Tim's Tournament Book Blog II: Cologne, 1898

Apr 4, 2016, 2:35 PM |

11th German Chess Association Congress Cologne, 1898
Vlastimil Fiala
Publishing House Moravian Chess, 1997
264 pages

The Cologne 1898 tournament is likely not very well known for a few reasons.  First, it did not feature a lot of players that the average chess player would recogniz.  Second, the tournament was eclipsed by the powerful double round robin Vienna tournament of the same year which involved the likes of Tarrasch, Pillsbury and Janowski and took place before Cologne which started a mere seven days after Vienna was completed.
  In the end, the event was won by Amos Burn one of the giants of the 19th Century English chess scene.  Burn had also played in the Vienna event and finished seventh.  A few other players (Chigorin, Steinitz, and Schlechter) also played in both tournaments.  The energy levels of these men must have been amazing to go directly from a tournament consisting of 36 games and then, with only a 6 day break, battle for another 15 rounds at Cologne. 

The following game between Schlechter and Steinitz from Round Eleven is my favorite from this tournament.  Schlechter beats Steinitz like a rented mule in this game which is amusing to me given the reputatiton that Schlechter was a drawing machine.

Please note: all comments in the game are mine


Story of the Tournament
The Cologne 1898 book makes for fascinating reading as not only does it give a very detailed and interesting account of the tournament, but it also outlines a mystery: why was there no book published of this particular German Chess Association Congress when all the others had a volume written about them?
The answer, as the author details, is that Max Lange was entrusted with the score sheets and assured everybody and anybody that he would publish a book forthwith.  Unfortunately, the score sheets were soon lost.  Thus, a book was never published about the tournament until Vlastimil Fiala painstakingly went through all the newspapers, magazines and other sources he could find to assemble this work.  Even with all his diligence the author was still only able to locate 54 of the games from the tournament.
The narrative regarding the authors search(covering roughly ten pages) is interesting for the scholarship alone.  The tournament itself is well covered with a round by round narrative before the games with a nice, large cross table.  And for each round afterwards, there are several columns about the battles those rounds.  Not surprisingly, this leads to some repetition, but it takes nothing away from the quality of the story of this great tournament. 

The annotations in the book, which are all in English algebraic format(although sometimes German Algebraic sneaks in) , are varied and wide ranging.  Many notes come from the newspapers and magazines that the author used to track down the game.  There are both variations and word analysis. The word analysis is of particular interest as it is clear and concise which benefits the student of chess with a rich well of ideas.  Since different newspaper columnists had different approaches, the games are a bit uneven in that sometimes there are detailed notes that run a few pages while other times there are but a few moves or sometimes nothing at all.
There are a few things that can be challenging.   First, the format of the annotations.  Unlike some other books, the game and supporting notes are given in a narrative type format so one must be careful not to lose track of the actual moves of the games.  That being said, the actual moves of the game are in heavy, bold print making that task a lot easier.  Second, the author puts letters to indicate the source of the comments which is commendable from a research standpoint but cane become distracting at times. 
Overall, the annotations are excellent and careful study of the games will be rewarding.

Biographical Information
Quite simply, this is one of the finest player biography sections I have ever seen.
Each player is given a brief outline at the top of his section including an estimated ELO rating.  Following this is an outline of the player highlighting key personal information, chess career which ends with a conclusion section that also discusses the players style.  To round out the section, there are extensive tournament and match results charts and anywhere from two to roughly five games(some annotated) from other tournaments showing the player at his best. 
The entire section is also preceded by beautiful portraits of the players on sturdy, glossy paper.
This is an excellent exemplar for anyone tasked with writing the biographical section of a tournament book!

Coverage of Games
As noted earlier, only fifty four games and fragments exist from this tournament.  There are some extra games included from the players who, after the tournament, took the same boat home from Cologne along the Rhine enriching the book from a historical standpoint.
 Despite not having all the games included, the author is to be commended for all his extensive research and fans of Chigorin, Janowski, and Steinitz should be very thankful for his efforts.  

Production Value
Again, this is an area where the book excels. 
The hardbound book contains wonderful cross tables and charts.  The diagrams are good and the print is nice and large.  Each game also has the ECO code for the opening being played.  The index games by player as well as by ECO opening. 
I should also mention that the book contains the games of a minor tournament played at the same time.  Finally, the book ends with an extensive bibliography.  The only small nit pick I have about the book is the color.  It is a yellowish-vanilla which is unfortunate as the choice makes the outside of the book look bland, betraying the richness of the text.  It’s like putting good scotch in a plastic cup: just wrong!!!!!!

Final Evaluation:
I thought a long time before deciding where this book belonged.  On the one hand, it is a great book in terms of how a tournament book should be made.  The book gives a very thorough treatment of this lesser known tournament and in that sense one could put it in the recommended category.  However, I finally chose aficionado for a couple of reasons.  First, most players will not recognize the majority of individuals who took part in the event (I would guess maybe five of the fifteen) and readers who are into the history of chess might recognize a few more but I have to admit that I did not know the majority of the names in the cross table.  Second, the tournament is not very well known.  You are never going to hear it mentioned with say Zurich 1953, Hastings 1895, or AVRO 1938.  Finally, the development of opening theory in the last hundred plus years does limit the value of the book but, of course, one never knows: Kasparov reviving the Scotch Game opening or the arrival of the so called Berlin Wall are reason enough to say you never know when something old may once again have its place in the sun.

Bottom line: If you love either good tournament books or the history of chess, the 11th German Chess Congress: Cologne 1898 deserves a place in your collection.  Players who do not fit that description may want to pass this one by.