Wednesday, May 7

St. Petersburg tournament, Round 7: Capablanca claims share of lead with brilliant victory over Bernstein; Lasker, Alekhine play to fighting draw

José R. Capablanca joined Alexander Alekhine in the lead after seven rounds of the international Masters' tournament at St. Petersburg by scoring a brilliant victory over Dr. Ossip Bernstein while Alekhine played to a short, sharp draw vs. World Champion Dr. Emanuel Lasker. Capablanca, with a game in hand over his Russian friend and rival, may with some justification be considered the tourney's front-runner at this point in time. But the race is far from over, as close behind the two leaders at a distance of only one half-point comes a powerful trio of pursers: Lasker, Dr. Siebert Tarrasch, who drew his seventh-round contest vs. Akiba Rubinstein, and U.S. Champion Frank J. Marshall, winner over David Janowski. The day's final contest saw Russian co-Champion Aron Niemzowitsch record his first victory of the event by defeating Isidor Gunsberg. England's Joseph Henry Blackburne had the bye.

Scores after 7 rounds: Capablanca*, Alekhine 4 1/2; Lasker*, Tarrasch*, Marshall 4; Bernstein 3 1/2; Janowski*, Niemzowitsch 3; Blackburne*, Rubinstein* 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 displayed his combinational skill in defeating Bernstein, whose temporary pawn sacrifice 10...e5 appears to have been mistimed. While Black set about to regain the pawn, the Cuban completed his development and prepared the thrust 16.b4 followed by the Bishop offer 17.Bxb5! Black's King lost its right to castle as the White pieces invaded the enemy position, gathering pawns along the way. The force of the White attack did not abate even after the exchange of Queens, and Bernstein, with his King driven to h5, was hard-pressed to avoid checkmate. By the 32nd move Capablanca had regained his piece with a surplus of 3 pawns, after which the win presented no difficulty whatsoever. To our knowledge Capablanca has now faced Dr. Bernstein four times over the board, yielding only a single draw and scoring three brilliant victories, the first at San Sebastián in 1911, the second in an exhibition game at Moscow earlier this year, and the third in the present encounter. A remarkable record indeed.

Dr. Lasker and Alekhine engaged in a sharp Center Counter Game, a contest that will surely undergo much analytical scrutiny. Alekhine's bold 6...e5 and Champion's equally enterprising 7.c5 set the tone for the battle to come, which saw Lasker use tactical means to maintain his advanced but vulnerable c-pawn. The Doctor made inroads with his Queen on the enemy Queen-side, and began to harass the opposing King, but Alekhine reacted strongly, counter-attacking with 15...Qe6 and 16...Qf5 and then, while a Rook to the bad, offering a second Rook with 20...Be7! in order to force perpetual check.

Marshall gained an early advantage vs. Janowski by capturing a pawn on b7 with his Queen, a sacrifice for which Black seemed to obtain insufficient compensation. As the game continued the American came to dominate the play across the entire board, first offering a Knight on f6 and later forcing the Black pieces into near-total passivity on the Queen-side. The players reached an endgame at the 40th move; not even the presence of opposite-colored Bishops, however, could help Janowski to save himself in the face of Marshall's three-pawn advantage, which had grown to four by the time of Black's resignation at the 64th move.

Rubinstein, playing White, suffered yet another disappointment vs. Tarrasch. The Polish Master opened with 1.c4 and appeared for a time to enjoy the better prospects, but failed to prevail against the sturdy defense of Tarrasch, whose 36...c6! and 43...Qxf4+ followed by 44...h6+ merit particular notice. In the end White was forced to fight for the draw, a pawn to the bad in a Rook endgame.

Niemzowitsch pressed Gunsberg in an endgame arising from the Three Knights' Opening. The Rigan Master established a strong Knight on the d4-square and sought by turns to advance on the Queen-side, in the center, and on the King-side, ultimately sacrificing a pawn at the 41st move to further his incursion. Gunsberg at last went wrong at his 53rd turn, when his 53...Kh6? allowed 54.Nxg6, after which Black can avoid the loss of his severely restricted Bishop only via a general exchange of pieces leading to a lost pawn endgame.

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