17 April 2007

Playing to Lose

This is the last game in the series on Lasker's Moves that Matter, and follows the previous game by almost three weeks. One reason for the delay is that I had trouble understanding the popularity of the present game.

In the diagrammed position, Euwe played 34.Qf1. This looks like a bad move, and it is, although it's not obvious why. As Soltis pointed out, Euwe could have drawn with 34.Qe3 Qxe3 35.Rexe3 Nc2 36.Rc3 Nd4 37.Rfe3. The move played merits the '?' that Soltis ('SOL') gave it.

Zurich 1934
Lasker, Emanuel

Euwe, Max
(After 33...Rd4-d2)
[FEN "3rn1k1/p4p2/2p1p1p1/4P1q1/PnB5/1P3RN1/3rQPP1/4R1K1 w - - 0 34"]

The position after 34.Qf1 is where Kasparov ('KAS') started annotating. The threat is 35.Ne4, which Lasker ignored with 34...Nc2 (KAS: !; SOL: !!). The very pretty point is that after 35.Ne4, Black plays 35...Qxe5 36.Nf6+ Qxf6 37.Rxf6 Nxf6. Since Black gets Rook, Knight, and Pawn for the Queen, it doesn't really count as a Queen sacrifice. On top of that, the position of Black's pieces is more dynamic than White's. Euwe survived until move 50.

Euwe blundered and Lasker took advantage of it. I turned to Hannak for background.

When Lasker accepted the invitation to play in the great tournament arranged at Zurich in the summer 1934 to celebrate the anniversary of the local club, there wasn't a chess player anywhere in the world who wasn't surprised and thrilled; but even the old man's most sanguine well-wishers hardly expected him to show much of his erstwhile prowess. After all, it was nine years since Lasker had played any serious chess, and apart from being nine years older he was unlikely to have recovered from the recent shock of being deprived of his home, his property, his country.

His opponents would be World Champion Alekhine, challengers Euwe and Flohr, plus strong players like Bernstein, Bogoljubov, and Nimzovich.

In the first round, Lasker had the Black pieces against Euwe, the Dutchman, who, a year later, was to wrest the title from Alekhine; a man who at that time was not merely the most erudite theoretician but one of the strongest players in the world. He was at his very prime, 33 years old, almost exactly half his opponent's age. Small wonder that, 'on book form', the young contender for the world championship was hot favorite against the old ex-champion. But the unexpected happened, for the old man played one of the finest games of his life.

Nerves of steel, that's what made Lasker the great champion that he was. The game was Euwe's only loss in the event. To play through the complete game see...

Max Euwe vs Emanuel Lasker, Zurich 1934

...on Chessgames.com.

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