Tuesday, May 13

St. Petersburg tournament, Round 11: Capablanca, Lasker, Tarrasch, Alekhine, Marshall advance to winners' group

The preliminary all-play-all section of the St. Petersburg international Masters' tournament has now concluded, with five men - José R. Capablanca, Dr. Emanuel Lasker, Dr. Siegbert Tarrasch, Frank J. Marshall, and Alexander Alekhine - clearly separating themselves from the rest of the field to qualify for the double-round final. Capablanca added yet another point to his total in the eleventh round of the preliminary event by defeating England's J.H. Blackburne. The young Cuban, in a performance that must be ranked with his triumph at San Sebastián three years ago, finished the preliminary with an undefeated 8-2 score, one and one-half points ahead of his nearest pursuers, an advantage that he will carry into the final. Sharing second and third places with 6 1/2 points were Tarrasch and World Champion Lasker, the former after a long and hard-fought endgame victory over Dr. Ossip Bernstein and the latter following a quick win vs. Isidor Gunsberg. Both German Masters began the tourney slowly. Tarrasch, for example, sat idle with the bye in the first round and went down to defeat vs. David Janowski in the second, but then recovered to win three games in succession, including a brilliant sacrificial victory over Aron Niemzowitsch, while Lasker found himself in sixth place and in danger of elimination as late as the ninth round, with only a pair of concluding victories making the Champion's qualification appear to have been rather more easy than was in fact the case. Close behind Tarrasch and Lasker, in joint 4th-5th places with 6 points each, come Marshall and Alekhine. The U.S. Champion, an experienced tournament campaigner, drew vs. the three men ahead of him on the score chart, lost only to Alekhine, and gained three crucial victories vs. Bernstein, Janowski, and Blackburne; his qualification was certain before the beginning of the eleventh round, in which he had the bye. Alekhine, who laid claim to his own place in the final via a short last-round draw vs. Janowski, was beaten only by Capablanca and took the full point from Marshall, Gunsberg, and - in a game of great importance for the fate of both men - Akiba Rubinstein. The young Russian fought well in adversity, achieving a draw vs. Blackburne after losing a piece in the opening and making the same result from a difficult position vs. Lasker by means of a Rook sacrifice leading to perpetual check.

We come now to those who failed to qualify, beginning with Rubinstein and Bernstein, who shared 6th and 7th places with an even score of 5 points each. The failure of Rubinstein to advance comes as a great disappointment to his many admirers and may well imperil his projected match vs. Lasker for the World Championship. The Polish Master proved unable to display the form he showed in 1912, suffering costly defeats vs. Lasker and Alekhine and allowing the advantage to slip from his grasp on more than one occasion, e.g. vs. Capablanca and Bernstein. Only near the end, with a rather fortunate victory vs. Janowski and a win over Gunsberg, who lost eight games in all, did Rubinstein awaken hopes for his qualification, but these came to an end with his draw vs. Blackburne in the penultimate round. Rubinstein agreed to a draw vs. Niemzowitsch in the eleventh round after only 30 moves with the position offering rich scope for play; one senses that he was eager to see the event come to a close. Bernstein, the tourney's early leader, remained a strong contender for qualification until the end despite losses to Marshall and - in brilliant fashion - Capablanca; a win over Lasker in the eighth round temporarily brightened his prospects and dimmed the Champion's. Had Bernstein defeated Tarrasch in the final round, he and not the Praeceptor Germaniae would have advanced to the final.

Niemzowitsch follows next in eighth place with 4 points. The Rigan Master never showed the form he had exhibited at the All-Russian Masters' tournament in this same city a few months ago, as on this occasion he scored only one win, vs. Gunsberg, and went down to defeat vs. Capablanca, Tarrasch - brilliantly- and Blackburne, who bested his young opponent in energetic fashion.

The sharing of 9th and 10th places by Blackburne and Janowski with 3 1/2 points each can be considered a success for the former and a failure for the latter. Blackburne won two games, vs. Niemzowitsch and Gunsberg, and could well have added a third had he beaten Alekhine after winning a piece in the opening. The veteran fought honorably throughout, and showed that age need not be a disqualifying handicap in top-level play. Janowski scored three points from his first five games, including an excellent win vs. Tarrasch, but then lost his next four games in succession to Marshall, Rubinstein (from a winning position), Capablanca, and Lasker, a daunting gantlet indeed.

For Gunsberg the tourney proved too strong, and we must confess that our estimation of his prospects, made before play began, proved to be far wide of the mark. The veteran tallied only two draws, and in some contests offered scant resistance indeed. We suspect that there are Masters whom Gunsberg is still capable of defeating, but they are not to be found among the world's elite.

Final scores of the preliminary round-robin:  Capablanca 8; Tarrasch, Lasker 6 1/2; Marshall, Alekhine 6; Rubinstein, Bernstein 5; Niemzowitsch 4; Blackburne, Janowski 3 1/2; Gunsberg 1.
Capablanca, Tarrasch, Lasker, Marshall, and Alekhine advance to the double-round final.

A few words concerning the final. Capablanca, with a lead of one and one-half points, must be considered the heavy favorite, especially if one considers that the preliminary contests among the five finalists produced only two decisive results from ten games, with Alekhine defeating Marshall and losing to Capablanca. All the rest were drawn. If such a trend continues into the final it will prove extremely difficult for any of the other competitors to overtake the Cuban ace, who is, moreover, the only man in the field yet to lose a game. If Capablanca is to be caught at all, it will not be via draws. Only wins, and many of them, will do.

We turn to the games of the eleventh round.

Capablanca chose the Ruy Lopez vs. Blackburne, who for the third time chose the 3...Nd4 defense. A balanced struggle tipped suddenly in favor of White after the old warrior misplaced his Knight with 22...Nc6 and 23...Nd8, as Capablanca via a Knight sacrifice denuded the Black King and inaugurated a winning attack.

Lasker-Gunsberg, another Ruy Lopez, likewise came to a quick end as Gunsberg with 16...f5? overlooked the subtle threat 17.a3 Nc6 18.Qa2, winning the Black d-pawn, after which the second player's position collapsed.

Tarrasch, facing the need to avoid defeat at all costs, relied on his favorite Open Defense to Bernstein's Ruy Lopez. White's 17.Rd1? was a blunder, allowing Black with 17...Rxf2! to initiate a sequence leading to the win of two pawns. Tarrasch later with 25...c4 returned one pawn in order to bring about an endgame in which the White Rook became immobilized on the a2-square and Black could proceed methodically in the exploitation of his advantage. The win was by no means simple - we call the reader's attention to the fiendish trap set by Bernstein at the 52nd move - but the German Master at last scored the point at his 69th turn.

Alekhine, needing only a draw to advance, chose the Exchange Variation against the French Defense of Janowski. White's single-minded intention to share the point may be observed at the 18th move, when the young Russian either overlooked or eschewed the opportunity to win two pieces for a Rook via 18.Rxe6. The players traded virtually all pieces quickly, and agreed to a draw in an almost perfectly symmetrical Knight endgame at the 29th move.

Rubinstein and Niemzowitsch signed terms of peace at the 30th move in perhaps the most interesting position of their game, one promising interesting play. But the two Masters, with no hope for advancement, can perhaps be forgiven for their lack of desire to continue the fight.

No comments: