Tim's Tournament Book Blog XII: Carlsbad 1929

Jun 15, 2016, 4:18 PM |

Carlsbad 1929
By Aron Nimzovich
Translate by Jim Marfia
Dover Publications, 2004.
146 pages

The Carlsbad 1929 tournament was  a star studded event but is mainly remembered as the greatest victory by Aron Nimzovich.  In a field of 22 players  the “My System” author finished with 15 points, a half point ahead of Capablanca and Spielmann who started the tournament strong but faded down the stretch.  Nimzovich’s victory signaled his arrival as one of the strongest players in the world and spurred him to seek a title match with the world champion Alexander Alekhine.  Unfortunately, Alekhine chose to play Bogolyubov twice during the peak of Nimzovich’s powers and even if Alekhine had been game Nimzovich was having trouble raising the match stakes due to his ability to rub many people the wrong way.
Sadly, heart problems would claim the life of this great hypermodern innovator just six years after his greatest triumph. 

Since this book only contained thirty games from the tournament I decided to play through them all.  Most of the games were interesting and I have listed below those of note.

Games of Note

Game 5: Vidmar-Nimzovich Round 18: This is a great example of a relentless attack by Nimzovich.  Moreover, it is one of his best strategic explanations as he outlines his plans in great detail.  The game finishes with a tactical flourish that leads to a won endgame.

Game 7: Nimzovich-Tartakover Round 21: A great strategic maneuvering game.

Game 9: Capablanca-Treybal Round 10: A beautiful game where Capablanca elegantly maneuvers his pieces, improving his position to the absolute max before striking out.

Game 28: Samisch-Grunfeld Round 18: Good game that shows expert maneuvering that leads to a powerful attack

Game 29: Maroczy-Canal Round 14: Bold Sicilian where white presses his pawns but keeps a close eye on black countering him when needed before converting his assault to a winning rook and pawn endgame.

Game 30: Canal-Johner Round 19: Raw power chess as white mercilessly takes advantage of mistakes by black.

For the two games I intend to highlight I chose a game where Nimzovich shows how to defend against a rook on the 7th while for the other I chose an interesting clash of styles between a player who likes to be creative and one who plays with almost clinical precision.

First, game number 6 between Nimzovich and Spielmann

Next we have Vidmar and Euwe mixing like oil and water.


Story of the Tournament
There is only a brief overview given by Nimzovich in his introduction outing the course of the event.  The translator’s introduction mentions a few tidbits but Mr. Marfia mainly focuses his comments on Nimzovich himself. 


The annotations by Nimzovich are varied and complex.  They also assume that the reader has a basic knowledge of the principles laid out in My System.  As such, the annotations run the gamut from educational to aggravating.

In general there is a mixture of both variations and words.  However, both types have some significant flaws.  When Nimzovich explains strategic and positional concepts he often does so in the belief that his audience has heard of (and more importantly) read his book.  So when he describes a position as being an example of blockade he says just that without even a perfunctory explanation of the term.  When he does take the time to explain the players plans and maneuvers they use to execute those plans are the sharpest and clearest parts of the book. 
Nimzovich loves to also give lengthy variations so he would be right at home with some modern commentators as he also mimics their lack of explanation to all those moves.  At most he posts a comment like “black is better” but what exactly that means and more to the point why is black better is left for the reader to discern on his own.  Now I don’t think everything has to be spoon fed but at least a few more words so the reader can compare his own thoughts as to why “black is better”  with Nimzovich’s would be nice.  A number of times I also ran into the “very fine play” comment which was equally maddening. 

Overall, the annotations are worth the effort but the reader would do well to acquaint themselves with the basic concepts Nimzovich espoused in his works.

Biographical Information

I have read a lot of tournament books over the years (not just the ones I have done so far for this blog) and I have to say that the biographical information contained therein is the most unique I have ever come across.

Most of the general player information comes from Nimzovich’s introduction.  Translator Jim Marfia gives a good overview of the career and character of Nimzovich in his preface as well.  But the most intriguing information about the players is found at the start of the individual chapters on the prize winners.

Unlike other books, Nimzovich organized his Carlsbad 1929 book by player rather than a round by round format that is the norm of most tournament books.  He devotes a chapter to himself, Capablanca, Spielmann, and Rubinstein before finishing the book by lumping the other prize winners into one chapter followed by another chapter covering all the non prize winners.

The introduction to each chapter is firmly viewed through the prism of Nimzovich’s very firm and principled beliefs in what he calls Neo-Romaticism and My System. This leads to his assessment of each player ranging from the enthusiastic to the puzzled to the dismissive.

When it comes to Spielmann, Nimzovich is very enthusiastic about the formers transition from pure tactical player to positional understanding built on the My System format.  With Capablanca, the author sees the Cuban growing to embrace the Neo-Romantic principles.  Rubinstein appears to be a puzzle and Nimzovich describes the Poles style with the beautiful oxymoron of “dynamic simplification.”  As for the others he applauds Vidmar’s creative complexity, shows disdain for Euwe’s clinical approach and his comment on Becker is so priceless it deserves to be quoted in full:
“It is difficult to find anything whatever to say about Becker.  He has no recognizable chess physiognomy-indeed.  God only knows how he gets through his games.” 

For those readers interested in the players and their styles reading Nimzovich’s analysis combined with the games he has chosen to illustrate that style will be very rewarding.

Coverage of Games
Of the 231 games played only 30 are included in this work.  Those selected are not necessarily illustrative of the tournament as a whole but rather have been chosen to fit Nimzovich’s credo.
The work contains no index either or players or openings although the table of contents does list each game.
One other note: the games are given in long algebraic notation (Qe7-h4) which I find to be annoying.

Production Value
Dover publications are known for their sturdy books and this one is no exception.  The book easily lies flat and the paper is of good quality.  The book is so flexible that even after lying flat open the covers will not curl or warp. 

Final Evaluation

Die Hard

I gave the book the Die Hard label for several reasons.

First, there are only 30 games out of the total of 231.  That’s a mere 13% of the games!!  If one really wants to see what happened at Carlsbad 1929, you will have to look elsewhere.

Second, Nimzovich makes no attempt to hide his predilections and all the games he chose are viewed solely through that prism.  Right now, I could not tell you how many really good attacking games were played as Nimzovich really only included two wild attacking games among his choices.  I don’t mind that Nimzovich is espousing his system, but what I do mind is not having all the games whether they fit his preconceived notions or not.

Third, the book lacks any real details about the tournament itself.  Granted, Nimzovich’s analysis of his fellow players is intriguing but the actual course and drama of the tournament itself is sorely lacking.

Fourth, there are no indexes to help track down information on openings or players.  The table of contents mitigates the former but with the latter the reader is hung out to dry.

Fifth, in order to truly enjoy this book you must first know about Nimzovich and the principles he outlines in My System.  So unless you have read this book, the real value of the analysis will often be missed.  

Sixth, there is a lot of shameless self promotion on the part of Nizmovich.  While I believe it is not enough to mar the book, the tone he takes does border on the polemic at times.

Bottom Line:
This tournament book is unlike any other I have come across in the nearly thirty years I have played and studied chess.  It is a book that is a bit of an conundrum.  One the one hand, Nimzovich’s style is entraining and there are lessons to be learned here but on the other hand this book is less about the tournament than about Nimzovich, his achievement and how others are embracing (or not) his new theories. 
 In the end, this book will really only appeal to two sets of readers: those who absolutely love tournament books (like me) and those who are fans of Aron Nimzovich.