Carl Schlechter

Carl Schlechter. Photo: Wikimedia.
Full name
Carl Schlechter
Life
Mar 2, 1874 - Dec 27, 1918 (age 44)‎
Place of birth
Austria-Hungary (Austro-Hungarian Empire)
Federation
Austria

Bio

Carl Schlechter was an Austrian master and world-class player. He is best known for almost defeating Emanuel Lasker for the world championship in 1910 (the match was drawn, so Lasker retained the title). Schlechter is also regarded as one of the most gentlemanly players in history, as he would regularly reduce his own clock time if an opponent showed up late and would offer draws to players who were sick. 


Style

Schlechter had a universal style and was a well-rounded player. He had a reputation for making a lot of draws, which served him well in matches but could sometimes hurt his results in tournaments. Schlechter was known as the “man without style," as he could win with positional play, tenacious defensive abilities as well as graceful attacking skills.

In this game, Schlechter conducts a memorable attack where he sacrifices both rooks! This game is also famous as it was used in the first Marostica human chess game in 1954.

From Early Days To World-Class Player

Schlechter learned to play chess when he was 13 years old. In 1893 he started to play chess seriously and had some strong results. By the late 1890s he was considered one of the leading Austrian masters. In 1898, he placed fifth out of 20 masters in the Vienna tournament (behind Siegbert Tarrasch, Harry Pillsbury, David Janowsky and former world champion Wilhelm Steinitz). In 1899 Schlechter placed fifth out of 18 masters (behind reigning world champion Lasker, Janowsky, Geza Maroczy and Pillsbury) at the London tournament. 

Schlechter had developed both his defensive and attacking prowess by this point and was considered a world-class player. In this game from 1899, Schlechter displays a memorable endgame queen sacrifice that leads to mate. The historical blow 33. Qxh6+! has been burned into the memories of many chess players over the past century, as Black cannot escape mate from Schlechter's lone bishop!

In 1900 Schlechter tied for first place (with Maroczy and Pillsbury) in the strong Munich tournament. In 1901 he won first place in Monte Carlo tournament ahead of a field that included Mikhail Chigorin, Janowsky, Isidor Gunsberg, Frank Marshall and other masters. Schlechter had great success during 1904-1908 when he won or tied for first in many international tournaments. In 1904 Schlechter tied for first in Coburg. In the 1906 Stockholm tournament, he also tied for first. 

In this game from this period, Schlechter uses a positional approach to win by demonstrating the power of a dominant knight against a bad bishop. Both knights end on the e5-square at different times of the game, and the Black army is paralyzed by this monstrous knight! 

World Championship Contender

In 1906 Schlechter played in the interesting multi-stage Ostend tournament, when 36 players participated in elimination groups—when the dust had settled, Schlechter was in clear first place ahead of an amazing field of players, including Maroczy, Akiba Rubinstein, Marshall, Janowsky, Chigorin and others.

Around this time Schlechter was viewed as a challenger for the world championship. World Champion Lasker himself recognized Schlechter as a worthy challenger and said that Schlechter had "so little of the devil about him that he could not be moved to take anything coveted by somebody else." Maybe Lasker was giving Schlechter a compliment, or perhaps Lasker mistook Schlechter's gentle behavior as a weakness?  

Hastings 1895 Schlechter
Participants of the 1895 Hastings tournament (Schlechter is on the top row, second from the left). Photo: Wikimedia.

Schlechter continued his tournament success in 1907-1908. He tied for fourth place (with Aaron Nimzowitsch) in the 1907 Karlsbad tournament and tied for first (with Maroczy and Oldrich Duras) in the Vienna tournament in 1908 ahead of Rubinstein, Rudolf Spielmann, Savielly Tartakower, Marshall, Semyon Alapin and Richard Reti. Almost immediately after the Vienna tournament, Schlechter tied for first (again with Duras) in the 1908 Prague tournament ahead of Milan Vidmar, Rubinstein, Maroczy, Marshall, Janowsky and others. 

In this game from this period, Schlechter employs a brilliant set of sacrifices that leave Maroczy's king exposed. This brilliant attack starts with the "Greek gift" (White sacrifices the light-squared bishop for the h7-pawn) and follows by sacrificing the other bishop—a memorable combination.

At the end of 1908, Schlechter traveled to Berlin to challenge World Champion Lasker for a title match. Lasker agreed, and the two announced that the match would be played in 1910.

World Championship Match

The format for the 1910 world championship match was simple: 10 games would be played, and the player with more points would win. In the event of a 5-5 tie, Lasker would retain his title. The match was held publicly, and the first five games were played in Vienna. To the surprise of the chess world, Schlechter was winning after the Vienna leg!  The first four games were draws, but in game five Lasker blundered in a heavy-piece endgame. Schlechter was up a point with the score at 3-2. 

Lasker and Schlecter 1910 WCC
Lasker (left) and Schlechter (right). Photo: Wikimedia.

The match moved to Berlin for the final five games. The Berlin leg also started with four draws (remember Schlechter's reputation for drawing a lot of games?). Going into the 10th and final game, the match score was at 5-4 in Schlechter's favor, and Schlechter needed only to draw the final game to win the match and become world champion!  

The 10th game was very tense and wild with Schlechter playing his own line of the Slav as Black. On move 23, Lasker went for an attack that was unsound, and Schlechter defended correctly. According to engines, the position was dead-equal for some time until Schlechter had an opportunity to take the lead!

Schlechter had more than one chance to play for a safe draw to win the title, but on the 35th move he tried for more with an unsound rook sacrifice. The game got even messier, but all of a sudden it was Lasker who had the winning chances. Here is the game with annotations by Jose Capablanca:

Almost every chess player knows the feeling of being equal and then being better (if not winning) only to lose the game—it doesn't feel good. I can't imagine how Schlechter felt after game 10. By winning this game, Lasker tied the match score at 5-5 and retained his title. Although Schlechter didn't win, the match distinguished Schlechter as the first player to give Lasker a serious challenge for the world champion title.

Life After The World Championship Match And Legacy

After the 1910 world championship match, Schlechter continued his strong play. In 1910 he won the Hamburg tournament ahead of Duras, Nimzowitsch, Marshall, Alexander Alekhine, Tarrasch and others. In 1911 Schlechter drew a match with Tarrasch (three wins, three losses, 10 draws). During 1911-1914 Schlechter won the Trebitsch Memorial in Vienna. In 1914 World War I broke out and disrupted the international chess scene greatly, but Schlechter continued to play well until 1918 when he passed away at a young age from pneumonia.

1898 Vienna Tournament Schlechter
Participants of the 1898 Vienna Tournament (Schlechter is on the top row, second from the left). Photo: Wikimedia.

Schlechter will always be remembered for his play for the world championship. He will also be remembered for his chess writings and opening innovations in Bird's Opening, French Defense, Danish Gambit and definitely for his variation of the Slav Defense.

Schlechter's games and combinations are still discussed and studied in books, articles and videos today—over 100 years after his passing. He should also be remembered for his gentlemanly behavior and tenacious spirit, which was best seen in his legendary match with Lasker.

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