Saturday, May 17

St. Petersburg tournament, Final group, Round 4: Capablanca, Lasker win again

Tourney leader José R. Capablanca and World Champion Dr. Emanuel Lasker scored victories with the White pieces in the fourth round of the winners' group at the St. Petersburg international Masters' tournament. Capablanca topped U.S. Champion Frank J. Marshall in a Petroff Defense, accepting an offered pawn at the 14th move and carrying his advantage into a Rook endgame that ended in his favor at the 61st move. Lasker displayed good form in taking the full point from Dr. Siegbert Tarrasch in a hard-fought Queen's Gambit Declined, the decision coming shortly after a clever and unexpected endgame stratagem on the part of the Champion. Alexander Alekhine was free. 

Capablanca and Lasker have scored two victories each in the final group, along with a draw in their mutual encounter, and thus the Cuban maestro retains the same one and one-half point lead over the Champion that he enjoyed at the close of the tourney's preliminary round. The unfortunate Tarrasch, who played to a draw vs. each of his four fellow-finalists in the preliminary event, has now lost to each in succession in the first four rounds of the final and stands at the bottom of the tournament table. The Nuremberg physician will have the bye in the fifth round of the final, which will see the pairings Marshall-Lasker and Alekhine-Capablanca.

Scores after Round 4 of the winners' group: Capablanca* 10 1/2; Lasker* 9; Alekhine* 8; Marshall* 7; Tarrasch 6 1/2.
Players marked with an asterisk (*) have had the bye.

Capablanca chose the quiet 5.Qe2 variation against Marshall's Petroff Defense. The American, ever ready for a fight, disdained the possible exchange of Queens at the 7th move and then with 10...Be7 offered his b-pawn, which Capablanca attacked via 11.Qb5+ and at last captured three moves later. Black might have given the game a more complicated turn, one in keeping with his style, had he opted for 16...Nc5 over the chosen 16...c5. As played, a series of exchanges led by the 24th move to an endgame in which White, in possession of a sound extra pawn, stood clearly better; a further dozen moves brought about a Rook endgame in which Capablanca's advantage had grown to two pawns. Marshall, as is his custom, fought to the bitter end, and succeeded in postponing, if not preventing, his opponent's victory; the American Champion's ability to espy saving chances in hopeless situations is quite remarkable. Indeed, had Capablanca at the 48th move been induced to capture the Black e-pawn with check, then the position after 48.Rxe6+ Kf5 49.Rc6 Rxb4 50.Rxc3 Ra4 51.Rc5+ Kg4 would be a draw, according to the notebooks of our friend and clubmate Prof. Malinov. Capablanca, however, refused to follow the wrong path, successfully concluding matters at the 61st move.

Lasker vs Tarrasch proved to be just the sort of difficult, unclear struggle in which the Champion excels. In a Queen's Gambit Declined Tarrasch - one is tempted to add "of course" - employed the ...c5 defense, against which Lasker chose an unusual form of Rubinstein's g3 system, developing his Queen's Knight to the d2 square rather than the more common c3. This difference soon proved of significance, as after Black's 9...d4 White with 10.Nb3 added an additional attacker to the forces besieging the isolated Black pawn, leading the second player to exchange his Queen's Bishop for the eccentrically-placed Knight. In the subsequent play White through the advance of his a-pawn weakened the enemy Queen's wing and deprived Black's minor pieces of valuable support. Lasker at the 24th move won the exchange, but with Tarrasch holding two extra pawns as compensation, one of them the passed d-pawn, the battle was by no means decided. With the little combination 31.Bxh6! the Champion snatched a pawn, and upon the exchange of Queens that followed soon thereafter he began to advance his own infantry, now in the majority, on the King-side. The struggle turned decisively in favor of White after the pretty 43.Bf6!, winning the opposing g-pawn and granting the first player a powerful passed h-pawn; Tarrasch resigned three moves later. A hard fight, and in our opinion a game characteristic of the styles of both Masters.



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