Monday, May 12

St.Petersburg tournament, Round 10: Capablanca, Lasker win; Rubinstein eliminated from final after draw with Blackburne

Tourney leader José R. Capablanca and World Champion Dr. Emanuel Lasker scored victories in the tenth round of the international Masters' tournament at St. Petersburg. Capablanca defeated bottom marker Isidor Gunsberg from the Black side of a Bishop's Gambit, as the struggle came to a sudden end when Gunsberg in an inferior position allowed a decisive pawn advance. Lasker, in sixth place entering the round and with his qualification for the five-man final section thus very much in question, gained an invaluable point with a masterful win over David Janowski. Dr. Siegbert Tarrasch and Alexander Alekhine both edged closer to the final by playing to a draw in an Albin Counter Gambit, while U.S. Champion Frank J. Marshall, who will sit idle with the bye in the final preliminary round, made sure of his qualification for the winners' group by sharing the point in 22 moves vs. Aron Niemzowitsch. And the resurgence of Akiba Rubinstein, winner of his last two games, ended when the Polish Master was held to a draw by England's J.H. Blackburne, dashing Rubinstein's last hopes for advancement. Dr. Ossip Bernstein had the bye.

The pairings for the eleventh round are as follows: Capablanca-Blackburne, Lasker-Gunsberg, Alekhine-Janowski, Bernstein-Tarrasch, Rubinstein-Niemzowitsch.

Scores after ten rounds:  Capablanca 7; Marshall 6; Alekhine, Lasker, Tarrasch 5 1/2; Bernstein 5; Rubinstein 4 1/2; Blackburne, Niemzowitsch 3 1/2; Janowski 3; Gunsberg 1.
The top five finishers from the preliminary round-robin will advance to a double-round final.
Marshall has completed his playing schedule and will have the bye in the final preliminary round.

Gunsberg, with nothing to lose, essayed the Bishop's Gambit vs. Capablanca, choosing the rare 6.Bb3 in place of 6.Bb5+ at the sixth move. Black retained the gambit pawn and soon obtained an excellent game, while White sought to obtain some measure of compensation on the open h-file. Unfortunately Gunsberg's 24.Rdh1?, although in keeping with this purpose, allowed the pawn thrust 24...f3! with which Capablanca gained a decisive advantage. The game came to an end a few moves later. Capablanca has now scored five victories, two more than any other man in the field, and has assured himself of a first-place finish in the preliminary tournament. In other circumstances the young Cuban maestro might be expected to rest on his laurels and agree to a quick draw vs. Blackburne in the upcoming eleventh round, but in view of the fact that scores from the preliminary tourney carry over into the double-round winners' group, he could well decide instead to strive for victory in order to increase his lead to the maximum. We shall soon see.

Dr. Lasker as second player bested Janowski in a difficult positional struggle arising from a Queen's Gambit Declined. The Champion's desire to seek winning chances by creating an unbalanced game could be observed as early as the 11th move, when with 11.Rad8 he eschewed the possibility of placing his Rooks immediately on the more usual squares c8 and d8. Janowski, it should be noted, played well himself, establishing a Knight on the c5 square, for which Black obtained a counterpart on c4. White later chose to exchange his light-squared Bishop for Black's well-posted steed, a decision he perhaps came to regret, as Black's own Bishop traveling on light squares, left without its natural adversary, played an ever-larger role as the game progressed. With 36...g5 Dr. Lasker began an assault on the King-side, a decision that required strong nerves and accurate calculation, since White with 37.d5 gained the opportunity to establish a powerful Queen and Bishop battery on the long dark diagonal. In the resultant fighting the Champion gradually got the better of his adversary, at last breaking into the enemy position with his Queen and then commencing a decisive final assault that led perforce to mate or the win of material. With this victory Dr. Lasker's chances of qualification appear far rosier than they did only a round before, and with the off-form Gunsberg as his final opponent the World Champion seems virtually certain to join the winners' group, although he - and all other qualifiers - will do so while trailing Capablanca, perhaps by a substantial margin.

Dr. Tarrasch conducted his contest vs. Alekhine with care, as evidenced by the former's decision to answer the Albin Counter-Gambit 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e5 with the tame 3.e3. A well-played struggle led to a draw by repetition at the at the 36th move.

Rubinstein as second player opted for the French Defense vs. Blackburne and, sorely in need of a win, perhaps experienced a sensation of disappointment when the veteran English warrior chose the Exchange Variation 3.exd5 after 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 . Black later engaged in some rather recondite maneuvers - e.g.,  for a time his Knights stood on the g8 and h8 squares. After the exchange of all heavy pieces on the e-file the Polish Master appeared to gain the upper hand in the endgame, and with 44...Nc5 he threatened a Knight invasion on d3 or c3, while standing ready to meet 45.dxc5 with 45...Bxc5+ and 46...Bxg1, winning a pawn. Blackburne, however, demonstrated the flaw in this plan, capturing the audacious Knight and answering 46...Bxg1 with the well-spotted 47.Be3! The resultant forced pawn endgame (47...Bh2? is met by 48.Kg2) would inevitably result in a draw, as White could shuttle his King between e3 and f3 indefinitely and answer any attempt by Black to break through via ,,,c5 and ...b4 with a4, forever denying the enemy King entry into White's lines. Blackburne clearly retains a sharp eye even in his eighth decade.

Niemzowitsch and Marshall drew quickly in a Petroff Defense, an understandable conclusion given that the former had nothing to play for and the latter could ensure his qualification for the final by adding half a point to his score.

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