The Battle of Opposites

  • GM BryanSmith
  • | May 23, 2013

If you have any knowledge of chess history, you have probably heard of the theoretical dispute - and antagonism - between Siegbert Tarrasch and Aron Nimzowitsch, the leaders of the classical and hypermodern schools (respectively). It appears that the conflict between the two great players was not limited to a theoretical and creative disagreement, but also had some personal elements. Nimzowitsch wrote that he saw Tarrasch as a mediocre person, who was unable to conceive of new ideas. Tarrasch, for his part, wrote many negative things about Nimzowitsch's play - "bizarre, unaesthetic". I would guess that he saw him as a bit of a punk.

The two players each had very definite ideas about how chess should be played. Tarrasch liked a very straightforward kind of chess, and valued control of space, the two bishops, the pawn center, and attacking play. Nimzowitsch's chess was a little more "crooked" - he was willing to play cramped positions, liked closed positions, counter-attacking play, and valued bishops less than Tarrasch did. If you pick a piece to symbolize each guy, then Tarrasch would be a bishop and Nimzowitsch a knight.


Tarrasch has gone down in history as a kind of pedagogue, who was rather dogmatic, rigid, and unoriginal, despite being a very strong player. Nimzowitsch is usually seen in a more favorable light - as a very creative, original player who enriched chess with his ideas. However, you can see from his writings that he was every bit as dogmatic as Tarrasch, just in a different way. It's not surprising that these two strong and contrasting personalities would clash. Nowadays the idea that two chess players would dislike each other because of differing styles of play and different conceptions of chess seems ridiculous. But back then, when overarching ideas of chess were being developed, the players took them very seriously.

The first game between Tarrasch and Nimzowitsch took place at Nuremburg in 1904. This was a "casual" game - not part of any tournament or official match.

Nowadays it would be funny for, let's say, Carlsen and Aronian to sit down for a long and fairly serious "offhand game". But back then it was more normal. For one thing, the chess world was much smaller, and there were far fewer tournaments. Chess was still not far from the days when all games were "casual". Additionally, back then the top players would go around to coffeehouses to play chess. Indeed, playing chess for money in coffeehouses was part of their livelihood.

I personally wish I played chess in those days, rather than now, when we have sterile, brightly-lit tournament rooms and computer analysis. Today, for some reason, people use "wonderful" technological devices such as Monroi which take the place of writing down the moves by pen and paper.


At the time of the game, Tarrasch was at his best, while Nimzowitsch was just starting his chess career. At 18 years old, Nimzowitsch was practically an amateur, albeit an amateur possessed of great tactical imagination. Nowadays at 18 a chess player can be a fairly experienced grandmaster, but back then it was not really the case.

I have chosen to annotate this game because it is practically unknown. As well as a very interesting fighting game, there are some serious mistakes to boot.


  • 3 years ago


    11 months ago


    Agree with Shibin123, doesn't 28..Nh5+ win the white queen?

    It would if it were a legal move but black's king would still be in check...

  • 3 years ago


    Great article and well written.

  • 3 years ago


    am I the only one who looks at the poster's rating before checking if they found an amazing solution that "Tarrasch missed" or "Nimzo overlooked". 

    2000 rating: that's interesting
    1350 rating: not going to bother looking it up.

  • 3 years ago


    [COMMENT DELETED]  Great Article . Thanks

  • 3 years ago


  • 3 years ago


    Great article thanks to IM Bryan Smith!

  • 3 years ago


    Superb !!! thnx @IM IMBryanSmith

  • 3 years ago


    Excellent, excellent article! Great annotations on a fun game, and very impressive to see how black sets up that kingside strike!

  • 3 years ago


    so I've always loved Nimzo...  read all his books n tried to learn from him.  but usually after reading his books my rating went down... However, after reading Tarrasch's book i actually improved my rating so which one is better??  well, i like Nimzo but play much more like Tarrasch. (just i'm not as good!)  Both are great and i highly reccomend either one of their books especially for beginners.

  • 3 years ago


    Great comments about these chess fathers.  Play and explore and have fun doing so together! 

  • 3 years ago


    Slarkx: No, it's a draw. 72 Bxa4 Nxa4 73 b7 Nb6+ (not 73...Nc5) 74 Kb8 Kc6 75 Kc8 Nd7, and the Black king just protects the knight by shuffling back and forth from c6 to d6 and back again until White queens, at which point the knight captures the new queen. Or, at move 74 in that line, White can play 74 Ka7, in which case Black plays 74...Nd7 right away, and then the Black king shuffles back and forth between c6 and c7 until White queens his pawn, when the d7-knight captures it.

  • 3 years ago


    I completely agree with Nosorog79 below.

    While Tarrasch's writings about chess were certainly dogmatic (keep in mind his audience was rank amateurs, it was simply easier to explain it that way), an examination of his games demonstrates he was anything but dogmatic over the board.  

    Like every great chessplayer, Tarrasch found positional resources wherever and however he could.  He would regularly play strong moves at odds with what he would write in chess literature for beginners.  

  • 3 years ago


    Thanks for the knowledge of two Grandmasters concerning The Royal Game of Chess.

  • 3 years ago


    People who say Tarrash was dogmatic just have not seen his games. Maybe he was dogmatic in discussions but in his games he was too far from that.

    Nimzowitsch did not actually invent many new ideas, he just invented many new complicated words about the old ones. He was a very strong player but very often his comments to the games seem to be quite artificial.

  • 3 years ago


    at move 72 white looks to be in advantage. Possible continuations would be 1. bishop take pawn, knight take bishop, pawn advance row 7, knight chase pawn, pawn become queen. White can go queen king vs king 2. White advance pawn, black knight capture pawn, king takes knight. Then White can go King-bishop vs king.

  • 3 years ago


    interesting article, thanks for posting. 

  • 3 years ago


    Possibly Tarrasch was not as dogmatic as history portrays him. Or perhaps it would be better to say that he at least had a sense of humor.  Why do I say this?  Tarrasch wrote a book about his best games called 'Dreihundert Schachpartien' (Three Hundred Chess Games).  In that book, the young Siegbert Tarrasch, on the very first move of the very first game played: 1.a3!

  • 3 years ago


    Happy to see Tarrasch only draw the game after making that arrogant remark!

  • 3 years ago


    At move 28 white was in very much trouble indeed. For instance..             1. Rxh2+ 2. Kxh2 Nxf1+ 3. Kh1 Qh6+ 4. Qh2 Qxh2#

  • 3 years ago


    @ Oman86 black is under attack!!, is in CHECK, he can not move the knight to h5!!.

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