Tuesday, April 22

St. Petersburg tournament, Round 1: Lasker, Capablanca, Bernstein, Alekhine are winners

The opening round of the St. Petersburg international Masters' tournament featured four decisive games, with World Champion Dr. Emanuel Lasker to be found among the winners, alongside young stalwarts José R. Capablanca, Dr. Ossip Bernstein, and Alexander Alekhine. A fighting atmosphere prevailed in all contests, a good augury for the tourney. We note as a curiosity that each of the winners scored his victory with the Black pieces, with the games J.H. Blackburne-Lasker, Aron Niemzowitsch-Capablanca, David Janowski-Bernstein, and Isidor Gunsberg-Alekhine all ending in favor of the second player. A draw between United States Champion Frank J. Marshall and Polish Master Akiba Rubinstein provided the only half-point recorded by the White forces on the day. Dr. Tarrasch had the bye.

Scores after 1 round:  Lasker, Capablanca, Bernstein, Alekhine 1; Marshall, Rubinstein 1/2; Blackburne, Niemzowitsch, Janowski, Gunsberg, Tarrasch* 0.
The top five finishers from the preliminary round-robin will advance to a double-round final.
Players marked with an asterisk (*) have already had the bye.

Dr. Lasker, playing his first serious game after a hiatus of more than three years, took the full point from England's Blackburne, who opened with the Scotch Game. The Champion gained the advantage early on, as White's 13.f4? allowed Black to win a pawn with 13...Qf6. Lasker's Queen did more than her fair share of work, accounting for eight of the Doctor's first 20 moves, these displacements allowing Black to both maintain his material advantage and ward off White's efforts to mount an attack. Dr. Lasker captured a second pawn at his 25th turn and soon brought the contest to a winning endgame. The septuagenarian Blackburne might have spared himself the final 20 moves, the better to conserve his energies for the battles ahead.

Niemzowitsch-Capablanca, a Four Knights Game that transposed to the Steinitz Defense to the Ruy Lopez, saw the Cuban choose at the eighth move a continuation unknown to us, 8...g6. Niemzowitsch soon thereafter gained a pawn on the Queen-side, an acquisition, however, that cost the first player several moves with his Queen and allowed Black to put his plans into effect. Capablanca subsequently used the open a- and b-files in combination with the long dark-squared diagonal to exert such strong pressure on the White Queen-side that Niemzowitsch felt compelled to surrender the exchange at his 26th turn, but even this desperate expedient could not prevent Black from beginning the harvest of White's pawns. Niemzowitsch struck his colors in a hopeless position at the 42nd move.

Dr. Bernstein won a fine game from Janowski, who uncharacteristically exchanged both of his Bishops within the first seven moves. The inveterate Franco-Polish attacker attempted to initiate an assault with 15.Kh1 and 16.Rg1, followed by the violent thrust 18.g4?!, but merely weakened his own position in the process, as a glance at the situation after the 23rd move will indicate. Bernstein skilfully conducted the next phase of the game, invading the enemy position with his heavy pieces while simultaneously collecting the weak White pawns, at last forcing Janowski's resignation at the 39th move.

Alekhine scored a comparatively easy win vs. Gunsberg, who left the beaten path early in a Giuoco Piano. Opinion among our clubmates is divided on the question of whether White's 8.a5 Nxa5 9.Rxa5 represented a deliberate sacrifice of the exchange or an oversight, with those who incline toward the latter view feeling that the veteran missed the clever reply 9...Bxa5 10.Qa4+ b5! In either case, the consensus view is that Gunsberg should have captured the Black e-pawn with his Knight at the 13th move; as the game developed, Alekhine's pieces rapidly joined the fight and the young Russian scored the point at the 30th move.

Marshall at first proceeded carefully in a Queen's Gambit Declined vs. Rubinstein. The American later appeared to gain a small advantage in the endgame, but the timely activation of the Black Rook via 28...Rc3 allowed Rubinstein to maintain the balance, and the game was agreed drawn by repetition of position soon thereafter.

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