Tarrasch - a dogmatist?

Mar 29, 2011, 8:33 PM |

Siegbert Tarrasch (1862–1934), a medical doctor by profession, was probably the best player in the world in the early 1890s. He defeated Steinitz in tournaments, (+3-0=1), but declined to challenge for the world title in 1892 due to the demands of his profession. Tarrasch drew Mikhail Chigorin, another chess legend in a hard-fought match (+9-9=4). Tarrasch won four major tournaments in succession: Breslau 1889, Manchester 1890, Dresden 1892, and Leipzig 1894.

According to Wikipedia, he was a great target of the hypermodern school, led by Richard Réti, Aron Nimzowitsch, and Savielly Tartakower, all of whom criticized his ideas as dogmatic. In the game below, Tarrasch annotated his victory on the Black side of the Advance French against Paulsen (Nuremberg 1888).

On his 6...cxd4, he gave this an exclamation mark and pointed out that 6...Bd7 allows 7.dxc5 with a good game. However, most accounts credit Nimzowitsch with such anti-dogmatic hypermodern inventiveness when he played 7.dxc5 against Gersz Salwe almost a quarter of a century later (Karlsbad 1911) in the game shown below. Although Wikipedia cited Nimzowitsch as one of Tarrasch's critics, his win against Salwe should have proven to him that Tarrasch had a point. Salwe played 6...Bd7  in spite of Tarrasch's forewarning. Tarrasch - a dogmatist or a hypermodern chess player who was ahead of his time?

He may have written some classical and modern chess theories that chess elites of the hypermodern era had criticized. Nevertheless, he played using the same chessboard the hypermodern greats use and had probably pushed his chess pieces in a hypermodern fashion but it was enough during his time that his ideas be called classical or modern. Dogmatic was just an added label put forward by the hypermodern theorists. However, many modern masters regard Tarrasch's actual play as not dogmatic.

The chess rules of Tarrasch had survived the test of time  (e.g., that rooks should be placed behind passed pawns — either yours or your opponent's). Tarrasch's notable contributions to modern chess are the Tarrasch Defense against the Queen's Gambit;  the Tarrasch Variation of the French Defense; and the Tarrasch Variation of the Ruy Lopez.

Nimzowitsch had also rightfully earned his chess great status and is credited for many Nimzo-openings. In his game below, look how he gave up one of his bishops to clear the way for his marching pawn. I like his hypermodern inventiveness including the control of the center by pieces - an alternative to Tarrasch's pawns. The term however is just a label. Tarrasch had astonishing moves too and they were a classic.

If the classical, modern and hypermodern chess eras are already history, why are we back to being modern and not superhypermodern or ultramodern? In the first place, why hypermodern? In today's chess, are we not looking at these chess theories as our chess doctrines? If so, then hypermodern theories can also be called dogmatic and it is not a criticism, just stating that we have chess rules to follow to help us win games.