Monday, May 19

St. Petersburg tournament, Final Group, Round 6: Lasker defeats Alekhine after marathon battle; Marshall, Tarrasch play to draw

World Champion Dr. Emanuel Lasker defeated Russia's Alexander Alekhine in a marathon 89-move battle to move into a tie for first place with the idle José R. Capablanca after the sixth round of the winners' group at the St. Petersburg international Masters' tournament. The Champion, playing Black against Alekhine's Exchange Variation of the Ruy Lopez, won the exchange at the 41st move via a fiendishly clever stroke in a simplified and seemingly equal position and worked thereafter for nearly 50 additional moves to extract victory from an endgame with two Rooks vs. Alekhine's Rook and Knight, each side possessing in addition one lone pawn. With this win Dr. Lasker, now on 11 points, has for the moment equaled the score of tourney leader Capablanca, although the Cuban, having four games left to play vs. Lasker's three, still retains a game in hand over his adversary. The two players will meet in the next round in a highly-anticipated clash. The day's other contest saw U.S. Champion Frank J. Marshall and Germany's Dr. Siegbert Tarrasch, currently fighting for fourth place, play to a draw in a Dutch Defense. Capablanca, as noted, was free.

Scores after Round 6 of the winners' group: Capablanca*, Lasker 11; Alekhine 8 1/2; Marshall 7 1/2; Tarrasch 7.
Players marked with an asterisk (*) have had the bye.

Alekhine entered the day in third place, one and one-half points behind the second-place Lasker and an equal distance ahead of Marshall, currently in fourth position. The choice of the quiet Exchange Variation of the Ruy Lopez by the fiery young Russian, who has played several far more combative debuts during the course of the tournament, may well indicate that he was satisfied to consolidate his current standing with a draw rather than risk it in the quest for victory. He obtained neither. Lasker, trailing Capablanca by a full point, was of course sorely in need of a win. For forty moves the Russian Master held the balance vs. the Champion, with the few complications that did arise leading only to the exchange of pieces and with Black's offensive on the Queen-side counter-balanced by White's advance on the other wing. Then came the fateful 41st move, when Alekhine's 41.Rd7? was met by the brilliant reply 41...Rd3!, winning material by force, as Black thereby placed both White Rooks in jeopardy - one via the discovered attack 42...Nc3+ and the other through the threat of 42...Rd1+ 43.Kc2 Ne3+ - and simultaneously set a devious mating trap in the event of 42.Kc1, namely 42...Ra1+ 43.Kc2 Nb4 mate. Alekhine was consequently forced to cede the exchange, and in a sense a new battle then began, as with but one pawn remaining on each side Dr. Lasker needed at all costs to safeguard his lone infantryman from capture or exchange while working to force the exchange of Rooks that would yield an easily won position. In fact, the Black c6-pawn - which in case of need could have been advanced to increase the pressure on the enemy game - never moved again during the further course of the struggle, as the Champion sought instead to make progress through a series of attacks and pins on the White Knight. The process was grueling, and hardly straightforward, as the reader may verify by comparing the positions after, for example, Black's 57th and 70th moves, which differ only in the placement of one Black Rook. With 77...Kc4 Lasker at last forced a weakening via 78.b3+; nine moves later Alekhine faltered, as his 87.Rd2? allowed Black to force the long-desired Rook exchange within a few moves. White could have offered sterner resistance with, for example, 87.Rf1, but Alekhine's oversight after so difficult a struggle can hardly be faulted - rather, the perseverance and stamina of Lasker, nearly a quarter-century older than his opponent, are to be marveled at.

The Champion has thus drawn abreast of Capablanca, though with one game in hand the Cuban's chances must still be rated higher - provided, that is, that he does not suffer defeat in his face-to-face meeting with the Doctor in the next round. The chess world awaits: can the old lion rouse himself to fend off his confident young challenger? The answer will not be long in coming.

Dr. Tarrasch, playing Black vs. Marshall, chose the Dutch Defense, an opening that we had thought the German Master held in rather low esteem. A balanced but not uninteresting contest ensued, with neither side ever appearing likely to obtain victory. Queens were exchanged at the 31st move, after which the presence of opposite-colored Bishops made ever more likely the draw that was in fact agreed sixteen move later.


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