Sunday, May 4

St. Petersburg tournament, Round 6: Capablanca defeats Alekhine; Blackburne beats Gunsberg

José R. Capablanca defeated tournament leader Alexander Alekhine in the sixth round of the St. Petersburg international Masters' tournament. With this victory the Cuban ace has moved to within one half-point of Alekhine and now shares second place with Drs. Emanuel Lasker, Ossip Bernstein, and Siegbert Tarrasch. With five players so closely bunched at the top of the score table, chess aficionados may well witness an exciting race to the finish as the preliminary round-robin tourney enters its second half. The day's other decisive result came in the meeting between the tournament's two oldest participants when Joseph Henry Blackburne took the full point from fellow British representative Isidor Gunsberg to score his first victory of the event. The troubles of Akiba Rubinstein continued, as the Polish Master, despite enjoying both a material and positional advantage, failed to overcome the stubborn defense of Dr. Bernstein, at last acceding to a draw at the 97th move. In other games Dr. Tarrasch played to a draw vs. U.S. Champion Frank J. Marshall, while David Janowski and Aron Niemzowitsch likewise shared the point after a long and difficult battle. Dr. Lasker was free. 

The tournament - in contrast to the concurrent gambit event at Baden - has yet to produce a single bloodless draw, and the players are to be congratulated on providing such a wealth of fighting and fascinating chess. May they continue to do so.

Scores after 6 rounds:  Alekhine 4; Capablanca*, Lasker*, Tarrasch*, Bernstein 3 1/2; Janowski*, Marshall 3; Blackburne, Niemzowitsch 2; Rubinstein* 1 1/2; Gunsberg* 1/2.
The top five finishers from the preliminary round-robin will advance to a double-round final.
Players marked with an asterisk (*) have already had the bye.

Capablanca outplayed Alekhine from the Black side of a Ruy Lopez. The Russian's 8.Nf5 is a move new to us and, we must confess, not one that suits our taste; among the more commonly played choices for White at his eighth move are 8.Re1, 8.Bxc6, 8.Nxc6, and 8.b3. Alekhine invaded the enemy Queen-side with 19.Qb7 and won a pawn via 21.Qxa7, but the absence of the White Queen was soon felt on the other side of the board, as Capablanca with 21...Nd5 and 22...Nf4 began to direct his forces toward White's King. The first blow, a Knight sacrifice, fell on the following move, 23...Nxg2. Black soon regained his piece with a continuing attack and, despite some inaccurate play on both sides, maintained the advantage till the end, with Alekhine resigning at the 35th move. Capablanca has now defeated Alekhine in all three of their encounters to date, the Cuban's first two victories coming in exhibition games contested at St. Petersburg late last year.

Gunsberg adopted the rare opening move 1.e3 vs. Blackburne. A rather blocked position developed, which later saw all the heavy pieces exchanged on the g-file and Blackburne left with two Bishops vs. Gunsberg's Bishop and Knight. Blackburne sought to make inroads through the advance of his Queen-side pawns, a goal whose achievement was somewhat facilitated by White's 39.Bh4. After 39...bxc3! 40.bxc3 Ba3 the decisive turning of White's flank had begun; Gunsberg resigned at the 49th move.

Rubinstein, as Black in a Four Knights' Game, gained a pawn early on vs. Bernstein. The two players at the 30th move reached a Queen and Rook endgame in which Rubinstein, after much maneuvering, at last began to force matters via 54...e5, opening the position to Black's advantage. Had the Polish Master played 58...c4, preparing a shelter on c5 for his King, he might well have achieved victory; as played, Dr. Bernstein with 61.Re6+ was able to exchange Rooks, and later to achieve a draw after a long defense. Rubinstein, currently in 10th place, seems less likely to reach the final with each passing round.

Marshall played the Petroff Defrense vs. Tarrasch, the American varying from his second-round game with Capablanca at the 8th move by choosing 8...Bxd2+ in place of the earlier 8...0-0. Following a number of exchanges the two players reached an opposite-colored Bishop endgame offering no winning chances to either side, as Tarrasch with the pawn sacrifice 28.b5 and moves such as 38.Kh1 and 39.Kg1 made abundantly clear. Peace was at last agreed at the 48th move.

Janowski-Niemzowitsch saw Black adopt the same irregular defense chosen by Alekhine vs. Rubinstein in the previous round, 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 - perhaps one of the two young Russian Masters would care to suggest a name for this odd debut. A difficult struggle ensued, with Black in particular engaging in some odd maneuvers with his pieces - see, for example, the position of his Knights after 30 moves. Nevertheless, Niemzowitsch gradually gained the upper hand, winning the advanced White h-pawn at the 49th move and reaching a likely winning endgame after 57...Rxh5. Had the second player at his next turn chosen 58...Rh6, intending to sacrifice the exchange via 59.Bg6+ Rxg6, he likely would have scored the game to his credit. As played, Niemzowitsch's 58.Nxe8 led to most interesting a Rook endgame that at last ended peacefully at the 85th move. Another feast for the analysts.

No comments: