KEG: The Tournament Book calls this game "An uneventful draw."
I beg to differ.
Going into this 11th round game (with just two rounds to go), Schlechter was (under the unusual scoring system in effect at Monte Carlo 1901) a quarter of a point behind tournament leader Janowski. Schlechter and Janowski was slated to meet in the next (i.e., penultimate) round. As could have been predicted, that forthcoming game would decide the tournament.
Meanwhile, Tchigorin (sitting in third place who had just lost his last two games) had been employing Ponziani's Opening in this tournament. He had defeated Winawer earlier in the tournament with this opening, and had tried it in his 10th round game with Janowski. Though Janowski ultimately won that game, Schlechter was obviously impressed with Tchigorin's opening play and had decided to use the same variation against Janowski in their upcoming decisive game.
How shocking it must have been for Schlechter when Gunsberg (who had so far as I can tell had never tried the Ponziani before) decided to employ that very opening in this game against Schlechter. Quite a dilemma for Schlechter. Janowski would almost certainly have been watching the game.
In terms of winning the tournament, the key for Schlechter was defeating Janowski in the next round. Under the rules at Monte Carlo 1901, a draw here would allow Schlechter a replay against Gunsberg with White. Since Schlechter later won that replay, he received 3/4ths of a point for this 11th Round rather than a full point he might have received had he won the game.
It was therefore hardly surprising that Schlechter chose a potentially drawish line. Nor is it surprising that Gunsber would be happy with a draw against this dangerous opponent (who, remarkably, he had only played once before--a draw at Hastings 1895).
What IS surprising about the game is that, though playing it close to the vest, Schlechter managed to outplay Gunsberg and had a chance at a winning combination. Perhaps he was so fixated on not losing that he failed to spot the (fairly obvious) winning combo in the ending.
Schlechter soon enough got his revenge on Gunsberg. Including the replay of this contest, Schlechter won the next four game against Gunsberg and ended up with a lifetime record against Gunsberg of 4 wins, 0 losses, and 4 draws (they drew their final two games against each other at Monte Carlo 1904).
1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
The Ponziani was, in those days, a big favorite of Rosenthal and Winawer and--especially--of Tchigorin and Showalter.
3...d5 is the other main line. The text was played by Winawer and Janowski against Tchigorin earlier in the tournament and by Janowski against Schlechter in the next round.
4. d4 Nxe4
Winawer had played 4...exd4, and was unfairly criticized for this in the Tournament Book. Provided Black is prepared to face the Goring Gambit, 4...exd4 is probably best.
The text is also a recognized and entirely playable line. It was also the choice of Janowski in his game against Tchigorin and would be used by him in the next round against Schlechter.
5. d5 Nb8
The alternatives to this ugly looking move are 5...Ne7 and the wild and crazy 5...Bc5 (which may even be best!).
The text, however, is definitely sound and was used by Janowski in this tournament against both Tchigorin and Schlechter.
The position after 5...Nb8 was:
Schlechter must have breathed a sigh of relief when Gunsberg played this move. Tchigorin had played 6. Bd3 against Janowski, and Schlechter was planning to play this same move against Janowski in the next round.
The text (a novelty at the time) is drawish and similar to the Qe2 lines against the Petroff. Gunsberg could not have expected how badly he would be outplayed here by Schlechter in this seemingly "safe" variation.
Probably better than 7. Nxe5, but allowing Black to force an early exchange of Queens.
7...Be7 is perhaps stronger. But Schlechter probably was happy to play a drawish line and not disclose his preparations for the next round.
Sufficient for equality. 8. c4 or 8. QxQ+ are the only ways for White to play for an edge here.