London 1899 was a great triumph for then world champion Emanuel Lasker. He won the 27-round double round-robin (Teichmann dropped out after the first cycle) by 4½ points over a strong field that included Maroczy, Pillsbury, Schlechter and Chigorin. He only lost one game, to a player whose name, but little else, is known to contemporary chess fans.
That player was Joseph Henry Blackburne (1841-1924), nicknamed “the Black Death”. He learned the game late, at the age of 19, but just two years later defeated Wilhelm Steinitz in a tournament game! It took him another decade or so until he was a top player, and while he was outclassed by the very best players (clearly demonstrated by the 7-0 thrashing he received in an 1876 match with Steinitz) he remained one of the world’s best until his early 60s. (In 1914, several months before his 73rd birthday, he drew a game with Alekhine.)
But back to Lasker-Blackburne. Lasker was in fine form in London, but in this game he was no match for Blackburne. At times in the opening and early middlegame, you can clearly see that this is an old-time game, but at a certain point the light turns on and Blackburne’s play is forceful and beautifully logical. From move 18 on, it’s a game that could have been played by one of today’s elite GMs, and in the end even the great and resourceful Lasker cracks under the pressure.
It’s an entertaining game, but is it instructive? The answer is yes: Blackburne’s attacking buildup was very logical, and the very flawed opening is helpful to us as well. By putting some positional errors on clear display, we’re able to gain a better understanding of how that opening line is supposed to work, and that’s going to be useful to someone on either side of the board. You will definitely enjoy the game, so I hope you’ll join me tonight – Wednesday night – at 9 p.m. ET (that’s Thursday morning at 3 a.m. CET) in the Broadcast room. Look for Lasker-Blackburne in the games window, select it, and you’re ready to go: it’s free for Premium members.
See you then!