Siegbert Tarrasch - Father of German Chess


Siegbert Tarrasch
Siegbert Tarrasch
Siegbert Tarrasch (5 March 1862 – 17 February 1934) was a Prussian/German chess master who was maybe the strongest chess player in the world around 1890-93. He replaced Gunsberg in the group of pretenders.


He could have challenged for the title in 1892 but he chose not to leave his medical practice at that time.He would much later have a shot at the World Championship based on a glittering career comprising of several high profile tournament victories.


He enjoyed a long and successful career of nearly 50 years. His achievements in tournaments and his work on chess theory have gained him a place in the chess hall of fame.


Young Siegbert




Siegbert Tarrasch grew up in Breslau, Prussia
Siegbert Tarrasch grew up in Breslau, Prussia
Tarrasch was born into a Jewish family in Breslau, Prussia (now Wroclaw, Poland). It became part of the German Empire following the unification of Germany in 1871. It would become part of Poland after World War II.


Tarrasch grew up in his mainly German home city. At this time about 98% of residents spoke German and less than 2% spoke Polish. Tarrasch was a German speaker and later settled with his own family in Nuremberg in the southern German state of Bavaria.


When he was 18 he finished school and then left Breslau to go to university. He studied medicine in Halle. Later, as a doctor, he built a successful medical practice.


Four in a Row




Siegbert Tarrasch won four major tournaments in a row
Siegbert Tarrasch won four major tournaments in a row
Like many intellectuals of the time, Tarrasch developed a fondness for chess. Unlike many intellectuals he became incredibly good at it. It's not an exaggeration to say he was one of the greatest players ever.

He was offered a chance to challenge William Steinitz for the World Championship in 1892. He declined the invitation to concentrate on his growing medical practice, which was his family's bread and butter.

This was perhaps his moment to lift the crown. His tournament record against Steinitz of 3 wins and a draw in 4 games suggests he might have been #1 at this time. It would be 16 years before he would get another opportunity.

He gained his great reputation by winning 4 highly prestigious international chess tournaments in a row. His winning streak included Breslau 1889, Manchester 1890, Dresden 1892, and Leipzig 1894. It was during these years that he played a match against Mikhail Chigorin in St Petersburg.


Tarrasch vs Chigorin




Siegbert Tarrasch and Mikhail Chigorin drew a hard fought match in 1893
Siegbert Tarrasch and Mikhail Chigorin drew a hard fought match in 1893
Mikhail Chigorin had run Steinitz close in two World Championship contests (1889 and 1892). He and Isidor Gunsberg, who had been narrowly defeated by Steinitz over the winter of 1890/91, had replaced Anderssen, Blackburne and Zukertort as the chasing pack behind Steinitz.


Tarrasch had moved into this elite band of pretenders with his commanding tournament record throughout these years. He may even have been champion had work commitments not prevented him from challenging Steinitz in 1892.


He was able to play a match against Chigorin in St Petersburg in 1893. It was logical to determine where they stood in relation to each other. A tough encounter with neither giving any quarter finished dead even on a score of 9 wins apiece with 4 drawn games among the 22.


Emergence of Lasker




Siegbert Tarrasch had a new rival in Emanuel Lasker
Siegbert Tarrasch had a new rival in Emanuel Lasker
The small circle of candidates for succession to the crown of William Steinitz gained another member around this time. Emanuel Lasker from Barlinek, a city north of Breslau, was making waves.

He was winning bigger and bigger tournaments, finishing ahead of established heavyweights and he was ambitious. He rejected contemporary analysis on much of the opening theory of the time and he had an unconventional approach to the game.

The top players were having great difficulty figuring him out. Lasker challenged Tarrasch to a match to establish who was greater. The challenge was declined with contempt. Tarrasch implied that Lasker had not earned the right to play him. He said Lasker should maybe win an international tournament before issuing challenges to someone like him.


Tarrasch-Lasker Rivalry




Siegbert Tarrasch had a bitter rivalry with Emanuel Lasker
Siegbert Tarrasch had a bitter rivalry with Emanuel Lasker
Lasker instead managed to get a World Championship match against Steinitz in 1894. He beat Steinitz to become World Champion. Lasker had leapfrogged all of his rivals and now he had control.

Lasker's challenge and elevation to champion was met with derision by journalists and top players alike. It had been known for a while that the aging Steinitz was on borrowed time. The player, Isidor Gunsberg and the journalist, Leopold Hoffer said Lasker should have played Tarrasch and Chigorin before getting a shot at Steinitz.

Tarrasch himself claimed that Lasker only won because Steinitz was old and past his best. He was likely also critical of Lasker's playing style. Tarrasch was a major proponent of the new positional style and was in fact a pioneer in it's continuing development. Lasker's success would sow the seeds for acrimony and resentment as Tarrasch would never recognize the new champion's legitimacy.


1908 World Championship




Siegbert Tarrasch challenged Emanuel Lasker for the World Championship in Cologne in 1908
Siegbert Tarrasch challenged Emanuel Lasker for the World Championship in Cologne in 1908
Lasker justified his hold on the crown by beating Steinitz a second time in 1897 and posting more good results in tournaments. The champion finished 3rd at Hastings 1895 behind Chigorin and Pillsbury but crucially ahead of Steinitz and Tarrasch who finished 4th.

Tarrasch was still doing well himself. He enjoyed a great victory in Vienna in 1898. His 2.5 - 1.5 win over Pillsbury in the final playoff at that tournament reaffirmed his credentials as a potential World Champion. Injury prevented him from playing Lasker for the crown in 1904 but the clash between the by now bitter enemies eventually took place in 1908.

Apparently when they were introduced for the official opening of the 1908 World Championship match in Cologne, Tarrasch clicked his heels, bowed stiffly, and said, "To you, Herr Lasker, I have only three words, check and mate". With that he promptly turned and left the room. Things did not go as Tarrasch had hoped. Lasker won 8-3 with 5 drawn games. Interestingly, one of the spectators was the 15 year old future World Champion Alexander Alekhine.


Later Years




Emanuel Lasker and Siegbert Tarrasch playing chess as Alexander Alekhine, J.R. Capablanca and Frank Marshall look on
Emanuel Lasker and Siegbert Tarrasch playing chess as Alexander Alekhine, J.R. Capablanca and Frank Marshall look on
From that moment it was clear to the chess world that Lasker was the best. Whether Tarrasch agreed or not is another matter. He blamed his defeat on the weather. He said it was too rainy and foggy and was generally depressing.

Lasker dismissed him saying "He lacks the passion that whips the blood.". Tarrasch would now always be in the shadow of Lasker. He still remained a major force in the game for several more years.

His last great performance came at the famous St Petersburg 1914 tournament. A very strong field of 11 masters competed for the title. Jose Raul Capablanca, Lasker, Alekhine, Tarrasch and Frank Marshall finished in the top 5 places to qualify for the final stage.

Lasker won the final ahead of Capablanca, Alekhine, Tarrasch in 4th and Marshall. Tarrasch was brilliant in the preliminary round, but struggled in the final round. His one major success in the final round was a stunning victory with the Black pieces over the imperious Capablanca, who many now felt was stronger than Lasker. This game denied Capablanca the tournament, handing victory instead to Tarrasch's old rival, Lasker.


Legacy of Tarrasch




Siegbert Tarrasch became known as the Father of German Chess
Siegbert Tarrasch became known as the Father of German Chess
Tarrasch competed until the early 1930s. He was no longer a contender however. St Petersburg would be the last of his glory days. He would continue with his extensive work on chess theory. His work, further developing already known positional concepts and discovering new ones earned him the moniker The Father of German Chess.


His teachings brought him into conflict with players advocating the new Hypermodern Style. He and the Hypermodern leader Aaron Nimzowitsch openly disliked one another.


Capablanca claimed that the Hypermodern approach, which he (Capablanca) did not advocate, didn't actually refute the established positional laws (of Steinitz and Tarrasch). Hypermodernism, according to the Cuban, merely attempted to achieve the same goals in a roundabout and superfluous way.


Moving On




Akiba Rubinstein
Akiba Rubinstein
Siegbert Tarrasch was a hugely important figure in the game. Not just for his forays in high level competition, but also for his contributions to chess theory.


He gave us the Tarrasch Defense and the Tarrasch Variations in the French Defense and the Ruy Lopez. These things were probably put in the shade by his philosophy on chess which he expounded in several chess books.


Alas time waits for no man and Tarrasch's generation were to be replaced in turn just as they had swept aside their predecessors. One of those emerging players as Tarrasch was slipping down was Akiba Rubinstein.