Sunday, 15 August 2010

Chess Reviews: 148

Emanuel Lasker
2nd World Chess Champion
By Isaak and Vladimir Linder
264 pages
Russell Enterprises

Following hard on the heels of their Capablanca book comes the next volume in the World Champions series by the Linders.

Emanuel Lasker held the World Championship title for 27 years, a record unlikely to be broken. I remember a time when we all thought that Garry Kasparov would be the one to surpass Lasker in that aspect of his life, but he ended up 12 years short.

The biographical meat of the book has appeared before in 'Kings of the Chess World', a massive Russian language tome. This new edition is a transformed version of a single part of that earlier work and it is now, of course, in the English language.

Here's a list of the main contents:

Foreword by Andy Soltis
Publisher's Note
A Word About the Authors by Yuri Averbakh
Chapter 1: Life
Chapter 2: Matches, Tournaments and Opponents
Chapter 3: Chess Works - His Games and Discoveries
Chapter 4: Writer and Journalist
Chapter 5: Impervious to Time

The authors do an admirable job of presenting the life of Lasker in words, games and pictures.
There are 82 illustrative games (some are fragments) and they have new notes, provided by Karsten Müller.

Lasker excelled at the psychological aspect of the game and seemed to know - more often than not - exactly how to play against specific opponents. Sometimes his moves were quite startling.

Here are a couple of snippets...

Lasker - Pillsbury
New York 1893

Lasker won the tournament with 13/13 (Albin was second on 8.5/13). The eighth round game with Pillsbury looked to be heading for a draw, which would have no bad thing from Lasker's tournament point of view. However, he must have assessed that the young Pillsbury would struggle to cope with an unexpected complication and he was happy enough to burn his boats with 46 Bxg5!? fxg5 47 f6+ Taking the pawn loses the Queen, so Pillsbury played on with 47 ...Kg8 48 Qh6 Qf7? (48 ...Bb8 is better, as the book points out) 49 Qxg5+ and 1-0 (55)

Euwe - Lasker
Zurich 1934

34 ...Nc2! 35 Ne4 Qxe5!!

'Great strategic insight by a great master. Lasker feels that his forces will dominate the queen and the whole board.'

36 Nf6+ Qxf6 37 Rxf6 Nxf6!? and Lasker went on to win after 50 moves.

This example is '...also notable for the fact that Lasker executed this combination after a nine-year hiatus from play in international tournaments, when he was 66-years old, against an opponent half his age, who would himself become world champion a year later.'

The authors correctly put that:

'Any opponent of Lasker's found it hard going as soon as Lasker figured out all his strong and weak points'.

For instance, Showalter traded two wins, two losses and two draws in the first six games of his match against the champion in 1893. Yet once Lasker fully understood Showalter's play, he stormed through with four straight wins to wrap up the match in style.

The book is further enhanced by numerous photographs and occasional reproductions of documents and pages from works written by Lasker. Some of the photos are classics (such as the group shot of the of the 1918 Berlin tournament, showing Lasker, Rubinstein, Schlechter and Tarrasch, all showing the terrible strain of the war years) but others were new to me (for example, two from 1936; one showing Lasker and his wife, Martha, in their Moscow apartment and one showing him trying his hand at golf in England, observed by an interested crowd, including Vera Menchik).

I did spot a couple of errors. The tournament table for Nottingham 1936 has gifted Botvinnik a point advantage over Capablanca (in fact they shared first).

The diagram on page 104, showing a position form the Lasker v Marshall World Championship match, has somehow managed to miss off a White Rook from c1, which makes a big difference.

I would have liked a little more depth on one or two matters, such as the controversy regarding the Schlechter match (did Schlechter need to win the 10-game by two points, and if not, why did he play so hard a for a win in game 10, when a draw would have given him the title?), Lasker's weak play against Capablanca in their 1921 title bout, when he was generally reasonable successful against the Cuban throughout his career (was it really just the heat?) and concrete reasons behind Maróczy's aborted title challenge.

These are not idle nitpicks. The more I wanted to put the book down to start this review, the more I discovered further sections of great interest, so it received a lot more scrutiny than usual.

This fine volume concludes with Lasker's match and tournament record plus several indices.
I am really enjoying this series and am very much looking forward to reading the next volume. This is, in my opinion, definitely the best English-language book on the life of the Second World Champion.

London 1922
By Geza Maróczy
128 pages
Russell Enterprises

London 1922 featured some of the finest players in the world. Capablanca was back in action, having been away from tournament action since wresting the World Championship title from Lasker 15 months earlier. He won the tournament in his customary style.

Lasker did not play in the tournament, but two future champions - Alekhine and Euwe - did. Rubinstein, Réti and Bogoljubow were also in the 16-player line up.

This is a new edition of the contemporary tournament book. All of the games have notes - of varying depths - by Maróczy.

Andy Soltis once again contributes a very thoughtful foreword. The main focus of his attention falls on 'The London Rules', the criteria for future World Championship matches drawn up by Capablanca and several other tournament participants. Ironically, the only match ever to be played under these rules was the one in which Capablanca lost his title to Alekhine in 1927.

Capablanca was undefeated and finished 1.5 points clear of Alekhine. However, he rather surprisingly allowed a simple opportunity for one of his opponents.

Morrison - Capablanca
Round Four

Capablanca has just played 27 ...Kg8-h7. White replied with 28 Ne3 but went on to lose. Can you see what he should have played?

Capablanca's own notes to the games of the 1921 World Championship match are included as a bonus section. One particular position is a further demonstration of the psychological aspect to Lasker's play and it draws praise from his successor.

Capablanca - Lasker
Game 5

Lasker played an exchange sacrifice with 16 ...Bxf3

'Dr. Lasker thought for over half an hour before deciding upon this continuation. It is not only the best, but it shows at he same time the fine hand of the master. An ordinary player would never have thought of giving up the exchange in order to keep the initiative in this position, which was really the only reasonable way in which he could hope to draw the game.'

Unfortunately for Lasker, a later blunder brought about a lost game.

One interesting quoted statistic shows how closely matched the total thinking times of both players were. Capablanca: 35 hours and 55 minutes Lasker: 36 hours and 9 minutes. One tends to think of Capablanca playing quick and easy chess during his finest years, so the closeness is striking.

It's good to see these old tournament books dusted off and revamped.

The Chess Cafe Puzzle Book 3
Test and Improve Your Defensive Play
By Karsten Müller and Merijn va Delft
216 pages
Russell Enterprises

This, the third book in the ChessCafe Puzzle Book series, takes a good look at defensive skill and how to improve it.

Chess players generally prefer to be attacking than defending. Indeed, there is a a revealing comment by one of the co-authors: 'It is in fact it's an area in which Karsten himself felt he could use some improvement. One of the best reasons for writing a book is because you would like to read it yourself.'

The material is arranged in the following chapters:

Principles and Methods of the Defender
Defending against an Attack on the King
Fighting against the Initiative
Perpetual Check
The Right Exchange
Exchange Sacrifices
Defense against a Minority Attack
Defending Inferior Endgames
The Great Tigran Petrosian

Annotated examples form the basis of each chapter. Then there some 'Easy Exercises' followed by 'Tests'.

The very first game in the book shows a major improvement in a famous game.

Kasparov - Kramnik
Dos Hermanas 1996

Kramnik won a brilliant game after 24 ...Rxf3 Kasparov's 25 Qxf3 wasn't the best reply though, and the authors show that the unlikely looking 25 Ra2!! '...would have been a fantastic second rank defense'.

The material in this book is very challenging. Novices may become discouraged but stronger players who work hard on the examples and tests should feel the benefits from their invested time and effort.

Here's one of the easier examples for you to try.

Gavrilov - Handke
Stockholm 2010

'Find the only saving square!'

For further details of books from Russell Enterprises, please click here.

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