A Century of Chess: Rubinstein-Schlechter 1918

A Century of Chess: Rubinstein-Schlechter 1918

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As hard as it is to imagine a Lasker-Tarrasch match in 1916, it’s more difficult still to envision Rubinstein-Schlechter in Berlin in 1918. Schlechter would die of malnourishment in December and there’s something very ghostly about playing over these games - same goes for the two tournaments held later that year - with Schlechter playing this close to his death.

In different circumstances, this would have been a very exciting match. Schlechter had tied a match for the world championship in 1910. Rubinstein had been the 'crown prince' of chess since the early part of the decade. In some utopian universe, it's possible to imagine a well-organized world championship structure in which Rubinstein and Schlechter would have played each other in a Candidates match sometime around 1912 or 1913 and that match would have been a showcase of crystalline positional play, classical chess at its finest. 

But this was not that match. "The play was very weak, very weak," Schlechter wrote. After two draws, Schlechter drew first blood with Rubinstein overlooking a not-particularly-complicated tactical point. Rubinstein retaliated with a sharp tactical victory featuring an unstoppable d-pawn. In the decisive game of the match, Schlechter tried a cute tactic and missed a simple rejoinder. 

Rubinstein by the way lived in parts of Poland that had fallen to Germany during the war and was available to play in Berlin throughout 1918. There would be some consternation in Allied countries that Rubinstein - who had started the war as part of the Russian Empire - participated in these events. Fred Yates wrote that his decision to play in the match made him "a poor creature." Meanwhile, Jacques Mieses, writing in the Berliner Tageblatt, interpreted the match as a sign that German culture was undiminished by the war. "Despite the horrible fight for our existence that demands all the power of our nation, and which we have fought for three and a half years, there is an almost unabated interest in all intellectual fields in our fatherland," he wrote. 

Sources: Chess Marginalia has a really terrific post on the match.