Berlin 1890. Chess, Brothers, Controversy and a Theory.

Berlin 1890. Chess, Brothers, Controversy and a Theory.


A couple of weeks ago a friend reminded me of a curious tournament, and so while I am posting on forgotten events I decided to include it.

Before I forget. D.W. is Deutsches Wochenschach, and D.S. is Deutsche Schachzeitung.

This is going to be a long article, so, as usual, one to dip in and out of when you have 15 minutes to spare. Well, if it's worth doing, it's worth doing properly, as the saying goes.

When I first saw the cross table for the  Berlin event many, many years ago, it was truly bizarre - 10 players started, and only six finished. It featured a controversial incident that I will come to shortly.

The announcement in D.S. says that the event was partly held as a preparation event for those who were to take part later in the Manchester Tournament.

D.S. 1890. 220

On pages 250-251 you will find the list of competitors, and also a little explanation regarding the withdrawals, as well as the final cross table.

Riemann withdrew early due to illness, and Minkwitz - who had entered the tournament under a pseudonym also withdrew a round later. He was already suffering from the depression that led to his taking his own life. 

You will also notice two Laskers. One was the future World Champion, whilst the other was his brother Bethold. ( In 19th c. sources, Berthold is Dr Lasker.) This is the only time the two played in the same event that is known for certain. Berthold was later - for a short time - the husband of the poet Else Lasker - Schule.


Also mentioned there is the big story of the tournament - the withdrawal of von Bardeleben and Harmonist after 7 rounds. It caused quite a stir at the time!!

A quick addition before we get to that - W.W. pages 253-254 has the round pairings and the cross table at the point of the controversy.

So what happened in round 7 that saw the withdrawals of von Bardeleben and Harmonist!

Lets take up the story of the game von-Bardeleben - E. Lasker from W.S pages 265-268.

O.K. Let's give you my translation of Heyde's version of events - you will see from the above that he gives a lot of analysis of the critical position in an attempt to justify his personal opinions by 'showing' how difficult the position was.

Von Bardeleben selected a Queen’s Pawn Opening against E. Lasker, and Lasker had won a pawn when von Bardeleben made a surprising and very elegant exchange sacrifice. E. Lasker accepted the sacrifice, as he was forced to, and then left the playing room.

 C. von Bardeleben who, as a result of the sacrifice, had to play for an attack, only had one reasonable possibility available, made his move and, as his opponent hadn’t returned yet, started his clock. After a fairly long time (the opinions of both sides vary between 27 and 37 minutes!) Herr Lasker returned and moved very quickly. As the suspicion that Herr Lasker used the time of his absence for illegal analysis was voiced, his opponent called in the judgment of the committee. In front of the committee, Lasker declared that he had been unwell and went for a walk. As he hadn’t informed the committee about his intention and left the tournament room without permission, the committee condemned Herr Lasker  for his behavior, and invited him to start the game afresh, an invitation that Herr Lasker declined! As the committee couldn’t find a regulation that could be used against the obviously incorrect, and, at the least,  discourteous, actions of Herr Lasker, he was judged to be formally in the right (!!) and Herr von Bardeleben thereupon announced his immediate withdrawal from the tournament.

Incomprehensibly, the verbal exchanges that occurred to begin with, took place in the tournament room itself, and Harmonist, who stood to win in an English Knight’s Game against von Gotschall, - probably due the  noise and excitement that happened, made a blunder that cost him his Queen, and he also immediately resigned from the tournament.

Even though this meant that the first prize could be awarded – without further struggle – to the Herren Lasker, Herr E. Lasker did not find it appropriate to replay the game.


The whole tournament did not go well, and the blame for this must be attributed to the

  participation of Herr E. Lasker, whose conduct, whether it may be formally

 condemned or not, is so far removed from the chivalry normal with German players

 that one can not urge strongly enough that there should be no repetition of similar

 happenings – especially as Herr Lasker had already received, at the tournament in

 Breslau, a similar rebuke on account of his ‘not quite correct’ behaviour.

 In chess circles, the comments apparently sent in by an interested observer, one of

 which – in a broadsheet - went so far as to suggest that Herr von Bardeleben had not

 won even a single game when he withdrew from the tournament, were almost

 embarrassingly biased. That such disputes are avoided, and that the players in a

 tournament measure their strength in a chivalrous manner would be in the true

 interests of chess.

 Albert Heyde.

   ( Note the first paragraph, where Heyde says that von Bardeleben made his 21st move BEFORE Lasker's return - that varies from other reports. Who knows which version is correct!)

As we say around here 'all kicking off then!!' The whole thing was an affront to German chivalry, with Herr E. Lasker very much the guilty party in Heyde's view. Clearly the innocent victim was Harmonist, in my opinion. In the Last two rounds he would have been paired with both of the Lasker's, who then ended up in shared first place, and played a drawn play-off game before sharing the top two prizes. 

von Bardeleben

Wiener Schachzeitung. 1924. pg.21.

Seems to have been a somewhat temperamental character. He also had some history with the Lasker brothers. Some years before - I don't recall which event, but it is easily found - he had finished above Bethold Lasker ( and one S. Tarrasch ) in a German Hauptturnier, winning their individual game I believe. He also played a short match with the young Emanuel prior to this event which seems to have been unfinished at the point of adjournment of game 4, with one win each. Two years later - i.e. 1892 he played in another Berlin tournament which included Berthold Lasker. he withdrew from that one after 6 rounds! Again, I haven't researched that one!

A couple of years ago - whilst researching De Vere - I found Lasker's later version of events.

( It turns out that there were TWO 19th c. magazines called 'The Chess World', and this one was in a short lived U.S. publication of that name, in 1893. That's usually how things go in research - you go looking for one thing, and find another. Those nameless individuals who spend hours scanning old publications and putting them on the internet have my eternal and heartfelt thanks. Their efforts are a huge help to amateurs like me. Cheers guys! )

The material is interesting from another viewpoint as well - the wonderful John Hilbert noted recently that there was some hostility in the U.S. press with regards to Lasker's strange idea that he should be paid decent money for his services as a chess professional , and this is the earliest example I have seen in  that regard that I can remember.

The incident was also reported in 'The International Chess Magazine', via Steinitz's 'Berlin Correspondent', and Steinitz gave his impartial opinion.
I.C.M. 1890  pages 232 - 234.
Well, von Bardeleben was a fine player, and an important figure in German chess circles at the time. However, if you mention his name to most players they will only be able to tell you that he lost a famous game - against Steinitz!! as is well documented, rather than resigning that game he left the playing hall and lost on time. Various explanations for that behaviour have been put forward, but I rather suspect that it may have been von Bardeleben's belated payback for Steinitz's comments with regards to the 1800 incident. Well, it's my theory!!
O.K. I had best post some chess.

Let's start with two games played on the same day by Horatio Caro. (He was from England but spent most of his life in Berlin, where he was regarded as one of the very best players in the city.)

The first is interesting in that it one of the few that we have of Berthold Lasker, other than some losses in Tarrasch's 300 Chessgames.

Later that day Caro got his revenge on the family with one of the must crushing and humiliating defeats ever of any player to have held the World Championship.

Caro. via British Chess News

A game played before Minkwitz' early withdrawal from the tournament. Sadly he seems to have been trying out the same cure for depression as Cecil De Vere, i.e. drinking to excess. A sad story.

A game between the two players who withdrew because of the incident above. As I say, Max Harmonist

via @batgirl

seems to have been the innocent victim of things, but here he is on the right side of a game that is interesting on a lot of levels.

And a game between the two players just mentioned. The opening is of particular iterest in terms of the opening theory of the times.

Let's give some games of the young Lasker. He seems to have been experimenting in the opening in this event - for reasons best known to himself! To begin with, the one from the main tournament against his elder brother, who simply played a really horrible move and was crushed.

I have seen the next game - against von Scheve - 

Wiener Schachzeitung 1907. pg. 409

given as an example of Lasker's 'coffee house style'. As I say, he was in an experimental mood in this tournament. The final tactical trick is nice though!!

And the game that resulted in the controversy. Rather than quote the notes of the time, I have quickly done an impartial set of my own.

To fit it in at a convenient spot - Lasker B. versus von Bardeleben.

von Bardeleben. Chess Monthly 1888.

Two games from the wonderful Dr. Hermann von Gottschall.

And the young Mieses falls vitim to the kind of attack he specialised in himself.

And to finish, the play off game between the 'Herrn Lasker'. Just for the record.

Apologies that this was rather long - not included everything I have here (!) and a bit messy due to time restrictions, but I hope you enjoyed it. Take care everyone.

David Friedmann via Douglas Griffin.