Tim's Tournament Book Blog VI: St. Petersburg 1914

Apr 21, 2016, 1:52 PM |

St. Petersburg 1914 International Chess Tournament
By Dr. Siegbert Tarrasch
Translated by Dr. Robert Maxham
Edited by Dale Brandreth
Caissa Editions, 1993
267 pages

St. Petersburg 1914 remains one of the seminal events in chess history. 

It featured a battle between the old guard of Lasker and Tarrasch, the hungry young lions of Casablanca, Alekhine, and Marshall.  The tournament had one of the great failures in chess history when Akiba Rubinstein failed to qualify for the final section.  Rubinstein’s failure is staggering when one considers that between St. Petersburg 1909 and the 1914 tournament he played eleven tournaments( at one point winning five in a row during 1911-12) where he finished either first or second every time (eight firsts and three seconds).
   It is the tournament where, according to many, the term grandmaster was first conferred upon elite chess players (in this case Lasker, Capablanca, Alekhine, Tarrasch, and Marshall) by none other than Tsar Nicholas II.  It was a clash that featured eleven rounds of battle followed by a finals section where the top five finishers duked it out for supremacy.  I must note that I did some research on this (since I too, had grown up hearing this story) after nothing that the title was used in the Carlsbad 1907 tournament book which I featured in an earlier blog.  Turns out that the main source of the Tsar story comes from Marshall with little support elsewhere.  Doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, but it is food for throught.
The tournament featured a photo finish where Lasker edged Capablanca by a mere half point.  Lasker was indeed in fine form as he took 1.5 points from the future Cuban world champion while collecting both points from Alekhine!!

The St. Petersburg 1914 tournament is a legendary tournament.  Like AVRO 1938 or Zurich 1953 it was an epoch shaping event that changed the chess landscape.

For this tournament I followed sifted through each round following Lasker, Alekhine, and Capabalanca in particular.

Games of Note
Lasker-Rubinstein Round 4: This game contains an excellent endgame lesson.  The notes here are very helpful and very detailed.

Nimzovitch-Tarrasch Round 5: Great king hunt game where the German grandmaster relentlessly hunts down the white king!

Alekhine-Capablanca Round 6: Great game showing relentless pressure by the Cuban.  The future Russian world champion seems to thrash about with almost no plan at all!  A very strange sight to behold!!

Lasker-Alekhine Finals Round 1: Great display by Lasker of attacking but also shutting down even the slightest hint of counterplay for the opponent.

Lasker-Capablanca Finals Round 7: The classic game featuring no less than eight pages of notes, dripping with knowledge.

As always I chose two of my favorite games to feature and, as always, the notes are all my own.

First is Alekhine-Marshall from Round 4 of the preliminaries.  The game is a wonderful example of turning one advantage into another and is a great example of Nimzovich’s theories about how to exploit open files.


The second game is Capablanca-Janowski from Round 9 of the preliminaries.  This is a textbook example of how to unleash a pawn storm with proper piece support.


Story of the Tournament
This section is great!
The background of the tournament is given in several manners.  First, there are contemporary newspaper accounts which give that “in the moment” feel.  Second, there is detailed information from the organizers and their perspective.  Third, there is a journal type section entitled Progress of the Tournament which gives a terrific narrative.  Finally, there is a nice roughly half page intro for each round giving an overview of how each game was contested.  For those interested in the history of a tournament, you cannot get any better than this!

The annotations for each game are outstanding, a veritable gold mine of knowledge  just waiting to be extracted.
Tarrasch’s original notes are very detailed both in words and variations.  This is, by far, the most detail I have ever seen of the explanations of moves and strategy being executed by the players.  There are also plenty of variations for those who enjoy line after line of moves.  All annotations are done in the column style format making study easy and enjoyable. 
If that wasn’t enough the editor, Dr. Brandreth has included notes for some of the games from other famous works such as Reti’s Masters of the Chessboard and Capablanca’s Chess Fundamentals.  By doing so some games (such as game 69 from the finals section between Lasker and Capablanca) have nearly eight pages of notes!!! Any student taking the time to comb carefully through these detailed notes will be richly rewarded. 
As my own testament to how much information is here, I took nearly an entire week to play through the games as I carefully went over about one third of all the games to write this blog.

Biographical Information
There is no individual section on this per se but there is plenty of information about the players throughout the book.  Granted, one does have to look for it, but the sections on the story of the tournament are so well written that you will want to take the time to go over them.  There is one nice large photo of the participants towards the beginning of the book.  Individual photos of the players can be found throughout the book.

Coverage of Games
All 75 games are here and all are extensively annotated.

Production Value

Once again, this is a great volume from the Caissa Editions library of Dale A. Brandreth Books.
This beautiful red hard back volume is printed on high quality paper with good size print and sharp diagrams.  The book contains cross tables for both the preliminary and final rounds, an index of games by opening name (no ECO), and a cross table of the players games so you can easily look up and individual clash between the competitors.

Final Evaluation


There are several reasons why this book is essential.  First, the sheer history of the tournament.  Second, the enormous detail on the landmark event.  Third, it is interesting to see the young Alekhine and Nimzovich in their ascent.  Finally, the in-depth annotations are on an elite level.  Theses are the kind of notes that aspiring layers relish to show the inner workings of the grandmaster mind.  Granted, some comments on the openings obviously have to be relegated to history, but the strategy, considerations of piece placement, and discussions on pawn structure constitute a wealth of knowledge.

Bottom Line: This book is a must for any serious player.  The amount that one can learn from the annotations alone is mind boggling.  Add in the spirited games of these legendary players and the generational clash and you have a book of games whose careful study will reward the reader for years to come.