Tim's Tournament Book Blog V: St. Petersburg 1909

Apr 14, 2016, 3:27 PM |

St. Petersburg 1909
By Emanuel Lasker
Forward by Tim Harding
Russell Enterprises Inc.  2008
190 pages

The St. Petersburg 1909 tournament started out as nineteen players battling for supremacy but finished as a two man race between the World Champion Emanuel Lasker and the man who was beginning to look like his next challenger, Akiba Rubinstein. 
The two men tied for first with 14.5 points a whopping 3.5 points ahead of the rest of the field.  Rubinstein beat Lasker head to head but Lasker finished with more wins as the second world champion only drew three games thus finishing with a score of thirteen wins, two losses, and three draws.   Interestingly, both Lasker and Rubinstein (who lost only one game) were defeated by the same player Fyodor Ivanovich Dus-Chotimirsky.

For this tournament, I started by looking over the brilliances prizes as recommended by Tim Harding in the forward then followed the top four finishers Lasker, Rubinstein, Duras, and Spielmann.

Games of Note:
Schlechter-Salwe Round 15: One of the brilliance prize winners.

Forgacs-Tartakower Round 18: The other brilliance prize winner.

Teichmann-Spielmann Round 14: Great play by Spielmann as he converts one advantage into another first space, the passed pawn, and finally endgame supremacy.

Forgacs-Spielmann Round 16: Excellent example of taking advantage of a lead in development to exploit the enemy king still stuck in the center.

Rubinstein-Freiman Round 16: Miniature win by Rubinstein featuring development lead, timely pawn break then overloading to win material.

As always, I chose two of my favorite games from the tournament to highlight.  Notes are my own.



Needing a win to catch Rubinstein, Lasker hammers Teichmann prying open his king and finishing him off with a powerhouse assault.

Story of the Tournament
There is not much here.  Some bare notes are provided by Mr. Harding in the forward including information on openings played and Lasker provides the regulations of play for the games but that is all.  To be fair, Lasker was trying to write a book that focused on the annotations rather than trying to create the definitive account of the tournament. 

Lasker’s analysis of the games is very good overall.  He includes variations but there is more emphasis on words to describe plans and ideas.  As the World Champion himself pointed out in the preface, “The games in this book show the working of the mind of the master, and the commentary has been intended to guide the thought of him who plays over the games…”  So the book is really aimed at students of the game.  However, sometimes Lasker’s notes are uneven in that some games are deeply analyzed while others only lightly.  That said, there is much to learn from Lasker, but one does get the sense the depth of analysis is based upon the games that interested him most.
There is one puzzling part to the annotations and that lies in what Lasker, in the preface, called the glossary.  Was this another section eliminated later by him or just cut out for this edition?  More importantly, would this glossary section have been of even more help to students of the game?

Biographical Information
There is really nothing except for some light notes by Mr. Harding in the foreward.  There is a nice picture of the participants but that about does it.

Coverage of Games
All 175 games are covered and all have at least some light notes even the dreaded Grandmaster Draws.

Production Value
The publisher of this figurine algebraic notation edition of Lasker’s classic stayed true to the original version so the overall production value is what I would call solid in that they gave the public a nice, supple, quality paperback book but did not add anything.  For the original version, there is an index containing the game numbers for each participant but there is no cross referencing which is annoying.  I followed the advice of Mr. Harding and started with the two brilliancy prize games but I had to search on my own to find what round the games were played which took some time and was very vexing.  There is also an index of openings by games with no ECO but it should be noted that the games themselves do have the ECO code.

Final Evaluation


I know this book has been described as a classic by many but I have to give it the Aficionado rating for several reasons.  First, there are some really good notes here and some gems of chess wisdom but one has to be willing to dig through all 175 games to find them which, if you are not a fan of any of these players, may not be your thing.  Second, there is almost no background and biographical notes so this book is really aimed at an audience who already knows something about this tournament.  Finally, there are a lot of positional struggles so if you are a fan of the Tal school of play you are going to find the cupboard pretty bare.

Bottom Line: The people who will really appreciate this book can be put into three groups. First and foremost will be fans of Lasker. Second will be fans of Rubinstein.  This is what lead me to purchase the book when I was a much more cautious player, but in my old age I have just become quite rowdy (I used to play the French Defense and now play nothing but the Sicilian!) The third group would be endgame enthusiasts: they will find much here to ponder over.  So if you fit into one of these groups, pick this book up.  Otherwise, you may want to save your money.