Friday, May 9

St. Petersburg tournament, Round 8: Lasker loses to Bernstein after oversight; World Champion, now in 6th place, in danger of missing final group

From Russia comes word that World Champion Dr. Emanuel Lasker lost to Dr. Ossip Bernstein in the eighth round of the St. Petersburg international Masters' tournament. With this defeat, his first of the event, the Champion has fallen to sixth place and consequently risks failing to qualify for the tourney's five-man, double-round final section. Reports from St. Petersburg indicate that Dr. Lasker suffered a hallucination vs. Bernstein, a momentary mental aberration that caused him to pursue a non-existent checkmate and led ultimately to his defeat. The Champion will need to rally over the three closing rounds if he is to join the final group; his opponents, in sequence, will be Dr. Siegbert Tarrasch, David Janowski, and Isidor Gunsberg, three experienced Masters quite accustomed to playing for high stakes, as each has contended for the World Championship in the past.

The Champion's defeat was hardly the day's only drama. Dr. Tarrasch committed an oversight of his own vs. José R. Capablanca, sacrificing the exchange in the mistaken expectation of winning a piece on the following move, but overlooking a saving reply by his opponent. To the German's good fortune he was nevertheless able to regain the exchange at the cost of a pawn and later succeeded in drawing the game.

David Janowski experienced a painful setback vs. Akiba Rubinstein. The Franco-Polish Master played splendidly to achieve a winning position, only to go badly astray in the endgame and suffer defeat. Whether this victory will mark the beginning of a resurgence for Rubinstein remains to be seen.

In other action, Joseph Henry Blackburne displayed his form of days gone by, defeating Aron Niemzowitsch with a powerful attack, while Isidor Gunsberg added a half-point to his total by drawing vs. U.S. Champion Frank J. Marshall. Alexander Alekhine was free.

Scores after 8 rounds:  Capablanca* 5; Alekhine*, Bernstein, Marshall, Tarrasch* 4 1/2; Lasker* 4; Blackburne*, Janowski*, Niemzowitsch, Rubinstein* 3; Gunsberg* 1.
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.

Lasker, playing the ...d6 defense favored by Steinitz, obtained a good position on the Black side of a Ruy Lopez vs. Bernstein. The Champion began to probe for advantage in the middlegame, and believed that he had found what he sought with 35...Qh2. Our sources in St. Petersburg inform us that when playing this move Lasker foresaw the game continuation 36.Nxe6 Ra2 37.Re2 Ra1+ 38.Kf2, whereupon he intended to give mate by 38...Qg1, overlooking that the White King could escape via g3. After 38...fxe6 Bernstein won a pawn and allowed the Champion no counter-chances in the subsequent play. Black resigned at the 56th move in a hopeless Rook endgame. Bernstein has now defeated the World Champion twice in recent weeks, the earlier victory coming in an exhibition game at Moscow at the end of March.

Tarrasch vs. Capablanca, another Ruy Lopez, also saw a faulty combination, as White in an equal position at the 24th move lashed out with 24.Rxe7? Rxe7 25.c4, overlooking the reply 25...Re4. After the further 26.Be3 Rxc4 27.Ne5, it transpired that White could nevertheless regain the sacrificed exchange and reach an endgame in which, despite his pawn minus, the presence of opposite-colored Bishops offered him good prospects for a draw, a result he achieved at the 59th move.

Janowski played masterfully for more than 40 moves vs. Rubinstein, accepting an isolated d-pawn as White in a Queen's Gambit Declined and making full use of the resultant freedom of action for his pieces generally accruing to the first player in such a formation. Rubinstein, under heavy pressure, was forced to sacrifice the exchange at the 35th move; Queens were exchanged four moves later, leaving White with a winning endgame. But then the unfortunate Janowski began to lose his way, with 47.h3? allowing his winning chances to slip and 63.Rg7?? even costing him the game. An unfinished masterpiece.

Blackburne chose the opening move 1.e3 vs. Niemzowitsch, a sedate beginning that hardly proved a harbinger of what was to come. Black obtained a solid position and attempted to make inroads on the Queen-side; White, for his part, slowly brought his forces to the King's wing. Niemzowitsch's 25...g6? appears to have been an error, allowing his veteran opponent to go on the attack with 26.Ng4! In the subsequent complications White gained Rook and two strong pawns against Black's two Bishops, an approximate material balance, but the powerful position of the White pieces enabled Blackburne to denude the opposing King and bring his attack to a successful conclusion at the 42nd move. A youthful, vigorous performance by the septuagenarian Englishman!

Gunsberg as first player proceeded carefully vs. Marshall in a Four Knights' Game, maintaining the balance throughout and avoiding Black's attempts to complicate the struggle, e.g. with 15...Nd5. The draw was agreed at the 42nd move.


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