23 January 2007

Psychological Battle of Philosophies

Or Philosophical Battle of Psychologies? In my recent post on Counter-combo: Tarrasch - Lasker, 1908 Match, Game 4 (which also has a link to the full game), I remarked, 'the most curious feature of the position is the Black Rook on c4.' The current diagram is the start of the sequence whereby the Rook eventually reached c4.

According to Kasparov and Soltis , the two GM player/historians who have explored the depths of Lasker's chess strength, there was in the diagrammed position a battle being waged at another level beyond the moves, a battle of philosophies. Tarrasch played 15.Qc3. Kasparov gave the move '!?', and commented:

Intending Nd4-f5 and at the same time hitting the c-Pawn. Tarrasch must have been happy with the outcome of the opening: White has a slight but enduring advantage, and chances of increasing it without any risk. For example, 15...Nf8 (15...Nf6?! 16.e5) 16.Nd4! and 16...g6 noticeably weakens the King's defenses. Lasker realized perfectly well that his only chance of avoiding a prolonged and gruelling defense was to dislodge Tarrasch from his confident state. To do this he had to create something unusual, contrary to all the positional rules and standards of chess wisdom!

Soltis gave the move no symbol, but commented:

There is something to be said for 15.f4 to stop anything landing on e5. Then 15...a6 16.Nc3 Re6 is a small edge for White. But 15.Qc3 makes a threat, 16.Qxc7 and, more importantly, it prepares 16.Nd4 -- 17.Nf5 and 16.Re3 -- 17.Rg3, a simple attacking plan that allows Tarrasch to exploit his spatial edge with "principled" moves as in the Schlechter game. [See The 'Grand Formation' of the Steinitz Defense.] What makes this stage of the game remarkable is the way Lasker finds a way to turn his opponent's attention away from that plan. Today's players, in more complex but equally difficult defensive positions, would look for other ways to change the subject -- by sacrificing a Pawn or the Exchange, or even getting into time trouble in the hopes that their opponent would feel the need to play quickly.

Lasker played 15...Re5.

World Championship Match (g.4)
New York 1908

Lasker, Emanuel

Tarrasch, Siegbert
After 14...Re8-e7(xB)
[FEN "r2q2k1/pppnrpp1/3p3p/1N6/3QP3/8/PPP2PPP/3RR1K1 w - - 0 15"]

Both Kasparov (KAS) and Soltis (SOL) assigned 15...Re5 a '!'. (KAS: 'A brilliant way of defending the c-Pawn.')

SOL: 'Reti bestowed two exclamation points on this move which he called "as original as it is bold". Why was it original? Because when Rooks are lifted in middlegames they generally go the third rank. On the second there are too many Pawns to obstruct them and on the fourth or beyond the Rook is vulnerable. And that's the point. With 15...Re5 Black adds a new element to the game, the possibility that the Rook will be trapped. Tarrasch, who felt every constricted position contains the germ of its defeat, was being challenged.

The game continued 16.Nd4 Rc5

KAS: !; 'Of course, from the purely positional viewpoint this move is very dangerous: the stray Rook may cause Black significant problems. But, firstly, 16...Nc5 17.f3 leaves White all the advantages of his position, and secondly, the impudent behaviour of the Rook is bound to upset the opponent's composure.'
SOL: !; '"Any player in Lasker's place would [play 16...Re8]", wrote U.U.Gorniak, in a Russian book on defense. "However, Lasker puts a wager on Tarrasch's exceptional stubbornness of his dogma of 'correct' play". Correct play would likely mean 16...Nc5 here, and then 17.f3 g6 to keep the Knight off f5. Lasker preferred 16...Rc5 "so as to draw the brunt of the attack"'.

17.Qb3 Nb6 18.f4

KAS: 'Cutting off the Rook's retreat. Many commentators criticized this move, saying that "Tarrasch was inflenced by Lasker's psychological thinking," and recommending 18.Re3 or 18.Nf5. But Mark Dvoretsky's evaluation is closer to the truth: "By advancing his Pawn to f4, White takes control of the e5 and g5 squares, and prepares to cramp the opponent by 19.Qf3 -- 20.b3 -- 21.c4. From the fact that Tarrasch lost the game, it by no means follows that all his decisions were incorrect."'

We know from the further course of the game that Tarrasch only cracked under the psychological pressure on his 24th move. This was a remarkable position in a remarkable game, explained by two remarkable annotators.

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