A Century of Chess: Schlechter-Janowski 1902
David Janowski sketch. From Edward Winter.

A Century of Chess: Schlechter-Janowski 1902

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One of these odd matches – like Botvinnik-Smyslov (1958) or Botvinnik-Tal (1961) – that’s not really reflective of the contestants’ playing strength. Janowski sent his announcement of the match from Monte Carlo, which was – for the sharp-eyed London Daily News – the first sign of trouble: “It occurred to us at the time that a prolonged stay at the gaming metropolis would not be conducive to good play,” the paper drily noted. Janowski warmed up for the match by losing two games to the much-inferior player Moritz Porges and he played the Schlechter match punch-drunk, the way you might if you were staying up all night playing blitz chess. He lost the first four games – three of them with terrible blunders – and recovered enough to win only one game the rest of the way.

David Janowski. From Edward Winter.

Janowski was not a good loser and Rudolf Spielmann, who heard it from the tournament organizer, recorded Janowski’s reaction to each successive defeat: “Woe to him who won against Janowski! His opponent would then be showered with a barrage of insults. Schlechter, having won, would literally take flight, so that Janowski’s angry outbursts always flew into empty air,” which paints an indelible picture of Janowski’s personality and feels very much like the torso of Monty Python’s black knight defending its bridge.

Janowski’s poor form really wasted an opportunity – the strongest on-paper match in the interval between Lasker-Steinitz (1896) and Tarrasch-Marshall (1905) and an intriguing stylistic contest between probably the two purest exponents of the Steinitzian school, one taking classical chess in a strictly positional direction, the other making it a weapon of attack. Janowski had a very buoyant personality and his lousy result in the match had no adverse effects upon him – he had just finished a stellar third at the Monte Carlo tournament (ahead of Schlechter) and a few weeks later won convincingly at Hanover, completely undeterred by his poor play against Schlechter, while Schlechter, on the other hand, was too exhausted from his victory and had to decline his Hanover invitation.

Portrait of Carl Schlechter. Chess Club Hietzing VIenna.

Very often in this match, it feels as if Janowski is the only one playing, trying to whip up attacks out of nothing, getting himself in trouble, while Schlechter is like the pipe-smoking club pro in Benny Hill’s tennis sketch, coolly returning each shot. This is the ‘faceless chess’ that Botvinnik accused Schlechter of – dry and accurate – although contemporaries were pleased to notice that Schlechter had a greater willingness to attack than he had in his ‘Viennese drawing master’ days, particularly in the wild sixth and the excellent tenth game of the match. Both players had an attractive material-independence, a strong sense that space and dynamic chances mattered more than a strict piece count.

 (Thanks to chessical's detailed write-up of the match on and to Edward Winter's 'Janowsky Jottings.')