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The Top 10 Chess Games Of The 1920s (And 120+ Honorable Mentions)

The Top 10 Chess Games Of The 1920s (And 120+ Honorable Mentions)

SamCopeland
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9

The 1920s were one of the most storied decades in chess. Emerging from the greatest traumas the world had ever known in World War I and the influenza pandemic, the world western and the chess world saw a decade of prosperity known as The Roaring Twenties. The last true super-tournament had been St. Petersburg, 1914, prior to the outbreak of World War I later that year.

In my view, the 1920s were also one of the most instructive decades in chess history as greats like Alekhine, Capablanca, and Nimzowitsch radically outclassed many opponents and demonstrated forcefully their abilities to win games with superior and novel strategies and positional understanding.

The 1920s featured two huge tournaments and two huge world championship matches. The matches were Emanuel Lasker vs. Jose Capablanca in 1921 and Jose Capablanca vs. Alexander Alekhine in 1927. The tournaments were New York, 1924 and New York, 1927.

The decade kicked off with the long awaited World Championship match between Lasker and Capablanca. The two had been courting the idea in a bitter and public fashion ever since Capablanca burst onto the scene in 1909. Lasker had put off the Cuban's challenge, but after 27 years on the throne, the chess world was determined to see a match. For his part, Lasker wished to concede the title without a match, but Capablanca knew that this would not satisfy fans, and after much negotiation, the two did meet over the board in Havana. Capablanca proved at this point in their careers to be the clearly superior player and after he scored four wins and no losses in fourteen games, Lasker resigned the match.

Capablanca vs Lasker
Capablanca and Lasker in Moscow, 1925.

In another major tournament shortly thereafter, London 1922, Capablanca managed to find time on his way to victory to set out the London rules to provide clarity to future World Championship challenges and matches. The rules made it more difficult for a champion to put off a challenger, but only if the challenger had secured financial backing to the tune of $10,000 - a fortune at the time. In the coming depression era, this would prove a significant challenge to Capablanca when the shoe was on the other foot, and he sought a rematch.

In New York, 1924, Lasker shocked the world by winning convincingly against the illustrious field. In the 11-player double round robin, Lasker scored an amazing 16 points of a possible 20. The new champion, Capablanca, was a point and a half back on 14.5. The surging future challenger, Alekhine, finished in third. Lasker's amazing victory was neither the first nor the last time that he showed his incredible longevity and ability to best the younger generations.

The field in New York, 1924. The top row is Marshall, Tartakower, Maroczy, Alekhine, Reti, Bogoljubow. The bottom row is Yates, Capablanca, Janowski, Ed. Lasker, Em. Lasker.

New York, 1927, was a smaller tournament with six players, but by making it a quadruple round robin, the organizers still ensured 20 total games for every player. Capablanca was not able to equal Lasker's incredible score of 16 points three years earlier, but this time his 14 points secured a 2.5 point margin of victory over the runner-up, Alekhine. Prior to the tournament, Capablanca and Alekhine had agreed to terms for a match in September, and while Alekhine had been playing exciting chess and was widely considered the natural challenger to Capablanca, few gave him much chance of defeating the Cuban in their showdown.

In game one, Alekhine immediately proved his mettle by defeating Capablanca with a nice tactic and excellent follow-up play. This proved to be no fluke as Alekhine's work ethic and preparation paid off in a 6-3 victory (draws not counting) in the 34-game match - the second longest world championship match ever to be played, and the longest with a decisive result.

Alekhine vs. Capablanca in 1927. Photo: Wikipedia.

Alekhine's victory capped a fine decade for the Russian maestro as he had been one of the most successful players throughout the decade and had dazzled chess fans with his many brilliant victories. Bitter about having to surface $10,000 for the right to a World Championship match, Alekhine understandably set the same requirement for Capablanca in a rematch. Capablanca could not raise the money after the financial collapse though. Alekhine was still willing to play two matches against Efim Bogoljubow for smaller sums - in 1929 and 1931. These he won easily.

The 1920s, a booming time, soon gave way to the 1930s, another decade with strong chess but less economic prosperity and increasing global tensions.

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See also: Top 10 of the 1930s, Top 10 of the 1940s, Top 10 of the 1950s, Top 10 of the 1960s, Top 10 of the 1970s, Top 10 of the 1980s, Top 10 of the 1990s, Top 10 of the 2000s, and Top 10 of the 2010s

Top 10 Games of the 1920s

#1: Alekhine vs. Yates, 1922

#2: Maroczy vs. Tartakower, 1922

#3: Capablanca vs. Tartakower, 1924

#4: Najdorf vs. Gliksberg, 1929

#5: Nimzowitsch vs. Rubinstein, 1926

#6: Imbaud vs. Strumilo, 1922

#7: Reti vs. Lasker, 1924

#8: Denker vs. Feit, 1929

#9: Reti vs. Euwe, 1920

#10: Torre vs. Banks, 1924

Honorable Mentions