Karlsbad 1907

International Chess Tournament

by George Marco, Carl Schlechter

Karlsbad 1907
Karlsbad 1907
Translated by Robert Sherwood
Caissa Editions (2007)

450 pages (hardcover)
Reviewed by Jeremy Silman
This legendary tournament book has long been available in German, but English-speaking fans were left out in the cold. Now, thanks to Caissa Editions, an English translation is finally available. Fortunately the editor, Mr. Dale Brandreth, didn’t stop there. He tossed in 15 wonderful photos and had Robert Sherwood (using Rybka) check for analytical errors.

This event featured a veritable parade of famous players. The twenty-one competitors were (in order of final placing): Rubinstein (with an amazing 15-5 total), Maroczy, Leonhardt, Nimzovich, Schlechter, Vidmar, Duras, Teichmann, Salwe, Wolf, Dus-Chotimirsky, Marshall, Spielmann, Tartakover, Janowsky, Berger, Mieses, Chigorin (his final tournament), Dr. Olland, E.Cohn, and Johner. The only chess giants missing from this lineup were Lasker, Tarrasch, and Amos Burn.

Karlsbad 1907 begins with a fascinating Introduction that not only gives us a history of Karlsbad’s ties with chess (it hosted a match between Albin and Marco in 1901 and another match between Janowsky and Schlechter in 1902) and how this event came to be, but also discusses the prize fund, the dates and times of the games, rules relating to adjournments and ties, some really fascinating newspaper accounts of the event, and quite a bit more.

After the Introduction we get a very nice full page crosstable of the tournament that highlights individual scores and final places, followed by another full page crosstable showing us round by round scores. Then we come to the real meat of the book: Every round gets a nice discussion followed by the pairings, results, and openings for each game. And this leads us into the games themselves, every one (210 in all!) deeply annotated by Marco and Schlechter (Marco annotated games 1 though 151 and also game 206, while Schlecter did the analysis for games 152-205 and games 207 to 210).

Keep in mind that Georg Marco was both an excellent player and a very fine annotator, while Schlecter almost beat Lasker in a World Championship match (Lasker tied the match by winning the final game in dramatic fashion). I personally found Marco’s notes to be colorful and instructive. I also loved the fact that he didn’t pull any punches. For example, in his notes to game 120 (Tartakover-Duras) he said, "Tartakover’s individual moves, considered in and of themselves, are not bad, but taken together they show us that his conduct of the game is entirely misguided. White’s pawn storm has arrived at a pitiful standstill, while Black’s pawns roll toward the white King like an avalanche.”

Marco makes his views known in every game, tossing in a cascade of analysis at one moment, deep instruction the next, and attacks against the ignorant if he felt it was warranted. Here’s another note (to game 126) that gives you a taste of the fire in his pen: "A well-known critic says, ‘14...Nd7 15.Nf5 Nf8, followed by ...Ng6, came into consideration.’ He is completely correct, for in a tournament game one should ‘consider’ everything. But such an enjoinder by itself is of no help – one must be able to decide whether the maneuver is as good or better than others. But it is concerning just this that the critic gives no further information.”

His note to move 6 (after 1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 d6 3.Nc3 g6 4.e4 Bg7 5.h3 Nc6 6.Bf4) of game 129 (Schlechter-Chigorin) shows his dedication to discussing ideas and not just moves to the chess student: "Beginners and experienced players alike have struggled in such situations with the question whether e4-e5 will prove to be unpleasant for White or for Black. For the student, such considerations, repeated a hundred-fold, are certainly beneficial; for the tournament player, they are not only superfluous but are even harmful, as they simply waste time. As Polaris does for the sailor, Philidor’s rule must serve as a lodestar. This rule says that the advance of a pawn to the fifth rank (especially in the opening) offers the opponent an object of attack, whose defense leads either to the opening of the position or to the freeing of the enemy forces. Hence Chigorin seeks (as in game 108) to provoke e4-e5 or d4-d5.”

Marco, who clearly loved writing these notes, also went out of his way to give us a history lesson about the various openings whenever it struck his fancy. In game 146 (after 1.e4 c6) we get the following surprise: "This opening was first analyzed in the eighth decade of the past century by the Viennese master Marcus Kann, and was first introduced into master play at a local Vienna master tournament. Kann scored many fine wins with this opening. See, for example, his brilliant success against Mieses in the Hamburg Congress Book (1885), page 235. Later, in the 1880s, the Berlin master Horatio Caro delved into the study of this opening, without however achieving any notable new results. The opening has nevertheless been given the compromise appellation ‘Caro-Kann,’ which has been accepted and retained by the entire chess world. Only in recent times has a northern German chess literature arisen that has excised the name of the dead Viennese master in favor of the Berliner, and the name ‘Caro's Opening’ has appeared. This ‘innovation’ will not prove fortunate, for the historical truth will not suffer to be suppressed but will always retain its rights. If one wishes to drop the compromise designation, the name ‘Kann’s Opening’ is the only correct way of speaking.”

I have to admit that Marco’s annotations were ahead of his time. His mix of energy, humor, deep analysis, and desperate desire to teach is something rarely seen even today. Anyone reading his notes to these games is in for a real treat.
Schlechter, who was a far stronger player than Marco, wasn’t as gifted in the field of journalism. This doesn’t mean that his notes aren’t good – all the games he handled are thoroughly annotated – but after Marco’s non-stop thrill-a-minute notes, almost any modern analyst would seem limp in comparison.

However, on occasion even the sweet tempered Schlechter could go medieval on a player. The best example of this is in game 167 where the following note appears after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.Nc3 Bb4 6.Nd5 Be7 7.0–0 0–0 8.Re1 d6 9.Nxf6+ Bxf6 10.c3 h6 11.h3 Ne7 12.d4 Ng6 13.Be3 Kh7 14.Qd2 Be6 15.Bc2 Qe7 16.d5
"This move has meaning only if White can initiate an attack against the enemy queenside (with c3-c4 and b2-b4). But White prefers to operate on the kingside, and for this d4-d5 is poor preparation. White conducts the rest of the game weakly, while Black plays superbly.” Who was the fish playing White that earned such harsh condemnation? None other than Schlechter himself (vs. Nimzovich)!

Karlsbad 1907 is one of the best (if not THE best) tournament books ever written. The games and notes (especially Marco’s, which are simply brilliant) are so rich and entertaining that they will keep you smiling for many, many years. If you want to get a really special Christmas present for the chess fan in your life (or for yourself!), this should be top of the list.