Edward Winter's Chess Explorations (3)

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6/14/2008 – Masters are occasionally invited to nominate their single best game, and here the Editor of Chess Notes chronicles the sometimes surprising choices made by the old-timers (particularly in the first half of the last century), as well as nominations for the greatest masterpiece of all time and, even, a proposal for the 'perfect game'.

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Chess Explorations (3)

By Edward Winter

A number of Chess Notes items have discussed the old masters’ nominations for their best games, and we summarize here the various choices made. Readers should have no difficulty in finding the games cited.

On page 221 of the first volume of his Best Games collection, published in 1953, Tartakower wrote:

‘An investigation carried out some years ago by the eminent editors of the Cahiers de l’Echiquier Français (MM Gaston Legrain and then François Le Lionnais) dealt with the presentation to the public, in so far as the leading contemporary players were concerned, of the games they were most proud of.

As for me, it is usually my victory with White against Schlechter at St Petersburg, 1909, or else that with Black against Maróczy at Teplitz-Schönau, 1922, that writers think fit to commend most to the attention of their readers.

Nevertheless, I derive most pleasure from the present short but expressive game’ (Tartakower v Przepiórka, Budapest, 1929).

Savielly Tartakower

On a number of other occasions Tartakower picked out his best/favourite, etc. game:

  • In Marshall’s Chess Masterpieces (pages 41-47) he stated that his win over Maróczy at Teplitz-Schönau, 1922 was his best game. (His exact words are quoted later in the present article.)

  • On pages 241-244 of CHESS, 14 March 1939 he gave his draw against Capablanca at London, 1922, calling it ‘the most terribly pulse-stirring flight [sic] of my whole chess career’.

  • In Chess Review, June 1951 (pages 170-171) he wrote that his favourite game was his win over Vidmar at Vienna, 1905. (The score was given on pages 4-6 of his first Best Games book.)

Here are some other masters’ selections, taken from the 1930s series in Les Cahiers de l’Echiquier Français referred to by Tartakower:

  • E. Znosko-Borovsky: Capablanca v Znosko-Borovsky, St Petersburg, 1913 (volume 2, pages 189-190).

  • D. Przepiórka: Przepiórka v von Scheve, Berlin, 1904 (volume 2, pages 222-223).

Dawid Przepiórka

  • E. Grünfeld: Grünfeld v Spielmann, Vienna, 1929 (volume 3, pages 165-167). (We gave an English translation of Grünfeld’s annotations in C.N. 1586; see pages 71-73 of Chess Explorations.)

Ernst Grünfeld

  • R. Spielmann: Spielmann v Rubinstein, Carlsbad, 1911 (volume 3, pages 324-325).

  • J. Mieses: Mieses v Janowsky, Paris, 1900 (volume 4, pages 86-87).

Frank James Marshall

For Marshall’s book Chess Masterpieces (New York, 1928), the world’s leading masters (and a few others) nominated their best game:

  • R. Spielmann: Spielmann v Vidmar, Semmering, 1926 (page 1)

  • A. Nimzowitsch: ‘The one I played in the Dresden Tournament in 1926 against Rubinstein, who is, as you know, an extremely dangerous antagonist. I do not know any other of my important games which so well illustrates the principle of effective hindrance of the adversary’s forces, while at the same time securing the mobility of one’s own forces.’ (page 6)

  • M. Vidmar: Vidmar v Nimzowitsch, New York, 1927 (page 12)

  • F.J. Marshall: ‘I think that my best game was the one against Bogoljubow in the 1924 New York International Tournament. It is rarely that a mate in five moves is announced against a grand master in an important tournament.’ (page 18)

  • J.R. Capablanca: ‘It is difficult to say; so much depends on the point of view. There are three possible types of best game – a fine attack, a brilliant defence, or a purely artistic treatment. ... I think my most finished and artistic game was the one I played against Dr Bernstein at Moscow on 4 February 1914.’ (page 24)

José Raúl Capablanca

  • G. Maróczy: Maróczy v Chigorin, Vienna, 1903 (page 30)

  • A. Alekhine: Réti v Alekhine, Baden Baden, 1925 (page 35). (When annotating it in his second Best Games collection (published in 1939) Alekhine wrote: ‘I consider this and the game against Bogoljubow at Hastings, 1922 the most brilliant tournament games of my chess career.’)

Alexander Alekhine

  • S. Tartakower: ‘I consider [Maróczy v Tartakower, Teplitz-Schönau, 1922] to be my best game, because it was played against a master of the highest rank, and victory was not obtained through a serious blunder by my opponent, and because the sacrifice which I made at the 17th move, when subsequently analysed in all the variations, was proved to be perfectly sound.’ (page 41)

  • Edward Lasker: Torre v Ed. Lasker, Chicago, 1926 (page 48)

  • F.D. Yates: ‘I have selected [Yates v Takács, Kecskemét, 1927] because it is one true to type - that is to say, typical of my own style of play ... Of my own games I like this one best, as it has sound sacrificial combinations and was played in an important match.’ (page 55)

  • Emanuel Lasker: ‘I think the game I won against Pillsbury in the St Petersburg Tourney in 1896 to be the best I ever played. I was just able to ward off a furious attack and then succeed in carrying my own counter-attack through. It is true that I missed the logical continuation at one point, owing to fatigue and time pressure, and so had to win the game twice; but then the sacrificial termination has some merit.’ (page 60)

  • J. Barry: Barry v Pillsbury, Boston, 1899 (page 67)

John Finan Barry

  • W. Winter: ‘I consider [Winter v Vidmar, London, 1927] to be my best game partly on account of the eminence of my opponent and partly because of the importance of the occasion on which it was played, and also because on three occasions in which the situation was extremely complicated, I was fortunate enough to discover the only continuation which not only was necessary to secure victory, but to actually save the game.’ (page 72)

  • M. Euwe: ‘I consider [Euwe v Alekhine, 8th match game, 1926-27] to be my best game principally because I like it best myself. From your point of view it may not fulfill all requirements, there being no sacrifices or brilliancies, but, when it is considered that it was played against the player who shortly afterwards became the world’s champion, and that I had the temerity to go in for what might be termed an audaciously novel opening, I think you will agree with me that I have a certain justification for making this selection.’ (page 78)

  • E. Colle: ‘I have not played such a lot of fine games as to make the selection really difficult, but still it is not easy to define accurately what is really one’s best game. One of the reasons - not a very good one, but still a reason – for selecting [Colle v Grünfeld, Berlin, 1926] is that it was awarded the first brilliancy prize.’ (page 83)

  • Sir George Thomas: ‘I find it uncommonly difficult to pick on a game to send you. To be honest – I have never played a game that completely satisfied me. However, I enclose a game [Alexander v Thomas, London, 1919] which has the merit of a rather entertaining combination, which was subsequently proved to be thoroughly sound. The play on both sides in the earlier stages of the game probably leaves much to be desired, but the long period in which the rook remains en prise is rather amusing.’ (page 88)

  • A. Rubinstein: Rubinstein v Lasker, St Petersburg, 1909 (page 94)

  • C. Howell: ‘I have hesitated to send you this game [Howell v Ford, New York, 1904] as the casual chessist may find it dull and it is not a masterpiece. Strictly speaking I don’t think I have ever perpetrated a masterpiece. As you know I have always played to win, and the few brilliancies I have had were due to the feeble play on the part of my opponents, and therefore gave me no satisfaction. The game I now send I like because it has some lessons for an earnest student.’ (page 101)

Clarence Seaman Howell

  • A.B. Hodges: ‘As my chess career began nearly 50 years ago, I find it somewhat difficult to decide on my best game. To be worthy of inclusion in the series you are compiling, I think that there are certain essentials to be considered. The opponent must have been a prominent figure in the chess world, and there must be no flagrant error in his play. With these factors in mind, I think that my game with Dr Emanuel Lasker was my best effort. It was played in New York in 1892 ...’ (pages 107-108)

  • W. Napier: ‘I consider the best game I ever played was against Dr Lasker at Cambridge Springs in 1904. I was particularly anxious to win this game, as I knew it would help you (not that you required any help) to clinch first prize. At one period of the game, the Doctor had to make nine moves in three minutes, and I felt that my game was safe. He made these moves however with such diabolical cunning and precision that I lost the game. I don’t suppose however this is what you want, so I send you my game with Chigorin in the Monte Carlo Tournament of 1902. It may be some justification for my selecting this game that it was awarded the Rothschild Brilliancy Prize.’ (pages 115-116)

  • J. Sawyer: the drawn game Marshall v Sawyer, Montreal, 1928. (page 120)

Joseph Sawyer

  • J. Finn: Finn v Nugent, New York, 1898 (page 125).

Few writers have presumed to nominate the best chess game ever played by anyone, though Irving Chernev’s choice of Bogoljubow v Alekhine, Hastings, 1922 is familiar. (See pages 281-283 of his 1968 book The Chess Companion.) Another instance is to be found on page 3 of G.A. MacDonnell’s Chess Life-Pictures (London, 1883). ‘No grander battle has ever, in my opinion, been recorded in chess annals’ was the exuberant MacDonnell’s description of the well-known consultation game between Anderssen, Horwitz and Kling (White) and Staunton, Boden and Kipping (Manchester, 6-7 August 1857).

In the Pittsburgh Dispatch of 18 November 1902, Napier wrote of Steinitz v von Bardeleben, Hastings, 1895 that there was ‘no finer game extant’. Source: Napier The Forgotten Chessmaster by John S. Hilbert (Yorklyn, 1997), page 62.

The Strand Magazine seldom had articles on chess, but one such was published on pages 722-725 of the December 1906 issue, headed ‘The Best Games Ever Played at Chess by J.H. Blackburne, British Chess Champion [sic]’. He wrote:

‘I will now proceed to consider three games which stand on record as perhaps the most brilliant in the annals of chess.’

The three were Anderssen’s Immortal Game (‘This is considered by many to be the most beautiful ending ever played’), Zukertort v Blackburne at London, 1883 and Morphy’s ‘brilliant little gem’ against the Duke and Count at the Paris Opera, 1858.

Paul Charles Morphy

The Morphy game is a popular choice. In C.N. 2287 Yasser Seirawan wrote to us:

‘Regarding the best game of chess ever played, certainly none of my own games spring to mind. Morphy v the Duke and Count is arguably the most quoted game of all time and has much that is special about it. It is fair to say that no other game has brought so much pleasure to so many. The best game of chess ever played? Can there be such a thing? Would a perfect game not be boring? Can a mere off-hand game be the best ever? I don’t know the answers, and in spite of the questions, Morphy v the Duke and Count gets my vote.

Subsequently (see page 148 of A Chess Omnibus) we quoted a contrasting view, from pages 4-5 of Learn Chess by John Nunn (London, 2000):

‘It’s not an especially good game, as one might expect when the strongest player of his day confronts two duffers.’

On such matters, of course, there can be no consensus, or any reason for one. Even terms like ‘best’, ‘greatest’ and ‘most beautiful’ could be debated ad infinitum. And then there is the adjective ‘perfect’. On pages 334-335 of the October 1919 BCM B. Goulding Brown described the game H.E. Atkins v J. Barry (in the 1910 Anglo-American cable match) as ‘the nearest that I know to perfection’, and The Golden Treasury of Chess by Francis J. Wellmuth (New York, 1943) gave it on pages 172-173 with the heading ‘The Perfect Game’. Atkins’ victory was also highly praised by Emanuel Lasker in his annotations in the New York Evening Post, which were reproduced on pages 75-76 of the American Chess Bulletin, April 1910. The world champion concluded:

‘Mr Atkins must be congratulated upon this game, in which every move he made, starting with his eighth, is beyond criticism.’

That assessment was quoted by Fred Reinfeld when he gave the game on pages 70-72 of A Treasury of British Chess Masterpieces (London, 1950). Lasker had preferred 7 Qd2, on the grounds that 7 Nb5 ‘puts the white knight out of play’, but Reinfeld regarded this as ‘carping criticism’ and concluded:

‘Had Lasker omitted the qualifying phrase, he would have been more just as well as more generous.’

Henry Ernest Atkins

Other documented nominations of the kind discussed above continue to be sought.

Copyright to all historical pictures and scans: Edward Winter

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All articles by Edward Winter

Edward Winter is the editor of Chess Notes, which was founded in January 1982 as "a forum for aficionados to discuss all matters relating to the Royal Pastime". Since then over 5,600 items have been published, and the series has resulted in four books by Winter: Chess Explorations (1996), Kings, Commoners and Knaves (1999), A Chess Omnibus (2003) and Chess Facts and Fables (2006). He is also the author of a monograph on Capablanca (1989).

Chess Notes is well known for its historical research, and anyone browsing in its archives will find a wealth of unknown games, accounts of historical mysteries, quotes and quips, and other material of every kind imaginable. Correspondents from around the world contribute items, and they include not only "ordinary readers" but also some eminent historians – and, indeed, some eminent masters. Chess Notes is located at the Chess History Center. Signed copies of Edward Winter's publications are currently available.

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