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Siegbert Tarrasch vs Emanuel Lasker
Lasker - Tarrasch World Championship Match (1908), Munich GER, rd 16, Sep-30
Four Knights Game: Spanish. Symmetrical Variation (C49)  ·  0-1


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Kibitzer's Corner
Jul-17-05  OJC: What a disaster for Tarrasch. This is the last game in the world championship match from 1908.

Can anyone think of a worse one move blunder in championship play than Tarrasch's 26. Nd4?? Lasker must have almost fallen off the chair when he saw it!

Jul-17-05  aw1988: What else? White looks very constricted.
Jul-17-05  OJC: < aw1988 > Are you serious? I'm not sure throwing away the piece due to a mate in one threat is the best way to ease the constriction.

< OK, let's ask Crafty: >

depth=14 30/37 +0.30 26. a3 h5 27. Bd5 Rxc2 28. b4 Bb6 29. Ne4 g5 30. Nd4 Rc4 31. Bxc4 Rxe4 32. Nxb5 Rxc4 33. Nxd6 Nodes: 262961087 NPS: 1482891
Time: 00:02:57.33

< after Tarrasch's move >

depth=15 1/37 -5.08 26. ... Bxd4 27. a4 b4 28. Bf7 Re7 29. Bg6 Bxb2 30. Ne4 Rxc2 31. Rxd6 Rc8 32. Bf5 Rc1+ 33. Kg2 Rc2+ 34. Kg3 Nodes: 45179184 NPS: 1503467
Time: 00:00:30.05

Jul-17-05  aw1988: It turns out white can suprisingly solve his problems in only a few moves, thanks.
Jul-18-05  OJC: It was time trouble. From "The World Chess Championship: A History" by Horowitz

<"The end came when, in the sixteenth game, Tarrasch made a crowning blunder in time pressure; the final score was 8-3, with 5 draws. The inevitable comment was "If Tarrasch had only played Lasker some years before, when he was in his prime...", but there was no indication that, at the age of forty-six, his play had weakened appreciably, and the inflexibility of approach that had proved costly on occasion was with him at the best of times. He had his chance, and failed.">

Premium Chessgames Member
  Calli: Lasker was better than Tarrasch whether the match took place in 1894, 1900 or whenever. Tarrasch was a great player and teacher, but just happened to be around at a time when Lasker was the greater player.
Nov-05-07  notyetagm: <OJC: It was time trouble.>

A great example of why <TIME TROUBLE> must be avoided at all costs.

White To Play: 26 ?

click for larger view

Here White (Tarrasch) uncorks the <TIME-TROUBLE> induced howler 26 ♘c6-d4??,

Position after 26 ♘c6-d4??

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overlooking that his White d1-rook must <DEFEND> the <WEAK BACK RANK> e1-square.

Since the White d1-rook must prevent mate by <DEFENDING> the e1-square, this rook cannot also <DEFEND> the White d4-knight. Hence after 26 ... ♗c5x♘d4,

Position after 26 ... ♗c5x♘d4:

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White cannot recapture on d4 on account of mate on the <BACK RANK>: 27 ♖d1x♗d4?? <deflection from e1> ♖e8-e1+ 28 ♘g3-f1 ♖e1x♘f1#.

(VAR) The back rank mate which follows 27 ♖d1x♗d4??:

click for larger view

Mar-01-08  Knight13: <Can anyone think of a worse one move blunder in championship play than Tarrasch's 26. Nd4?? Lasker must have almost fallen off the chair when he saw it!> I don't see anything better? Tarrasch's neck is already on the rope by that point; he probably just wanted a quick death.
Mar-15-08  OJC: What happened to fighting chess? Especially in a WC match against one's declared nemesis. Tarrasch must have been embarrassed to lose the final game this way.

Isn't almost anything better? How about 26.Rf1. What happens to Lasker's attack then? With a healthy clock, I'd rather have the white pieces.

Premium Chessgames Member
  Eyal: Yeah, after 26.Rf1 followed by a rook exchange it looks pretty much equal.

Lasker actually missed a clear win on move 19, after Kh1:

click for larger view

Here, instead of 19...b5?, an immediate 19...fxe4 should be decisive:

20.Qxe4 Bxd4 21.Qxd4 (21.Nxd4 Rf4) Qxd4 22.Nxd4 Rf4 and Black wins a piece (23.c3/Rd1 c5); whereas after the insertion of 19...b5 20.Bb3 the white knight and bishop aren't lined up anymore along the same rank.

Or 20.fxe4 Rf2 with a devastating attack, e.g. 21.Nf3 Qh5 22.Neg1 Qg4 23.Ne1 Rxh2+! 24.Kxh2 Qxg1+ 25.Kh3 Qh1+ 26.Kg3 Rf8.

Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: Part I

Game 16

Played in Munich on September 30

<Translated from Tarrasch's book on the match (there is a link to it in my profile) with additional commentary from Shredder and me (plus a kibitz poached from <Eyal>. Tarrasch's comments are in plain text; all other comments are in brackets. German that I was particularly unsure about (or particularly fond of) is also in brackets, right after the translation. As always, corrections are welcome.>

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nf6 4. Nc3 Bb4 5. 0-0 0-0 6. d3 d6 7. Bg5

Once the first few monotonous moves are passed, after the pinning moves <Fesselungszuges> the Four Knights Game becomes lively, and White holds the advantage of the first move for a long time.


A novelty, but hardly an improvement compared to previous defenses (...Ne7 is one and ...Qe7 <preceded by ...Bxc3> and ...Nc6-d8-e6 is another).

<Not a novelty: provides this example from 1898: Janowski vs H Caro, 1898 . But it's very rare; has only five examples, compared to 271 of 7....Bxc3 and 56 of 7....Ne7. Opening Explorer >

8. d4

This simple move puts Black immediately in peril, as d4-d5 is threatened. Black has nothing better than to take the pawn, which further develops White's attack. However, it is necessary for White to weigh the danger of an exchange on c3. But with this attack, I did not fear doubled and isolated pawns on c3 in the least.

<Against Caro, Janowski played the logical 8. Nd5 Bxd5 9. exd5 Ne7 10. c4, and White looks better to me.>

Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: Part II

8....exd4 9. Nxd4

Also coming into consideration is 9. Nd5, but this is much weaker, because after 9....Bxd5 10. exd5 Ne5 11. Nxd4 h6 12. Bh4 Ng6 White must play Bxf6 (developing his opponent) or lose the pawn on d5.


Black stands very uncomfortably; to ease his position, he offers a pawn. White rightly plays to maintain the pressure and keep the attack, instead of obtaining the deceptive superiority of a pawn with 10. Bxf6 Qxf6 11. Nxc6 bxc6 12. Bxc6 Rab8 13. Qd3 Bxc3 14 bxc3 Rb2. On the other hand, much more worthy of consideration was another exchanging combination, namely 9....h6 10. Bxc6 bxc6? (or 10....hxg5? 11. Bxb7 and Nc6 winning the exchange) 11. Nxc6 Qd7 12. Nxb4 hxg5; but Black can after 9....h6 10. Bxc6 very well avoid all this with 10....Bxc3!, because after the continuation 11. Bxb7, Black can gain two pieces for a rook with 11....Nxd4 12. Bxa8 Qxa8 13. Qxd4 hxg5, or 11. bxc3 (instead of 11. Bxb7) <Shredder: 11. Nxe6 fxe6 12. Bxb7 Rb8 13. bxc3 Rxb7 14. Bh4 gives White some advantage, as he threatens e4-e5 loosening Black's pawns and 14....e5 is unplayable> 11....bxc6 12. Nxc6 Qd7 13. Bxf6 Qxc6 and White has nothing. So all these complicated and sometimes difficult to calculate combinations lead to no advantage, or no considerable advantage, for White.

<As with a similar variation at Black's tenth move, Shredder thinks Black is better after 9....Nxd4 10. Qxd4 c5!? 11. Qd3 Bxc3 12. bxc3 a6! 13. Bc4 Bxc4 14. Qxc4 h6 15. Bh4 g5 16. Bg3 Re8 17. f3 b5 18. Qd3 d5 19. e5 Nh5, though "unclear" seems like a more accurate evaluation.>

10. Bh4

<If Shredder is right about Black's tenth move (and I think it is), then White should play 10. Bxc6 as per the line above.>

click for larger view


It is very strange, so few moves have happened since the opening, and already Black has no more satisfactory continuation, although he has hardly made any blatant <offensichlichen> mistake; 7....Be6 can hardly be called such. However, the pin on the king's knight is so unpleasant, and the violent ...g7-g5 is here practically impossible, e.g. as Lasker himself gives, 10....Bxc3 11. bxc3 g5 12. Bg3 Nxe4 13. Nxc6 bxc6 14. Bxc6 Nxg3 15. fxg3 Rb8 and the broken black kingside makes Black's game seem very dubious; or 10....Nxd4 11. Qxd4 Bxc3(?) 12. bxc3 (not 12. Qxc3 because of 12....Nxe4) 12....g5 13. Bg3 Nh5 14. f4 Nxg3 15. hxg3 and White is even better than in the previous line. The knight move to e5 is nevertheless unsatisfactory for Black.

<Again, Shredder likes 10....Nxd4 11. Qxd4 c5! 12. Qd3 Bxc3 13. bxc3 g5 14. Bg3 a6 15. Bc4 Bxc4 16. Qxc4 d5! and it thinks Black is better after either 17. exd5 Qxd5 or 17. Qxc5 Nxe4. It's a very amateurish looking variation, but the machine seems right to me.>

11. f4 Bc5

The best move; the knight cannot go to g6 because of Bxf6 and f4-f5.

Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: Part III

12. Bxf6

It is clear that White has no advantage if he takes the knight at once. Now nothing could be simpler than to move the king to h1, thus making the threat to play fxe5 a real one. Of course I had also carefully considered the move, and found that I obtained the advantage thereby, e.g. 12. Kh1 Ng6 13. f5 Nxh4 14. fxe6 Bxd4 15. exf7+ Rxf7 16. Qxd4, and now Bc4 is threatened, winning the exchange, as well as e4-e5 with an attack on both knights; or 13. f5 Nxh4 14. fxe6 Kh8 15. exf7 Rxf7 16. Ne6 Qe7 (or ...Qc8 17. Nxc5 and e4-e5) 17. Bc4 with a far superior game; or 13. f5 Nxh4 14. fxe6 Kh8 15. exf7 Bxd4 16. Qxd4 Rxf7 17. e5 winning a piece; or 13. f5 Nxh4 14. fxe6 Qe7 15. exf7+ Qxf7 16. Nd5 c6 17. Bc4.

<In these lines, Shredder thinks that Black can keep White's advantage within reasonable bounds with 12. Kh1 Ng6 13. f5 Bxd4 14. Qxd4 Nxh4 15. fxe6 fxe6 16. Bc4 Kh8 (16....Qe7 17. e5 Nd7 18. exd6 cxd6 19. Bxe6+ and 20. Qxh4) 17. Bxe6.>

Even worse than the retreat of the knight to g6 is 12....Neg4, when the knight has no retreat and is threatened with loss, once the e3 square is guarded. White plays the strong Rf3, whereupon Black has no good reply. <In fact, 13. Rf3? allows ...Nxe4 threatening the fork at f2, but 13. Nxe6 fxe6 14. Qe2 is very strong for White.> Unluckily, at the last moment I decided that with Bxf6 a still more robust continuation was at my disposal; I calculated only the moves ...Qxf6, fxe5, Qxe5, Ne2. This was a mental error <Denkfehler>, as just one step further, the position is quite unclear <die immerhim noch nicht einen Schritt weiter zu verfolgen>; had I seen this, I would have recognized the continuation in the text for what it is, namely a rushing of the attack with which White lets the victory slip <mit der Weiss den Sieg aus der Hand gibt>.

12....Qxf6 13. fxe5 Qxe5 14. Ne2 Bg4!

I had not reckoned with this move; now both knights are pinned and, above all, White loses the attack and is forced into a difficult defense. <Shredder agrees that Black is clearly better at this point.>

click for larger view

15. Rf3

15. c3 is insufficient because of ...Bxd4 and ...Qxb5.


This is also not the right continuation, because Black obtains for his two pieces a rook and a pawn, which is well-known to be not quite equivalent. With ...Qxe4! he would have obtained a rook and two pawns, a slight material superiority. However, after 15....Qxe4 16. Kh1! Bxf3 17. Nxf3 White would have had good piece play, as the white minor pieces have come into their own against the black rook and the pawns, which are spread over both wings <da die kleinen Figuren des Weissen eher zur Geltung kommen als die Turme oder gar die Bauern des Schwarzen, die sich auf beiden Flugel verteilen>.

<At the end of Tarrasch's line, 17....Qb4 picks up another pawn.>

Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: Part IV

16. gxf3 f5(?!)

Black looks to open an attacking line for his rook. <Shredder: 16....d5! 17. Qd3?! c6 18. Ba4 Rae8 is a better way to accomplish this, with a strong position for Black.> Not good for White is now 17. exf5 Rxf5 18. Kh1 -- not, however, because of the continuation that was given by Lasker, 18....Rh5? 19. Qg1 Rf8 when White gets a good defense with c2-c3, as the pawn on f3 cannot be taken, but rather because of 18....Bxd4! (instead of ...Rh5) 19. Nxd4 Rf4, when Black (at a minimum) gets two pieces for his rook, e.g. 20. c3 Rxd4 and ...Qxb5; or 21. Bc4+ d5; or 21. Ne2 Rh4 and ...Qxb5.

<Here Lasker's line is right and Tarrasch's line is wrong, e.g. in Lasker's line, 18....Rh5 19. Qg1 Bxd4 20. Nxd4 Rh4! 21. c3 Rxd4 and ...Qxb5, while in Tarrasch's line, 18....Bxd4 19. Nxd4 Rf4 20. c3 Rxd4? is refuted by 21. Qb3+ guarding the bishop and allowing cxd4 (or 21....Rd5 22. Bc4 c6 23 Qxb7 ).>

17. Qd3!

A strong defending and attacking move, which again threatens to put Black in grave peril. After the obvious ...fxe4, White with Qxe4 threatens with Bd3 even to go on the attack; if Black responds with ...Qxe4, White can hold everything with Bd3, when he has a material advantage and the better position.


In combination with ...b5, a fine maneuver, which diverts the bishop from d3.

18. Bc4+ Kh8 19. Kh1(??)

c2-c3 was scarcely stronger, because Black is not then obligated to exchange on pawns on e4, but rather can reinforce his attack with ...Rae8 and then after Ng3 (and ...b7-b5, Bb3) continue with ...fxe4; then fxe4 would be doubtful because of ...h6-h5-h4, and in response to Qxe4, then ...Qg5 could be played, and on Nxe4, after ...Bb6 the fork ...d6-d5 is threatened, and Black retains a good attacking formation, despite the forced exchange of queens. Because of this the king move is forced. <In dieser Beziehung ist der Konigszug zwigender.>

<In fact, 19. Kh1 is a losing error, as per the next note. Shredder thinks that Black is only slightly better after either 19. c3 or 19. exf5.>


<As <Eyal> has already pointed out, 19....fxe4 is winning. Here are his lines:

20.Qxe4 Bxd4 21.Qxd4 (21.Nxd4 Rf4) Qxd4 22.Nxd4 Rf4 and Black wins a piece (23.c3/Rd1 c5); whereas after the insertion of 19...b5 20.Bb3 the white knight and bishop aren't lined up anymore along the same rank. Or 20.fxe4 Rf2 with a devastating attack, e.g. 21.Nf3 Qh5 22.Neg1 Qg4 23.Ne1 Rxh2+! 24.Kxh2 Qxg1+ 25.Kh3 Qh1+ 26.Kg3 Rf8.>

Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: Part V

20. Bb3 fxe4 21. Qxe4

Of course not 21. fxe4 because of ...Rf2.


The exchange of queens is practically forced: on 21....Rae8 22. Qxe5 Rxe5 23. c3 Rfe8 24. Nf4 Re1+ 25. Rxe1 Rxe1+ 26. Kg2 Rb1 27. Nd3 is favorable for White.

22. fxe4 Rae8(?!)

<Shredder shows a draw by repetition after 22....Rf2 23. a4 Re8 24. axb5 cxb5 25. Bd5 Re5 26. Rg1 Rh5 27. Rg2 Rf1+, etc. But now White is better!>

23. Nxc6

Better than 23. Ne6, when ...Rf6 would follow.

23....Rxe4 24. Ng3 Ree8

click for larger view

White has rebuffed his opponent's attack, kept his material advantage and has a good position; I should win the game, and would have won it, had I not been threatened by the approach of that most dreadful of opponents, that in this match I had to battle with in several games -- time pressure. It made any delicate play or any deep consideration impossible, and finally caused me to move hastily and then commit a gross blunder, the only one in the match, thus losing and giving the match an unattractive, but quite characteristic finale.

<ich sollte die Partie gewinnen und hatte sich auch gewonnen, wenn ich nicht das Herannahen des furchtbarsten Gegners gefurchtet hatte, den ich in diesem Wettkampf mehrere Male zu bekampfen hatte, der Zeitbedrangnis, die jedes feinere Spiel, jede tiefere Uberlegung unmoglich macht und mich hier zu guter Letzt zu hastigem Ziehem und damit zu einem groben Versehen, dem einzigen in diesem Wettkampf, verleitete, das ihm ein unschones, aber ganz characteristiches Ende bereitete.>

25. Rd1?

Preparing the blunder that follows. I wanted to bring the displaced knight back into the game as soon as possible; a quite correct plan is to withdraw him via a different path, namely a2-a3 and Nb4. Then I would have very probably won the game. Black has just one chance, namely to advance his kingside pawns and perhaps horizontally double his rooks. But here, too, the return of the knight provides a good defense, e.g. 25. a3! Rf2 26. Nb4 h5 27. Nd3 Rd2 28. Nf1 Rde2 29. Nf4 Re1 30. Rxe1 Rxe1 31. Kg2 and the black h-pawn falls, or is lost after ...h5-h4, Ng6+; or 25. a3 Rf2 26. Nb4 g5 27. Nd3 Rfd2 28. Rf1 h5 29. Rf6 and wins, as Rh6# on the next move is threatened. <Shredder prefers advancing Black's queenside pawns instead, with less dire consequences for Black. But White retains the advantage.>

25....Rf2 26. Nd4?(??)

<As other kibitzers have observed, after almost any reasonable move, White is still very much in it. Surely Tarrasch was in terrible time trouble; but Hoffer wrote that "Black consumed within two minutes quite as much time as White." This was a difficult game!>

26....Bxd4 Resigns.

Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: Part VI

<Hoffer: This little game, although not without flaws, atones for the shortcomings of others, and is a worthy pendant to the fifth game of the match Two bright specimens of brilliancy and deep combination combined.>

<Looking back over my comments to this game, it seems that I (or rather Shredder) am querying practically every other move by both men, and giving Tarrasch's notes quite a cudgeling to boot. That is not my intention. This was a very complex, difficult, tactically confusing struggle. It's also a fascinating one, with many good moves mixed in with the mistakes; you can learn a lot from a game like this, not least that grandmasters are mortal, too.

The game's complexity and the fact that it ended the match in defeat for Tarrasch no doubt made annotating it objectively and rigorously very difficult; and indeed his notes are flawed. But whatever the faults in his notes or his play, it is very regrettable that this Colossus' long quest for the world championship should end the way it did. If he had to lose, he deserved a better end than by a terrible blunder.>

Jan-27-11  Llawdogg: Poor Tarrasch! What a terrible blunder, under terrible time pressure, to end the championship match.
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