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Emanuel Lasker vs Mikhail Chigorin
St. Petersburg (1895/96), St. Petersburg RUE, rd 16, Jan-21
Formation: Queen Pawn Game: London System (D02)  ·  1-0



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Kibitzer's Corner
Dec-07-05  who: I don't know why Chigorin didn't play ...Nh5 on move 5,6,7, or 8. Then he moves his knight 4 times in a row only to trade it off. In the final position what if black plays 55...f4 hoping to queen his pawn?
Premium Chessgames Member
  beatgiant: <who>
<what if black plays 55...f4> 55...f4 56. Rh8+ Ke7 57. g7 and White queens first, winning.
Dec-07-05  who: Good point. What if 55...Kf8
Premium Chessgames Member
  beatgiant: <who><What if 55...Kf8> In that case, 56. Kb5 looks like White's winning on the queenside.

Three tries for Black:

55...Kf8 56. Kb5 f4 57. Rf7+ Kg8 58. Rxf4 h2 59. Rh4 h1=Q 60. Rxh1 Bxh1 61. Kxb6 and the pawns beat the bishop.

55...Kf8 56. Kb5 Kg8 57. Kxb6 f4 58. c5 and White wins the race.

55...Kf8 56. Kb5 Bf1 57. Kxb6 Bxc4 58. a5 and now White's rook is holding the kingside so White wins with the a-pawn.

Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: This sort of game that makes me wonder about Chigorin. Lasker plays a harmless opening. Chigorin lets Lasker get more out of it than he should, but even so after 17. Rxe5 Black is OK, with no weaknesses and opposite colored bishops and only a slight disadvantage in space. ...b6 followed by ...Bb7 and centralizing the rooks is a pretty obvious plan. Instead Chigorin plays 17...f6? 18 Re3 f5??, saddling himself with a horrible bishop and permanent weaknesses on the dark squares. I don't think a 1600 would make such moves today. Then Chigorin strands a rook on g6, where it sits idle until the game is totally hopeless. As Soltis points out in his notes, when Lasker goes after Black's queenside he is, practically speaking, playing with an extra rook.

I know I'm not fit to shine Chigorin's shoes as a general matter, but what was he thinking in this game?

Premium Chessgames Member
  thegoodanarchist: <keypusher>

Quite right about Chigorin's positional play, but he was a leftover from the romantic era, which was already dead when this game was played.

So while Lasker may in fact deserve credit for being an all-time great, do we really know how good his positional play was? He had no opportunity to display his best here, with the feeble effort put forth from Chiggy.

Lasker's play here reminds me of Kasparov's remark "I used a nuke to kill a bug."

Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: But Chigorin sometimes seemed like a messenger from the future, rather than a leftover from the past:

Chigorin vs Teichmann, 1895

Nov-18-06  Akavall: <But Chigorin sometimes seemed like a messenger from the future, rather than a leftover from the past>

Yes. Also this game.

Lasker vs Chigorin, 1895

The idea to give up the center and then to put pressure on it was fairly new at the time.

Premium Chessgames Member
  thegoodanarchist: <keypusher>

You are quite up on Chigorin, I see.

Nov-19-06  whatthefat: Chigorin looks as though he wishes he were playing a Dutch Stonewall sans dark squared bishop.
Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: Part I

I don't take back any of the critical things I wrote about Chigorin's opening in this game, but a lot of interesting stuff happened and Chigorin did manage to get some real play, which required skill to squelch. So let me revise and amplify my earlier remarks, as the congressmen say in the Congressional Record, with comments from Shredder, Soltis and the Pollack/Mason tournament book ("TB").

After the first few moves, Soltis and the tournament book are entertainingly at odds.

Soltis (after 3.Bf4): <Another clue to how much early chess has been lost: This is an obvious move and must have been played hundreds of times previously. Yet there are only a few surviving examples of it before this game.>

TB (after 4.Nc3): <How many hundreds, nay thousands of games, might one play over without meeting this exact position again! And yet who shall describe any of these seven moves as a bad one?>

One prosaic point is that Lasker's opening makes it impossible for Chigorin to play his ...Nc6, ...Bg4xf3 defense that he had memorably beaten Pillsbury with. This game was played at the beginning of the sixth and last cycle. Lasker was two points ahead of Steinitz with three to play, so there was no need to take risks.

Mason/Pollack recommend 4...a6 and ...c5 in place of Chigorin's 4...c6. Later they describe 6...Bb4 as <essential> to prevent White from obtaining a <splendid game> with e3-e4. Soltis says that Chigorin could have gotten <a cramped but reasonable game with 6...Be7 7.0-0 0-0 8.e4 dxe4 9.Nxe4 Nxe4 10.Bxe4 Nf6 11.Bd3 b6>.

TB (after 7...h6): <The expediency of this alone proves a weakness in Black's opening. After 7...0-0, 8.Bg5 threatening e3-e4, would be highly advantageous to White. Nor is ...Nh5 feasible, on account of the same reply, while ...Bxc3 followed by ...Ne4 is out of the question. Black's QB is out of court, and indeed this is one of his principal grievances, and in part a consequence of his fourth move.>

TB (after 8.Qe2): <The simple continuation here adopted implies a very deep insight of the position indeed, however much that insight may be strengthened by experience of similar positions. The free exchanges are bound to leave Bishops of opposite colours, but when we consider the enormous difficulty of finding <any> satisfactory course for Black against the steady advance of the Rs and Bs, from his 13th move onwards, in face of the bad arrangement of his Pawns for any forward march to free his pieces, we shall appreciate the wisdom of Herr Lasker's plan of battle.> Soltis notes that one of the big differences between opening theory in Lasker's day and ours was that it was once common to trade two or more pairs of minor pieces early on.

Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: Part II

At move 13 Soltis again recommends ...b6 to solve the QB problem, and a move later suggests ...Qc7 and ...c5. Instead Chigorin repositions his knight to trade off White's if it lands on e5. Soltis has an interesting comment on 16.Ne5 (which he adorns with !?!), while Mason/Pollack pass over the move in silence:

<It's hard to imagine a strong modern GM playing this, rather than 16.Rab1, 16.a4 or 16.c4. Trading knights greatly increases the chances of a drawish ending.

The logic of 16.Ne5 runs this way: Black's knight is his best piece and it covers up White's best target, g7. Driving the knight off g6, with ...Re4 and h2-h4-h5, would be foiled by a well-timed ...f5. White could try, instead, to get his knight to d6 but supporting it there with the c-pawn or bishop seems doubtful. Therefore, White seeks a one-piece middlegame in which Black's bishop plays no useful role.

And there's another factor, a human one. After a trade of knights, Black's best policy is a passive defense...

16...Nxe5 17.Rxe5 f6

...and Chigorin was not a passive defender, who would play 17...b6, 18...Bb7, 19...Qc7, 20...Rad8, and ...Rd5.>

Mason and Pollack also say nothing about 18...f5?, while Soltis observes that it <looks dreadful>. There is no justifying such a move, but Chigorin may have been hoping to induce f2-f4, when White's bishop is nearly as bad as Black's. Lasker does not oblige, of course.

Soltis (after 21...Rf6): <This is another fork in the road. Black foresees a situation in which the rook is needed to defend e6 (21...b6 22.Bf4 Bb7 23.Qc4 Rae8 24.Rhe3 Rf6). And he can see that the rook would be passively stuck on f7 if white gets to play Bf4-e5. Why not keep the rook active (...Rg6) and anticipate an attack on g7 (Be5/Rg3)?

The answer, as we'll see, is that ...Rg6 is a positional blunder.>

Soltis (after 24.c4): <White isn't committed to attacking g7. He can also assault e6 via 25.Rge3 and 26.d5.>

Soltis (after 27.f3): White can now launch an attack directed at a7, a6 and b6 with, in effect, an extra rook>.

TB (after 27...Bf7): <Black's R is now badly wedged in, and for practical purposes is hardly better than a pawn at g6.>

28.Qa3 b5?!

Soltis recommends 28...a5, which Shredder answers with 29.Rb1 Ra6 30.c5 b5 31.c4. Good for White, but not as good as the game.

Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: Part III

29.cxb5 cxb5 30.Rc3 Rc8?

Soltis: <This has the effect of exchanging Black's good rook for the one at e1, and that's fatal because the g6-rook is nearly useless. Black had to continue 30...a5, which incidentally would have been even better at move 28. White can penetrate at c7 but Black has serious counterplay after 31.Rc7 Qd8 32.Qc5 Qg5 and some survival chances in endgames such as 32.c3 Qg5 33.Re2 Be8 34.Qe7 Qxe7>.

In Soltis' first line, Shredder is not at all impressed with Black's counterplay after 33.g3 Qd2 34.Rf1.

31.Ree3! Rc4

Both Soltis and Mason/Pollock think that there is nothing better, but Shredder prefers 31...Be8 32.Rxc8 Qxc8 33.Rc3 Qd8, when 34.Qxa7 loses the rook to 34...Qg5 35.g3 Qc1+ and ...Qd2+. You've always got to stay alert! Instead 34.g3 a5 35.Rc7 a4 36.Qb4! h5 37.Qa5! Kh8 38.Qa7 is quite hopeless for Black.

32.Rxc4 bxc4 33.Qb4 Qd8

TB: <Black's play from this point is most ingenious, and demands the utmost vigilance.>

34.Qxc4 Qa5 35.Rc3 Kh7 36.h3 Be8 (the loss of the pawn has at least opened up some lines for the bishop) 37.a3 Bb5 38.Qb4 Qa6!

Threatening some combination of ...Bf1 and ...Rxg2+.

39.Rc7! Bc6

39....Bf1 40.Qf8 Rxg2+ 41.Kh1 Rh2+ 42.Bxh2 (42.Kxh2 Qe2+ 43.Kg3 Qg2+ 44.Kh4 Qg5#) 42...Bg2+ 43.Kxg2 Qe2+ 44.Kg3 Qe1+ 45. Kf4 Qd2+ 46.Ke5 Qxh2+ 47.f4 Qe2+ 48.Kd6 Qa6+ 49.Kd7 and the king escapes the checks. But as Soltis points out, Black now threatens an immediate draw with 40...Rxg2+ 41.Kxg2 Qe2+ 42.Kg1 Qe3+ 43.Kf1 Qxf3+ 44.Ke1 Qe3+ 45.Kd1? Bf3# as well as 40...Bxf3.

40.c4! Bxf3 41.g3

As Schiffers wrote, White can plunge forward with 41.Qf8 Rxg2+ 42.Kf1 Kg6 43.Rxg7+ Kh5 44.Rxg2 Qxc4+ 45.Kg1 Bxg2 46.Qf7+ Kh4 47.Bf6+, safely winning the bishop. But Soltis praises the text move for winning without complications. Because of the threat of Qf8, Black is now forced to offer to trade queens.

41....Qb6 42.Kf2 Be4 43.Qxb6 axb6 44.a4 h5

Soltis: <44....Bc2 45.d5 exd5 (45....f4 46.d6! fxg3+ 47.Bxg3 Rf6+ 48.Ke3) 46.cxd5 Bxa4 47.d6>


Soltis: <Now 45.c5 bxc5 46.bxc5 h4! 47.c6 hxg3+ 48. Bxg3 e5! and Black is alive. [The text move] seals the kingside and provides White with a variety of winning ideas, including a king-march to b4.>

45....Rg4 46.Ke3 Bg2 47.Kd3 Kg8 48.Kc3 Kf8 49.Bf4 Ke8 50.Ra7 g5

TB: <A desperate resource, but the only possible way to make use of his rook. If 51.hxg5 h4!>

51.Bxg5 Rxg3+ 52.Kb4 Rxg5

TB: <There was no other way of preventing the loss of two Pawns by Re7+, etc.>.

53.hxg5 h4 54.Rh7 h3 56.g6, Black resigns.

Premium Chessgames Member
  plang: 4 Nc3 was already a new move. With pawns on c6, d5 and e6 the decision to exchange the kings bishop for a knight with 6..Bb4?! was peculiar. 17..f6?! created a new weakness; 17..Qf6 attempting to exchange queens was an alternative plan. Lasker's 19 Rg3? was imprecise (19 Rae1 was better); Nunn pointed out that Chigorin could have played 19..f4! 20 Rf3..e5 21 dxe..Qxd3 22 cxd..g5 23 h3..Be6 24 c4..Rad8 and Black would have had good compensation for the pawn. When Chigorin missed this White was back on track.

Nunn after 27 f3:
"The rook on g6 effectively stymies White's kingside play, so now he switches his attention to the opposite flank. The more major pieces are exchanged, the more Black will miss the offside rook on g6 and he may end up playing virtually a rook down,"

50 Ra7? complicated White's task; stronger was 50 Re8+..Kd7 51 Rh8 preventing Black from freeing his rook. Chigorin would still have had some drawing chances had he played 52..Rg4 53 Re7+..Kd8 54 Rxe6+..Kd7 55 Re7+..Kd6 56 Re8..Kc6 57 Bf6; instead after 52..Rxg5? he was lost.

Premium Chessgames Member
  kingscrusher: Lasker seems to be using the "Jobava London System" with Nc3 instead of c3 in this game. Remarkably ahead of its time :) Also a bit of flattery for Chigorin who must have smiled on Nc3 :)
Premium Chessgames Member
  fredthebear: True to his written word, Lasker brought out both knights in a Chigorin spirit. Stockfish prefers White to play c4 first, then Nc3, doubling the pressure on the center. Of course, Lasker's 4.Nc3 is playable, but limiting.

Baadur Jobava usually plays Nc3 early (A45 & D00) and delays or omits Nf3 altogether. When Jobava plays 2.Nf3, it's likely that c4 will follow. Like Lasker, Jobava is more inclined to play the Queen's Gambit.

Perhaps the COVID-19 uptick has hit Stockfish headquarters, as there are only 3 games in the database for this Nc3 vs Nbd7 position after 5 ply?! One of the mere three games was this futuristic challenge: Science Officer Chamitoff vs NASA Ground Control, 2008

Black normally develops the Bc8 before playing Nbd7. There are many more Nc3 examples with Black developing the Bc8 early on -- such as a Bf5 London System as Black.

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