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Siegbert Tarrasch vs Emanuel Lasker
Lasker - Tarrasch World Championship Match (1908), Munich GER, rd 8, Sep-09
Spanish Game: Berlin Defense. Rio de Janeiro Variation (C67)  ·  1/2-1/2



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Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: Part 1

8th Game Munich September 9-10

This is one of the best games in the match, with courage, resourcefulness and imagination showed by both men in a tense middlegame with opposite-colored bishops. It also marked the debut on the world championship stage of the Rio de Janeiro variation of the Berlin defense to the Ruy Lopez, as epochal a moment in opening theory then as the latest blow in the Moscow Gambit (or whatever it’s called) is now. The main line of the Berlin 100 years ago was not 5….Nd6 of Kasparov-Kramnik fame, but 5….Be7, with the queens staying on the board. In recent times Morozevich and Short have tried it.

Tarrasch's annotations, translated by yours truly, are in plain text; my and Fritz's comments are in brackets.

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nf6 4. 0-0 Nxe4

This defense to the Spanish Game has for years been considered the best, despite the many knight moves that Black must make, which create a highly artificial and unhealthy impression. Pillsbury’s refutation in the Vienna Tournament seemed to leave the defense forever buried. It is a small merit of these matches that new and really important improvements are brought to light. To me it seems better than other defenses, and I think that, as with the 3…c5 defense to the Queen’s Gambit Declined, the Spanish Game has lost its terror because of the “Brazilian Variation.” [See Black’s 13th move below.]

5. d4 Be7 6. Qe2 Nd6 7. Bxc6 bxc6 8. dxe5 Nb7 9. Nc3 <Earlier this year Yifan Hou tried 9. c4 against Nigel Short (Yifan Hou vs Short, 2008 ), 140 years after its debut ( Zukertort vs Anderssen, 1868 ).> 9….0-0 10. Re1

Pillsbury’s move, by far the strongest here. It hinders Black’s normal development by …d5, because then 10. exd6 Bxd6 11. Bg5 would follow, and Black gets into difficulties immediately. <In OMGP I Kasparov points out that 11…Qd7 is OK for Black here.> And 10…f6 instead of 10….d5 is dubious for Black, since after 11. Qc4+ Kh8 12. Bf4 fxe5 13. Nxe5 and White has achieved a brilliant development. 13….d5 brings only wretchedness after 14. Qxc6 Rxf4 15. Nd5 and White wins by the threat of Ne7+ followed by Ng6+. Instead of 13….d5 much better is 13…Nd6 14. Qa4, but now Black still cannot move his QP. Therefore, against Pillsbury’s rook move, …Nb7-c5-e6 is the only continuation, along with 10….Re8. However, after 10….Re8, there follows 11. Qc4 Nc5 12. Ng5 Bxg5 13. Bxg5 Qxg5 14. Qxc5 with advantage to White. <Here’s a recent example of 10….Re8: Topalov vs Morozevich, 2005 ).

10….Nc5 11. Nd4 <In 1981 Karpov played 11. Be3 Ne6 12. Rad1 against Korchnoi. (Karpov vs Korchnoi, 1981) > 11….Ne6 12. Be3 Nxd4 13. Bxd4

So far the game is identical to the second playoff game (Pillsbury vs Tarrasch, 1898) from the Vienna Tournament. Then 13….d5 was played immediately, whereupon Pillsbury played Na4! And in the end dominance of the square c5 was attained, and Black’s game was completely crippled.

Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: Part II


This is the new move, that was found by chess-friends in Rio de Janeiro, which gives the defense new life. In the wider circles is the move by this match made widely known.

14. Be3 d5 15. exd6

White must take the bishop, else the center is too strong.


In this position, Black is three moves behind in development and has a damaged queenside, since three pawns are isolated and weak, the pawn on c5 in particular. As compensation Black has two bishops, but what bishops! There aim unopposed (once the QB goes to b7) at the kingside, thus constantly threatening a mating attack on h2 and g2, while White has not the slightest possibility of a kingside attack, but rather only an attack on Black’s weak pawns. To me it seems that Black’s defense is sufficient.

16. Qh5

This move is intended above all to prevent …Qh4 and next to attack the c-pawn, though at present the attack is not real, since after Bxc5 g6 a piece is lost, and from the slower attack with Na4, then after …c4, Qb5, …Bd5 little good results. Apart from the queen move, which is not particularly strong, cam Ne4 and Rad1 into consideration. Alapin recommended f4 and Qf2 immediately attacking c5, but to me this is not particularly strong. After 16. f4, there follows not 16….Qh4 (which he gives) but 16…Qf6 17. Qf2 Rb8 18. Rab1 Bf5 and Black stands quite well.

16….Bb7 17. Rad1 Re8

Averting the threat of Bxc5 in a simple manner. Now Nd5 loses a piece to …Re5. But then how should White play? Perhaps 18. Na4? Then comes …Re5 followed by ….Qe7, and White has just worsened his game, since his knight is misplaced and his bishop in fetters. But White must act, since Black threatens, by simple and natural moves, to strengthen his game. The game in other words is not equal; rather, Black stands better. Thus I immediately sought to achieve equality and ward off the threatening danger in the following moves, and in large measure succeeded.

18. Nb5! Qf6 19. Nxd6 cxd6 20. Bc1

Absolutely necessary! The threat, apart from …Qxb2, is …Re5 followed by doubling rooks and gaining an iron grip on the e-file.

20….Re6 21. c3

This, together with the following moves, makes it possible to effectively oppose the doubling of Black’s rooks. Exchanging rooks is weaker for White, in that possession of the e-file would give Black an advantage.

21….Rae8 22. Re3

One might think that the previous move was a nullity, but now after ….Rxe3 the b-pawn is not lost after the bishop retakes.


To this point Lasker has played excellently, but this move is ineffectual and weak. A very good plan is to play …Be4 and then advance the QP to d4.

<22….Be5 23. f3 Bc6 (23….Bg6?! 24. Qd5 and White has a slight advantage) 24. Rde1 would probably lead to an early draw. Fritz agrees with pretty much every move Lasker and Tarrasch are making at this point, actually, including 22….Re5. The position is quite even.>

Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: Part III

23. Rde1 h6 24. Qg4

The rook exchange is still not advisable, since Black would retake with the pawn and with …Qc6 and Re8-e6-g6 launch an attack on the king, supported by his compact pawn majority on the kingside.


Now threatening …Rg5, but finally White can take on e5, since the black queen’s path to c6 is blocked.

25. Rxe5 dxe5 26. f3

To anticipate the threat of …Qe7 followed by …Rg6. White has by the careful defense of the last eight moves averted Black’s attack, or at any rate hindered it, so that a counterattack is now possible.

26….Qe7 27. Be3

And if …e4 then f4 is the response, without allowing the further advance of the e-pawn. At the same time, the bishop takes aim at the c-pawn.


For Black it is now very difficult to find a promising [peaceful?] continuation of the game. His attack is at an end, since after …Rg6, Qf5 is played, and the q-side pawns on dark squares (especially the c5 pawn), are not easy to defend. The bishop move is intended to hinder the later attack on this pawn via Qc4.

<Probably the first real inaccuracy of the game. 26….e4 27. f4 per Tarrasch’s previous note should keep the game fully equal.>

28. b3

The natural move was c4; I thought that he would interpolate …Rg6 and quite overlooked that I would then win his bishop by Qc8+. With c4 I would have prevented the c5-pawn from moving off a dark square and then with Qg4-g3-f2 I would have a 2:1 attack on the pawn. Black would have to defend with his rook and the white rook would (open up), for example by taking over the only open file or else by the difficult zig-zag maneuver Re1-c1-c3-a3-a5 make a new threat on the object of attack. In any case Black would have had a difficult, arduous and clearly passive defense, than if on the 22nd move he had found the right continuation.

Also, after c4 the deflection of the white queen by …h5 is unsuccessful: after 28. c4 h5 follows 29. Qxh5 Bxc4 30. Rc1 Bxa2 31. Rxc5 with the threat of Rc8+ and advantage to White, e.g. 31….Qd7 32. h3 f6? 33. Ra5 then Rxa7, or (instead of 32….f6) 32….Bd5?


Lasker immediately seizes on the weak move, and avoids the difficult defense of the c-pawn. White’s extra pawn is not very important. <Unsurprisingly, Fritz thinks the game continuation is better for White than 28. c4 would have been, since White is now a pawn up, but Tarrasch is probably right that 28. c4 would have given White better chances for a real advantage. >

Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: Part IV

29. bxc4 Bc6 30. Rb1

This rook betakes itself to the open file, so that if 30….Qa3? 31. Rb8+ Kh7 32. Qf5+ Rg6 33. Qxf7, or if, instead of 31….Kh7, Black tries 31….Be8, then 32. Bxh6 is possible.


Here the game was adjourned for the first time, with Black sealing his move.

31. c5 Qd8(!)

Threatening to bring the queen to d3. Obviously this threat can be met with Qc4. White with his passed pawns would then stand better. <32. Qc4 e4 33. f4 Qd3 is equal, thinks Fritz.>

32. Qf5?

A very thoughtless move, with which White almost at once throws the game at his opponent's head. <I wish we had this expression in English!> After the advance of the e-pawn the entry of the black queen is possible. I thought because of mate threats the queen could not forsake her own back rank.

32….e4 33. f4

Either Qf4 or Bf4 (to threaten Rb8) came into consideration, but neither of these moves is successful, as Black threatens at the very least with the move …exf3 to bring up the white k-formation, for example 33. Bf4 Re8 <Fritz prefers 33….Rf6> 34. Rb8<??; White is only a little worse after 34….Bd6> 34….Qd1+ 35. Kh2 e3+ and wins <33. Kg3 Rxb8 34. Bxb8 e2>, or 33. Qf4 Qd3 34. Rb8+ Kh7 35. fxe4? Rf6 threatening mate on f1; if instead of 35. fxe4, White plays 35. Qf5+, then after 35….Rg6 and the bishop on e3 is attacked.

33….Qd3 34. Re1

Nevertheless it was still better to play 34. Rb8+ Be8 (after 34….Re8 35. Rxe8+ Bxe8 36. Kf2! [36. Bd4? Qb1+ followed by 37….e3+ wins the queen] 36….Bd7 [if 36….Bb5 perpetual check follows] 37. Qe5! Bb5 38. Qd4 would draw the game) 35. Kf2 (not 35. Bd4 because of 35….Qd1+ 36. Kf2 Qd2+ 37. Kf1 e3) 35….Qc2+ 36. Kf1 Qxc3 37. Kf2 Qc2+ 38. Kf1 Qxa2, though Black retains a considerable advantage.

34….Qxc3 35. Kf2 Qc4

Here the a-pawn cannot be protected, because after 36. Re2 Bb5 37. Rd2 (or Rb2) Qf1+ 38. Kg3 Qe1+ and either the bishop or the rook is lost. If 37. Rb2, then …Qc3+ <37. Rb2 Qf1+ 38. Kg3 Qe1+ 39. Bf2 Qc3+>.

36. Qg4

Bringing the momentarily misplaced queen back into play; White also threatens f5 at some point.

36….Qxa2+ 37. Re2 Qc4

Black now has a seemingly better position of all his pieces, especially the kings, a passed a-pawn more and should win.

click for larger view

Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: Part V

38. Rd2

f5 would expose the pawn to attack by …Rf6 and …Bd7.

38….Bb5 39. Qd1 Ra6

The black rook penetrates the White game, and one would think the game cannot last much longer.

40. Rc2 Qe6

After 40…Ra2 followed by the exchange of rooks White always had drawing chances on account of the unlike bishops; while if Black achieves the exchange of queen and rook, the win would be certain, for in an endgame with unlike bishops two passed pawns on different sides are decisive. <Nevertheless 40….Ra2 41. Rxa2 Qxa2+ 42. Kg1 a5 is probably better for Black than the text move. If Black had real winning chances in this ending (and I’m not sure he did), this was probably his opportunity.> After …Qb3 White could play 41. Qd2 Ra3 42. Rb2 and there still appears to be nothing decisive.

41. h3

A good defensive plan; White will bring his king to safety at h2.

41….Bd3 42. Rd2

The rook obviously stands badly here, but if it goes to b2, then by …Qf6 Black can attack, via both …Ra1 and …Qh4.


This weakens Black’s game, because the black king formation is exposed and later White’s attack on the g7 point is made easier. But even with other moves, one can hardly show a forced black win, though his position is strong, e.g. 42….Qf6 43. Kg3 Ra1 44. Qg4 a5 45. Qc8+ Kh7 46. c6.

43. Kg3 Ra3 44. Kh2 a5 45. Qc1 Ra4

If the rook goes to b3, then follows 46. c6, now after 46…Rc4 47. Qa3 a4 48. c7 Qe6 with loss of the passed pawn.

Here the game was adjourned for the second time, with White sealing the following move.

46. Qc3 Rb4

After Qc4 follows Qe5.

47. c6 Rc4

There is nothing better. After 47…Qc4 48. Qe5 Rb5? 49. White would with 49. Qe8+ Kh7 50. c7 Qxc7 51. Rxd3 even win.

48. Qxa5 Rxc6 Draw.

Black cannot turn his passed pawn to account; White can attack the g7 point (Qa7, Bd4), but cannot accomplish anything, since Black at once with …Rc2 can bring about the exchange of rooks.

The new defense to the Spanish Game gave me a knotty problem. Remarkably, in a difficult position, I found the only correct defensive moves, and held the game (moves 18-27). But now under a recurrence of the same psychological illness, I omitted at the proper time the clarifying move (28. c4!) as my time ran short. After the subsequent thoughtless move 32. Qf5 I came under strong pressure. True, I again succeeded in saving the game, but I am convinced that the game must have been lost, though I cannot find analytical proof. Black’s superior formation and passed pawn should have led to a win.

<Tarrasch’s main failing as an annotator in this book (and it is a serious one) is that he sometimes seems to forget that he had an opponent, with intentions, desires, pressures and blindspots of his own. Here he simply fails to note, in his postscript, that Lasker also contributed to the ebb and flow of this game...

<It's a difficult thing to maintain objectivity when commenting on one's own games. Variations running in the commentator's favor are always interesting, so details flow quick and plentiful from the pen; variations which favor one's opponent, however, are often unclear as can be. For one's own mistakes, one seeks (and generally finds) justification; while the opponent's errors seem so natural as to need no justification whatever.>

David Bronstein, Zurich International Chess Tournament 1953, p. 7.

Finally, I should emphasize that this was an extremely accurately played game. Probably the highest joint level of play of any of the games from this match that I’ve looked at. 32. Qf5 was the only clear mistake by either side.>

Mar-02-08  Knight13: Why not 17. Bxc5 ? It looks OK to me.
Premium Chessgames Member
  Chessical: <Knight13> If 17. Bxc5 then the sneaky 17...<g6> forces the Queen away from protecting the Bishop.
Mar-02-08  Knight13: <Chessical> Thx.
Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: From Hoffer's short book on the match:

<This game is only remarkable for the extraordinary effusion of admiration with which it is presented to the reader by Dr. Lasker in the Daily Mail>.

<<"As a work of art it is, I believe, of no slight value. White and Black represented two contending parties of equal force, but of unequal arrangement." Modesty, perhaps, forbade the mention of the fact that half the forces were White and the other half Black. "My own side had three weak pawns, which were exposed to frequent and perilous attacks, hard to defend, and could not be permitted to fall without compensation.

My opponent had to guard his King, against which my Bishops were posted on unobstructed lines. A situtation of this nature--weakness of one kind nearly or quite counterbalanced by weakness of another kind--must of necessity give rise to a multitude of combinations, creating hopes and anxieties, to be finally dissolved by the <artistic coup which calls forth the admiration of the spectator>." The italics are not Dr. Lasker's.>>

After 13....c5: <Up to here all is "book" and the "work of art" cannot, presumably, begin here, as the move was found by the amateurs of Rio de Janeiro, and Teichmann brought it back when returning from a visit to the South American chess enthusiasts....>

After 18. Nb5: <Now he gets rid of one of Black's Bishops, leaving Bishops of different colour and a draw--thus completing "the work of art," the players having barely made half a dozen moves of their own.>

Lasker does appear to have gotten a little carried away, but Hoffer's comments are needlessly graceless, and, worse, he appears to believe that bishops of opposite color lead automatically to a draw even with queens and rooks on the board -- which is nonsense, of course. This was a very difficult game from beginning to end, and both men played on a very high level. It might be the best game of the match.

But the sarcastic belittling of players far superior to him combined with superficial analysis are typical of Leopold Hoffer. I really don't care for him.

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