12/03/2008 20:27

Siegbert Tarrasch


Siegbert Tarrasch was born in Breslau, on March 5, 1862, as the son of German Jew parents.  Unfortunately he was born with a club foot but this was no handicap as he became a good scholar excelling in all subjects.  As Breslau had also been the birth place of Adolf Anderssen there was no shortage of chess heritage in the area. 

However, he writes in one of his many books that he was not introduced to chess until he was fifteen years old.  At about the same time he discovered that books were written on chess and he proceeded to devour every book or article that he could lay his hands on.  This interest did not deter him from qualifying as a medical doctor, a profession he pursued for many years before chess and writing became his prime interest.   

Whilst he was at the University of Berlin where he was completing his medical studies, he visited many chess cafés and met the likes of Winawer, B. Lasker, Schallop and other notable players of that age.  He took time off his studies to prepare and play in the Hauptturnier of the German chess association, held in Berlin in 1881.  He failed to take first place that would have assured him a title and the possibility to be invited to other tournaments, and so returned to the University.

    In 1883 he again entered the Haubtturnier in Nuremberg and this time he did take first place earning himself the title of master allowing him to submit an entry to an international tournament held in Hamburg in 1885 by which time he had passed all his examinations and become a qualified doctor.

    His play in the Nuremberg international was outstanding and he shared second place with Blackburne, Englisch, Mason and Weiss.

    His next tournament at Frankfurt in 1887 was not so successful.  He finished in a tie for fifth place.  The following tournaments were not very impressive until Breslau in 1889.  This marked the start of an impressive run of tournament successes that gave him the first place at Berlin 1889, Manchester 1890, Dresden 1892, and Leipzig 1894.  These results placed him as one of the foremost players of his age.  He was also playing matches and it is considered that his play in games against Tchigorin in a match in 1893 was among the most interesting of Tarrasch's career.  In this period, Tarrasch was invited to play a match against Steinitz, the incumbent World Champion.  He had to refuse because of his professional medical duties.  Who knows what the future of the world championship would have been had he been able to accept.  

Except for success in a marathon tournament in Vienna 1898, this marked a turning point in Tarrasch's chess career.  He was unable to duplicate the successes that he enjoyed in previous years and he was eclipsed by other chess notables who were appearing on the scene such as Emanuel Lasker, Pillsbury and later Capablanca.   Lasker proved to be Tarrasch's  bête noire and in their encounters for the world championship, Lasker emerged as an easy winner.  With the exception of the Ostend Championship Tournament in 1907, he was destined never to win a major international tournament again.  He continued playing until 1928 but in this period he became better known for his writings and his teachings rather than his playing prowess.  

He was the author of many tournament books including the prestigious St. Petersburg Tournament of 1914, but is mainly remembered for his Die moderne Schachpartie and Three Hundred Chess Games.  In these volumes he expounded on the Steinitzian theories of the game to a point where he was considered to be dogmatic.  This attitude infuriated the likes of the neo-modernists such as Nimzovitch and Reti and their views, together with Tarrasch's replies, left no doubt of the deep gulf of disagreement that existed between the two factions. 

In the early 1930's life as a Jew in Germany became very uncomfortable,  Lasker departed for the U.S. A. but Tarrasch remained in Germany considering that he was a patriot and should not have been subject to the abuse that that his fellow religious colleagues were suffering. 

Mercifully Tarrasch died in 1934 before the Nazi's had taken a firm grip on Germany.  One of his obituaries in the "Deutsche Schachzeitung" read      "In the early hours of 17 February, shortly before the end of his 72nd year of life, Dr. Siegbert Tarrasch died...Friends...and some representatives of chess clubs in Munich attended the funeral service; the clergy was absent...This was the man, who, after Anderssen's death, enhanced again and increased Germany's chess reputation in the entire world to an undreamed-of high level and who by his literary work became the teacher of all, who played a role in international tournaments, even if they in due course went their own way...Intolerant and quite often unjust to critics, who did not permit him to silence them, but was himself a touchy person."