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Emanuel Lasker vs Siegbert Tarrasch
"WCC Smackdown" (game of the day Sep-25-2011)
Lasker - Tarrasch World Championship Match (1908), Munich GER, rd 11, Sep-15
French Defense: McCutcheon. Exchange Variation (C12)  ·  1-0



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Kibitzer's Corner
Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: Going into this game Tarrasch trailed, two wins to five (the match was played to eight wins), but over the last five games the score had been +1-1=3. Here, though, the doctor forgets to castle and pays the price.

By the way, people should check out <suenteus po>'s WCC index (not to mention his various tournament collections) -- what a resource!!

Aug-10-06  ughaibu: Which doctor?
Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: The doctor who forgot to castle. Looks like Hesam 7 also had a hand in the WCC index -- thanks to both of you!
Aug-10-06  suenteus po 147: <keypusher> Thanks for the plug. I'm actually very grateful to <Hesam7> for asking us to collect these matches and tournaments. I've wanted an excuse to go back and look at the best games by the best players of generations past and now I have plenty to look through, such as this game and many more.
Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: Part 1

Below are Tarrasch’s notes to this game (in brackets) while my/Fritz’s comments are in plain text.

1. e4 e6 2. d4 d6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Bg5 Bb4 5. exd5

<This is the only continuation against the McCutcheon that gives any concern. The black kingside can be damaged, and Black has no equivalent in exchange. He can also damage the white queenside, but in this Beziehung the king and queensides are not equal. The exchange on c3 only strengthens the center, while the corresponding exchange on f6 damages the king’s position, and so a pretty wild game follows, in which the side with the more secure king has the better chances. Also White has, for a long time at least, the strong pawn on d4, for which at first Black has no equivalent. The black queen, though, if it comes into play early, can come under attack and the QB is jailed.>


<If Black takes with the pawn, as he does in the 3….Bb4 variation, which we know is not good, because the bishop belongs on d6 and not on b4.>

This sort of thinking kept 5. exd5 the main line in the McCutcheon, and kept the Winawer on the fringe of respectability, for decades. The fact is that the exd5 exd5 exchange in the French is pretty harmless for Black no matter where his bishop is. The persistence of really weak/superficial thinking in chess, given its powerful feedback loops, is depressing. What hope does superficiality in chess leave for, say, business, where feedback loops are so much weaker, and politics, where they are almost nonexistent?

6. Nf3

<Better seems to me the immediate loosening of the kingside with by Bxf6, which black could now avoid with …Nbd7. After 6. Bxf6 gxf6 7. Qd2 Bxc3 it is best for White to retake with the pawn and obtain a strong central pawn formation.>

Incidentally, 6.Bxf6 gxf6 7.Qd2 Bxc3 8.Qxc3 Nc6 9.Nf3 Qe4+ 10.Kd2 was played several times in the Lasker-Marshall match.


<Much better is 6….Nbd7, for example with the continuation 7. Bd3 c5 (Fritz finds 7….Ne4 strong here, i.e. 8. Bxe4 Qxe4+ 9. Qe2 Qxe2+ 10. Kxe2 and Black is equal at worst) 8. 0-0 Bxc3 9. bxc3 c4.>

7. Bxf6 gxf6 8. Qd2 Bxc3 9. Qxc3

<At this moment it is much stronger to take with the queen rather than the pawn, because …cxd4 is prevented by the threat of Qxc8+ and the pawns on c5 and f6 are attacked.>

9….Nd7 10. Rd1

<It is difficult to understand why Lasker did not castle here, which seems very energetic, as White immediately with Bc4 develops powerfully with threats. Taking the a-pawn is certainly no bargain, for example 10. 0-0-0 Qxa2 11. dxc5 Qa1+ 12. Kd2 Qa4 13. Nd4 and White stands well; or 10. 0-0-0 cxd4 11. Nxd4 Qxa2 12. Bc4 Qa1+ 13. Kd2 Qa4 14. Bb5 wins the queen.>

Fritz confirms that 10. 0-0-0 is indeed strong. In Tarrasch’s first line, after 13. Nd4 it’s very hard for Black to develop and he also faces the threat of Bd3 and Ra1. In his second line 12….Qa4 (rather than 12….Qa1+) avoids immediate the immediate loss of the queen but after 13. Rfe1! threatening Nxe6 it’s Black’s king that faces execution. If 13….0-0 14. Bb3! Qa1+ 15. Kd2 Qa6 16. Nxe6 and Black is doomed.


Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: Part 2

Still, it’s easy to see why 10. 0-0-0 wouldn’t appeal to Lasker, who was not a risk-taker in the opening. Even in critical games (Lasker vs Teichmann, 1909, Lasker vs Schlechter, 1910, Lasker vs Capablanca, 1914), he generally started cautiously (but cf. Burn vs Lasker, 1895)). When he got in trouble in the opening (which happened fairly often for a player of his strength), it was generally because of carelessness (e.g. game 2 in this match) rather than risky play.


<Black faces development difficulties, but after the rook move it also is not so easy for White to develop his bishop, since after Bc4, …Qe4+ follows.>

Incidentally …Qxa2 remains unfavorable, e.g. 10….Qxa2 11. dxc5 Qa4 (12. Bb5 was threatened) 12. Nd4 with lines similar to those in Tarrasch’s note above.

11. dxc5

<This eases Black’s game, but the opening of the d-file gives White other chances and hinders development of the Black queenside.>

11….Qxc5 (Fritz thinks 11….Qe4+ equalizes here) 12. Qd2 Qb6

<To guard the d8 square and so allow the knight to be developed to c5.>

13. c3 ….

click for larger view


Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: Part 3

13. …. a6?

<Black wrongly fears …Nc5 because of the response Bb5+, but he could then play, not 14….Ke7, but 14….Kf8 and the bishop must retreat immediately to f1, because the continuation 15. Qh6+ Ke7 16. Qxh7 Rxg2 would certainly turn out to Black’s advantage. After any move other than Bb5+, Black would have been able to develop with …e5 and …Bf5 or … Be6.

The nervous move in the text puts Black’s game on a slippery slope.>

14. Qc2 f5

<…Nf8 was not any better, because then Nf3-d2-c4-d6+ could follow, while now Nd2 could be answered with …Ne5.>

15. g3 Nc5 16. Bg2 Qc7

<Black has a bad game; if he plays …Bd7 immediately, 17. Ne5 would follow, and because of the threat on f7 Black could not castle.>

17. Qc2

<Now …Bd7 would again be answered with Ne5. Black had nothing better, so nevertheless he should play 17….Bd7, and if 18. Ne5 Black should castle; if White takes the f-pawn, then 18…Bb5 19. c4 Rxd1+ 20. Qxd1 Ba4 21. Nd6+ Kb8 22. b3 Rd8 could follow, which would not be very appealing for White. But I feared the simplifying exchange of the knight on e5 for the Bishop on d7, after which the White bishop would be very strong. However, this in any case offered some hope.>

In Tarrasch’s first line after 18. Nxf7? Bb5 19 c4, 19….Qa5+! 20. Kf1 Bxc4+ is even stronger for Black. On the other hand, 17. Nxd7 Rxd7 18. Rxd7 Qxd7 19. 0-0 gives White a solid long-term advantage. Still, Fritz agrees with Tarrasch that Black would be better off than in the game.


<The decisive error. The black formation is now weakened on the queen-flank and threatened on all sides.>

18. 0-0 Bb7 19. c4!

<A fine move leading to an energetic finale.>


Tarrasch doesn’t discuss it, but 19….bxc4 is worth a look. Still, after 20. Qxc4 Rc8 21. Qh4! Rg7 22. Qf6 Rg8 23. Qh6 Black is in trouble.

20. Qd2

<Threatening the Q- and K-sides equally.>

20….Rb8 21. Qh6 Bxf3(?)

<So that the queen can come to the aid of the kingside; but the queenside is equally bereft. The game is lost.>

This move (which gives the white bishop untrammeled rule over the long diagonal), followed by the subsequent …Qe5…xb2 pawn-grab, accelerates Tarrasch’s defeat. As in several games in this match (#2, #5), once Tarrasch decided he was lost, he seemed to want to get it over with as quickly as possible. Here 21….Ne4 22. Qxh7 Nf6 holds out longer.

22. Bxf3 Qe5 23. Rfe1

<Qxh7 of course cannot be played because the queen would be lost after …Rh8.>

23…. Qxb2 24. Qf4

click for larger view

As with 36. Qe3 in game 5, recentralizing the queen with tempo because of the attack on the rook.


Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: Part 4

24….Rc8 25. Qd6

<Threatening by Bc6+ to mate in a few moves.>

25….f6 26. Bh5+ Rg6 27. Bxg6+ (27. Rxe6+ at once is also possible) 27….hxg6 28. Rxe6+ 1-0.

<After 28….Kf7 follows 29 Re7+ Kg8 30. Qd8+ and mate. A well-played game by Lasker.

The game provides a counterpart to the long 7th game, also a French Defense. I am already at a disadvantage in the opening because of 6….c5, but obtain a fairly satisfactory game because Lasker’s 10th and 11th moves (10. Rd1 instead of 0-0-0 and 11. dxc5) are the simplest, but probably not the strongest. But with the anxious RP move (13th .. a6), I drift into trouble, the weaknesses in my position becoming ever more apparent, my king formation insecure. After the reckless 17…b5 Lasker’s powerful attack breaks down my resistance.>

Lasker is justly famous as an endgame player, but we don’t think of him as a great attacker like Alekhine or Tal. But as I study his games I am struck by this paradox: with a winning position in the endgame, he often played imprecisely. At a minimum, he seemed indifferent to whether he won in 40 moves or 60. Examples are games 1 and 7 from this match and Lasker vs Bogoljubov, 1924. On the other hand, when he did get an attack on the enemy king, he was murderously accurate. See, e.g., from this match, the conclusions of game 5 and this game.

Mar-02-08  Knight13: <Here, though, the doctor forgets to castle and pays the price.> Uh... Where was he supposed to castle? Both sides are wide open; his kingside is death sentence; the rook on d1 prevents the king from going to queen side since early in the opening stage when his queen side pieces are just starting to develop.
Oct-08-09  Ulhumbrus: Tarrasch has descrined 17...b5 as "reckless" and "the decisive error" (Keypusher). However how else is he to castle? On 17...Bd7 18 Ne5! 0-0-0 19 Nxf7 Bb5 20 c4 Rxd1+ 21 Qxd1 Bc6 22 Bxc6 Qxc6 23 0-0 Qhite wins a pawn. This suggests that if Black has an alternative, it exists before this point.
Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: Ulhumbrus

I screwed up the move numbers in my comment below, but instead of 20....Rxd1+, 20....Qa5+ 21. Kf1 Bxc4+ is strong for Black.

Oct-08-09  Ulhumbrus: <keypusher...instead of 20....Rxd1+, 20....Qa5+ 21. Kf1 Bxc4+ is strong for Black.> > Are you sure? On 22 Rxd8+ Rxd8 23 Qxc4 White has won a piece already. Perhaps what you mean is 20...Qa5+ 21 Kf1 Rxd1+! 22 Qxd1 Bxc4+. This does seem better for Black and perhaps Tarrasch was right to fear 19 Nxd7 instead, unless White can find something better.
Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: <Ulhumbrus> Yep, you're right, sorry. 21....Bxc4 in my line is not check.
Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: <Lasker is justly famous as an endgame player, but we don’t think of him as a great attacker like Alekhine or Tal. But as I study his games I am struck by this paradox: with a winning position in the endgame, he often played imprecisely. At a minimum, he seemed indifferent to whether he won in 40 moves or 60. Examples are games 1 and 7 from this match and Lasker vs Bogoljubov, 1924. On the other hand, when he did get an attack on the enemy king, he was murderously accurate. See, e.g., from this match, the conclusions of game 5 and this game.>

I got a little carried away here. In this selfsame game Lasker missed 10. 0-0-0, which I'd guess Tal would have played in a heartbeat. Similarly in Lasker vs Pillsbury, 1900 he didn't play the natural 14. g4, which would have brought him a quick win. Great players are great at all aspects of chess, and that goes for Lasker and attacks on the enemy king. If he was all but handed a king attack (as in this game) he took full advantage. But it wasn't his forte.

Sep-25-11  rilkefan: Great notes by <keypusher> above, thanks.

<The persistence of really weak/superficial thinking in chess, given its powerful feedback loops, is depressing.[...]>

Scary thought.

Sep-25-11  sevenseaman: With the doctor having an off day, <24...Rc8 25. Qxf5 Qxa2 26. Bh5 Rg6 27. Bxg6 hxg6 28. Qf6 b3 29. Qh8+ Ke7 30. Qxc8> is like having a good time in the clinic.
Sep-25-11  AGOJ: I like the little dance of the white queen, d2-c2-e2-d2.
Sep-26-11  kevin86: Mate will come soon...
Jul-19-12  LoveThatJoker: Guess-the-Move Final Score:

Lasker vs Tarrasch, 1908.
Your score: 43 (par = 41)


Feb-18-13  Anderssen59: There is nothing to be done: 28. ...,Kf7 (.....,Nxe6. 29 Qxe6+ mates) 29 Re7+ Kg8. 30 Qd8+ Rxd8. 31.Rxd8 mate.
Dec-28-13  Ulhumbrus: 10...Rg8 gives up the right to castle in the king side. This suggests the question of at which point Black gives up the right to castle on the queen side. Tarrasch's remark that 17...b5 is the losing mistake suggests that it is after this move that Black can't castle on the queen side either

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