Nimzowitsch took first place at Carlsbad 1929, ahead of a strong field that included Capablanca and Rubinstein, but it did not earn him a shot at the World Championship.
Instead, Alekhine’s challenger later that year was Bogoljubow, who came eighth at Carlsbad, some 3.5 points behind the winner. This clearly rankled with Nimzowitsch, and undoubtedly provided one of the motives for writing the book, which was originally published in Russia in 1931. In it, he makes a forceful pitch for being the most deserving challenger to Alekhine’s crown.
It should be noted also that Nimzowitsch beat Bogoljubow at Carlsbad, their encounter yielding a fine strategic victory that shared the prize for the best played game (Euwe’s flawed win against Thomas was the other game, incidentally: about which, see below). If anything, this must have added petrol to the fire, rubbed salt into the wounds… choose your metaphor. He was not a happy bunny.
Of the 231 games played at Carlsbad , Nimzowitsch has selected 30 and arranged them by player. One would have liked to see more, but the games as given are top-notch. Nimzowitsch, as the winner, has 7 games; Capablanca and Spielmann, equal second, have 5 games apiece; Rubinstein, who finished in fourth place, has been given 3 games; the other prizewinners have 6 games between them; and, to end, there are 4 games to represent the non-prizewinners (those placed ninth to twenty-second). Among this last quartet of games is a win by Samisch (against Grunfeld) which picked up the First Brilliancy Prize.
Nimzowitsch’s annotations are lively and entertaining, appreciative and instructive; yet also abrasive at times. And it seems appropriate at this point to praise Jim Marfia’s terrific translation, which manages to bring the author’s personality fully to life.
One especially fascinating feature of the book lies in Nimzowitsch’s impressions of his contemporaries. His introductory remarks in the chapter on Rubinstein are heartfelt and genuinely moving, and bear comparison with Reti’s portrait of the same player in Modern Ideas in Chess. While his description of Vidmar’s style, a player for whom he apparently had a high regard, is insightful and eye-opening (see pages 108 and 111-112). He describes Vidmar’s chess as a blend of method and naiveté. Spielmann had publicly expressed his admiration for My System and Nimzowitsch writes of this established master and colleague almost as though he were his student. That is to say, he is just a little bit patronising. There is a sense, also, in which Nimzowitsch seems to feel as though he can appropriate some of Spielmann’s victories as his own, because they were achieved using his ideas (prophylaxis, blockade, centralization). Granted, the man wanted to promote his strategic vision of chess, but this was maybe the wrong way to go about it. Anyway, it is easy to see how Nimzowitsch could rub people the wrong way!
In his notes to the aforementioned Thomas–Euwe game, Nimzowitsch overlooks that after 22.Qxa2 axb3 White has the resource 23.Rxc5! turning the tables (see page 123). But this looks to be his only error in analysis. The move is mentioned by Euwe himself, incidentally, in From My Games 1920-1937 and so is not a ‘find’. Few would consider Euwe’s effort one of the two best played games in the tournament, anyway: Capablanca-Treybal, for one, was a much better game, pretty much a masterpiece.
Anything by Nimzowitsch is worth reading and, as I hope I have made plain, this is a fascinating book for all sorts of reasons.
The publisher’s description of Carlsbad International Chess Tournament 1929 can be read here.
By Aron Nimzovich
Translated by Jim Marfia
Dover Publications, 2009