22 November 2006

Evans Gambit: Chigorin - Lasker, St Petersburg 1895

After digressing for a few days longer than expected to make the switch to Blogger Beta, I'm raring to return to Lasker's Moves that Matter. The next game, Chigorin - Lasker, St Petersburg 1895, saw a theoretically important novelty in the Evans Gambit.

In his introduction, Kasparov (KAS) made an interesting point:

Lasker had an indifferent attitude to the study of opening theory, considering that the main thing was to achieve playable positions. Even so, he devised at least two defences that bear his name: in the Queen's Gambit (cf. his match with Marshall, 1907) and in the Evans Gambit -- here his defensive plan put the "opening of the 19th century" out of action for almost 100 years!'

The Lasker Defense to the Queen's Gambit starts 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 Be7 5.e3. Now Lasker played 5...Ne4 three times -- games 3, 5, and 15 (the last) -- in his 1907 title match with Marshall.

The Lasker Defense to the Evans Gambit is 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.b4 Bxb4 5.c3 Bc5 (5...Ba5 is more common, but transposes to the game continuation) 6.O-O (KAS: 6.d4!) 6...d6 7.d4 Bb6. The position is shown in the diagram.

St Petersburg 1895
Lasker, Emanuel

Chigorin, Mikhail
(After 7...Bc5-b6)
[FEN "r1bqk1nr/ppp2ppp/1bnp4/4p3/2BPP3/2P2N2/P4PPP/RNBQ1RK1 w kq - 0 8"]

Now Chigorin (Kasparov's preferred spelling; Soltis [SOL] prefers 'Tchigorin') continued 8.a4.

KAS: 'Alas, Chigorin avoids the current 8.dxe5 dxe5! with two possible continuations:
  • 9.Qxd8+ Nxd8 10.Nxe5 Be6 and in view of the weakness of White's Queenside Pawns, Black has a favorable endgame (Chigorin - Pillsbury, London 1899).'

  • 9.Qb3 Qf6 [I'm omitting the side variations in the published analysis] 10.Bg5 Qg6 11.Bd5 Nge7 12.Bxe7 Kxe7 13.Bxc6 Qxc6 14.Nxe5 Qe6 15.Nc4. Regarding this, the main variation of the defence, the two players conducted a lively dispute on the pages of the magazines they edited. Chigorin believed in White's attacking resources, whereas Lasker considered that Black's two Bishops and the absence of any weaknesses in his position promised him the advantage -- for example, after 15...Rd8 16.Qa3+ Ke8'.

  • KAS also gave variations to show that 9.Nbd2 and 9.Bxf7+ are inferior.
SOL: 'On 8.dxe5 [Lasker] intended 8...dxe5! so that 9.Qxd8+ Nxd8 10.Nxe5 Be6 reaches a favorable endgame. Chigorin didn't believe it was favorable and lost the ending to Pillsbury at London 1899 -- a loss that was regarded as the death blow to the Evans until 9.Qb3! was found.

Reinfeld/Fine, referring to the choice between 8.dxe5 and 8.a4: 'White to be sure could regain his Pawn by 8.dxe5 dxe5 9.Qxd8+ Kxd8 10.Nxe5 Be6, but his Queenside Pawns would be weak and his game undeveloped. Here we see the main strength of Lasker's Defense: when White adopts the Evans Gambit, he wants to play an "immortal" game; instead he is confronted with the unpleasant alternative of (1) turning into a dry ending in which he has to work hard to stave off defeat, or (2) giving up the Pawn for a slight semblance of an attack that can be parried with ease.'

After 8.a4, Lasker continued 8...Nf6. There is a lot more play in this position and I'll look at the game again in another post.

It's possible I'm misunderstanding something, but there seems to be a contradiction between KAS and SOL. KAS says that 'the two players conducted a lively dispute' on the merits of 9.Qb3. SOL says that Lasker's line 'was regarded as the death blow to the Evans until 9.Qb3! was found'. KAS also says that Lasker's 'defensive plan put the "opening of the 19th century" out of action for almost 100 years'. Did it take 100 years for the chess world to appreciate the dispute on the pages of Lasker's and Chigorin's magazines?

To play through the complete game see...

Mikhail Chigorin vs Emanuel Lasker, St Petersburg 1895

...on Chessgames.com.

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