St. Petersburg, 1914
Maybe you didn’t know that the first players to be recognized as Grandmasters were Emanuel Lasker, Jose Raul Capablanca, Alexander Alekhine, Siegbert Tarrasch, and Frank Marshall. Those titles were awarded by the Russian Tsar Nicholas II after the 1914 St. Petersburg tournament. The tournament included most of the world’s top players and Emanuel Lasker, World Champion at the time, won it.
Emanuel Lasker – Jose Raul Capablanca
St. Petersburg, 1914
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Bxc6 dxc6 5. d4 exd4 6. Qxd4 Qxd4 7. Nxd4 Bd6
7… Bd7 and long castle might have been better.
8. Nc3 Ne7 9. O-O O-O 10. f4 Re8 11. Nb3
A necessary move in order to prevent the active Bc5.
11… f6 12. f5!
This is a very difficult move. Pawn e4 becomes backward and Black gets e5 square for his pieces. However, Lasker saw that. In order to reach e5 with the Knight, Black has to play c5, which will lock dark-squared Bishop. Also, Bc8 is now very limited with space. 50 years later, at the Olympiad in Habana, Fischer employed similar method against Unziker.
12… b6 13. Bf4 Bb7?
A mistake, as Capablanca pointed right after the game. Black pawns will be straightened up, but White has new target for his Rooks on d6 and Knight is storming to the weak square e6. Better was 13… Bxf4 14. Rxf4 c5 (preventing Nd4-e6) 15. Rd1 Bb7
14. Bxd6! cxd6 15. Nd4 Rad8
15… Bc8 16. Rad1 with strong pressure along d-file.
16. Ne6 Rd7 17. Rad1 Nc8
Black agrees on passive defense. Much better was c5, even if d5 remains weak, Knight would be able to get on e5 outpost. Now Lasker is doubling Rooks on d-file.
18. Rf2 b5 19. Rfd2 Rde7 20. b4!
Slowing down possible counterplay.
20… Kf7 21. a3 Ba8
Prolonging with passivity is equal to suicide. White will now slowly gain space on the kingside, too. Maybe it was time for an exchange sacrifice 21… Rxe6 22. fxe6+ Rxe6
22. Kf2 Ra7 23. g4 h6 24. Rd3 a5 25. h4 axb4 26. axb4 Rae7
The open a-file is of no use – there are no entry points.
27. Kf3 Rg8 28. Kf4 g6 29. Rg3 g5+ 30. Kf3
This is better than 30. hxg5 hxg5+ 31. Kf3 Rh8 and Black might get counter play over h-file.
30… Nb6 31. hxg5 hxg5 32. Rh3!
Doesn’t take pawn! 32. Rxd6 Nc4 with Ne5-Rh8 and Black starts talking.
32… Rd7 33. Kg3 Ke8 34. Rdh1 Bb7 35. e5!
Everything is set for the breach. Lasker is cleaning e4 square and his Knight enters the attack with huge power.
35… dxe5 36. Ne4 Nd5 37. N6c5
Tactical justification of a temporal pawn sacrifice. Moving the Rook would have ran into Nd6 fork.
37… Bc8 38. Nxd7 Bxd7 39. Rh7 Rf8 40. Ra1 Kd8 41. Ra8+ Bc8 42. Nc5 and as there is no defense from Rd7 or Ne6, Capablanca resigned 1-0.