobody else. 17...Kb7 (the move recommended by Reinfeld/Fine preparing b5 was certainly better. And perhaps an even simpler way for Black to get counterplay was with an immediate 17...b5.

18. RxR

White might do better to defer this exchange and try either 18. h4 (preparing King-side operations) or just take his time with 18. Kd2 followed by 19. Kc3. There was no rush at all since Tarrasch here wasn't threatening anything serious.

18... NxR
19. Rd1

click for larger view

As Reinfeld/Fine aptly noted here:

"The ending is in White's favor because of the relative immobility of Black's Bishop. Black can hardly do more than mark time."

But while White is definitely better, if Black is patient, he can probably achieve a draw with best play.

19... Ne5

Hoffer thought this was a mistake, and Wilson purports to report that "the leading authorities consider that the exchange here was unfavorable to Dr. Tarrasch."

But, other than Hoffer, I have no idea which other "leading authorities" Wilson was purporting to cite. Given Black's cramped position, exchanges look entirely logical. But, even after the exchange of Knights, Black's Bishop remained a problem-child, and White still had the only plausible chances to try for a win (even if objectively the game should be drawn with best play by both sides).

20. NxN RxN

click for larger view

Tarrasch was now poised to play 21...c4, but Lasker quickly put a stop to all such notions:

21. c4!


As Wilson notes, Lasker had now neutralized any notions of counterplay Tarrasch had on the Queen-side and was not ready to turn his attention to the other wing while Tarrasch could do little more than await developments:

click for larger view

Nov-29-22  Olavi: <KEG> As I read it, Lasker's intention in playing 4.BxN was to avoid a loss with White in the first game. That's not the same as playing for a draw.
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: <Olavi>A fair point, though Lasker's loss to Steinitz shows that 4. BxN was no guarantee on that score either.
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post V

21... Re8

The question here, not discussed so far as I can see, is whether Tarrasch would have been better to seek active play with 21...g5. After, e.g., 22. Nd3 (if 22. Nd5 g4! 23. Nf6 gxf3 24. gxf3 Rg5 with approximately equal chances) Re6 23. h3 White is still much better, but Black may have some chances for counterplay that were entirely lacking in his actual approach. But, over-the-board, Tarrasch's judgment seems most prudent. Play after 21...g5 can get tactically tricky (much easier to navigate with computer assistance), and Tarrasch quite properly sough play with fewer surprises and a likely draw with best play.

22. Nh5

click for larger view

22... Rg8

As Tarrasch and Reinfeld/Fine correctly noted, Black could get into serious difficulties with 22...g6 23. Nf6.

The only good alternative to the text, and possibly even slightly superior, is 22...Re6 as suggested by <keypusher>

23. Rd3

As Tarrasch points out, the text allows the White King to operate BEHIND the White Rook. <keypusher> mentions the strong alternative 23. g4, to which I would add 23. h4 as an option. But Lasker's less committal method is quite good and one that left the option of g4 or h4 available in the coming play.

23... f6!

An excellent defensive move by Tarrasch since it allows his Bishop to harass the White Knight with 24...Be8.

24. Kd2 Be8
25. Ng3

25. Nf4 was an equally good alternative, White retaining some edge in either case.

The text left:

click for larger view

25... Bd7

"Nf5 is threatened." (Tarrasch)

True, but there were other arguably superior ways to address this problem. 25...g6 is more committal but has the advantage of preparing for any attempted King-side pawn storm by White. Alternatively, Black could play 22...c6 and if then 23. Nf5 then 23...Kc7 with Bd7 to follow.

26. Ke3

click for larger view

26... Re8

Tarrasch faulted this move as not aggressive enough and said that 26...c6 followed by a Queen-side mobilization by Black was best. But that assumes that Lasker would be a potted plant and not go to work on the King-side with 27. h4. Black would probably be OK in this line--as he was after the text. But perhaps best was 26...g6, preparing for the inevitable King-side march by the White pawns.

27. Nh5 Re7
28. g4


click for larger view

28... c6


Soltis said this was necessary to keep the White Knight off d5. But Black could also play 28...Be8 and if 29. Nf4 g5 and if then 30. Nd5 Black is OK after 30...Rf7 with c6 coming soon.

There was a furious debate here between Hoffer and Schlechter as to whether Black's best is to march his King to the King's side to anticipate a White pawn advance. Schlechter seems to have had the better of this argument, since if 28...Kd8 now he gives 29. Nf4 making 29...Ke8 impossible because of the winning 30. Nd5.

All in all, Tarrasch's defense to this point was in my view quite excellent, and his position--while certainly inferior--was prepared from the coming King-side assault by Lasker.

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