In Part 1 of my series about Emanuel Lasker’s tactical prowess, I mentioned his various chess skills and how many aren’t aware of his outstanding tactical abilities. What I didn’t clearly point out was the general nature of his tactics – yes, you’ll find the usual crushing attacks, but you’ll also notice that he uses tactics as a means to make positional plans blossom, defensive strategies work, and endgame concepts flow in perfect order. If you look closely at Tal’s tactical explosions you’ll see they are very different than Lasker’s. Tal’s were all about blowing you off the board. Lasker often used tactics to highlight more subtle but no less important things.
What Lasker’s games remind us of is that tactical building blocks don’t necessarily lead to attacks. For example, a pin can be the backbone of a lovely combination, but often a pin works its magic in calmer ways. In the following example Lasker has the better game and begins making use of a number of pins. White missed his best defense and drowned under wave after wave of pins.
The first pin is along the g1-a7 diagonal. White’s queen can’t step off that diagonal since it’s pinned to its king. This allows Black to chop on e5, which then creates another pin.
29.Qxb6 axb6 30.Rf3??
And, just like that, the game is over. White had to play 30.Rd3 c5 31.Rdd1! (31.Rd2 Bb5 is quite unpleasant for White) defending the e1-rook and threatening to move the knight. 31...Rfe7 32.Kf2 (Once again threatening to move the knight and end the e-file pain.) 32...Bg4 (32...Bf5 33.Nc3!) 33.Rd2 d4 34.h3 Bc8 35.Red1 finally freeing himself of the pin.
The pin along the e-file is intensifying.
31.Kf1 Bf5 32.c3 c5 intending ...d5-d4-d3 is also hopeless.
31...Bf5 32.c3 Bd3 33.Kf1
Now we have two pins: one along the e-file and another along the f1-a6 diagonal.
33…c5 34.g3 Ba6 35.Rg2 d4 36.c4 d3 37.Rf2 Bc8! 0-1. Since White’s knight can’t move, Black moves his bishop to a more active square. He’ll take the knight when he wants to!
UNDEFENDED OR INADEQUATELY DEFENDED PIECES
One of the most important building blocks of tactics is the simple, “obvious,” undefended or inadequately defended piece. In fact, a combination isn’t feasible without the presence of an undefended or inadequately defended piece, or without a vulnerable king.
Our next example shows what can happen if your pieces aren’t properly protected. Training your eye to see this kind of thing is critically important; it allows you to avoid losing stuff in this fashion and it also allows you to punish those that aren’t as careful.
Emanuel Lasker - NN
New York, 1893
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Bc5 4.c3 d6 5.d4 exd4 6.cxd4 Bb4+
The opening isn’t anything special, and I’m sure Black was thinking that after White blocked the check with 7.Bd2 or Nbd2 or 7.Nc3 he’d get rid of the pin against his c6-knight by 7…a6 with a playable position. However, there was a “small” flaw in his reasoning.
And, just like that, Black is dead lost! The problem is that the b4-bishop (which has no real support) is stranded and, combined with the pin along the a4-e8 diagonal, this means that Black will lose a piece (or will watch his position do a dive off a cliff) by force!
One example of how the b4-bishop (or Black’s position in general) is doomed: 7...f5 8.exf5 Bxf5 9.d5 a6 10.Be2 Nce7 11.Qa4+ followed by Qxb4. Best is 7...f5 8.exf5 d5 (stopping White’s d-pawn in its tracks) 9.Ne5 Qf6 (9...Kf8, getting out of the a4-e8 pin, is better but still extremely good for White) 10.Qa4! when the threats of 11.Qxb4, using the pin along the a4-e8 diagonal, and 11.Nxc6 lead to massive material gain for White.
Another try, 7...d5, fails to 8.Qb3! dxe4 (8…Nge7 9.Qxb4) 9.Ne5 when threats like 10.Qxf7 mate, 10.Nxc6, and 10.Qxb4 spell game over for Black.
The b4-bishop is a goner.
9.d5 Qxe4 10.Nc3 Qe7 11.Bg5 and the rest no doubt gave Lasker a laugh or two: 11...Nf6 12.Re1 Ne5 13.Qxb4 0-0-0 14.Rxe5 (Greed made possible by a simple pin.) 14...Bxb5+ 15.Nxb5 Qd7 16.Nxa7+ Kb8 17.Re7 Qf5 18.Nc6+ Kc8 19.Qa5 1-0.
When the word “fork” is used (not cutlery or a fork in the road or something that tunes your piano!), we usually imagine a knight forking a king and queen or even a king, queen, and rook! A happy image! But forks can also be used in a more gentle, subtle form. Here we see a fork that’s designed to give Black a small endgame advantage. Nothing more and nothing less:
37...Rb2+ 38.Kg3 Rxb7!
The point of Black’s earlier check. 38...Nxf3? 39.Rc7+ Kg6 40.Kxf3 isn’t what Black had in mind.
39.Bxb7 Ne2+ 40.Kf3 Nxc1 41.Kxe3 Nxa2 42.Kd4?
Perhaps taken aback by Black’s little forking combination, White misses 42.f5! Nb4 (42...exf5 43.Bd5+ picks up Black’s knight and draws easily) 43.fxe6+ Kxe6 44.Kd4 with a theoretical draw.
42...Kf6 43.Kc5 Nc3 and White was suddenly getting run over. The rest of the game was easy thanks to Lasker’s peerless technique: 44.Kc4 Ne2 45.Kb5 Nxf4 46.Kxa5 Ng6 47.h5 Nf4 48.Bf3 Kf5 49.Kb4 e5 50.Kc3 e4 51.Bd1 e3 52.Bf3 Kg5 53.Kc2 Kh4 54.Kd1 Kg3 0-1.
As you can see, tactical building blocks don’t have to be used as a hammer. In the puzzles that follow, you’ll have to decide how Lasker is using them. You’ll have to decide whether he’s painting a subtle portrait or dropping a bomb.
Please remember that I’ve loaded many puzzles with analysis and prose, so after you try and solve a puzzle click “solution” and then “move list” so you can enjoy the behind the scenes stuff.
After winning the World Championship, many players still didn't think Lasker was the best. The Hastings tournament of 1895 (which was stuffed with every top player on earth – Lasker, Tarrasch, Steinitz, Chigorin, Pillsbury, Teichmann, etc.) was a chance for Lasker to show his superiority. Unfortunately he had just gotten over typhoid fever and was still quite ill. Nevertheless, he still showed his enormous strength in many games.
In our next puzzle I don’t think Black had any idea that he was about to be caught, gutted, and devoured.
Though Lasker beat Pillsbury in Hastings, Pillsbury ended up winning first prize, with second going to Chigorin (Lasker was third).
Harry Nelson Pillsbury
Oddly, in St Petersburg 1895/96, where only 4 players played 6 games against each other, Pillsbury beat Lasker 2 games to one with two draws, but this time Lasker won the event by beating Steinitz (3 wins, 1 loss, 2 draws) and Chigorin (4 wins and two draws) while Pillsbury came in third!
Let’s take a look at a Pillsbury win from St Petersburg:
Sadly, Pillsbury died young (33) from syphilis. His score against Lasker was a fantastic 5 wins, 5 losses, 4 draws.
Two quotes by Alekhine:
“Pillsbury aspired for the candle of his life to burn constantly at both ends. ‘Wine, women, and not harmless songs, but strong cigars’ - this was Pillsbury’s principle in life.”
“Lasker was my teacher, and without him I could not have become whom I became. The idea of chess art is unthinkable without Emanuel Lasker.”
Here are two more puzzles (two parts of the same game!) from the St Petersburg tournament:
Finally one more game from St Petersburg, but this game is one of the greatest of all time. I’ll offer it as a series of puzzles, and then give the whole game for your viewing enjoyment. Keep in mind that many of the upcoming puzzles are just possible variations from the game and were not actually played.
Here’s the game in full, without notes (you can see the key notes in the puzzles). It features moments of incredible brilliance, time trouble errors, frayed nerves, missed opportunities, and an incredible end by Lasker who finally drags his prey down. Play over it as if it were a movie, and let the emotional intensity of the violent battle wash over you.