The winners' group at the St. Petersburg international Masters' tournament has reached the half-way stage with Cuba's José R. Capablanca holding a one-point lead over World Champion Dr. Emanuel Lasker. The Champion, who defeated American Frank J. Marshall with the Black pieces in a stormy 5th-round encounter, drew a half-step closer to the leader after Capablanca, also with Black, played to a quiet draw vs. Alexander Alekhine in a Four Knights' Game. Dr. Siegbert Tarrasch was free.
With only four games remaining for each contestant and the third-place Alekhine trailing Lasker by one and one-half points, the tourney has become a two-man race, and the question on all minds is whether Lasker, who seems to be approaching top form, can overtake his young Cuban rival. Much will depend on their seventh-round meeting, in which the Champion, after playing Black vs. Capablanca in both the preliminary section and the first tour of the final, will handle the White pieces. Capablanca will first enjoy a bit of a respite to prepare himself for the coming clash, as he is scheduled to have the bye in the sixth round of the final, which will feature the games Alekhine-Lasker and Marshall-Tarrasch.
Scores after Round 5 of the winners' group: Capablanca 11; Lasker 10; Alekhine 8 1/2; Marshall 7; Tarrasch 6 1/2.
Marshall and Lasker engaged in a wild tactical brawl. The latter sought to take the game into relatively uncharted waters from the outset, answering the American's first move of the Queen's pawn with 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 d6 3.Nc3 Nbd7. Marshall from early on directed his fire against the opposing King, and some members of our club feel that the U.S. Champion missed an opportunity for advantage with 15.Bg5, which they consider clearly superior to Marshall's 15.h3. Lasker then began to complicate the play, and soon tactical surprises and sacrificial possibilities were rife at virtually every move. A key moment came at White's 22nd turn, when Marshall with 22.Bxg6 inaugurated an attack that succeeded in winning the enemy Queen, although the price paid for such a prize proved high indeed, with Lasker gaining half an army in return. It is possible that 22.b3, a suggestion of our friend Herr Fritz, was superior, and a few illustrative variations arising therefrom are included with the game score, but such a turbulent situation will require countless hours of analysis to evaluate with any degree of precision. As played, the timely return of a piece via 26...Bc2 secured Black from all danger and left him in a winning position. Marshall, with only his Queen to battle Black's Rook, Bishop, Knight, and passed d-pawn, resigned at the 36th move.
In sharp contrast to the Marshall-Lasker contest, neither Alekhine nor Capablanca appears to have been aggressively inclined on the day. The two players rapidly exchanged most of their pieces in a Four Knights' Game and agreed to a draw through repetition of position at the 26th move. This is in some respects an understandable result, as with this half-point Alekhine, who had suffered defeat in each of his three previous encounters vs. the Cuban maestro, strengthened his hold on third place, while Capablanca, still undefeated and in the lead with the finish coming into view, may not have felt the need to exert himself unduly. Still, we, like all chess aficionados, are happiest when the Masters fight, and produce memorable and decisive games. Let us hope that there are more to come.