Siegbert Tarrasch

Siegbert Tarrasch. Photo: Wikimedia.
Full name
Siegbert Tarrasch
Life
Mar 5, 1862 - Feb 17, 1934 (age 71)‎
Place of birth
Breslau, Province of Silesia, Kingdom of Prussia (now Wrocław, Poland)
Federation
Poland

Bio

Siegbert Tarrasch was a medical doctor, German master and a world-class player. He played Emanuel Lasker for the world championship title in 1908 and was considered one of the most influential chess teachers of his time. Tarrasch is also known for his defense against the Queen's Gambit and his line in the French Defense, which are both named after him and are still very popular today.


Style

Tarrasch's style was positionally-based, as he expanded on many of Wilhelm Steinitz's original ideas about positional play. He was a strong endgame player and displayed superior tactical abilities in many games as well. In this game from 1889, Tarrasch conducts a brilliant kingside attack from his own line of the French Defense. He closes the center and then quickly brings his minor pieces to the kingside before a simple piece sacrifice ends the game—Tarrasch makes attacking look easy!

World-Class Player

Tarrasch stepped onto the tournament scene in the late 1870s and quickly made a name for himself. By the late 1880s he was considered a world-class player. Tarrasch had a score of three wins, no loss and one draw against the first official world champion, Wilhelm Steinitz.

Because of Tarrasch's commitments to his medical practice, he declined a match in 1892 against Steinitz for the world championship—a decision that cost Tarrasch a chance to play for the title when he may have been close to his peak strength. He wouldn't get another chance to play for the title until 1908.

In the following game from 1892 that displays Tarrasch's strong technique in a somewhat dry position, he plays the opening logically and keeps the initiative throughout the exchanges. Tarrasch again makes the moves look easy when he wins material with a simple combination:

Title Contender

During 1889-1894, Tarrasch won four major tournaments in a row and may have been the strongest player in the world. After he declined the 1892 match with Steinitz, he won the 1892 Dresden tournament. After this tournament, Lasker (a young and talented master at the time) challenged Tarrasch to a match, which he declined.

Tarrasch suggested that Lasker should win an international tournament before challenging him. Instead Lasker challenged the world champion Steinitz and defeated him in 1894. Lasker became the second official world champion without having to face Tarrasch in a match, something that most likely upset Tarrasch.

Continuing his dominant tournament play, Tarrasch won the 1894 tournament in Leipzig. In this example from the tournament, he again displays a fantastic attack:

Between 1895 and 1903, Tarrasch continued his strong tournament play. He finished in fourth place in the 1895 Hastings tournament behind Harry Pillsbury, Mikhail Chigorin and Lasker (but ahead of Steinitz and 17 other masters). In the 1896 Nuremberg tournament Tarrasch finished tied for third place (with Pillsbury) behind Lasker and Geza Maroczy, but ahead of David Janowsky, Steinitz, Carl Schlechter, Mikhail Chigorin and others.

In 1898 Tarrasch won the Vienna tournament ahead of Pillsbury, Janowsky, Steinitz, Schlechter, Steinitz, Maroczy and others (but Lasker didn't play). In 1903 Tarrasch won the Monte Carlo tournament (ahead of Maroczy, Pillsbury, Schlechter and others). Following this tournament victory, Tarrasch issued a challenge to Lasker that was accepted. The match was scheduled to take place in 1904, but Tarrasch was injured in a skating accident, and the 1904 match never happened. 

Tarrasch vs Chigorin
Tarrasch (left) playing Chigorin in 1893. Photo: Wikimedia.

In 1905 Tarrasch would play a 17-game match with Frank Marshall, who had just won the 1904 Cambridge Springs tournament (ahead of World Champion Lasker), but the match wasn't close—Tarrasch defeated Marshall easily by a score of 12-5 (eight wins, one loss, eight draws). Following this match win, Lasker named Chigorin and Maroczy as worthy title contenders. Although Lasker attempted to arrange a match with Maroczy, it never came to fruition. In 1907 Marshall played Lasker for the world championship, and Lasker defeated him easily.

in 1907 Tarrasch won in Ostend again, and the chess world was abuzz asking for a Lasker-Tarrasch match. On this third attempt for a Lasker-Tarrasch match, the arrangements finally worked for both sides. The long-awaited Lasker-Tarrasch world championship match would take place in 1908.

World Championship Match

Throughout their years as competitors, a fierce rivalry had developed between Tarrasch and Lasker. Tarrasch had snubbed Lasker in 1892 when he asked for a match, and in 1904 Tarrasch may have felt insulted that Lasker wouldn't postpone their scheduled match. As the players were introduced for the 1908 world championship match, it is believed that Tarrasch said: "To you, Dr. Lasker, I have only three words—check and mate."

Lasker vs Tarrasch 1908
Lasker (left) playing Tarrasch in the 1908 World Championship match. Photo: Wikimedia.

Unfortunately, the match wasn't quite as exciting as the opening ceremonies—Lasker soundly defeated Tarrasch by a score of 10.5-5.5 (eight wins, three losses, five draws). Tarrasch missed several winning chances throughout the match, and most believed that he didn't play at his normally high level. This convincing loss would be Tarrasch's only chance for the crown.

In game 10 from the 1908 world championship match, Tarrasch outplays Lasker in an opposite-colored bishop middlegame. Tarrasch's technique is on display in this game, and he mixes strategical and tactical ideas interchangeably—an aesthetically pleasing game:

Life After The Championship Match

After losing the world championship match, Tarrasch persevered and continued to play as a world-class player. Between 1910 and 1922, Tarrasch continued to defend his positional style of play against a new generation of hypermodern players, including Aron Nimzowitsch, Richard Reti and others. In 1914 he had a strong performance at the historic St. Petersburg tournament. 

Tarrasch defeated Jose Capablanca and Nimzowitsch in individual games in the tournament and finished in fourth place behind the reigning world champion Lasker, future world champion Capablanca and future world champion Alexander Alekhine (ahead of Marshall, Akiba Rubinstein, Nimzowitsch, Janowsky, Isidor Gunsberg and others). He would continue to compete into the 1920s, but his play began to decline slowly after the 1914 St. Petersburg tournament.

Dr. Siegbert Tarrasch
Dr. Siegbert Tarrasch. Photo: Wikimedia.

In a fantastic attacking game from the 1914 tournament, Tarrasch's bishop pair wreaks havoc on the kingside of Nimzowitsch, whose king is moved from g1 to d7 before being checkmated!

Legacy

Despite never being a full-time chessplayer, Tarrasch is a chess legend. His playing career spanned from the 1870s through the 1920s, and he was one of the most knowledgeable players during his era. He wrote many chess books and made chess improvements accessible to the average player. His writings earned him the nickname of "The Teacher of Germany," and his contributions to opening theory continue to be used today.

Despite losing against Lasker in his only attempt at the world champion title, his games are still studied in books, articles and videos. Tarrasch will always have a special place in history as a world-class player who played for the world championship.

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