A Century of Chess: Marco-Albin 1901
Georg Marco. From Wikipedia.

A Century of Chess: Marco-Albin 1901

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I was tempted to skip over this match – a small-scale event between two second-tier masters – but wanted to showcase the play of Georg Marco, who was for a long time the backbone of the chess world, sort of in the way that John Nunn, Aleksandar Matanovic, and Braslav Rabar were in a different era. Marco was the leading theoretician of his time, a prominent writer and administrator, a fanatical devotee of the game, without ever quite achieving the competitive results to match his deep chess knowledge.

Georg Marco. From Roger Paige

Marco came to Vienna to study medicine but dealt with sickness, abandoned his studies, and at some point was bitten by the chess bug and never turned back (he wrote that the first day he arrived in Vienna in 1882 he went to the chess club and found himself playing all night with a resident expert). He strikes me as a type that would become increasingly familiar over the century (think of the Bruce Pandolfini character in Searching For Bobby Fischer), highly-educated and living hand-to-mouth as a chess professional, an extension of the local chess club. His friends, eager to account for his relatively underwhelming results in international events, always pointed out that he invariably had to double-duty, simultaneously playing in the tournaments and writing his grandiloquent press accounts of them for the Wiener Schachzeitung. “This fellow Marco is an original one: he loves the big polysyllabic word and the most grotesque exaggerations,” wrote Armin Freedman in 1898. “He does not think like ordinary human beings, he sharpens and whittles his brain, he does not attack his antagonist but boldly grapples with him in Greco-Roman style.” The British Chess Magazine in 1905  described Marco's annotations as "a feast of reason and a flow of soul."

Adolf Albin. From Michael Lorenz

The match with Albin was the first event organized by Viktor Tietz, a retired tax inspector who would soon turn his city Carlsbad into one of the world’s leading chess destinations. Marco and Albin are a nice pairing, both deeply representative of Viennese chess at its peak. Both came from the outermost periphery of the German-speaking world – Albin from a German family in Bucharest, Marco from the Bukovina, the easternmost province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire – both spent most of their lives in Vienna and became fixtures of the chess scene there at a time when Vienna, rivaled only by Berlin, was the capitol of the chess world. Albin, fifteen years older, was a coffeehouse player in the style of the 1890s, partial to tricky openings and surprising tactics, willing to take on highly constricted positions and squirm out of them. Marco had absorbed the scientific, Steinitzian approach, favoring ‘correct,’ positional openings, lengthy maneuvering in the early middlegame with a disposition for bishops over knights, and a gradual expansion in space and the opening of lines. And the match can be interpreted – as was much chess of this era – as a theoretical struggle between the old and the new.

In the match Albin opted for closed openings, the French Defense and Stonewall and showed a preference for knights over bishops. A standard dynamic was for Albin (as white) to attack on the kingside while Marco organized a counter-attack along the b-file that he hoped would prove decisive in the endgame. Albin drew first blood and led for most of the match, but Marco pulled ahead in Game 8 and held on against Albin’s hack attack in the last game to win +4-2=4.