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Siegbert Tarrasch vs Emanuel Lasker
"Tarrasch Talking" (game of the day Jul-22-2015)
Lasker - Tarrasch World Championship Match (1908), Duesseldorf GER, rd 4, Aug-24
Spanish Game: Berlin Defense. Hedgehog Variation (C66)  ·  0-1


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Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: Part II

11. Bg5

White has a very free game and is several tempi ahead.

11....h6 12. Bh4 Re8 13. Rad1

The development of the white forces is already complete; White threatens e4-e5.

13....Nd7 Bxe7

The retreat of the bishop to g3 would lead to a quick, though interesting draw: 14. Bg3 Bf6 15. Qc4 a6 16. Nxc7 Rc8 <Shredder notes that 16....Nb6! leads to a clear advantage for Black> 17. Bxd6 Be5 18. Bxe5 <18. Qd3 wins> Rxe5 19. Qd4 Qxc7! (not 19....Rxc7 because of 20. Qxe5) 20. Qxd7 Qxd7 21. Rxd7 Rxc2 22. Rxb7 Rxe4 23. Rf1 <23. Kf1 maintains a clear advantage for White> R4e2, draw.

14....Rxe7 15. Qc3

Threatening to redeploy the knight with tempo via d4 to f5, with a mate threat on g7.

click for larger view

<Soltis: There is something to be said for 15. f4, to stop anything from landing on e5. Then 15....a6 16. Nc3 Re6 is a small edge for White.

But 15. Qc3 makes a threat, 16. Qxc7, and more importantly, it prepares Nd4-f5 and Re3-g3 -- a simple, attacking plan that allows Tarrasch to exploit his spatial edge with "principled" moves as in the Schlechter game. What makes this part of the game remarkable is the way Lasker finds a way to turn his opponent's attention away from that plan.>


Black has a difficult defense; the rook move leads in the end to the misplacing of this piece, but also 15....Nc5, which I though was correct, is favorable for White. It is true that 16. e5 would be premature, for the continuation 16....Qd7 (not 16....Qe7 because of 17. Nxc7! followed by exd6) 17. Nd4 Rxe5 18. Rxe5 dxe5 19. Qxc5 exd4 20. Rxd4 Re8 21. h3 Qe7 22. Qxa7 Qe1+ 23. Qxf2 shows that Black has a good game. But with 16. f3 White maintains an advantageous position; a plausible continuation was 16....Qd7 17. Nd4 Ne6 18. Nf5 Ree8 19. Qb4 Rab8 20. e5 d5 21. Qg4 and wins a pawn, as both Nxh6+ and Nxg7 are threatened.

Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: Part III

<Kasparov in OMGP I seems to echo Tarrasch's assessment: Black is in trouble. "Lasker realised perfectly well that his only chance of avoiding a prolonged and gruelling defence was to dislodge Tarrasch from his confident state. To do this he had to create something unusual, contrary to all the positional rules and standards of chess wisdom!"

I am no one to dispute with Tarrasch, much less Kasparov; but neither I nor Shredder think Black is in trouble. Shredder comes up with a couple of simple improvements to Tarrasch's line; e.g., instead of 16....Qd7, after 16....Ne6 17. Nd4 Nxd4 18. Rxd4 Qd7 is quite equal, and, staying with Tarrasch's line a little longer, if 16....Qd7 17. Nd4 Ne6 18. Nf5 Ree8 19. Qb4 Qc6 (instead of 19....Rab8) and Black, with ...Qb6+ on tap, has nothing to fear. OMGP I/Dvoretzsky's subsequent notes indicate that Black gets into trouble later, with 19....Re8, not now.

Put aside all that's been written about this game, and imagine that you saw the position in the diagram above on a neighboring board in your next tournament. Would you think that Black was hanging on by his fingernails? I wouldn't. White has a little bit more space, but three pairs of minor pieces are gone from the board. Black doesn't look cramped to me, and has no weaknesses. Of some concern is White's lead in development, with the queen and knight attacking c7 and both rooks deployed to the central files. But if Black can handle the existing threats -- which seem neither insuperable nor complicated -- then why should he be worried?

So, why did Lasker play 15....Re5? No doubt there was an element of provocation to the move; the rook on e5 seems to be "asking for it," just as Fischer's queen seemed to be "asking for it" on e5 in this game: Larsen vs Fischer, 1971.

But it's also possible that Lasker played 15....Rc5 because he thought it was the best move. Even if 16. e5 doesn't work after 15....Nc5, the advance of the white e-pawn will be a standing threat. Lasker did not care for passive defense. He was also aware of games like Tarrasch-Schlechter above, and did not want to allow Tarrasch to follow well-worn paths to a strong attack. 15....Rc5, driving the queen off the long diagonal, forces Tarrasch to come up with a new plan.

There is one additional "justification" for ...Re5 that has nothing to do with the move's objective worth, but may well have influenced Lasker: ...Re5 had worked out brilliantly in Game 2. Indeed, in that game Black relied on the very same tactical motif -- ...Rc5 in response to an attack on c7 -- that he did in this game.>

Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: Part IV

16. Nd4

The natural capture on c7 was weak, as it would have led to 16. Qxc7 Rxb5 17. Qxd6 Rxb2 18. Qxd7 Qxd7 19. Rxd7 Rxc2 20. Rxb7 Rxa2.

<Kasparov, Soltis and Shredder agree that 19....Rc8! is stronger, and Black has a better ending.>


This second rook move is an evil choice. <Dieser zweite Turmzug aber ist entschieden vom Ubel -- surely there is a better translation than this.> 16....Nf6 17. f3 Qd7 18. Nf5 Rae8 was a much better defense.

<Shredder thinks the game is quite equal after Tarrasch's recommendation.>

17. Qb3

White immediately makes an attacking move, so as to take away the rook's retreat with f2-f4. The encirclement of the rook is now the leitmotif of the whole game. The previously planned attack on the king with Nf5 and Qg3 is immediately abandoned, as Black could easily ward it off with ...Qg5 or ...Rg5.


The knight here not only protects the b-pawn, but in addition supports the misplaced and vulnerable <hilfsbeduerftigen> rook. <Note that 17....a5! is quite playable here, since 18. Qxb7 Rb8 19. Qa7 Qc8! is fine for Black.>

18. f4!

Naturally, the White position is a little bit loosened by this move, which gives the opponent attack-points. <Naturlich wird die weisse Stellung durch diesen Zug etwas gelockert und gewahrt dem Gegner Ansgriffpunkte.>

<OMGP I: Many commentators criticized this move, saying that 'Tarrasch was influenced by Lasker's psychological thinking,' and recommending 18. Re3 or 18. Nf5. But Mark Dvoretsky's evaluation is closer to the truth: 'By advancing his pawn to f4, White takes control of the e5 and g5 squares, and prepares to cramp the opponent by Qf3, b2-b3 and c2-c4. From the fact that Tarrasch lost this game, it by no means follows that all his decisions were incorrect.>

18....Qf6 19. Qf3 Re8(?)

Threatens 20....Nd5 21. exd5? (better Rf1) 21....Rxe1+ and ...Qxd4+.

<OMGP I: Later Lasker suggested 19....a5 20. b3 a4 21. c4 (after 21. b4 Rc4 22. c3 Black has an extra tempo compared to the game) 21....axb3 22. axb3 Rca5 (and if 23. Nb5 Qe7 24. Qf2, then 24....Ra2).

However, as mentioned by Dvoretsky, the soundest way to equalise was found by a pupil from his school, Ilya Makariev -- 19....Na4!. For example: 20. e5 (20. b3?! Nc3; 20. Qb3 Nb6 21. Qf3 Na4 is equal) 20....dxe5 21. Qxb7 Rd8 22. Nb3 (22. Qxa7 Rxd4 23. Rxd4 exd4 24. Qxa4 Qxf4) 22....Rxd1 23. Rxd1 Rxc2 24. Qe4 Qg6 25. f5 Qc6 etc.>

Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: Part V

20. c3 a5

An ingenious maneuver! The pawn threatens by its further advance to gain the a5 square for the rook, so that it may finally return home. Nor can White successfully attack the rook directly by Nb3, because ...Rb5 then follows, and if Qe2 the rook has the f5 square, while if Qd3 the rook goes to h5, in either case without positive results for White. <Not so fast: OMGP I points out that 21. Nb3 Rb5 22. Qe2 Rf5 23. g3 a4 24. e5! dxe5 (24....axb3 25. exf6! ) 25. Nd4 "is unpleasant" for Black.>

21. b3

The right retort and the refutation of Black's freeing attempt: ...a5-a4 can be answered with b3-b4, and also White threatens with a2-a4 to totally lock up the rook.


click for larger view

22. b4

With 22. c4 here I could have obtained a significantly superior game; there could follow 22...axb3 23. axb3 Ra5 24. Nb5 (this post for the knight is, on account of the threats on c7 and d6, very dangerous to Black) 24....Re7 25. Qf2 (better than 25. b4; Nxc7 is threatened, or Nxd6 and Qxd6) 25....Ra6 (withdrawing the knight is no better than this ugly move, for 25....Na8 is no less ugly and on 25....Nc8 follows 26. e5 dxe5 27. Rd8+, winning the knight) 26. g3 and Black, with three pieces (the rook on a6, the rook on a7, and the knight on b6) in chains, has not a single good move <und Schwarz, von dem drei Figuren (Ta6, Te7 and Nb6) gefesselt sind, hat uberhaupt keinen rechten Zug mehr>.

<OMGP I adds another variation: <22. c4 axb3 23. axb3 c6 24. Nf5! (the most energetic) 24....d5 25. Qf2 (or 25. Qe3 Nd7 26. Qh3 Rxe4 27. Rxe4 dxe4 28. Nd6 Makariev) 25....Nd7 26. g4 (according to Dvoretsky 26. Ng3 is also good) with strong pressure>.>

But the move I chose, 22. b4, is in no way mistaken, as was widely asserted after the game; it is the logical continuation of the play so far and is as strong as c3-c4, as I show in the note to White's 24th move. <Aber de von mir in der Partie gewahlte Zug b3-b4 ist keineswegs fehlerhaft, wie nach der Partie allgemein behauptet wurde, sondern bildet die konsequente Fortsetzung und ist noch starker als c3-c4, wie ich in der Anmerkung zum 24. Zuge zeigen werde.>

<OMGP I: About the move in the game, which also retains a marked advantage, Dvoretsky made the following subtle comment: 'After 22. c4 the position is clear and established, and White's subsequent play is simpler. After 22. b4 the position is more complicated, more unusual. Lasker was superior to his opponent in tactics, and was better in finding his way in dynamic positions. In addition, he was significantly younger than Tarrasch, more robust and with greater stamina. It is clear who was favoured by the further complication of the play.'>

Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: Part VI

22....Rc4 23. g3

White is prepared for the anticipated ...c7-c5 advance <Weiss richtet sich auf den zu erwartenden Vorstoss ...c7-c5 ein>; if he were to play an indifferent move instead of g3, then Black could free his rook with 23....c5 24. Nb5 d5 25. exd5 Rxe1+ and ...Rxf4.


Black defends the d-pawn in preparation for ...c7-c5.

click for larger view

24. Re3

Up to this point I had played the entire game flawlessly, but now I fastened on the unlucky idea of the following rook sacrifice, which I could not calculate properly in time pressure. Instead of the rook move, in anticipation of the move ...c5 (which Black must sooner or later make to free his totally stalemated rook), I should defend my b-pawn with a2-a3. After 24....c5 would then follow 25. Nb5 cxb4 26. cxb4, and White can now attack the isolated and weak d-pawn with all his pieces and finally with the e-pawn, in which case he must win the pawn or otherwise gain the advantage. <Auf 24....c5 ware dann 25. Nb5 cxb4 26. cxb4 gefolgt, und Weiss kann nun den isolierten und schwachen Damenbauer mit allen Figuren und schliesslich noch mit dem e-Bauern angriefen, wodurch er ihn erobern oder sonstwie in Vorteil kommen muss.>

<Following up <Calli>'s earlier comments, OMGP I notes that "even the crude 24. e5 dxe5 25. Rxe5 retains some advantage." It also gives the following:

24. Qe3!? (Rellstab) 24....Re8 (24....c5?! 25. Nb5; 24....a3 25. Nb5 Na4 26. e5! dxe5 27. fxe5 Qe7 28. Rxd8+ Qxd8 29. e6 Qe7 30. Qd3 wins for White -- Dvoretsky) 25. Qd3 Rd8 26. Nb5 with the threat of e4-e5 or Re3;

24. Rb1!? (Chernin), planning Qd3, Re3 and Nb5-a3, and if 24....c5?! (24....a3?! 25. Rb3), then 25. bxc5 dxc5 26. e5;

24. Rd3!? (Makariev) 24....c5?! 25. bxc5 Rxc5 (25....dxc5 26. Nb5!) 26. Rb1 etc.

But Kasparov prefers Tarrasch's 24. a3, for reasons given in Tarrasch's own note.>

Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: Part VII

24....c5 25. Nb5?

Had I not been so determined on my idea of a rook sacrifice, I would have by 25. Nc2 cxb4 26. Nxb4 still gotten an attack on the d-pawn, thus obtaining a good game.

<OMGP I: Also suitable was Richard Teichmann's recommendation 25. bxc5 Rxc5 (25....dxc5? 26. e5 or 26. Nb5) 26. Rb1 Nc4 27. Rd3 and Nc2-e3-d5 with equal chances.>

25....cxb4 26. Rxd6? Rxd6 27. e5

click for larger view


Totally refuting the sacrifice. After 28. Qxf4 follows 28....Rd1+ 29. Kf2 Qxf4+ 30. gxf4 Nd5 or ...Rd2+ with a won ending, or 28. exf6 Rxf3 29. Rxf3 Rd1+ 30. Kg2 Rd2+ 31. Rf2 Rxf2+ 32. Kxf2 b3 or 32....Nd5 with minimal chances for White.

28. gxf4 Qg6+ 29. Kh1 Qb1+ 30. Kg2 Rd2+ 31. Re2 Qxa2 32. Rxd2 Qxe2+ 33. Kg3 a3 34. e5

White is obviously completely lost.

34....Qe1+ 35. Kg4 Qxe6 36. f5 Qc4+ 37. Nd4 a2 38. Qd1 Nd5 <threatening ...Ne3+> 39. Qa4 Nxc3 40. Qe8+ Kh7 41. Kh5 a1/Q and White resigns.

In this game, as in so many others in this match, I dug my own grave. The unlucky idea of, I might say, a nervous rook sacrifice! The overall development of my game, though certainly not easy, was flawless <Die Anlage der Partie, diesmal gewiss nicht leicht, war tadellos>, and without that sacrifice I probably would have won. Lasker's refutation was convincing and made all resistance hopeless.

<This is one of the most famous games of the match; it certainly has attracted quite a few distinguished annotators. It is often portrayed as a game in which Tarrasch gained a clear advantage but was tricked by Lasker into a complex struggle in which he went wrong. There is something to be said for this view, except that that Lasker's position was quite alright after ...Re5 and ...Rc5; it was only later (via the natural 19....Re8?) that he went wrong. However, as we've seen, that wasn't the last error...

The game is often portrayed as the turning point of the match. I don't agree. By 1908, Lasker was much stronger than Tarrasch; I think he would have won the match with or without this game. But there is no doubt that losing this game damaged Tarrasch's psyche a great deal, and its effects were felt in subsequent games.

Whatever its importance in the match, though, this game is certainly well worth studying.>

Apr-20-08  whatthefat: <keypusher>

Excellent work.

Dec-30-08  Ulhumbrus: An alternative to 15 Qc3 is 15 Re3, playing a Rook to the third rank. After Qc3, the attack...Rc5 comes with tempo.

17 Qb3 places the Queen on a flank file. 17 Qd2 leaves e3 free for the manoeuvre Re1-e3

27...Rxf4! buys a tempo for the Black Queen which after 28 gxf4 can evade the pawn fork on d6 with check by going to g6. Lasker annotates this move in the section on combinative play in his book "Lasker's manual of chess".

Jan-21-09  WhiteRook48: great game by Lasker.
Feb-23-10  TheFocus: <keypusher> Thank you for the Tarrasch annotations. Here are the Lasker annotations from his column in Evening Post.

Tarrasch – Lasker
Ruy Lopez
match game 4, August 24

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.O-O d6 5.d4 Bd7 6.Nc3 Be7 7.Re1 exd4 8.Nxd4 Nxd4 9.Qxd4 Bxb5 10.Nxb5 O-O <This way of treating the opening is by no means easy for the defense. Black is cramped for space while White enjoys a very comfortable and aggressive development. The one advantage for Black is to be able to avoid any loosening of the Queenside.> 11.Bg5 h6 12.Bh4 Re8 13.Rad1 <White is fully developed and threatens to win by 14.e5.> 13…Nd7 <The only move, serving the double purpose of unpinning the d-pawn as well as mobilizing the Knight for taking up a strong defensive position either on e3 or on b3.> 14.Bxe7 Rxe7 15.Qc3 Re5! <The saving grace.> 16.Nd4 Rc5 <The Rook must be dangerously exposed so as to draw the brunt of the attack.> 17.Qb3 Nb6 <Again the only move, for 18.Re3 could now be countered by 18…Qe8, and if then 19.Nf5, 19…Kh7 would be an adequate defense.> 18.f4 <Useful in laying siege to the Black Rook, but the move has the drawbacks of weakening e4 and blocking the f-file for the White Rooks.> 18…Qf6 19.Qf3 Re8 <It may have been safer to play 19…a5. But as we shall see the defense by one move; and the more one delays a defensive maneuver – provided one can afford delay – the more effective it usually is.> 20.c3 a5 21.b3 a4! 22.b4 Rc4 23.g3 <Wishing to keep the f-pawn covered in anticipation of the push of the Black c-pawn .> 23…Rd8! 24.Re3 c5! 25.Nb5 cxb4 26.Rxd6 Rxd6 27.e5 <This is the point of Tarrasch’s combination.> 27…Rxf4! 28.gxf4 Qg6+ 29.Kh1? Qb1+ 30.Kg2 Rd2+ 31.Re2 Qxa2 32.Rxd2 Qxd2+ 33.Kg3 a3! 34.e6? Qe1+ 35.Kg4 Qxe6+ 36.f5 Qc4+ 37.Nd4 a2 38.Qd1 Nd5 39.Qa4 Nxc3 40.Qe8+ Kh7 41.Kh5 a1(Q) 0-1. (2:05 – 1:55)

Apr-15-10  xombie: This is the first game in Euwe and Kramer's fantastic book on the middle game (dynamic and subjective features), with the theme being to fight for the initiative. Apparently "the rook must expose itself to attack to draw the enemy fire" was how it was described by Lasker.
Sep-19-10  soothsayer8: 27...Rxf4 is a beautiful move, definitely my favorite of the game.
Oct-01-10  igiene: I don't understand why commentators and people in general are so conditioned by game result. Lasker's success is correlated to his enormous strenght as a tactic and to Tarrasch's mistakes in this game. A move like 16..Rc5 in 99 out of 100 cases will end in disaster because Rook is too much exposed in the fourth rank. I think that is very dangerous for intermediate player to think that such a move will work in similar cases.
Oct-01-10  ughaibu: TheFocus: that's very interesting, Lasker's note to move 18, blocking the f-file is the last thing that I'd think of.
Jan-25-11  Llawdogg: What a rook! 15 ... Re5! sort of changed the energy of the game. Then, after a lot of maneuvering, 27 ... Rxf4!! defeated the strong-looking pawn fork and won the game. Lasker was something else!
Jun-17-12  backrank: < igiene: I don't understand why commentators and people in general are so conditioned by game result. Lasker's success is correlated to his enormous strenght as a tactic and to Tarrasch's mistakes in this game. A move like 16..Rc5 in 99 out of 100 cases will end in disaster because Rook is too much exposed in the fourth rank. I think that is very dangerous for intermediate player to think that such a move will work in similar cases.>

I agree with your last statement. No one of us can afford playing like Lasker. (The same, of course, is true, if we replace Lasker by any other great player.)

But isn't it exactly that what makes such games so fascinating? Lasker CAN afford playing like this - and he wins positions anyone else would lose.

Réti (in 'Modern Ideas in Chess') comments on this game:

'What is it, we may well ask, in this game that pleases us so much. The layman who plays it through without any enlightenment will at most derive some interest from the surprise move 27. ... Rxf4. But the expert will with very great tension follow Lasker's equally original and deep idea of placing his rook upon seemingly perilous ground in order to extricate himself from his congested position. And we experience a desire that this bold stroke of genius and not the sober prosaic method will snatch a victory.

We see how Tarrasch, the man of method, closes in the rook that has been forced through. We were just on the point of giving up Black's game as lost. It was black who had our sympathy. But then comes a surprising move 23. ... Rd8; with the threat of liberating the rook and breaking up White's position, and then again White's counter combination.

The drama approaches its climax. And then when the solution comes, 27. ... Rxf4, great is our delight that the miraculous has really come to pass and that the idea of a genius, for which every pedagogue would have foretold a bad end, has triumphed over all that was systematic and according to rule.'

No one can play like Lasker, but no one can write like Réti!

Jul-23-12  King.Arthur.Brazil: In a middle of complex combination, in my opinion,TARRASCH commited the little fault 29.Kh1, when if 29.Kf1 Qb1+, the answer would be 30.Te1! For this reason, I guess that the reply would be 30... Rd2 31.Re2,with the difference that K now is in the center.
Dec-17-14  MindCtrol9: This match is more than a proof how strong Lasker was beating S Tarrash so easily.I really love his games especially when he maneuvers the Knights.With his games anybody can learn to play a great chess.I learnt with a Tarrash book which was excellent.Nevertheless, Lasker showed theory has to be applied in a real game.It is amazing how good Lasker and many others were, and the most important thing:only using their brains which made players from the recent past superior to any actual player. Now is more based on computers analysis and less creativity.My point of view.
Premium Chessgames Member
  kevin86: At one move, Lasker had both rooks and queen under fire from pawns...then he queens a pawn himself!
Jul-22-15  RookFile: 20 years ago, folks would have said: "Imagine playing the Ruy Lopez Berlin... how quaint!"
Jul-22-15  mruknowwho: Black wins by polygamy.
Premium Chessgames Member
  Honza Cervenka: It seems to be that Tarrasch not only missed 27...Rxf4!, which refutes his combination. In fact, black has several perfectly playable alternatives, which keep equality at least. For example, 27...bxc3 28.exf6 c2 29.Re8+ Kh7 30.Nxd6 c1=Q+ 31.Qf1 Rc2 with threat Qd2 gives white no advantage at all. The game can continue 32.fxg7 Kxg7 33.Re2 Qb2 34.Nf5+ Kf6 35.Rxc2 Qxc2 36.Nxh6 Qxa2 37.Qb5 Nd5 38.Qxb7 Qa1+ 39.Kg2 Qa2+ and now if white tries to avoid repetition of moves (perpetual check) by playing 40.Kh3, then black can play 40...Nxf4+! and 41.gxf4? loses for 41...Qb3+ 42.Qxb3 axb3 etc. Another playable possibility of black in the 27th move seems to be 27...Qg6 28.exd6 [28.f5 Rd1+ (28...Rf6!? looks interesting too) 29.Qxd1 Qxf5 30.Nd6 Qg4 and black keeps some edge] 28...bxc3 29.Nxc3 (What else? Of course, 29.Rxc3?? cannot be played for 29...Qb1+ and 30...Qxb5) 29...Qxd6 30.Qxb7 Qc5 31.Qb8+ Kh7 32.Qe5 Qxe5 33.fxe5 Nd7 34.Ne2 Rc5 35.e6 fxe6 36.Rxe6 Rc2 with some initiative in ending. Also 27...Qd8 seems to be playable as after 28.Nxd6 Rc6 29.cxb4 Nc4 30.Nxc4 Rxc4 31.a3 Rc2 threats of active black pieces are sufficient to force draw.
Jul-22-15  john barleycorn: <Honza Cervenka> thanks much appreciated
Premium Chessgames Member
  kevin86: Brilliant win by the champ!
Premium Chessgames Member
  McLain: <keypusher> Thank you ! Excellent !
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