A Century of Chess: Ostend 1905
American Chess Bulletin 1905

A Century of Chess: Ostend 1905

| 13

From 1901 to 1904 the international tournament scene was dominated by the Monte Carlo series organized by the mercurial Prince Dadian of Mingrelia and his cantankerous amanuensis de Rivière. By 1905 the romance between Dadian and the chess world had frayed. A new center of gravity emerged with the Ostend series, organized by the Brussels Chess Club, administered by Isidor Gunsberg, held in a picturesque, high-end Belgian casino. I think of Ostend as a key part of a shift towards the professionalization of chess, away from the coffeehouse atmosphere of an earlier generation, towards the spas and resorts that became the natural home of classical chess. Over the next decade, tournaments tended to be frictionlessly well-organized, with very few off-the-chessboard stories comparable to the annual exclusions and incessant spats of Monte Carlo.

American Chess Bulletin 1905

We are at the high-water mark of Géza Maróczy's career. Maróczy made his claim to being a legitimate contender for the world championship by winning at Monte Carlo in 1902 and 1904, but he clearly took a step ahead of his rivals in 1905, winning the mammoth Ostend tournament by a point-and-a-half and then finishing shared first at Barmen. An agreed-upon match with Lasker was well-deserved - and then the match foundered in negotiations, for reasons that are still unclear, and Maróczy retired from chess shortly afterwards. 

Maróczy is almost never included on lists of 'best-players-never-to-have-been-world-champion,' which is unjust. He was the primo tournament player of his era and he retired from chess right when he was at his peak, which - like the five years Ted Williams lost to military service - means that we do not have the full record of everything he could have accomplished. I think of him as being a consummate student of the game, like Portisch, Huebner, or Caruana, constantly improving his play.

Drawing of Maróczy and his wife. Julius Hess. N.Y. Staats-Zeitung

In the aftermath of the Ostend and Barmen victories, the chess world poured forth the accolades it had kept in reserve for him. Tarrasch, in his grandiloquent style, called him "a Ulysses among chessplayers in his wealth of stratagem." Lasker wrote of his "great talent bordering upon genius, the definition of that gift being, as one of the noted writers cleverly said, the ability to take infinite pains."  

It's well worth playing over Maróczy's streak of four wins from rounds 8 to 11. These games are models of positional control and epitomize Maróczy's style.

Maróczy combusted in the middle rounds, with a 30-move loss to his rival Janowski and then a 13-move miniature fiasco against Marco. But Maróczy had toughness and he recovered to score 9 points over the last 10 rounds. Marshall, upon losing to Maróczy in one of his trademark queen endgames, exclaimed that he was "the greatest living master of chess."

The rest of the leaderboard were familiar faces with Tarrasch and Janowski tying for second.

Tarrasch. Julius Hess. American Chess Bulletin 1905.

Lasker, referring to Janowski's recent match loss against Marshall, commented, "Janowski has shown once again that he is a great tournament player and his position far ahead of Marshall must be a solace to his pride."

Janowski. Julius Hess. American Chess Bulletin 1905.

Schlechter was a very unobtrusive presence in the tournament, drawing 17 games out of 26. He is "conservatism personified," wrote Lasker - but I felt I had to include this jewel of a game.

The only real surprises of the tournament were the poor showings of Frank Marshall and Mikhail Chigorin. Marshall had started the year in active negotiations with Lasker for a world championship match. Those negotiations collapsed due to the usual money issues. Marshall's claim to be a viable world championship challenger was weakened by his performance at Ostend and completely demolished by his match loss to Tarrasch later in the year.

Chigorin had been a dangerous opponent as recently as a year or two earlier, but, by Ostend, it was clear that he was in his twilight. He continued to carry the torch for Romanticism. With the rest of the chess world bogged down in thorny variations of the Queen's Gambit Declined, he played the Dutch, his variation of 2...Nc6 against 1.d4, and, out of nowhere, played a Nimzo-Indian fifteen years before it was supposed to have been invented.

Blackburne. Julius Hess. American Chess Bulletin 1905.
Alapin. Julius Hess. American Chess Bulletin 1905.

- Lasker's Chess Magazine 1905
- American Chess Bulletin 1905 
- British Chess Magazine 1905
Frank Marshall, My 50 Years of Chess
- Andrew Soltis, Frank Marshall U.S. Chess Champion