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Friday, January 31, 2014

Hastings 1895

     Nearly every chessplayer has heard of Hastings, 1895 and knows that it was won by the unknown Harry N. Pillsbury, but few know much more than that about it.
     It was in this small seacoast town that the first modern tournament was held. Hastings 1895 maintains its reputation because of the participants and its significance as a milestone in chess history.
     The tournament was a round robin held from August 5 to September 2, 1895 and was the strongest tournament in history up until that time. All of the top players of the generation competed. Pillsbury, a young American unknown in Europe, was the surprise winner with 16½ out of 21 points – ahead of Chigorin and Word Champion Emmanuel Lasker.
     Many factors made this event made it memorable: It was the strong assembly of players ever up until that time. It was the first clash between the new World Champion, Lasker, and the old, Steinitz, since their title match. Pitted against each other were the disciples of Morphy (Chigorin, Blackburne, Mieses, Bird), the Modern School (Steinitz, Lasker, Tarrasch, Schlechter) and the eclectic group that were somewhere between (Pillsbury and Janowsky). The tournament would possibly determine potential candidates for challengers to Lasker. Theoretical ideas that were to rule chess for decades to come would be on display and finally, it generated sheer excitement. Four names were prominent: Lasker, Steinitz, Tarrasch and Chigorin. The question was how would they fare against each other?
     Lasker was 26 years old and even though he was world champion, he had never played in such a strong tournament. As it turned out, even after the tournament many lesser players disparaged Lasker’s ability. Even the tournament boo had little to say and no praise for him! 
     Steinitz was also an unknown quantity. Did he lose he title because of old age or had he been temporarily out of form? Steinitz was described as “peculiar and striking: fine and large head with prominent forehead, grey hair and ruddy beard, rather portly, suffering from a slight lameness which naturally increases with years; he now walks with a stick. He is said to be a good swimmer, he has at any rate plenty of buoyancy of nature and can be entertaining and affable...His style of play is firm and tenacious, aiming at accurate positioning and steady crushing rather than brilliant attacks or rapid finished...on the other hand he has a way of treating openings with all sorts of eccentricities.”
     Tarrasch, 33, was a known quantity. He won had won first prize at four major tournaments since 1889 and had drawn a match with Chigorin two years previously. In fact, Tarrasch was generally considered the man to beat. Impressive in appearance and popular with fans, he was described in the tournament book as “a neat, well-dressed, sprightly gentleman of very engaging manners and always with a fresh flower in his buttonhole.”
     Chigorin, 44, was at the top of his game. Oddly, his reputation rested mostly on four matches he had failed to win. He has lost twice to Steinitz in world championship matches and had drawn matches with Tarrasch and Gunsburg. He was the public’s choice at Hastings because of his dashing style, preferring the Evans Gambit whenever he got the chance. The tournament book said of him, “His style of play is quite of the old school, brilliantly attacking and ever towards the King, perhaps described by the simple word beautiful...In difficult positions Chigorin gets very excited and at times seems quite fierce, sitting at the board with his black hair brushed back, splendid black eyes, and flushed face looking as if he could see right through the table...”
     In addition to these outstanding players Schlechter had just turned 21, Blackburne at 52 had a career of 33 years behind him and was to compete another 20 years, the young and fastidious in taste and manner Janowsky. Frank Marshall once described him as “somewhat of a dandy.” There was also the veteran Henry Bird, the burly, broad-shouldered Georg Marco, the reticent but good humored Amos Burn with his normally dry style of play, the lively but erratic Albin and the unpredictable Walbrodt. Gunsburg was past his prime but Teichmann was an upcoming star.
     There was von Bardeleben who was to obtain immortality by disappearing in his game with Wilhelm Steinitz when he just walked out of the tournament room instead of resigning. Von Bardeleben always wore a black suit of dubious vintage. According to Edward Lasker apparently he could never spare enough money to buy a new suit even though at fairly regular intervals he received comparatively large sums – from one to several thousand marks – through the simple expedient of marrying, and shortly after, divorcing, some lady who craved the distinction of his noble name and was willing to pay for it. Unfortunately, when he received his reward, it was usually far exceeded by the amount of the debts he had accumulated. Rumor had it that the number of the ladies involved in these brief marital interludes had grown so alarmingly that they could easily have made up a Sultan’s harem. He committed suicide by jumping out of a window in 1924. (According to one obituary, however, he fell out by accident. His life and death were the basis for that of the main character in the novel The Defense by Vladimir Nabokov, which was made into the movie The Luzhin Defense. The rest of the entries were considered outsiders and did not generate much interest.
     The result of the tournament: 1. Harry Nelson Pillsbury, 16.5 2. Mikhail Chigorin, 16.0 3. Emmanuel Lasker, 15.5 4. Siegbert Tarrasch, 14.0 5. Wilhelm Steinitz, 13.0 6. Emanuel Schiffers, 12.0 7. Curt von Bardeleben, 11.5 8. Richard Teichmann, 11.5 9. Carl Schlechter, 11.0 10. Joseph Henry Blackburne, 10.5 11. Carl Walbrodt, 10.0 12. Amos Burn, 9.5 13. David Janowski, 9.5 14. James Mason, 9.5 15. Henry Bird, 9.0 16. Isidor Gunsberg, 9.0 17. Adolf Albin, 8.5 18. Georg Marco, 8.5 19. William Pollock, 8.0 20. Jacques Mieses, 7.5 21. Samuel Tinsley, 7.5 22. Beniamino Vergani, 3.0

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