26 December 2006

The 'Grand Formation' of the Steinitz Defense

In his introduction to Tarrasch - Lasker, World Championship Match 1908, game 4 (see The Lasker - Tarrasch rivalry; the Steinitz Defense for background), Soltis made several remarks on the historical value of the game.

Lasker defended against Tarrasch's 1.e4 with the Steinitz Defense. This was something of a gauntlet. Tarrasch had scored six wins out of seven previous games against the various forms of the Steinitz. In fact, the best known previous example of the Steinitz Defense was [Tarrasch - Schlechter, Leipzig 1894]. Tarrasch, the finest strategist of his time, had built a Grand Formation based on Bb2, Rad1, Rfe1, and Pawns at b3, c4 and e4, followed by a Rook-lift. It was the "correct" way to punish Black's third move, he said. If he had been able to make strategy, not tactics, the issue in the match, Tarrasch would have become the third official world champion.

The position in the diagram shows the Grand Formation. White hasn't played the move order mentioned by Soltis -- the Rook-lift to the third rank was played before c4 -- but the formation is the same.

Leipzig 1894
Schlechter, Carl

Tarrasch, Siegbert
(After 19.c2-c4)
[FEN "4rbk1/ppq2ppp/2pprn2/8/N1P1P3/1P1QR2P/PB3PP1/4R1K1 b - c3 0 19"]

Schlechter played 19...Nd7. Within a few moves the only plan that he could find was to maintain the status quo and do nothing. Tarrasch pushed g4 and h4, doubled his Rooks on the g-file, and broke through on g5. Black resigned on the 37th move.

What is the origin of the phrase 'Grand Formation'? Soltis doesn't say.

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