14 March 2007

Wandering Notes on the Reti Opening

Getting back to Réti + Reti vs. Lasker, the game from the 16th round at the New York 1924 tournament was not the first time that Réti played 1.Nf3 against Lasker. That happened the previous year at Moravska Ostrava (aka Mährisch-Ostrau) in the Czech Republic. At that time Réti steered the game back into a Slav with 1.Nf3 d5 2.d4 Nf6 3.c4 c6 4.Nc3 dxc4.

Among the strong points of Soltis' book on Lasker are the introductions to the games. Typically, they are only a few paragraphs long, but are filled with related details that only a chess historian of Soltis' stature can tie together. Here are two examples for the tournaments mentioned above.

The return of Lasker to international chess in 1923 was a sensation. Virtually everyone thought he had retired after losing his world championship title to Capablanca in 1921 and repeatedly rejecting tournament invitations afterwards. By then he was 54, the same age as Alekhine when he died, and a year older than Capablanca at the time of his death. Even in our day an active 54 year old player, such as Karpov in 2005, is extraordinarily rare because it is so difficult to maintain playing quality. (p.233)
The strongest chess tournament between St.Petersburg 1914 and AVRO 1938 was organized because efforts to arrange a world championship match had failed. In late 1923 Alekhine tried to obtain American sponsors for a championshipchallenge to Capablanca. But the likely patrons didn't think he had much of a chance. Instead they were willing to foot the bill for an international tournament -- New York 1924 -- featuring Alekhine, Capablanca, Lasker, Marshall, and others. (p.248)

In his book Soltis also included the Lasker - Réti game from the tenth round, which started 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 Bb4. Soltis called this the 'McCutcheon Variation', the preferred spelling of most chess writers (Google: about 38,000 results) over 'MacCutcheon Variation' (about 15,600 results), including the historians Gaige and Hooper/Whyld.

The Réti - Lasker game from the 16th round started 1.Nf3 d5 2.c4 c6, a true Reti Opening. In his notes to the game in the tournament book, Alekhine wrote, 'If, as we surmise, [2...c6] should be the best reply to Réti's second move, then at all events that move by White has the merit of maneuvering Black into a variation of the Queen's Gambit hitherto not considered as fully satisfactory (1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3)'. This comment on a mainstream Slav Defense shows that, by modern standards, Alekhine's opinions on the early opening could sometimes be quaint.

Alekhine had more to say about the Reti Opening in the same book. His essay 'The Significance of the New York Tournament in the Light of the Theory of Openings' (p.247) had sections on the 'The Reti System' (p.262) and 'Reti's System for Black' (p.265). He defined 'The System for Black' as the double fianchetto.

Réti discussed the Reti Opening in 'Masters of the Chess Board' under the heading 'My System of Opening' (p.180). He wrote, 'By far the best defense against this attacking system, which Tartakower named "Opening of the Future", is still to be found in the counter-attack first employed by Lasker in New York 1924. To be sure, Lasker's method is probably held in greater esteem because of the repute of its creator and the success he has won with it, than because of its true value'. He claimed that 9.Nbd2, as he played against Lasker, was inferior to 9.Nc3, 'for the aim of White's opening tactics is to to demolish Black's bulwark d5'.

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