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Nimzowitsch - Stahlberg
Compiled by Chessical


This was a match of eight games between Gideon Stahlberg (26 y.o.) and Aron Nimzowitsch (47 y.o.). It took place in Gothenburg (Sweden), 4th to 12th February 1934. The match was announced in the January 1934 edition of "Tidskrift för Schack". 1

"On the 4th February a match of international importance begins in Gothenburg. Through the efforts and sacrifice of Gothenburg Chess Association terms have been reached with the illustrious Grandmaster Nimzowitsch for a match against Ståhlberg.

Nimzowitsch's glittering tournament successes will be too familiar to require detailed enumeration to our readers. He is considered as one of the world's top five players and has at times been mentioned as an aspiring world champion candidate. It will therefore be of great interest to see how Ståhlberg will perform.

The match will consist of eight games; as over the winter Ståhlberg has shown good form in tournaments, Nimzowitsch will certainly be prepared to face stiff resistance.

After the conclusion of this match, it is possible to Nimzowitsch will participate in small tournament in Stockholm or take on Stoltz in a match. The Grandmaster will also provide some simultaneous exhibitions, which is why we urge interested clubs to sign up for his tour. The price is 75 Swedish Kronor per match (£3.86/$5.60 or £250/$362 in 2016 value 2). Furthermore, Nimzowitsch, if desired, will give a lecture (in Swedish!) before start of the games on an appropriate topic."


Nimzowitsch had played very little competitive chess in the preceding year. He had participated in no grandmaster tournaments since Bled (1931). The early 1930s was a period of diminished economic and chess activity in general but in particular for Nimzowitsch. He did not play in any tournaments in 1932. He was conspicuously absent from both London (1932) and Berne (1932) . In 1933, he only took part in a match against the Danish player Erik Andersen (Aarhus 1933) and then in the "Mixed Masters Tournament" (May-June). This was to provide practise for members of the Danish team before the Olympiad at Folkestone. 3

Gosta Stoltz and Ståhlberg were invited from Sweden to provide additional master strength opposition. This would be Nimzowitsch and Ståhlberg's first and only meeting before their match.

Nimzowitsch narrowly won the tournament by a half point from Stoltz. He unexpectedly had lost against Jens Enevoldsen - J Enevoldsen vs Nimzowitsch, 1933 - and was a pawn down against Ståhlberg but managed to obtain a draw.


Ståhlberg was to become Sweden's strongest player in the 1930s – 1960s. He had won Swedish championship outright in 1929, defeating Allan Nilsson, and had shared the title with Gösta Stoltz in 1931. Ståhlberg was to qualify twice as world championship candidate (in 1950 and 1953).

Ståhlberg was one of several Swedish players supported by the patronage of the chairman of the Swedish Chess Federation Ludvig Collijn. This enabled him to gain precious experience in a series of matches when international opportunities, apart from Olympiads (The Hague 1928, Hamburg 1930 and Prague 1931), were limited. Ståhlberg had only competed in a handful of small international tournaments.

In Stockholm 1930, he was fourth of seven in a strong field but he was unsuccessful at Swinemunde 1930 where he had come eighth in a field of ten. At the "Mixed Masters Tournament" (Copenhagen May-June, 1933), Ståhlberg came third of eight behind Nimzowitsch and Stoltz. Nimzowitsch regarded Ståhlberg as a rather colourless player and may, therefore, have later underestimated him. 4

Ståhlberg had greater match experience. Apart from his two matches for the Swedish championship, he had played Efim Bogoljubov (Stockholm, April 1930) in a match which he had had lost (+0=1-3). 5

Ståhlberg's development and talent finally became evident to the wider chess world when he defeated Rudolf Spielmann 5-3 (Stockholm, January 1933). Defeating Nimzowitsch would greatly bolster his reputation and his career.


All the games were played in the premises of the Gothenburg Chess Association.

Game 1 - Sunday, 4th February 1934
Game 2 - Monday, 5th February 1934
Game 3 - Tuesday, 6th February 1934
Game 4 - Wednesday, 7th February 1934
Game 5 - Friday, 9th February 1934
Game 6 - Saturday, 10th February 1934
Game 7 - Sunday, 11th February 1934
Game 8 - Monday 12th February 1934 6

The progress of the match

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Nimzowitsch 1 ½ 0 1 0 0 0 ½ 3 Ståhlberg 0 ½ 1 0 1 1 1 ½ 5

Progressive score:

Nimzowitsch collapsed in the second half of the match, losing three games in succession.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Nimzowitsch 1 1½ 1½ 2½ 2½ 2½ 2½ 3 Ståhlberg 0 ½ 1½ 1½ 2½ 3½ 4½ 5

Ståhlberg was White in the odd numbered games.

Nimzowitsch's own account

"Ståhlberg a new Grandmaster!"

After the first half of my match against Ståhlberg I had a clear lead of 2½ to 1½ points. My play was by no means devoid of ideas and so I did not seem to be in danger.

At worst, I felt not entirely sure of myself in my treatment of openings, but this inconvenience seemed to me, or at least I assumed this at the time, to be amply outweighed by my superior technique.

In the second half of the match I was shown the truth. Namely, it illustrated that my weakness in the openings was greater than expected and neither was I consistently the stronger player in terms of technique. So, I lost the fifth game in the very opening, but I lost the sixth and seventh games because I failed tactically in defence. In the sixth game, I incidentally committed a blunder in a clearly drawn position and I had to resign immediately.

In Ståhlberg's command of his own game, I especially noted a new and very happy mixture consisting of methodical positional play and a new fresh and cheerful determination. He has this felicitous mix to thank for his win in the fifth game. Ståhlberg also played well when manoeuvering, as in the endgames of the third and seventh games. I found his way of mastering complications to be most impressive. The sharpest move would rarely escape his attention and his attacks were full of surprising twists.

I therefore have no hesitation in stating that despite his young years, Gideon Ståhlberg, must be included in the corps of Grandmasters. I congratulate the Swedish chess community on its preeminent player and I am eager to see his further results in matches and tournaments." 7

In "Tidskrift för Schack" (January 1931, p.7-8) Ståhlberg annotated the game Nimzowitsch vs Ahues, 1930, Frankfurt (1930). Nimzowitsch used his formidable combinative vision for positional ends, and Ståhlberg commented:

"A characteristic Nimzowitsch game. Nimzowitsch, in my opinion, is no brilliant strategist, but a shrewd and experienced tactician. He does not love, as Spielmann does, battle on the open battlefield; but he understands how by "guerrilla war" ("guerillakrig"), to exhaust and weaken the enemy, and when he then strikes, it is done with great precision.

His combinations are, as in this game, less the result of a logical attacking game than through cleverly exploiting shortcomings in the enemy's mode of warfare".

The Games

From his comments and play, it is apparent that Nimzowitsch was dissatisfied with the results of his openings. This may have encouraged him to play sharply in the middlegame, but was unable to demonstrate a consistent tactical superiority over Ståhlberg. In the endgame, Ståhlberg had the greater stamina and Nimzowitsch made more unforced errors probably through fatigue and lack of top level practise.

Ståhlberg was well prepared in the opening and was not over-awed by his opponent. His technique in the ending was impressive in games 3 and 7, and his skill in attack was exhibited in in game 5.

Game 1 Nimzowitsch won with Black against one of Ståhlberg's favoured systems: Nimzo-Indian, Spielmann Variation (E22). Nimzowitsch played aggressively sacrificing a pawn on the King-side. He later managed to force his <d> pawn through to win.

Game 2 Ståhlberg equalised efficiently against Nimzowitsch's "calling card" against the French Defence - French, Advance (C02). The game was drawn at an early stage at Ståhlberg's suggestion. This was a clear indication that Ståhlberg was well prepared for Nimzowitsch and that it had a depressing effect on his opponent.

Game 3 Nimzowitsch stated he voluntarily gave up the exchange for attacking chances rather than have to defend an inferior endgame.

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After <24.Nxc5!>, Ståhlberg's accurate play denied Nimzowitsch the opportunity for tactical redemption. Ståhlberg reached an ending with the exchange for a pawn which he won.

Game 4 Ståhlberg had almost equalised on the Black side of a QGD, when he miscalculated and allowed Nimzowitsch to establish a Rook on his seventh rank. This was probably Nimzowitsch's most impressive win of the match, a short and sharp attack.

Game 5 Followed the first ten moves of the third game. After Ståhlberg's <11.g3>

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Nimzowitsch appears to have lost faith in his opening play, he wrote:

"Suddenly Black sees himself driven into the water in a light kayak with masses of drift ice striking him on all sides. One can't endure the collision and yet the collision is unavoidable". 8

With Nimzowitsch's pieces cut off from the defence of his King, Ståhlberg created a very effective King-side attack

Game 6 Nimzowitsch lost a piece with an "atrocious" blunder

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He played <28.R(1)d2?> overlooking that with <28...f5!> White's Knight could only flee annihilation by abandoning the Rook.

Game 7 Nimzowitsch played very sharply as Black. Rather than safely castling on the K-side, he went all-out for a win.

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Ståhlberg could have won with the simple <40.Rxg7>

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but instead his <40.g4?!> let his opponent have unwarranted counter-play. In the ensuing long ending, Nimzowitsch could not hold Ståhlberg.

Game 8 Nimzowitsch played a quiet opening and his unambitious approach gave him no advantage. As the match had already been decided, neither player had much incentive to play on.


This match appears to have finally opened up the doors of international chess to Ståhlberg. He was now invited to major tournaments, and was busy in the following months at: Ujpest (Budapest), May 1934, Zurich (1934) , July 1934, and Moscow (1935) , February-March 1935.

Nimzowitsch came second in the "Six Player" Tournament (Stockholm, February - March 1934). Competing in this small double-round tournament of Swedish players, he lost games to Erik Lundin and Stoltz. This resulted in a disappointing second place behind Lundin. His last grandmaster tournament was Zurich (1934), where he finished mid table (+6 -3 =6), but a point ahead of Ståhlberg. They drew their game - Stahlberg vs Nimzowitsch, 1934.

At the end of 1934, Nimzowitsch's health collapsed, he was bedridden for three months before dying on 16th March 1935 at the age of 48.


1 See -

2 "From Appreciation to Depreciation - the exchange rate of the Swedish Krona, 1913 - 2008", Jan Bohlin, "In June 1933 the Riksbank decided to peg the krona to sterling at 19.40. The peg was maintained until the outbreak of the Second World War." - see

3 Tournament report in "Tidskrift för Schack", June-July 1933. See -

4 See "Aron Nimzowitsch 1928-1935: Annotated Games & Essays", Aron Nimzowitsch and Rudolf Reinhardt, p.282

5 "Tidskrift för Schack", May 1930 and "Tidskrift för Schack", June 1930.

6 Dates from an article on the match written by Nimzowitsch in "Weiner Schach Zeitung", Nr.4, February 1934, p.54. The date of Game 4 has been found on:

7 Translation by User: Chessical from the German original in "Weiner Schach Zeitung", Nr.4, February 1934, p.54.

8 Note from "Skakbladet 1934" p.36-37 quoted in "Aron Nimzowitsch 1928-1935: Annotated Games & Essays", Aron Nimzowitsch and Rudolf Reinhardt, p.290.

Original sources on-line

The February 1934 issue of "Tidskrift för Schack", has a report with all the games, pp. 25-26, 29-35 (the games) & p.38. Games 1-7 have commentaries by Ståhlberg and Game 8 has comments by Nimzowitsch.

The March 1934 issue of "Tidskrift för Schack",, contains an article by Nimzowitsch on "Chess in Sweden" which briefly mentions Ståhlberg, pp. 57-58. "Ståhlberg, played excellently against me. His openings were deeply thought out, and even in the play-offs (endings? - ed), he showed a mature mastery..."

Game 1
Stahlberg vs Nimzowitsch, 1934 
(E22) Nimzo-Indian, Spielmann Variation, 45 moves, 0-1

Game 2
Nimzowitsch vs Stahlberg, 1934 
(C02) French, Advance, 18 moves, 1/2-1/2

Game 3
Stahlberg vs Nimzowitsch, 1934 
(E23) Nimzo-Indian, Spielmann, 64 moves, 1-0

Game 4
Nimzowitsch vs Stahlberg, 1934 
(D37) Queen's Gambit Declined, 31 moves, 1-0

Game 5
Stahlberg vs Nimzowitsch, 1934 
(E23) Nimzo-Indian, Spielmann, 31 moves, 1-0

Game 6
Nimzowitsch vs Stahlberg, 1934 
(D37) Queen's Gambit Declined, 28 moves, 0-1

Game 7
Stahlberg vs Nimzowitsch, 1934 
(E22) Nimzo-Indian, Spielmann Variation, 72 moves, 1-0

Game 8
Nimzowitsch vs Stahlberg, 1934
(D02) Queen's Pawn Game, 22 moves, 1/2-1/2

8 games

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