Inspired defence

by Jonathan Speelman
3/6/2022 – In the opening rounds of the Belgrade Grand Prix there were two splendid instances of defensive queen sacrifices. These remarkable efforts set Jon Speelman thinking about defence in general. He thus turned to one of his favourite books, The Middlegame by Max Euwe and Hans Kramer, and cherry-picked a couple of games from the chapters on Steinitz and Lasker. | Pictured: Emanuel Lasker / Collection of the World Chess Hall of Fame

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Defensive brilliancies

[Note that Jon Speelman also looks at the content of the article in video format, here embedded at the end of the article.]

Max Euwe, Hans KramerIn the opening rounds of the Belgrade FIDE Grand Prix there were two splendid instances of defensive queen sacrifices. (I’m writing on Friday — there may even have been more).

The first in Grischuk v Andreikin was the subject of Meriijn Van Delft’s Game of the Week and led to a brilliant win, while a couple of days later, in Harikrishna v Giri, the sacrifice defused the position and led to a draw.

I’ve reprised both of these fairly briefly, and they set me thinking about defence in general. So I turned to one of my favourite books, The Middlegame by Max Euwe and Hans Kramer.

One of the chess books on a shelf above my bed when I was a kid, this double hander — in which I presume that Kramer did the heavy lifting and Euwe some checking before adding his imprimatur — was originally published in twelve volumes in Dutch. The English edition was published by G Bell and Sons Ltd in two volumes in 1964 and 1965: the first, Static Features, comprising the first five books, and the second, Dynamic and Subjective, features the remaining seven. The translation was by WH Cozens, a well-known chess author in his own right whose lovely collection The King Hunt I particularly like.

Defence appears quite early in the second volume. It’s a difficult topic, and they chose to highlight the defensive talents of two great players — Wilhlem Steinitz and Emanuel Lasker — before going into a more general chapter. Today we could certainly add Tigran Petrosian and Ulf Andersson. And, indeed, many current players, including Sergey Karjakin, Magnus Carlsen himself and Hikaru Nakamura, are brilliant at defence when it’s required.

Today I’m going to cherry-pick a couple of games each from the chapters on Steinitz and Lasker, and I may well return to the topic soon.


Select an entry from the list to switch between games

Master Class Vol.5: Emanuel Lasker

The name Emanuel Lasker will always be linked with his incredible 27 years reign on the throne of world chess. In 1894, at the age of 25, he had already won the world title from Wilhelm Steinitz and his record number of years on the throne did not end till 1921 when Lasker had to accept the superiority of Jose Raul Capablanca. But not only had the only German world champion so far seen off all challengers for many years, he had also won the greatest tournaments of his age, sometimes with an enormous lead. The fascinating question is, how did he manage that?


Jonathan Speelman, born in 1956, studied mathematics but became a professional chess player in 1977. He was a member of the English Olympic team from 1980–2006 and three times British Champion. He played twice in Candidates Tournaments, reaching the semi-final in 1989. He twice seconded a World Championship challenger: Nigel Short and then Viswanathan Anand against Garry Kasparov in London 1993 and New York 1995.


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