Lessons from Tartakower

Lessons from Tartakower

Savielly Tartakower was the wittiest of masters, and, it was said, "too in love with chess to ever become world champion". According to his translator, Golombek, he would reject a simple advantageous line in the hope of creating something more worthwhile with a more complex line. This is undoubtedly an expression of Tartakower's taste: less for him could mean only less, and Capablanca's trademark efficiency and elegance had no personal appeal for SGT.

He was regarded as world champion journalist, and his best games collections from Bell (published as a single volume by Dover, superb value as long as you speak descriptive) are peppered with anecdotes, bon mots , and provocative observations. For example, he throws away in a footnote one of the best definitions I have seen of a game that would qualify for a beauty prize. His epigrams, or Tartakowerisms, as they were called, are a splendid source of entertainment for the armchair player.

The chessplayer's proof of existence: " Erro ergo sum " (I err, therefore I am).

"Some part of a mistake is always correct."

"The blunders are all there on the board, waiting to be made."

"An isolated Pawn spreads gloom over the whole chessboard"

"A chess game is divided into three stages: the first, when you hope you have the advantage, the second when you believe you have an advantage, and the third... when you know you're going to lose!"

"A draw can be obtained normally by repeating three moves, but also by one bad move."

"The winner of the game is the player who makes the next-to-last mistake."

The Dover book also records some of his favourite quips: he was once scolded by Capablanca: " You have no solidity That is my saving grace ," he replied.

In these volumes, and his famous annotated collection of games edited with duMont, he emphasises the didactic qualities of each game, pointing out which chess concepts the games exemplify.

But the chess is superb too. He was a tireless experimenter in the openings, a true hypermodern, a fearless attacker and a man regarded by Nimzovitch as one of the top endgame players in the world at the time (in the rather teasing statement "the third best endgame artist of all the living masters"). His style matured, from early heroics and later love of complexity ('a system consisting in the lack of system"), into a player who could really play any sort of position well - a hallmark of all the great masters.


Tartakower Saviely - Mieses Jacques [A82], Baden-Baden, 1925

SGT titles this game, "The miniature blockade". Before this game had drawn five games in a row, and his opponent teased him: "Have you had sufficient preparation for obtaining your 6th draw?".

1.d4 f5 2.e4 fxe4 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.g4 A hypermodern touch, considered by modern theory as over-doing things a bit. 4...d5 5.g5 Ng8 6.f3 exf3 7.Qxf3 e6 8.Bd3 g6


After just eight moves, Black is riddled with dark-square holes. 9.Nge2 Qe7 10.Bf4 c6 11.Be5 Bg7 12.Qg3 Na6 13.0-0 Bd7 A gesture towards development. 14.Bd6 Qd8 15.Qf4


A fine example of a weak colour-complex. 1-0

Tartakower Saviely - Przepiorka Dawid [B12] Budapest (Hungary), 1929


1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.f3 "New and good", claimed SGT; this offshoot is enjoying a current fashion among English GMs. 3...dxe4 4.fxe4 e5 5.Nf3 "Stimulates the game to fresh activity" SGT 5...exd4 6.Bc4 Be6


Offering an exchange, of which GM Tartakower is not too shy. 7.Bxe6 fxe6 8.0-0 Be7 9.Nxd4 Qd7 10.Qh5+ Kd8 11.Be3 c5 12.Rd1! A sacrifice! 12...cxd4 13.Rxd4 Bd6 14.e5 Nf6 15.exf6 gxf6 16.Nc3 This game, says SGT, with its varied motifs, gives him the most pleasure of all his creations. 1-0


Maroczy,G - Tartakower,S Teplitz-Schonau, 1922

1.d4 e6 2.c4 f5


This is an important bit of move-order: the option of ...Bb4(+) gives Black several nice ways of avoiding the main lines of the Dutch. 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.a3 Be7 5.e3 0-0 6.Bd3 d5 7.Nf3 c6 8.0-0 Ne4 9.Qc2 Bd6 10.b3 Nd7 11.Bb2 Rf6 12.Rfe1 Rh6 13.g3 Qf6 14.Bf1 g5 15.Rad1 g4 16.Nxe4 fxe4 17.Nd2



Spielmann remarked that when you see a player make a sacrifice of a Rook, you can also see the immediate concrete threats that motivated it. The only exception to this he knew was this extraordinary sacrifice of Tartakower, where tactical threats manifest themselves only later.

18.Kxh2 Qxf2+ 19.Kh1 Nf6 20.Re2 Qxg3 21.Nb1 Nh5 22.Qd2 Bd7 23.Rf2 Qh4+ 24.Kg1 Bg3 25.Bc3 Bxf2+ 26.Qxf2 g3 27.Qg2 Rf8 28.Be1 Rxf1+ 29.Kxf1 e5 30.Kg1 Bg4 31.Bxg3 Nxg3 32.Re1 Nh5 33.Qf2 Qg5 34.dxe5 Bf3+ 35.Kf1 Ng3+


If this sacrifice looks more routine now - like one of Tal's - it is a tribute to the influence this game has had on sacrificial technique. Once SGT had shown that this sort of thing can work, other players felt brave enough to have a go. But you can search the games of earlier masters of attack like Morphy and Andersson and find nothing like it. Fabulous. 0-1

Tartakower Saviely - Tarrasch Siegbert [A52] It, Semmering , 1926

"My Best Game".

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e5 3.dxe5 Ng4


A curiosity: the austere Tarrasch ventures this gambit of the hypermoderns Breyer and Abonyi, while Tartakower replies in the style of... Dr.Tarrasch. Critics of Tartakower often dismissed his style as trappy, and suggested he won only games that his opponents contrived to lose; but Tartakower says of his opponent's play in this game that it is remarkably free from errors.

4.e4 Nxe5 5.Nc3 Bb4 6.Nf3 Bxc3+ 7.bxc3 Qe7 8.Be2 0-0 9.Nd4 d6 10.0-0 Na6 11.f4 Nc6 12.Re1 Nxd4 13.cxd4


White offers a Pawn, which there is no point in declining.

13...Qxe4 [13...Bd7 14.Bd3 Nb4 15.Bb1 Rad8 16.a3± SGT] 14.Bf3 Qg6 15.Ba3 Qf6 16.Qd2 c6 17.d5 c5 18.Bb2 Qd8 19.Qc3 f6 20.Re3 Bd7 21.Rae1 Rf7 22.g4 Nc7 23.g5


Tartakower's strategy is all straight lines and moral rectitude, lofty ideals that triumph over the material Pawn deficit.

23...Ne8 24.f5 fxg5 25.Bh5 Nf6 26.Bxf7+ Kxf7 27.Qd2 Ng8 28.Qe2 Bxf5 29.Rf3 Nh6 30.Rxf5+ Nxf5 31.Qe6+ Kf8 32.Qxf5+ Kg8 33.Qe6+ Kh8 34.Rf1 1-0

"You really have confidence in your pieces", commented Tarrasch. "Rather, my pieces have confidence in me", replied SGT.

Tartakower,S - Colle,E [A00] Bartfeld, 1926


"The ultimate truth in chess?" SGT

1...e5 2.Bb2 f6 3.e4 Bxb4 4.Bc4 Ne7 5.f4


A hearteningly fresh angle on this opening, although again, by modern standards, again over-doing things a bit. Why Capablanca was whingeing that chess openings had been played out is a mystery, though...

5...d5 6.exd5 exf4 7.Qf3 Bd6 8.Ne2 Ng6 9.d4 Qe7 10.Bc1 Bf5 11.Bd3 Bxd3 12.Qxd3 0-0 13.0-0 Re8 14.Nxf4 Nxf4 15.Bxf4 Bxf4 16.Rxf4


Tartakower reflects here that his opening has not been much of a success.

16...Na6 17.Nd2 Qe3+ 18.Qxe3 Rxe3


19.Rb1 Rc3 20.Rb2 b6 21.Rf3 Rxf3 22.gxf3


Now White is better placed to make use of his advantages. He will create a passed d-Pawn.

22...Rd8 23.c4 Nb8 24.Kf2 Kf7 25.a4 c6


A sign of distress: Black helps White with his main plan, for fear of making more concessions trying to do something to stop it.

26.dxc6 Nxc6 27.d5 Na5 28.Ke3 Nb7 29.Kd4 Rc8 30.Ne4 h6



The Black knight is tied to d6.

31...f5 32.axb6 fxe4 33.bxa7 1-0

Lowcki,N - Tartakower,S [C41] Jurata, 1937

"A bizarre ending".

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 3.Bc4 Be6 4.Bxe6 fxe6 5.c3 Nc6 6.Qb3 Qc8 7.Ng5 Nd8


A curiously cramped system to adopt. 8.0-0 [8.d4] 8...Be7 9.d4 Bxg5 10.Bxg5 Nf7 11.Bh4 c6 12.Nd2 Qd7 13.Rad1 exd4 14.cxd4 Ne7 15.f4 0-0 16.Bxe7 Qxe7 17.f5

White is determined to make something stick.

17...Nd8 18.Rde1 Kh8 19.d5 cxd5 20.exd5 e5 21.Ne4 Nf7 22.Qe3


22...Qh4 Finally, counterplay is sought. 23.Rf3 Rac8 24.Rh3 Qf4 25.Qxa7 Rc1 26.Qe3 Rxe1+ 27.Qxe1 Ng5 28.Rh4 Qxf5


Among SGT's craftier traps: "devilish", he claims.

29.Nxd6 Qg6 30.Rg4 Qxd6 31.Rxg5

White has a Pawn, Black the initiative.

31...Qb6+ 32.Kh1 Qb5 33.Kg1 Qc5+ 34.Kh1 Qc4 35.Kg1 Qd4+ 36.Kh1 Qe4 37.Qc1 Qd3 38.Kg1 Qd4+ 39.Kh1 Qd2


A piquant finish to exploit the back rank, reminiscent both of the composed game Adams-Torre, and the genuine brilliancy Bernstein-Capablanca. 0-1


Capablanca,J - Tartakower,S [B42] Vienna (2), 1914

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 a6 5.Bd3 Nf6 6.0-0 d5 7.exd5 Nxd5 8.c3 Bc5 9.Nf3 Nd7 10.Nbd2 N7f6 11.Ne4 Nxe4 12.Bxe4 Nf6 13.Qxd8+ Kxd8 14.Bc2 Ke7 15.Ng5 h6 16.Ne4 Nxe4 17.Bxe4


"What a really great virtuoso of the game of chess Senor Capablanca must have been, to have been able to inflict on his adversary - by means so simple and with such reduced material - these development troubles! A miniature type of art, but _art_ all the same."

SGT grabs some space on the King's-side, refusing the White Bishops space, and when White tries the same on the Queen's-side, he takes the chance to swap off Pawns and pieces.

17...f5 18.Bc2 g5 19.Re1 Kf6 20.b4 Bb6 21.Bb2 Rd8 22.Re2 a5 23.Rae1 axb4 24.Bb3 bxc3 25.Bxc3+ Bd4 26.Bxd4+ Rxd4 27.Bxe6


The White Rooks cannot be denied an entry to e7, but after that?

27...Rd6 28.Bb3 Bd7 29.Re7 Kg6 30.h3 Rf8 31.R1e2 h5 32.Bc2 g4 33.Kh2 Rc8 34.Bb3 Rf8 35.Bc2 Rc8 36.Bb3 Rf8 37.Bc2 1/2-1/2

Sergeant,E - Tartakower,S [B02] Hastings (6), 1945

"Once demobilised and returned to civilian life, what could a chessmaster of more than fifty-eight years of age do except... continue. "

"I tried to create for myself a new style which I may term 'neo-pragmatic', trying to obtain maximum effects from the reasoned co-ordination of all the four factors in chess: time, space, material and force." SGT

Tartakower was proud to win this tournament, the first to be held after the war.

1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.c4 Nb6 4.c5 Nd5 5.Bc4 e6 6.Nc3 Nxc3 7.bxc3 d5 8.cxd6 cxd6 9.exd6 Bxd6 10.d4 0-0 11.Nf3 Qc7 12.Qd3 Nd7 13.0-0 b6 14.Bb3 Bb7 15.h3 e5 16.Ng5 Nf6 17.dxe5 Bxe5 18.Ba3 Rad8 19.Qc4 Bh2+ 20.Kh1 Qxc4 21.Bxc4 Bd6 22.Bxd6 Rxd6 23.Rad1


"...the endings procured for me many an additional half-point". White has weaknesses on the Queen's-side.

23...Rc6 24.Bb3 Rxc3 25.Rfe1 Rc7 26.Nxf7 Rcxf7 27.Re7 Bd5 28.Bxd5 Nxd5 29.Rxf7 Rxf7 30.Rxd5 Rxf2 31.Rd8+ Rf8 32.Rd7 a5 33.Rb7 Rf6 34.Kh2 h5 35.Kg3 Kh7 36.Kh4 Kh6 37.g4 g5+ 38.Kg3 h4+ 39.Kg2 Kg6 40.a4 Re6 41.Kf2 Kf6 42.Kf3 Kg6 43.Kf2 Rc6 44.Ke3 Rc3+ 45.Kd4 Rxh3 46.Rxb6+ Kf7 47.Rb5 Rf3 48.Rxa5 Rf4+ 49.Ke5 h3 50.Ra7+ Kg6 51.Ra6+ Kg7 52.Rb6 Rxg4 53.Rb1 Rxa4 0-1

Thomas,G - Tartakower,S [C11] Hastings (2), 1945

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nf6 5.Bg5 Be7 6.Nxf6+ Bxf6 7.Bxf6 Qxf6 8.c3 0-0 9.Bd3 Nc6 10.Nf3 e5 11.dxe5 Nxe5 12.Nxe5 Qxe5+ 13.Qe2 Qxe2+ 14.Bxe2


Another "... additional half-point" is in the offing. I can imagine this game being given up as a draw here at our club, and in loftier arenas too.


Here is the first clue: White is not yet free to develop as he wishes.

15.0-0 Rfd8 16.Rfd1 Rxd1+ 17.Bxd1 Rd8 18.Bf3! Kf8 19.b3 b6 20.Rd1 Rxd1+ 21.Bxd1 Ke7 22.Bc2 a5 23.a4?

Weakening. Leave your Pawns alone! [23.Kf1; 23.Bxh7?? g6]

23...Kd6 24.f3 Kc5 25.Kf2


White still looks solid enough, but Black can break through on the Queen's-side.

25...c6 26.Ke3 b5 27.axb5 cxb5 28.g4 Now the Ph7 is vulnerable.

28...h6 29.h4 Bd7 30.g5 hxg5 31.hxg5 a4 32.Kf4 a3 33.Bb1 b4

"Such victories, achieved by imperceptible means, show no surface brilliance, but are all the same rich in instruction". SGT 0-1

Gruenfeld,E - Tartakower,S [D21] Semmering, 1926

1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 3.Nf3 Bg4 4.Ne5 Bh5 5.Nxc4 e6 6.Qb3 Nc6 7.e3 Rb8 8.Nc3 Nf6 9.Be2 Bxe2 10.Nxe2 Bb4+ 11.Nc3 0-0 12.0-0 Nd5 13.Nxd5 Qxd5 14.Qc2 e5 15.Nxe5 Nxe5 16.dxe5 Qxe5 17.Bd2 Bxd2 18.Qxd2 Rfd8 19.Qc2 Rd5 20.Rad1 Rbd8 21.Rxd5 Rxd5 22.Rd1 g6 23.Rxd5 Qxd5


A delicate Queen ending has arisen. Black can count three advantages: the distant majority, the open file, and more active (centralised) Queen.

24.a3 c5 25.h3 b5 26.Qc3 c4 27.f4?! [27.f3! f5!] 27...Qe4! 28.Kf2

Black's manoeuvres are succeeding; White attempts a blockade.


The delicacy goes out of the position, and a more forceful phase supersedes.

29.g4 [29.Qxa5 Qc2+ 30.Kf3 Qxb2-+] 29...h6 30.h4 Qh1 31.Kg3 Qg1+ 32.Kf3 Qh2 33.g5 h5 34.Ke4 Qxh4 35.Qxa5 Qh1+ 36.Ke5 Qc6 37.Qa7 h4 38.f5 gxf5 39.Kxf5 Qf3+ 40.Ke5 h3 41.Kd4 Qg4+ 0-1

Chess Quotes

"When the going gets tactical, the computers get going."
— -- HYATT