Steinitz End

I realize that this deserves it’s own post.  I was going over how Steinitz lost to Lasker today, and here is my own analysis of what I came up with.  Comments of course are appreciated.  I feel that Steinitz in his prime was ridiculously better than he was in these games, but it shows how much of a performance that a chess game can be.  Steinitz had mad-skilz when he was winning in his prime, but all it takes is not being ready for prime-time (vs the “all you need is skills” way of thinking about performance) to come up with a completely disasterous result.  Let’s take the treadmill away from Magnus, tack on 100 lbs, and see if he can beat Aronian or Caruana – all who are very skinny, BTW, no wasted blood circulation among those three!

When I go over a Max Euwe game, I can already tell the difference in the quality of play (Tartakower’s is strong in relation, too) between the later era the 19th century era.  Whereas, the more modern era’s of chess are more intuitive, back in the 19th century they didn’t have a lot of games to look at, so they had to rely on calculating things out more, and they had time to do it, so the results always looked fantastic whether the play was good or bad.

I just looked at two games by Lasker vs. Steinitz, and they both make me scratch my head.  So for example:

Earlier in that game, I would have played 9..g6, which would be a more modern take.  I think 11…Nc4? is already uber-crazy as it chases the queen to a good square (g3) and leaves night and bishop in the lurch.  11…BxB should be obvious enough to be all but blitzed out – but stuff like that is how their games get so crazy.

18…Ne5?  Who does this?  18…c5 is screaming to be played.  After 19.bxc Qc5 or better yet 19…Nxc5! Black should be okay.  But just look at what happens next.  To us, this is all intuitive, we would find there to be no need to play with fire as they did so frequently back then.

Here is another:
36…Nge5?  Same sort of mistake as in previous game, letting the opponent’s knight get wild.  After 36..g6, 37.hxg6 Kxg6, 38.Nd4 Bxd4 it’s a draw.  Alternatively, if 38.Nc1 …d4, 39.cxd4 Rd5, 40.Nb3 a5, and now 41.a4?? RxNb3, and if 41.Nc5 BxNc5, 42.dxc5 Rxc5.

In our day intuition, combined with about 10 minutes on your clock to spend on this move, would find a right answer to draw this game, and actually we have very little time to work with, and OTB in time-pressure, I can calculate these things fairly quickly.  I believe Steinitz was old and Lasker young, so pretty sure that Steinitz was gettting blitzed here, even though Lasker did like long time-controls (as opposed to Capablanca, who in his turn blitzed Lasker).  Fischer blitzed Spassky, Carlsen blitzes Anand, the chain of progression never breaks.  😉

It can be difficult to play against someone whose pace is so much faster than yours, as it leaves you time-warping on your clock, not realizing that the whole game is going by on your own clock.  Even Dean had about an hour to my seven minutes, but then I blitzed him down to 20 minutes.  Roles were reversed, we were instead now both thinking on his clock.

Third example

9.Nb3  This might be a good move, but it’s the footloose and fancy-free air to their games that this is characteristic of.  It’s as if there were a tease factor going on where they could simply reposition their pieces endlessly.  A modern take (or my take) might be 9.Be3, and if 9…Nd5?, 10.Ne4!

24.b5?  This move is a long way off.  24.h3 would make more sense, and then to reposition the White pieces more actively first.

43.Nd7?? Giving up his knight for two pawn.  In the notes below he says it should be a draw after 43.Na6?! when White will trade on c1.  White will definitely not trade here and will instead play for a win.  Perhaps …Qb7 or …Qb6, …Be6 (..Bh3), …h6.  Black has all kinds of nice moves, so there should be a better plan than to trade off for a draw.  43.RxR BxR, 44.Ne4 Bxb5 (or ..Qxb5), 45.Nd6 QxNd6, 46.QxBb5 would seem to be (hate to wear out this term) a more modern way to play for a draw.

Then I see Steinitz says “The ending is beautifully played by Lasker”.  Man, that was like the household ravenous dog licking up the floor after table-scraps were thrown down.  hehe.  I wouldn’t exactly call that an ending, particularly when it is against a young, energetic opponent with plenty of clock time.  Even then you can see that Lasker 3-fold repetitioned the position, which would be a draw today, but back then you had to six-fold repetition or repeat the moves three times and not the position, stuff like that (so Lasker still felt the need to gain clock-time there).

It’s a “broken-record” now.  Four out of four needless losses by Steinitz (I don’t want to slam Lasker too hard, after all 4 out of 4 is the best one can do.  hehe.  But I wouldn’t say that Lasker is best evuh! just by looking at a lot of games like this, as he clearly had the draw in hand himself the entire time)  😉

Fourth Example:

Finally, someone in the comments agreed with me, last comment at the bottom.  21.Kb2 and if 21..Ba6, then 22.Nc1 offers a bishop trade, and if 21…Na5, then 22.Nf2 is covering both e4 with the knight, and c4 with the bishop.  Needless loss.

If this were a marching song out of the “Jody Callbook” it would be this one:

The sad part is that this isn’t the “real Steinitz”, this is just the shell of a chessplayer, six years before his death, who was probably in terrible health and needed the cash (he died in poverty, apparently penniless).

Fifth Example

Wow, people aren’t even commenting on these games.  It’s as if they’ve given up, much like Steinitz had, or Stenitz was only looking at the ending superficially.  I remember seeing in a picture that Steinitz was incredibly overweight by this period, so you knew he was on his last legs here.

14…a5?  Why would Black force White to make a move he wants to make anyway, namely b5 to stop Bc6?  14…Nc6-d7, and if 15.b5, then ..Nd5 here will equalize, should be a draw without any real trouble.

25…Ke7?? 25…RxR, 26.RxR dxe, 27.Bxe+ Be6, 28.Bxb7 Bb4.  Now if 29.Ra1 Rd8, and 29.Rc7+ is going nowhere soon either.  Looks like a draw to me.  Granted, it’s easier to know where he went wrong AFTER we saw how strong d6+ was, but still, this _is_ a world championship match, supposedly anyway.  Also, 26..Kf6?  Either 26…Kf7 or 26..Kd8 look stronger, but perhaps it’s still already too late.  I like 26…Kd8, then 27.RxR BxR, 28.g3 (to stop ..Rf4), then ..e4, 29.Ke3 e5 shedding the pawns.  If White can trade bishops and center pawns, then this may still be a draw.

Sixth Example

30…Qh4 Steinitz is going for useless activity here, which explains his subsequent moves.  Obviously Steinitz was before Petrosian, whereas Petrosian might giggle at this position and play a …Rd5 exchange sac fortress.

Of course, getting a knight there would be ideal, and Black can first play 30…Rc7 and if 31.Bb3, Black has the resource 31…Rc6 as well.  Ideal solution might be to play …Re7-e8, …Ng6-d7-d5 or to c6.  But even if an exchange sac is done right away on d5, then ..Re4 is a powerful response from that position, and White would have tons of work to do, and it’s still probably only a draw if Black plays well (they would both have lots of work to do, don’t get me wrong) – however, well played is still well played.

Seventh Example

At this point, I am having a moral epiphany.  (32.Rb1?? Or as Brian Wall might say “I didn’t think this was a legal move!”) How does anyone not play 32.Kg2 here?  32.Kg2 with the idea of Re2 and Be2-g4xNf5.  This once again, as in the other games, should be a draw.

It’s surprising how many of the comments on this Idée fixe on the tactical resolution of the game, which is generally something that should have never occured, is the real point I am trying to make.  But hey man, if you want tactics, these old games have them in spades!  hehe.

I have to admit that the tactical part of that ending was quite beautiful, but it was also poetic justice as White was still trying to play for a win himself, not satisfied to play for a draw from an even or slightly inferior position.  In fact, it seems as if “the drawing chromosome” was absent from Steinitz’ play.  Perhaps there was some strange stipulation that the winner of each game gets an extra fifty bucks, and hence no incentive to play for a draw?  Or perhaps that draws counted toward a fixed number of games to be played, and so it was this “got to make up for the losses” mentality.

Steinitz 8th and final loss to Lasker in this match  is here:

This post has quickly become the meme of “Improve your chess by finding the draw for Steinitz!”  Well, here goes.  First, after 20…Bxf3?! The White light-squared bishop has no opponent.  The easy draw was better to be had with 20…Bf5, 21.Rd1 (otherwise …Bd3+ and e4 become possible.  A king move would hand the keep the initiative with Black) Rxd1, and the position doesn’t seem so dangerous once the rooks are off.

25..Ne8?!   25..Bc7 breaks the pin, and 26.Rc1 Bb8 should hold.  26…Rd7?  He’s definitely seeing ghosts now as 26…a6, 27.Na7 with the idea of 28.Nc6 leads nowhere.  If 28.Ba4, Black has ..b5, and if Bf5 let’s say, then …Rc7 will attack the Nc6.

28…a6?  Yes, 28…Rb7 gives up the e-pawn (one pawn in sum total), but this move gives up the exchange in order to not drop the pawn (which will now still need to be  defended, naturally).

Anyway, that is pretty much the game right there, IMHO, the rest is technique, which Dr. Lasker definitely has.

9th loss, yes I found another

21…Re6 gives Black a small advantage, I feel, and simplifies things a bit for Black, less risky.  Apparently Steinitz missed 32…Kf8 according to one kibitzer, and should have won this brilliant game, brilliant for Steinitz!  But, he flubbed it up and now everybody thinks that Lasker is the brilliant one.  lol.  This was the most computeresque of all the games that I mentioned, the only one that seems truly fritz-worthy.  Computers by definition take on risk, lots of it, and can change their minds back and forth every two seconds; humans never have this luxury OTB.

Game 10, the final one:

12…Nb5? Oh goody, the bone-headed move is easy to spot this time.  After 12..RxBd8 (is as plain as Day) it is equal, Black has a comfortable game.  It’s really a shame as he had outplayed Lasker up until then.  You get the feeling that Lasker, with his useless openings, is thinking to himself “I wonder how my opponent is going to f** it up this time?!”

There was a chess lecture in St. Louis, GM Bryan Smith said something like “I don’t know if Zukertort was a good tactical player or not” (lost to Steinitz in the game he showed).  Zukertort was an excellent tactical player, IMO, BTW.  Would have been funny if someone had replied.  “I dunno, you’re paired against him next week, you should check out his games!”


3 thoughts on “Steinitz End

  1. This post is on Steinitz, but it’s just as obviously about Lasker. I want to throw in an example of Lasker vs Tarrasch to illustrate something:
    This game requires a background. Over and over again there is a trend in Lasker vs Tarrasch. Lasker plays an inferior “come and get me” type of opening, Tarrasch willingly overextends, and so Lasker has a chance to “refute the refutation” as it were. But this sort of position just kills me. You can read the notes at chessgames where fans call this some sort of bad-bishop genius-like brilliant win by Lasker, but I beg to differ. Lasker must be pitying his opponent, and should know that he could beat himself from the other side, if either side were to win.

    Magnus would probably cringe if he did not win this position for Black with some sort of victory formation starting with Kh6, and then let Black rook have f-file, allowing ..Rb7, …Kb6,…b5, etc

    Lasker’s games are the classic case of the higher-rated player winning from a slightly inferior position; his games are almost like the cliche. One can only picture his opponents pouting after a game “Darn! I should have won, should have won”. It’s tougher to win a game of chess than it is to lose, and Lasker had more toughness. Nothings changed, ratings still work like this to this day.

    Part of the moral of this story is to watch how the stronger player gets the weaker player to overextend. I have made this mistake many times against higher-rateds or even if it’s not a mistake, lost the game anyway, and likewise for lower-rated opponents against myself.

    Having said the above, now Lasker can use that against his opponent, knowing that if Tarrasch cannot find one strong reply such as 6.Bb5! dxe, 7.Nxe5 that Tarrasch, handling the White pieces, will go into full-freakout mode not being willing to hold a more or less even position, and still insisting on being “White/right”.

    Carlsen must have stumbled upon Lasker’s games:

    Black resigns probably because Rg2-h2-h7 or Rh8 would be unstoppable, then Ke5 and White can clean up all the queenside pawns. It’s lost way before this though.

    I looked at this game:
    …and thought to myself. “Couldn’t Black have defended with 30…Nf5!(?)” and then going down the notes someone shows a line where Chigorin shows that it should have. Knuckles, Chigo! Glad I bothered to pan down.

  2. Finally I found a gap between all the activities in this crazy time of the year to comment on your game and look at these old games. They are really weird games I have to tell.
    They look very strange from the modern point of view, kind of anti-positional to me.
    Times change, what can I say.
    Happy New Year !

  3. Cool. They are strange. I don’t know why Steinitz seemed so anti-positional here, by today’s standards.

    Pretty much any of the players whose games appear in books could be calculating monster’s or tactical wizards at times, but it is so surprising how they can almost universally lose positionally. Lasker was ahead of his time positionally, so his wins really stand out. It’s as if Magnus got into a time machine, went back as Lasker, and “showed them his moves”.

    You can see by my recent loss how this applied to me as well, but I have less clock-time than they had back in those days.

    Yes! Happy New Year! 🙂

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