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Frank Marshall vs Emanuel Lasker
"War Dance" (game of the day Jun-06-2016)
Lasker - Marshall World Championship Match (1907), USA, rd 1, Jan-26
Spanish Game: Berlin Defense. Nyholm Attack (C65)  ·  0-1



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Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Going into this 1907 match against Marshall, Lasker had not defended his title since his 1896-1897 re-match with Steinitz and had played only one Tournament (Cambridge Springs 1904 in which he finished two points behind Marshall) since his triumphs at London 1899 and Paris 1900. Marshall had won his game against Lasker at Paris 1900, and had some good results (most notably Cambridge Springs 1904) and some poor ones (most notably his 1905 match with Tarrasch in which Marshall was wiped out by 8-1 with 8 draws).

In this 1907 title defense, Lasker defeated Marshall even more decisively than Tarrasch did (8-0-7). Lasker won the first three games and it was all over but the shouting.

Nonetheless, this first game in Lasker's first title defense must have been a matter of eager anticipation. Was Lasker still the best in the world. With his wins in this match and the following year against Tarrasch left little doubt (until and rise of Rubinstein and Capablanca and his difficult match with Schlechter in 1910).

1. e4

As Kasparov in "My Great Predecessors" and Pawn and Two on this site both note, after losing this first game with White, Marshall switched to 1. d4 for the balance of the match ("...hoping to employ Pillsbury's attack successfully in the Queen's Gambit"--Kasparov). 1. d4 did not do much to help Marshall, however, because--as Kasparov also notes--Lasker foiled him in most of these games with "Lasker's Defense" (6...Ne4). In the seven games in this match in which he opened with 1. d4, Marshall lost three and drew four.

1... e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. Bb5 Nf6

The Berlin, played--as slomarko has noted on this site--100 years before Kramnik.

"Dr. Lasker, during the greater part of his career, remained faithful to this type of active defense." (Tartakower-DuMont).

"Lasker's favorite Berlin Defense" (Sergeant).

4. d4

click for larger view

Much ink has been spilled in the commentaries on this game criticizing Marshall's choice here:

"A weak variation" -- (Fine).

"...played universally in the early stages of the opening but later considered rightly to be inferior to 4. 0-0" -- (Winter).

"Only 4. 0-0 gives chances of an advantage" -- (Kasparov).

"This, the Barry continuation, is very ingenious and quite defendable. The most efficacious continuation at this point is 4. 0-0 -- (Tartakower-DuMont).

"The idea of this move is to ease White's game, but that is only feasible if Black already played d6. By playing d4 prematurely, White gives Black a chance of freeing his own game by d5" -- (Reti).

While 4. 0-0 is objectively strongest for White here, the text (4. d4) is hardly a mistake and should yield at least equality for White. IN addition, it can lead to very sharp tactical play, which probably made the move attractive to Marshall. Unfortunately for Marshall, Lasker was the better tactician of the two.

4. d3 is also good for White here, though it has been often ridiculed as cowardly. MCO-13 says: "In the last century [i.e., the 19th century] 4. d3 was commonly seen. This is playable, of course, but it does not set Black any problems.

4... exd4

The most frequent response.

click for larger view

4...Nxd4 was also fine for Black. Tarrasch claims this is bad for Black after 5. NxN exN 6. Qxd4. But this analysis is flawed. For one thing, Black--instead of Tarrasch's 5...exN, can play the better 5...c6 with an equal game. Furthermore, after 5...exN, White can obtain a (small) advantage with 6. e5. Tarrasch's 6. Qxd4 leads nowhere for White. Black can simply play 6...a6 (or even 6...Bd6 7. Bg5 Qe7).

4...Nxe4 is also playable (though called "bad" by Tarrasch). It can lead to transposition into the more normal Berlin lines, as noted in MCO-13, but Soltis has correctly noted that White has many ways to avoid transposition. Solits analyzes 5. Qe2 in his commentary on this game, but after 5...Nd6 Soltis' 6. Bg5 seems to forfeit any edge for White after 6...Be7. Best in this line is probably 6. BxN dxB 7. dxe5. All in all, after after 4...Nxe4, the simple 5. dxe5 looks best, though it yields White only a small plus.

5. 0-0

The main alternative is 5. e5, as recommended by MCO-13. Tartakower-DuMont claim that 5. e5 transposes into the variation actually played after 5...N4 6. 0-0 Be7. But in this line, Black can improve with 6...a6 with near equality.

To be continued.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post II

After 5. 0-0, the position was:

click for larger view

5... Be7

5...a6?! (Kasparov).

"Of less value is 5...d6 (Tartakower--DuMont).

Kasparov's 5...a6 looks best to me, but Lasker--as the sequel reveals--knew what he was doing. 5...Be7 is more frequently played than 5...a6. In this first game of the match, Lasker may have wanted to find out what Marshall had up his sleeve. As will be seen, he was following the same line he had played against Barry in 1903. Meanwhile, and as will also be seen, Marshall was probably hoping to repeat Bird's brilliant victory over Steinitz in this variation back in 1866.

6. e5

6. Nxd4 is simplest and best, but Marshall was obviously seeking complications (and maybe hoping Lasker would err as Steinitz had done against Bird). Kasparov says that 6. Nxd4 "equalizes."

Marshall's 6. e5 has come in for unwarranted criticism:

"This is weak because the Pawn stands stronger on e4 than on e5 where it is exposed and serves as a mark for Black's attack. Better is 6. Re1 0-0 7. Nxd4." (Tarrasch).

Fine and Ulhumbrus (on this site) prefer 6. Qe2 ("prepares e5 by preventing Ne4{--Ulhunbrus).

The best explanation for Marshall's 6. e5 appears in the commentary on this game by Tartakower-DuMont (though their line can perhaps be improved upon):

"Trying to increase the pressure in the centre, whereas, after 6. Nxd4 0-0 7. Nc3 NxN [7...Re8 or 7...a6 are probably better--KEG] 8. QxN d6 [8...c6 is better] the heat of battle subsides."

After 6. e5, the position was:

click for larger view

6... Ne4

6...Nd5 was perhaps more accurate. Schroeder, however, says that 6...Nd5 would be a mistake: "As a general rule this is the correct move and not 6...Nd4 which can be refuted in this game by 7. c3."

But After 6...Nd5 7. c3 Black looks fine to me after 7...a6. Best after 6...Nd5 is 7. Nxd4 or 7. Re1 with an approximately even game.

After 6...Ne4, the position was:

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7. Nxd4

7. Re1 was best. 7. Qe2 was also superior to the text.

"7. Re1 or 7. Qe2." (Moran).

As Kasparov notes, Tahl played 7. Qe2 in 1958 against Furman and "retained some initiative."

7... 0-0


Steinitz here played 7...NxN (an older line which according to Sergeant goes back to Anderssen.

"Not wasting a tempo on 7...NxN?! 8. QxB Nc5 which may lead to a rout [citing Bird's crushing 1866 win against Steinitz)." Steinitz' loss, however, was not truly attributable to 7...NxN but to his later mistakes, e.g., 9. f4?! (9. Nc3 or 9. Bc4 or 9. Rd1) b6 (9...0-0 or 9...c6 were better) 10. f5 Nb3? (Black has a defensible though difficult game after 10...c6) 11. Qe4.

After 7...0-0, the position was:

click for larger view

Chances here were about even. However, and as I will discuss in my next post on this game, matter began to heat up after Marshall's next move.

Premium Chessgames Member
  woldsmandriffield: 21 c4? was a weakening move. Much better to develop with 21 Nd2 idea Nc4.

Lasker immediately honed in on Q-side weakness after 25 a3?! with the excellent 25..Rh6!

27 Ra1? is a rare example of a GM moving a Rook away from an open file (27 a4).

After the superb 31..d3! opening up an entry route for the Black King Marshall could have resigned.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post III

8. Nf5

This move by Marshall, which led to the exchanges of two sets of minor pieces, has been both praised and condemned:

"Nothing is gained by this wandering about with the Knight--other than exchanges, development of Black, and loss of time." (Tarrasch).

"With this attack, favored by Dr. Zukertort, White could obtain the advantage of the two Bishops, but it involves considerable loss of time." (Winter).

"An attempt to fight for at least the appearance of an advantage." (Kasparov).

Most commentators pass over the move (which looks fine to me) without comment. Chances after the move were about even. Most of White's pieces have yet to emerge from the back rank, but the same was true for Black. The major question was whether the White pawn on e5 was a strength or a weakness. Also reasonable for White was 8. Bf4.

Soltis reports that an earlier game between Barry (White) and Lasker (Black) "...had gone 8. c3?! Nxe5!and Black had a good version of the Open Variation's Breslau line."

Notably, no one has suggested a better try than Marshall's move.

The position after 8. Nf5 was:

click for larger view

8... d5

"Clearly not 8...Nxe5 9. Qd5" (Tartakower-DuMont).

9. BxN

As Pawn and Two has noted on this site, Marshall had the choice of three "well-known" moves:

i) NxB+
ii) exd6
iii) BxN

Pawn and Two rates the moves in the above order. I prefer 9. exd6, but think all three moves are reasonable.

Most of the commentators agree with Pawn and Two and fault Marshall's choice (9. BxN):

Tarrasch gives 9. BxN a "?" and goes on to say "Better is 9. NxB+ (Zukertort-Tchigorin, Berlin 1881) and White has attacking prospects."

"This exchange proves that Marshall evidently considered his passed e-pawn as a source of weakness rather than of strength." (Reti).

"9. NxB+ as in Zukertort-Tchigorin, 1881 seems a preferable course." (Sergeant).

"9. NxB+ as in Zukertort-Tchigorin, Berlin 1881 is far more promising." (Fine)

"...this cannot be right and merely leaves himself with the inferior development without compensating advantage. Correct was 9. NxB+ NxN 10.f3 [10. Re1 is better and leads only to equality] Nc5 [10...c6 is better--as has been noted by Soltis and leaves Black well-placed after 11. fxN cxB 12. Nc3 Qb6+ 13. Kh1 dxe4 14. Nxe4 Be6] 11. b4 [11. Be3 or 11. Re1 are better] Ne6 [11...c6 is better and gives Black the better game]. 12. f4." (Winter) But in Winter's suggested line, while White has some initiative, he is hardly better.

"He need not have given up his 'two Bishops.' A reasoned continuation could be 9. NxB+ NxN 10. f3 Nc5 11. b4 Ne6 12. f4 [i.e., Winter's line] f5 (12...c5 is better) and the close position tends to re-establish equality."

But throwing a cold towel on the above lauding of 9. NxB+ are Soltis and Kasparov:

"The Book recommendation at the time was 9. NxB+ NxN 10. f3 Nc5, but Black's position after ...c6 is at least equal."(Soltis)

"...little good also comes of 9. NxB+ NxN..." (Kasparov--citing Spielmann-Eliskases, Linz 1932).

In sum, while most commentators opt for 9. NxB+, there is nothing seriously wrong with Marshall's 9. BxN.

9... bxB
10. NxB+ QxN

The position after 10...QxN was:

click for larger view

There are various views on the respective merits of the White and Black positions here:

"Black is three moves ahead of White in development. White's King's Knight has lost three moves by taking four moves to exchange itself for Black's King's Bishop, a piece moved only once." (Ulhumbrus on this site).

"The analysis of the day disagreed as to who had the better position at this stag. Teichmann spoke of f3 followed by bs and Ba3, but this obviously is not an immediate threat, and Black easily guards against it at the same time preparing a subtle sacrifice." (Sergeant)

If Sergeant had been alive to evaluate the position he would have focused on Black's strengths and weaknesses. Black's Knight is an excellent piece. But his Bishop is somewhat bad and he is weak on dark squares. Once White plays f2-f3 he could take control of the a3..f8 [diagonal] with b3/Ba3." (Soltis).

As is apparent from these comments, the position is unbalanced and laden with possibilities for both sides. I will discuss the continuation from here in my next post on this game.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post IV

11. Re1

"Not 11. f4? Qb4+" (Tarrasch).

"Forced. If 11. f4 Qc5+; or 11. Bf4 g5! [11...f6 is even better]. In both cases Black gains some material." (Fine)

"Indirect protection of the threatened e-pawn (for if 11...Qxe5 12. f3), which, however, weakens f2. This is accentuated by Black's rejoinder, as neither 11. Bf4 f6 nor 11. f3 Qc5+ is playable. The best continuation is 11. Qd4" (Tartakower/DuMont).

The text in fact is fine, as is 11. Qd4 as recommended by Tartakower/DuMont. The bottom line after 11. Re1 is aptly summed up by Soltis in his commentary on the game: "...the position is nothing more than a transposition to a standard Lopez variation. The only difference is the addition [in the "standard" variation cited by Soltis] of a6 to a position recognized today as just equal."

The position was now (after 11. Re1):

click for larger view

As noted above, 11...Qxe5? loses to 12. f3.

The seemingly "normal" moves in this position was either 11...Re8 or 11...Rd8, both of which lead to an approximately equal position. But Lasker, looking for more, played:

11... Qh4


Most commentators denounced Lasker's temerity here:

"This initiates a very surprising, deep and ingenious sacrificial combination. It is, however, not the best. Indeed, not even good. 11...f6 was the correct move." (Tarrasch).

"Beginning a brilliant but not wholly sound attack, whereas 11...f6 would have sufficed to maintain Black's advantage." (Fine)

"The position clearly calls for 11...f6 , and it might be simplest and best to make the move at once. But Lasker always likes to creat complications so far as they are consistent with the positional requirements of the game. In the present position, the great tactician decides to exploit the fact that by using his King's Rook for supporting the pawn, White has weakened his f3. This fact coupled with the forthcoming opening of the f-file is to support his oan attack against White's weak spot." (Reti).

"The commencement of one of Lasker's fine sacrificial combinations, but since White can obtain equality with the best defense, it is possible that the simple 11...f6 was objectively stronger. Psychology probably played a part in Lasker's choice here: Marshall liked to attack, not to be attacked." (Winter).

"In search of complications Black avoids 11...f6 which leads to a good position." (Kasparov quoting Zak who--as has been shown on this site i excellent analysis by Pawn and Two--completely misjudged the position).

So what about 11...f6. Does it lead to a "decidedly superior game" for Black as Tarrasch claimed (as as Kasparov, relying on Zak, agreed).

The answer is No. 11...f6 leads to a better game for White. In what follows, I rely substantially on the superb notes on this variation on this site by <Pawn and Two>

If 11...f6 White simply plays 12. f3! Then, after 12...Ng5 (not 12...Nc5 13. f3 as noted by Fine) not 13. BxN the move given by Tarrasch and Kasparov/Zak (and even this only gives Black a small advantage) but 13. b3! as pointed out by Pawn and Two. White then has somewhat the better game. Even if White plays the inferior 13. BxN fxB White is OK after 14. Nd2 rather than Zak's poor 14. Nc3 (I am again quoting Pawn and Two). If indeed 14. Nc3 in this line, then Black gets the advantage with Pawn and Two' 14...Rb8 but not with Zak's far inferior 14...Be6.

In sum, Lasker's move was at least as good as 11...f6 which would give him no advantage at all.

The position after Lasker's 11...Qh4 was:

click for larger view

I will discuss the continuation in this double-edged position in my next post on this game.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post V

12. Be3

Hoffer and Tartakower-Dumont argued that 12. f3 was best.

In his commentary on the game, Soltis refuted the notion that 12. f3 was best:

"It [12. f3] has merits: 12...Qf2+? 13. Kh1 Nc5 (12...Bg4 is a bit better, but White is still winning) 14. Be3 drops a piece. But 12...Nc5 [best] 13. Be3 Ne6 is nothing much."

It is thus clear that 12. f3 gives White no advantage and that Marshall's move (12. Be3) was best and the only way for Marshall to play for an advantage and try to exploit Lasker's 11...Qh4?!

The position was now:

click for larger view

12... f6

Tarrasch said that 12...f5 was stronger in order to allow Black to answer 13. f3 with f4. While 12...f5 (or perhaps 12...Bf5) may have been best, neither gives Black anything approaching an advantage. If 12...f5 White can respond 13. exf6 and if Rxf6 14. f3 with at least equal chances.

If White did play 13. f4 in the above variation, then 13...f4 would give Black somewhat the best of the contest. (Soltis' claim that White could now get the better game after 14. Bd4 Ng5 15. Nc3 overlooks Black's far better 14...Rf5 with excellent attacking chances and much the better game.

Lasker's actual move (12...f6) was, as Fine correctly noted, part of his planned sacrificial combination revealed on his next move. There is no doubt that it gave Marshall the better theoretical chances. All this, I suspect, was apparent to Lasker. Since 12...f6 is not a losing move, Lasker was probably happy to enter this thicket believing that his tactical skills exceeded those of Marshall.

13. f3

"!"--Pawn and Two.

As Pawn and Two correctly notes, 13. f3 presented Lasker with a difficult choice. He says that Fritz confirms that 13. f3 gave Marshall the better game. (I have confirmed this with my version of Fritz, and Stockfish reaches the same conclusion).

Tartakower-Dumont suggest that Marshall might have played 13. Nd2 or 13. g3 had he foreseen Lasker's next move. But this makes little sense. Marshall was fine after 13. f3. If instead 13. g3 Lasker would have seized control with 13...Qh3. And if 13. Nd2, Lasker could have had near equality with 13...NxN 14. QxN fxe5 15. Bg5 Qd4 16. QxQ exQ.

By any reckoning, Marshall's 13. f3 was best play.

The position was now:

click for larger view

13... fxe5



"A deep conception worthy of this important occasion." (Tartakower-Dumont).

"The main point of the sacrifice seems to be that White's Queen Bishop lacks squares other than e3 to defend the square f2." (Ulhumbrus on this site).

Other commentators have resorted to psychological explanations for Lasker's move:

"Lasker at the beginning of the match, indeed for the greater part of it, seems activiated by a 'superiority complex.' That is not to say this sacrifice is not perfectly sound." (Sergeant)

"13...Ng5 was more prudent, but Lasker makes a psychologically wise choice. It is doubtful whether the world champion calculated all the variations; he more probably sensed tha the character of the positions arising after the piece sacrifice would be quite comfortable for him, and that for Marshall they would be unpleasant." (Kasparov)

"Based on the game continuation, I believe Kasparov's evaluation of Lasker's choice is correct." (Pawn and Two on this site).

From a theoretical perspective, 13...Ng5 was best. White gets the better position, but material is even and Black's position was quite defensible. The text created a crisis, and with perfect play, Lasker could have been in trouble (although I do not think he was by any means lost). But he was playing Marshall, not Capablanca or Karpov.

14. fxN

If 14. g3? Lasker would have almost certainly played 14...Qf6 (and not Tartakower-DuMont's absurd 14...Nxg3? 15, Bf2 [not Tartakower-Dumont's awful 15. hxN?? Qxg3+]) with the better game (e.g., 15. fxN d4 16. Bd2 Qf2+ 17. Kh1 Rb8).

After Marshall's (obviously correct) 14. fxN, the position was:

click for larger view

As I will discuss in my next post on this game, Marshall had no good way to hold onto his extra piece, but with best play could have had the better chances.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post VI

14... d4!

"With 14...d4, Black is not threatening Qf2; rather, he is threatening Bg4 followed by a Rook infiltration on f2..." (Volcach on this site).

The position was now:

click for larger view

15. g3



Marshall cannot retreat his Bishop. If 15. Bd2 then 15...Bg4 is crushing ; and if 15. Bc1 then Black wins with 15...Qf2+ (Tarrasch)(Sergeant)(Fine)(Soltis)(Kasparov).

While the text does not lose, it was not best for White. As numerous commentators have noted, Marshall would have been fine with 15. Qe2, and 15. Qd2 was equally good. In fact, Marshall would then have had much the better game. For example, if 15. Qd2 dxB 16. Qxe3 the position would be:

click for larger view

With Black's pawn weaknesses, Marshall would have the better chances.

15. g3 was hardly a losing move, but it forfeited any advantage Marshall had enjoyed, the position (after 15. g3) being:

click for larger view

15... Qf6


As Soltis notes in his commentary on this game, for decades after the Lasker-Marshall match it was believed that Lasker could have won "immediately" here with 15...Qh3. This mistaken analysis appears in the notes on the game by Tarrasch, Fine, Sergeant,

In fact, Marshall would be in decent shape after 16. Qd3! dxB 16. Qxe3. Soltis' 16. Qd2?, however, is not as good because of 16...Ba6!.

I agree with Soltis, however, that 15...Qf6 is best. Black now has the better game in all variations.

After 15...Qf6, the position was:

click for larger view

16. Bxd4


Yet again, a reasonable move by Marshall in this game came in for uncalled for criticism. Black has some edge after the text, but that is so on any other continuation, and White is in no serious risk of loss with the text.

Tarrasch recommended 16. Rf1, but after 16...QxR+ 17. QxQ RxQ+ 18. KxR Ba6+ 19. Kf2 Rf8+ 20. Bf4 exB 21. Nd2 White is still fighting for a draw. This line is certainly no better than the text.

As Soltis has noted, for many years after Reti's commentary on the game, 16. Bd2 was considered a losing option because of 16...Qf2+ 17. Kh1 Bh3 18. Rg1 h5 (better than Kasparov's 18...Bf1 which leads only to a draw). But the "remarkable" (to quote Soltis) 19. Na3 (Not 19. Qxh5 QxR+ and mates next move) Bg4 20. Rf1 BxQ 21. RxQ RxR 22. RxB Re2 gives Black the better chances. {I am surprised that Kasparov considers White to be better here).

The other alternative move mentioned by Fine is 16. Qe2, but Black again gets the edge with 16...dxB 17. Qxe3 Rf7 or 17...Bh3 (and not Fine's inferior 17...Bh6 after which White would have full equality after 18. Nd2.

In sum, Marshall's 16. Bxd4, though not sufficient for equality, was as good as anything else.

16... exB
17. Rf1

This left:

click for larger view

From this position, as I will discuss in my next post on this game, Lasker had to decide whether to trade down to an ending or try to find a way to win by keeping Queens on the board.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post VII

17... QxR+

"The moment for shrewd liquidation has arrived." (Tartakower-DuMont)

As Soltis notes in his commentary on this game, the exchanges brought on by 17...QxR+ were far better for Black than 17...Qe5 18. RxR+ KxR 19. Qf1+ Qf6 20. QxQ+ gxQ where any advantage would lie with White.

Lasker could have retained somewhat better chances in the middle game with 17...Qh6 18. RxR+ KxR 19. Qd2 Qd6, but the text is more promising.

18. QxQ RxQ+
19. KxR

This left the following endgame (in which, curiously enough, all four remaining pieces stood on their original squares):

click for larger view

"In material, Black has gained nothing. It remains for him to show that his potential advantage is enough to win."

Black does indeed have the better chances here, but it is doubtful that Lasker could have won against best play by White. However, Marshall was no Capablanca/Rubinstein/Carlsen in the endgame, and Lasker's wizardry proved sufficient to win against less than robust opposition.

19... Rb8!


The commentaries praising this move to the heavens are legion. This praise, however, seems warranted. By this move, Lasker forces 20. b3 (depriving the White Knight of a valuable square) and gets his Rook into action. As will be discussed, the move should not have resulted in victory, since Marshall had ways to defend. But in practice Lasker's idea proved to be crushing.

Here is a small sample of the praise Lasker's move has obtained:

"How many players would have refrained from giving check with the Bishop? Lasker's quiet and certain calculation in this end game is worthy of our admiration. He forces the advance of the b-pawn which White would have liked to occupy with the Knight." (Tarrasch).

"Most players would have checked with the Bishop either at a6 or h3, but Lasker realizes that THE BEST DIAGONAL FOR THE BISHOP DEPENDS ON WHITE'S PLAY. [My emphasis] and therefore retains the option. One great advantage of the text move is that it forces White to advance his b-pawn and so deprives him of the strong maneuver Nd2 and Nb3." (Winter).

"The obvious move here would seem to have been Ba6+ followed by Rf8. Dince, however, in its present position Black's Bishop is DOUBLY EFFECTIVE (emphasis mine) (aiming at h3 as well as a6), Lasker very wisely omits that 'obvious' check." (Reti)

"An instructive moment. Instead of the plausible but far less effective Ba6+ or Ba6+, the Black Rook plays a lone hand." (Tartakower-DuMont).

To be fair, and as manselton has pointed out on this site, 19...Rb8 was not the only fine plan for White. his idea of 19...Ba6+ and then c6-c5-c5 might have proved equally effective. Black had no win here, so either move would probably have been OK.

But I find the subtlety of Lasker's conception to be so brilliant I must join the consensus and celebrate Lasker's move.

After 19...Rb8, the position was:

click for larger view

20. b2


"Thus the Knight has been deprives of its best square." (Reinfeld/Fine).

This left:

click for larger view

In my next post on this game, I will discuss how Lasker played to exploit his advantage, and how Marshall failed to find the best lines of defense.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post VIII

20... Rb5



There was more than one way for Lasker to try to exploit his advantage. A good case could be made for 20...Ba6+. But the text--while hardly doing anything close to forcing a win--was brilliant and instructive. Lasker recognized the HORIZONTAL power of a Rook, and the trouble a Black Rook could create for White shuffling back and forth on the 5th rank, as has been pointed out by the following commentators:

"The Rook commands the entire free fifth rank and from this rank can attack every ones of White's pawns. Now BLack's superiority is clear and the end game is lost [an overstatement, White is far from lost at this point--KEG] for White." (Tarrasch).

"The mobility of the Rook attains its maximum on this rank, where it can be played to either side quickly." (Reinfeld/Fine).

"Here the Rook completely dominates the 5th line." (Reti).

"In this game the Rook truly performs miracles." (Kasparov)

But while 20...Rb5 was a brilliant move, Marshall was far from beaten at this point. His problems soon became more severe as he misplayed his hand.

The position after 20...Rb5 was:

click for larger view

21. c4?

"Now the Black d-pawn has become a passed pawn..." (Tarrasch).

" A bad move, but there are no good ones." (Reinfeld/Fine).

"This move, which gives Lasker a powerful passed pawn, seems forced." (Winter).

With all due respect to Reinfeld/Fine, Winter, and other commentators (e.g., Tarrasch) who suggest that the game was already lost for White, Marshall had no reason to despair here. The best analysis of where matters stood at this point (other than those appearing on this site) is that of Kasparov:

"One can understand the desire to get rid of the weak c2 pawn, but 21. Nd2...would have enabled White, although not without difficulty, to gain the desired draw." (Kasparov).

The best analysis I have seen anywhere on this position is that appearing on this site by <woldsmandriffield>, <manselton> and <devere>:

"21. c4? was a weakening move. Much better to develope with 21. Nd2." (woldsmadriffield).

For a full understanding of the efficacy of 21. Nd2! I can do no better than cite the variations appearing in the posts by manselton and devere:

21. Nd2 Rc5

Much better than Tarrasch's suggested 21...Rh5.

22. Nc4!

Much better than 22. h4 (discussed and refuted by Soltis) and also much better than Kasparov's 22. Rc1.

22... Be6

22...Ba6 is no better

23. Ke2 BxN+
24. bxB Rxc4
25. Kd3

devere evaluates this position as a "rather straightforward draw." While there is still some play in the Rook and pawn ending, it seems clear that a draw is the expected result.

Even after 21. c4?, White does not appear to be lost. But he certainly had an uphill battle, and was facing Lasker.

The position after 21. c4? was:

click for larger view

21... Rh5


"Black will tie White to the defense of the Rooks' pawns while he plays c5/ Kf7-e6-e5" (Soltis)/

22. Kg1

"Now if 22. h4? g5! wins a Pawn, for if 23. hxg5 Ra1+ and White is hamstrung." (Reti) (and Kasparov similarly).

22... c5

"Covering the passed Pawn and while this blocks the 5th line for the Rook it opens the 6th." (Reti)

"The weak d-Pawn has been transferred into a powerful protected passed pawn." (Reinfeld/Fine).

The position now was:

click for larger view

A strange position. White's Rook and Knight have yet to move. As I will discuss in my next post on thie game, however, Marshall still could have saved the game, but his stock quickly declined from here.

Premium Chessgames Member
  woldsmandriffield: Great analysis, KEG!
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post IX

23. Nd2

"Developed at last!" (Sergeant)

Eager as Marshall must have been to bring his pieces into the game, 23. a3 immediately was more accurate.

The position was now:

click for larger view

23... Kf7

"Otherwise the King will be shut off from the center by 24. Rf1." (Tarrasch)

"Developing his King before White has a chance of Rf1." (Reinfeld/Fine).

"Black would like to bring his Rook back into action with 23...Rh6, but after 24. Rf1! his King doesn't play." (Soltis).

The logic of 23...Kf7 as explained by the above great commentators is clear. But does Black lose his chances after 23...Rh6 immediately. I think not. If 23...Rh6 24. Rf1 Black can play 24...Ra6 and if then 25. a4 (if 25. Ra1 Bg4) Bh3 White has to abandon the f1 file freeing Black's King.

On balcance, 23...Rh6 looks even better than the much heralded 23...Kf7

24. Rf1+

"?"-- ((Kasparov)(Soltis)

This move has come in for considerable abuse. While 24. Nf3 or perhaps better still 24. a3 make more sense, White has problems in any case, and--contrary to much commentary--is not necessarily lost even after the text.

But let's hear from the experts:

"Here we have the difference between Lasker and Marshall, who cannot deny himself the check even though it is bad. Better is 24. a3." (Tarrasch).

"Never miss a check...but here the check is worse than useless; it is directly harmful because it weakens the Queen-side." (Reinfeld/Fine).

"Dr. Tarrasch rightly condemns this move which drives the [Black] King to a better square and brings the [White] Rook from an effective post to an ineffective one. Probably Marshall was anxious to save time on the clock."

"The decisive positional mistake. [Perhaos an overstatement, since as will be discussed Marshall still had chances]. Marshall's imagination dries up in the desert of the endgame. Essential was 24 a3! with sufficient counterplay." (Kasparov).

Kasparov goes on to give 24. a3 ("!") a5 25. Rb1 ("!") [25. b4 is also good here---KEG] Kf6 as keeping White in the game, presumably in light of 26. b4.

24... Ke7

The position was now:

click for larger view

25. a3


"Alas this activity is too late." (Kasparov).

After this lemon, the game is almost certainly lost certainly lost (I see no defense against Lasker's next move).

It is hard to see why Marshall didn't try the natural 25. Nf3 or perhaps 25. Rf2 or 25. Rf4. I have not found a win for Black after any of these moves. By contrast, the text created new weaknesses in Marshall's pawn structure, the position now being:

click for larger view

From here, as I will discuss in my next post on this game, Lasker's Rook came to the 6th Rank where it harassed and destroyed White's position.

As Kasparov, Marshall had great imagination, but he was no match for Lasker in the endgame.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: <woldsmandriffield>Thank you.

As must be obvious from my posts, I have been substantially guided by the comments you and others have provided on this site.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post X

25... Rh6

"!" -- (Kasparov)(Soltis)(Reinfeld/Fine)

Moving his Rook to the 6th rank where it can harass White's pawns on both sides of the board.

"The Rook is on the alert."

"So as to bring the Rook to attack the new weakness. Had White refrained from the check on the 24th move he could have answered this move by b4." (Winter).

"An easy move to overlook or underestimate. It explains why White should have kept his Rook at a1." (Soltis).

"Lasker immediately honed in on Q-side weaness after 25. a3?! with the excellent 25...Rh6!

A glance at the position reveals the power of Lasker's move:

click for larger view

26. h4

"Not 26. b4 Ra6. The text is intended to free White's King. but it only creates an additional weakness." (Reinfeld/Fine).

"Marshall doesn't want to admit his error, but 26. Ra1 was best because after 26...a5 27. h4 White has solved the problem of both rook's pawns." (Soltis). [But in Soltis' line Black would hold a crushing edge after 27...Bg4 (or indeed after 27...Ra6).

Kasparov and Soltis (and before them Winter) explored the position after 26. b4 Ra6 and concluded (correctly in my view) that it provided no balm for White's infirmities here. If 26. b4 Ra6 27. Rf3 (best but hopeless) Bg4 28. Rb3 (28. Rd3 Be2 is no fun either and is even worse) Bd1 29. Rb1 Bh5 and White's game is in the last throes.

I can find no saving line for White here, especially after Lasker's next move.

26... Ra6


Lasker's Rook used the 6th rank to wreak havoc with Marshall's fast-deteriorating position.

"As a result of the impressive maneuver Rb8-b5-h5-h6-a Black has an enormous advantage." (Kasparov).

The position after 26...Ra6 was:

click for larger view

27. Ra1

"...a rare example of a GM moving a Rook away from an open file." (woldsmandriffield)

woldsmandriffield goes on to recommend 27. a4, but that move also loses (to 27...Bg4).

"27. a4 Bg4 was hardly better." (Kasparov).

'Now 27. a4 Bg4 and h5 shows why Rook and Bishop are usually so much better than Rook and Knight in endings." (Soltis).

"It makes little difference whether this (27. Ra1) or 27.. a4 is played." (Winter).

27... Bg4

"!" -- (Kasparov)(Soltis).

This left:

click for larger view

28. Kf2

White's game is awful and desperate measures were required. My suggestion here is 28. e5 limiting Black's access to d6 and f6 (though after 28...Re6 29. Re1 a5 White's condition would still be critical).

28... Ke6

"Black is ready to trade pieces because his King can finally invade." (Soltis).

The position was now:

click for larger view

Marshall had been thoroughly outplayed in this ending. Only a miracle could save him now, and with Lasker playing Black this was not likely to be forthcoming, as I will discuss in my next post on this game.

Feb-26-19  Sally Simpson: ***

Hi Keg

This is rapidly aiming to become one of the best posts on this site...Your others are good, very good, but this is reading like a grad students thesis oozing effort, research and clarity.

Adding to the 4.d4 discussion:

"Much ink has been spilled in the commentaries on this game criticizing Marshall's choice here."

This game is one of my favourites from Chernev's 'Most Instructive Games' (game 41). He states after 4. d4

click for larger view

'This is not an improvement on 4.0-0 but Marshall wanted an open game.'

In his 1904 book on openings Marshall says (page 54) White has four good lines of play, 4.d3, 4.d4, 4.Nc3 and 4.0-0 (best) The brackets come from Marshall.

So it would appear Marshall knew 4.0-0 was the choice move but wanted to go his own way.

Interesting book that, Marshall kicks it off with:

"In Submitting this work to the Chess Public I am fully aware that my opinions of many of the lines of play given are in opposition to the dictum of some of the recognised authorities on openings."

Keep up the excellent work Keg.


Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: <Sally Simpson>Thank you for your comment and for pointing out this important source concerning Marshall's 4. d4. It certainly appears that your explanation for Marshall's choice of 4. d4 instead of 4. 0-0 is correct.
Feb-27-19  Sally Simpson: ***

Hi Keg,

If Marshall had won this game then Reti would have proudly proclaimed that Marshall was using Lasker's weapons against him.

Knowingly not playing the best move to unsettle an opponent.


Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post XI

29. a4

"If 29. Nf3 to avoid loss of a tempo, Black can capture [the Knight] and follow up with 29...Ke5." (Sergeant)

"29. Nf3 BxN 30. KxB Ke5 was just as bad." (Reinfeld-Fine).

Kasparov and Soltis echo the above analysis of 29. Nf3.

I see no saving line for White here. Perhaps 29. e5?! Kxe5 30. Re1+ would have created some problems for Lasker (which he likely would have solved).

The position after 29. a4 was:

click for larger view

29... Ke5

The decisive factor in this position is the greater activities of Black's pieces, especially of his King." (Tartakower-DuMont).

An amazing position; only ten simple moves and White's position is in ruins." (Kasparov)

30. Kg2

30. Rh1 might have allowed stiffer resistance, but this would at best delay but not alter the likely outcome.

In practice, the line Marshall pursued, hopeless as it appears, led to a position in which Lasker erred on move 37 allowing Marshall a chance he did not seize.

30... Rf6


"Black has a choice of move orders [i.e., he can now play 30...d3]." (Soltis).

The text does seem best, and Lasker now had the game well in hand (or should have):

click for larger view

31. Re1

31. Rf1 seems to gain time, but is probably no better than the text.

31... d3

"After the superb 31...d3 opening up an entry route for the Black King, Marshall could have resigned." (woldsmandriffield).

"My favorite move." (usiduodiego).

"The Black King now enters the White entrenchment with fatal effect." (Winter).

"The passed pawn supported by the King now brings about the decision." (Reti)

"The 'lust to expand' of the passed pawn!" (Reinfeld/Fine).

The position now was:

click for larger view

The position certainly looks hopeless for Marshall. But, as Tartakower once said, "No body ever won [or drew!!] a game by resigning," Even with Lasker playing Black, the subsequent course of the game shows that Marshall might have had a chance as a result of a momentary lapse on move 37 by Lasker.

32. Rf1

Should Marshall have played to exchange Rooks. The resulting Bishop versus Knight ending certainly looks hopeless. But something like 32. a5 Be2 doesn't look like much fun either.

"After the exchange of Rooks White will obviously be at a great disadvantage. But Black is threatening in any case to get a terrible bind on the position." (Sergeant).

32... Kd4

"Alas the heroic Rook will not be present to witness Black's triumph." (Kasparov).

33. RxR gxR

This left:

click for larger view

As I will discuss in my next post on this game, the power of the Bishop (which can move without loss of tempo as compared with the Knight) and the powerful position of Lasker's King seems to guarantee him a win. As the commentaries I will site explain, the theme of Zugzwang should doom Marshall at this point. However, and as a result of a discovery by nezhmet on this site has noted, the ending still requires care by Black, and in practice Marshall was given a chance to make Lasker's task very difficult at best.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post XII

34. Kf2

"White is getting into Zugzwang since any move of the Knight would allow the King to penetrate." (Reti)

This temporarily keeps the Black King off e3, but Marshall was clearly running out of moves. The references to Zugzwang in the commentaries on this game were thus entirely apt.

34... c6

"Winning the e-pawn by zugzwant. He could also have won by 34...Kc3 35. Ke3 Bd1 (35...a5 also wins) or 35. Ke1 a5" (Winter)

34...Kc3 does seem to be the most brutal and immediate way to win. 34...a5 also would have done the trick.

The position after 34...c6 was:

click for larger view

Reti, Reinfeld/Fine, and Soltis all note White's helplessness here. A classic example of zugzwang.

35. a5

If 35. Nb1 a5 (or better still the simple 35...Kxe4) and Black wins.

35... a6

The position is remarkable. White cannot move without sustaining irreparable damage:

click for larger view

36. Nb1 Kxe4

"By scientific strangulation White has been compelled to give up a Pawn, and he might now resign." (Sergeant).

37. Ke1

This left:

click for larger view

Lasker had a simple win here with 37...Ke3. But:

37... Be2??

For a century, commentators had overlooked the fact that this move imperiled--and possibly blew--the win. So far as I can see, only <nezhmet> on this site noticed that this move by Lasker was a colossal error. The position was now:

click for larger view

The following comment by Reti exemplifies the erroneous evaluation of the position until nezhmet's brilliant comment. [Bravo nezhmet]:

"Now the Zugzwang is complete. The Knight must move [WRONG--KEG] and the Black King will be able to penetrate..." (Reti)

But, as apparently only nezhmet has noticed, 38. Kd2 makes Black's win difficult if not impossible.

The only efforts to consider how Black could play to win after 38. Kd2 are by Kasparov (who gives 38...f5 as the refutation) and estrick on this site (who gives 38...Kf3 39. Nc3 f5 as a win). The two lines transpose, and after 38. Kd2 f5 39. Nc3+ Kf3 or 38. Kd2 Kf3 39. Nc3 f5 [clearly not 39...Kxg3 40. Ne4+ with a likely draw] the position would be:

click for larger view

In my next post on this game, I will discuss whether Black can still win in this variation. Fritz and Stockfish give this as a win for Black. But so far as I can see, the win from here would be--at best--a very difficult chore for Black.

Premium Chessgames Member

Continuing the analysis of what had occurred had Marshall played 38. Kd2 (instead of his hopeless 38. Nd2+), it appears that the critical question is whether White can develop sufficient counterplay by gobbling up Black's Queen-side pawns. Can White create enough threats to save the game, and perhaps Queen his a-pawn?

Let's see:

40. Na4

The only chance.

40... Kxg3

The sole chance to play for a win. Indeed, any other move by Black here would actually lose.

41. Nxc5 f4

Can this pawn promote before White Queens?

42. Nxa6

This would have left:

click for larger view

42... f3

43. Nc5 Kf4

(if 43...f2 44. Ne4+ and White wins!)

44. Ne6+ Ke5
45. Ke3 f2
46. Kxf2 Bg4
47. Ke3 BxN
48. Kxd3 c5

This is perhaps best play and looks like a win for Black:

click for larger view

There is still work to do, but if my analysis is best, this is all tough sledding for Black. The alternate line (42...Bg4) is also a tough win at best for Black:

42... Bg4
43. Nb4 f3
44. Nxd3 Bf5
45. a6

The a-pawn marches!

45... BxN
46. a7

White has no time to recapture since 46. KxB f2 47. a7 f1(Q)+

46... f2
47. a8(Q) f1(Q)
48. Qxc6 Bf5

This would leave:

click for larger view

Fritz and Stockfish assure me this is a win for Black. But--to say the last--Lasker would have had his work cut out for him.

My conclusion is that nezhmet's 38. Kd2 is probably not quite sufficient to save the game. But--as I will discuss in my next post on this game, Marshall's 38.Nd2+ was hopeless and Lasker coasted to victory from there

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post XIV

Returning to the actual game, after Lasker's 37...Be2, the position was:

click for larger view

38. Nd2+?

This lemon gave Lasker no problems.

38... Ke3

This penetration effectively ends the game:

click for larger view

What followed was a massacre, but Lasker's winning method is a pleasure to behold.

39. Nb1

Marshall was reduced to shuffling his Knight back and forth, until Lasker foreclosed that possibility as well.

39... f5
40. Nd2 h5
41. Nb1

"White cojld resign now, but the finish is amusing." (Winter)

41... Kf3

The position was now:

click for larger view

Marshall could not defend his g-pawn, so he had to try a desperate counterattack on the Queen-side; a plan Lasker brushed aside with ease.

42. Nc3 Kxg3
43. Na4 f4

43...Kxh4 also wins easily.

44. Nxc5 f3

44...Kxh4 would also have won quickly.

The position was now:

click for larger view

45. Ne4+

45. Kd2 Kf4 was also hopeless.

45... Kf4
46. Nd6 c5

"A final reserve move with a pawn compelling Whhite to make some move which loses." (Sergeant)

If 47. Nb7 Ke3 and mate next move.

47. b4 cxb4
48. c5 b3

Now Lasker has a new threat with his b-pawn, leaving Marshall with no time to Queen his c-pawn.

49. Nc4 Kg3
50. Ne3 b2

This left:

click for larger view

Here Marshall abandoned the hopeless struggle and resigned.


Apr-29-19  zydeco: For Marshall, the endgame must have sparked nightmares of Marshall vs Tarrasch, 1905 - Game 7 of his ill-fated match against Tarrasch. It's a similarly unusual endgame, rooks on the board with very few pawn exchanges and an active rook operating in front of pawns.
Premium Chessgames Member
  perfidious: <gazafan...Didn't they have air conditioning in Havana?>

Air conditioning was uncommon until well into the 20th century in even many parts of USA, a reason why Florida's population only underwent explosive growth after World War II.

May-12-21  tessathedog: Bravo to <KEG> for his fantastic notes on this game. Many thanks
Feb-24-22  DaviesNjugunah: thank you KEG
Feb-24-22  Granny O Doul: Looking just now, I like the finish with 46...f2+ 47. Kxf2 Bg4.
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