Sunday, May 11

St. Petersburg tournament, Round 9: Lasker saves endgame vs. Tarrasch with problem move; Capablanca, Marshall, Rubinstein are winners

Dr. Emanuel Lasker stood on the precipice of defeat in his ninth-round game vs. Dr. Siebert Tarrasch at the St. Petersburg international Masters' tournament, a result that would have severely jeopardized the World Champion's prospects of qualifying for the tourney's final section. Only a problem-like move in a King and pawn endgame saved the Champion and allowed him to achieve the draw that has now kept him in the running for inclusion in the winner's group. Nevertheless, Dr. Lasker, in sixth place with two rounds remaining, must yet overtake one of the players ahead of him on the score chart if he is to gain entry to the five-man final. Offering some hope to supporters of the Champion is the fact that two of the Masters whom he is pursuing, U.S. Champion Frank J. Marshall and Russia's Ossip Bernstein, have only one game each remaining, while Dr. Lasker has two, and thus the Doctor will have the opportunity to make up ground while his competitors sit idle. The tension increases with each passing round, and a single slip can spell disaster.

The day's other play saw three decisive games, with tournament leader José R. Capablanca defeating David Janowski; Marshall, now in second place, taking the full point from J.H. Blackburne; and Akiba Rubinstein winning his second game in succession, his latest victim being Isidor Gunsberg. Rubinstein, who may at last be coming into form, stands in seventh place, one full point out of fifth position, and despite his numerous disappointments to date still retains faint hopes of qualification.

A sharp draw between Alexander Alekhine and Dr. Bernstein in the day's final game also provided its full share of excitement. Aron Niemzowitsch was free.

Scores after 9 rounds:  Capablanca 6*; Marshall 5 1/2; Alekhine*, Bernstein, Tarrasch* 5; Lasker* 4 1/2; Rubinstein* 4; Blackburne*, Janowski*, Niemzowitsch* 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.

We begin with the contest between Drs. Lasker and Tarrasch. The Champion opted for the Ruy Lopez, to which Dr. Tarrasch replied with his favorite Open Defense. The second player at his 12th turn introduced the new move 12...d4, varying from the previously known 12...Bg4 as played, for example, by Lasker himself in an offhand game vs. Janowski at the end of 1912. Dr. Tarrasch's continuation granted him great freedom for his pieces, and the Champion hastened to trade off the well-placed Black men. Knights were exchanged early on, as were all heavy pieces on the open d-file, resulting in a double Bishop endgame at the 23rd move, a finale that gradually turned in favor of Black. At his 36th turn Dr. Tarrasch with 36...Bxf5+ brought about a most striking position leading to the exchange of all Bishops and leaving Black with an apparently winning pawn endgame based on the pretty idea 41.Kf6 c4 42.bxc4 bxc4 43.Ke5 c3! 44.bxc3 a4 and wins, as White's own pawn on c3 impedes his King's progress toward the a1 queening square. Lasker, however, saved himself with the unexpected 41.Kg6!, forcing Black to spend a tempo on the capture of the White h-pawn and allowing White's King to reach the Queen-side in time to eliminate all danger in that sector. In retrospect, 37...Be6+, winning a pawn via 38.Kg6 Bxg7 39.Kxg7 Bxb3 offered Black winning chances, but Dr. Tarrasch, thinking to have calculated matters through to the end, chose to enter the pawn endgame. A most narrow escape for the Champion; the half-point thus saved may well prove of decisive value in his fight to gain entry into the final group.

Capablanca, on the White side of another Ruy Lopez, used the Exchange Variation to score a quick and powerful victory over Janowski. Black castled on the Queen-side, whereupon the Cuban ace began a direct attack on the enemy King via 11.Rb1 and 12.b4. White's assault grew move by move, strengthened by the powerful position of his Knight on the d5-square. Janowski's 24...Nf4 perhaps hastened the end, though not the result, as the advancing mass of White pawns would have proven irresistible in any event. Capablanca, with four wins and four draws to his credit and scheduled to meet Gunsberg and Blackburne in the closing rounds, enjoys every likelihood of maintaining his lead in the preliminary section until the end, a result that to our mind would be only fitting, as the tourney leader has to this point played the best chess of any competitor in the event.

Marshall took the measure of Blackburne, who defended irregularly in a Queen's Pawn Game. The two men fought on relatively even terms, with perhaps a slight advantage to White, until the 22nd move, when Blackburne with 22...Nd5 allowed White to gain a pawn. Marshall seized the booty and thereafter took command in the ensuing endgame. The veteran Englishman struggled to the end, but to no avail, at last resigning when faced with a deficit of four pawns at his 49th turn.

Gunsberg as second player treated the opening very lightly vs. Rubinstein, the game beginning 1.d4 a6 2.e4 d5 3.exd5 Qxd5 4.Nc3 Qa5 5.Nf3 e6 6.Bd3 c6. White, granted a virtual free hand, built up his game slowly but effectively, and always with an eye toward the proper moment to begin the assault. This came at last with 28.d5; Black's position collapsed soon thereafter. One is led to wonder whether Gunsberg possesses the desire or the will to continue to fight at full strength; a succession of defeats often saps the power to resist. With Capablanca and Lasker as his final two opponents, the veteran faces a stiff challenge indeed if he is to add to his score.

Alekhine and Bernstein contested a stormy Ruy Lopez, with the younger man as White seemingly determined to attack at all costs, as evidenced by such moves as 15.e5 and 20.f5 and the subsequent sacrifice of both those advanced pawns. Bernstein emerged from the complications a pawn to the good, and with 29...Ng7 might have entertained hopes of victory; as played, Alekhine regained the pawn at his 33rd turn and the two opponents agreed to a draw soon afterward, a result that for the moment keeps both players among the elect - the five top finishers who will advance to the final.

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