25 October 2006

The Lasker - Tarrasch rivalry; the Berlin Defense

The next game in the series on Lasker's Moves that Matter is Tarrasch - Lasker, from the 19th round of the great Hastings 1895 tournament. In 'Predecessors I' Kasparov mentions that this was the first game between the great rivals.

On ChessLab.com I found 30 games between the two players. They were played in the years shown in the following table.

1895 - 1
1896 - 1
1908 - 16
1914 - 3
1916 - 6
1918 - 2
1923 - 1

I didn't check ChessLab's list against another source, so there might be errors. ChessLab had five more Tarrasch - Lasker games from the period 1880-1882. Three of these were between Tarrasch and Berthold Lasker, the second World Champion's older brother. The two other games were between 'Tarrasch & allies' and 'Lasker & allies'; these are undoubtedly Berthold Lasker as well.


The Hastings 1895 game began with the moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 (Berlin Defense, C67) 4.O-O Nxe4 5.d4 Nd6 6.Bxc6 dxc6 7.dxe5 Nf5 8.Qxd8+ Kxd8, reaching the position shown in the following diagram.

(After 8...Ke8-d8(xQ))

I've played the 5...Be7 line in the Berlin Defense where Black's King Knight ends up on b7, but I've never played the 5...Nd6 variation. I watched a game with this line at the Biel 1985 Interzonal between Sax and Torre. Torre needed only a draw for an almost certain qualification into the Candidate matches, played 5...Nd6, and lost. I've shied away from it ever since.

The same line was played four times in the Kasparov - Kramnik match, London 2000, where Kramnik drew each game with Black. Kasparov played 9.Nc3 in each game, just as Tarrasch played, and Kramnik played 9...h6 in two games, just as Lasker did. Where Tarrasch played 10.Bd2, Kasparov continued 10.Rd1+ in one game, and 10.h3 in the other. He analyzed the variation in his notes to Harmonist - Tarrasch, Breslau 1889, another game in 'Predecessors I' (p.148).

I had never noticed the similarities between this variation of the Berlin Defense and the Exchange Variation of the Ruy Lopez, which Lasker played as White, and which was adopted years later by Fischer. In both lines Black has a crippled Queenside Pawn majority offset by the two Bishops . Although he is given little credit for it, Lasker was ahead of his time in understanding the openings.

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