It has taken well nigh a century for this classic tournament book to be translated into English. Much too long, of course, but it has been well worth the wait.
Karlsbad 1907 was a fairly strong tournament. Although it lacked the presence of Lasker and Tarrasch, the rest of the best players of the day participated. Rubinstein, then in his prime, came first and was closely followed by Maroczy. Other participants included Chigorin, Janowsky, Marshall, Duras and Nimzowitsch. The future author of My System was 20 years old at the time and shared fourth and fifth place with Schlechter. We are told by one contemporary commentator (in a newspaper account of the tournament that is given in the book) that he was ‘a young, upcoming talent, whose supporters will have to help curb his temperament if he is to attain successes at the chessboard and in the intercourse of society’. What the latter comment refers to is left unsaid.
All of the 210 games are annotated, about three quarters of them by Marco and the rest by Schlechter. The translator, Robert Sherwood, has added to these annotations: expanding, correcting and validating the authors’ analysis as appropriate. As an aid, Sherwood has made use of both his faithful Rybka and notes from a few other sources (such as Kmoch’s book on Rubinstein). From the many splendid games on show, here my favourite five:
Marco has a high reputation as an annotator, and he more than lives up to it here. The breadth of his mind is everywhere evident; his notes are by turns poetic and methodical and rigorous. He has the knack of identifying critical moments and turning points in a game. Indeed, his annotations are often of greater interest than the games themselves. Or rather, the annotations are so penetrating and instructive that they make even pedestrian games seem interesting, so adept is Marco at showing a game’s internal logic. One modest example: Mieses-Maroczy, a bishop and pawn ending, was agreed drawn after 46 moves. Does this sound appealing? Well, perhaps not. Yet Marco’s note to Black’s 37th move, which extends over two pages and is full of detailed analyses and intricate explanations, compels you to look at this game with renewed appreciation. And this is by no means a solitary example; e.g. the note to move 48 in Salwe-Cohn is of a similar length and depth.
Often, Marco’s notes are of a more general nature. Recurring themes are the role of risk, uncertainty and chance in chess and the ineluctable nature of human fallibility and folly (‘It is remarkable how often, in the realization of its aims, the human mind uses the most impractical methods,’ begins one such exasperated meditation). His note to the fourth move of Marshall-Cohn is a reflection on why paradigms are so slow to change, in science, religion and chess, and it anticipates the thought of Thomas Kuhn. (Well, perhaps I am exaggerating a little here.)
Karlsbad 1907 International Chess Tournament is, without a doubt, a classic of chess literature and this beautifully produced edition, bound in red cloth, is commensurate with its worth. Ideally, it should be read in a wood-paneled library with a glass of port by your side and your faithful bulldog napping by the fire. It is an absolute pleasure for all who love chess.
The best online summary of Karlsbad 1907 International Chess Tournament is at the New in Chess website – read it here.
By George Marco and Carl Schlechter
Translated by Robert Sherwood
Caissa Editions, 2007