Friday, May 23

St. Petersburg tournament, Final group, Round 9: Lasker draws with Tarrasch; Capablanca defeats Marshall; Leaders half-point apart entering final round

World Champion Dr. Emanuel Lasker of Germany played to a draw on the Black side of a French Defense vs. his compatriot Dr. Siegbert Tarrasch to maintain the leading position after nine rounds of the winners' group at the St. Petersburg international Masters' tournament. Former tourney leader José R. Capablanca of Cuba, currently in second place, recovered from two consecutive losses to defeat U.S. Champion Frank J. Marshall in a long and difficult contest, likewise as second player in a French Defense. With this victory Capablanca now trails Dr. Lasker by only one half-point entering the tournament's final round, which will see the two leaders both playing with the White pieces, Lasker vs. Marshall and Capablanca vs. Russia's Alexander Alekhine, idle with the bye during the ninth round. Tensions remain high as chess aficionados in St. Petersburg and around the globe wait to see if either man will emerge as sole victor of the tournament, or whether these two fierce rivals will cross the finish line side-by-side. Alekhine meanwhile is assured of a third-place finish irrespective of tomorrow's results, while Marshall, in fifth position one half-point to the rear of Tarrasch, will have the opportunity in the final round to equal or surpass the score of the Praeceptor Germaniae, as the Doctor, to whom fate assigned the bye on the opening day of the preliminary tournament, will now sit idle on the last day of the final section.

Scores after 9 rounds of the winners' group: Lasker 12 1/2; Capablanca 12; Alekhine 10; Tarrasch 8 1/2; Marshall 8.
Dr. Tarrasch will have the bye in the final round and so has completed his playing program.

Lasker, winner of his previous four games, opted for the French Defense against White's opening move of the King's pawn. After 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 Dr. Tarrasch advanced 3.e5, choosing a continuation - similar to his use of the Dutch Defense vs. Marshall in the sixth round of the final group - for which he had previously expressed scant regard. A maneuvering game soon developed, which saw no pawn moved after White's 22nd turn and in which - except for a brief visit by the White Queen and the more permanent residence of White's King's Knight, both on the g5-square - no piece on either side ever crossed the demarcation line into enemy territory. One senses that Dr. Tarrasch, for whom the winners' group started so badly, was satisfied to add to his score, and the Champion content to remain in the lead, with the draw that was agreed after a repetition of position at the 39th move.

Capablanca, now in the role of pursuer, faced Marshall in desperate need of a win, which he obtained only after many adventures. The American opened with the Queen's pawn, the game transposing to the Exchange Variation of the French Defense via 1.d4 e6 2.e4 d5 3.exd5 exd5. For more than a dozen  moves the position displayed the balance typical of this line, whereupon Marshall with the advance 14.f4 and 16.f5 established a hold on the e6-square, future locus of much interesting play. Capablanca sought counter-chances on the Queen-side with his Queen and Knight and with 27...Nxa3 gained  a pawn, while Marshall continued resolutely on the other wing, at last occupying the e6-square with 33.Nce6. The crisis came three moves later, when White eschewed the drawing 36.Qxc4 in favor of the surprise stroke 36.Bg4, winning a piece, as 36...Bxg4 loses to 37.Qe8+ Qd8 38.Ne7+ Kb8 39.Qxd8+, and other Black replies are equally unavailing.

But here a new battle began, as Capablanca obtained three pawns for the missing piece and, after 39.Ne3? (better was 39.Qe3), soon gained even a fourth. Marshall then reduced his pawn deficit by half with 45.Nxf6 and 46.Nxh7, but in the process granted Black time to advance his a-pawn and placed his own Knight far from the the sector where it was most needed. Indeed, it rapidly became apparent that White, rather than seeking the best method to secure victory with his extra piece, was now in search of a means to save the game. Such a means, alas, was not to be found, and Capablanca through the sacrifice of his last piece succeeded in promoting his a-pawn at the 56th move. Marshall, as ever, fought to the end, at last resigning five moves later. Thus did Capablanca close to within a half-length of the Champion on the eve of the final round.




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