Saturday, August 11, 2018

Game of the Day 7

What makes a game great or important? There are a number of considerations to take into account, but the occasion, the players, the fight and the brilliance of play are all contributing factors. There will also be second hand opinion, by those who witnessed, or have seen and analysed the game. One of my favourite tournaments is Hastings 1895 and I must have looked at most of the games at least once.But a game I never really considered much was the first round game Lasker-Marco. It really isn't a brilliant game, certainly not the best by either player, and not even the best of the round, but it was an historically significant game. It was the first tournament game that Lasker played as World Champion, and as Hastings 1895 was his first International tournament after winning the title, it can be surmised that it wasn't the glorious start he would have hoped for, finishing third behind Pillsbury and Chigorin.

But Lasker isn't the only World Champion who didn't start their tenure with a bang. Euwe could only finish second, behind Reuben Fine at Zandvoort after beating Alekhine, and Botvinnik fared even worse finishing sixth at the super strong 1951 USSR Championship won by Keres. Admittedly, Botvinnik didn't play much after 1948 so would have been rusty, but this must have been a disappointment. In recent times, both Kramnik and Anand could only finish third in their first classical tournaments after winning the title. Then there were Steinitz, Smyslov and Fischer who never played tournaments as World Champions. As far as I can tell, all the other undisputed Classical World Champions started with a tournament win.

In the tournament book of Hastings 1895, the games were annotated by players, though they didn't comment on their own games. The 1st round game of Lasker-Marco was commented by the great German player, Tarrasch who tends towards the critical in his analysis style! Tarrasch was known for his dogmatic opinions on the game, but he was still a brilliant player and a magnificent calculator at the board. His fantastic win against Walbrodt from Hastings 1895 is a great example of his brilliance.

The game has an interesting middle game with black taking hanging pawns from a Queen's Gambit Declined opening. Unfortunately, the game finishes when it is just beginning to get interesting, as Marco made a huge, and somewhat elementary blunder.

Black here played the shocker 22..Bf6?? allowing 23.Bg4 skewering queen and rook without the possibility of blocking with the f-pawn. The game falls apart quickly after that. Tarrasch's notes to this position are quite interesting and show a lack of regard for dynamics in the position which were not so well understood at the time (strange really, as the idea of gambiting for an attack was still quite prevalent at the time). Tarrasch considers 22..Qb6 as forced, but 22..f6!? keeps the position fluid. It looks as if White wins a pawn by 23.Nxg6 hxg6 24.Qxa5.

However, the position is highly unbalanced with White's forces dispersed. Black has 24..g5 (a move Tarrasch thought about in an earlier position) 25.Bg3 dxe3 26.Rxd8+ Rxd8 27.Re1 Qd5 28.f3 with an absolutely unclear position.

In fact, this crazy dynamic game would have suited Marco who played a game from the same opening position a couple of years earlier against von Scheve at Dresden 1892 where he took an IQP and managed to create all sorts of complications for himself and his opponent, who finally ran out of steam and blundered the game away. Here's that game, and then the Lasker game with notes by Tarrasch (and the f6 line added). Enjoy!

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