When Elite Tournaments Were Rare and Noteworthy
Published: February 16, 2013
Tournaments that bring together the best players at the same place at the same time became possible only in the jet age. There are now so many elite tournaments that few of them are actually memorable.
But in an age when steam- and coal-powered ships and trains were the only ways to travel long distances, it was a rare event that pit the world’s best against one another — so rare that such events are remembered still.
Baden-Baden, Germany, a spa town near the French border, played host to three such tournaments, in 1870, 1914and 1925.
The 1870 tournament’s roster included most of the top players of the day, including Adolf Anderssen of Germany, who won, and Wilhelm Steinitz, an Austrian who would later become the first official world champion.
But it also stands out because the Franco-Prussian War began on the event’s opening day. The players were said to have heard the sounds of battle while they played, and one of them, Adolf Stern, was a reservist in the Bavarian Army, which fought on the side of the Prussians, and was called to active duty before the tournament was over.
The 1914 tournament in Baden-Baden was played after World War I began, with Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Ottoman Empire fighting England, France and Russia. The Russian players were virtual prisoners, including Efim Bogoljubow, a future challenger for the world championship. He and his countrymen had been detained when hostilities broke out and were not allowed to leave Germany, although they were permitted to compete in tournaments there.
The Baden-Baden tournament in 1925 lined up most of the world’s great players, including Bogoljubow; Aron Nimzowitsch, a Russian who is considered one of the fathers of modern chess theory; and Frank J. Marshall, who was the United States champion from 1909 to 1936.
This year, Baden-Baden is home to the Grenke Chess Classic, which is not likely to stand out in history. The tournament ends on Sunday, and it has featured hard-fought games, like the Round 1 match in which Fabiano Caruana, No. 13 in the world, took an early lead in defeating Georg Meier, a German ranked No. 120.
Caruana, of Italy, played the first 20 moves quickly; they were part of an analysis he had done before the tournament.
Meier did not play 12 ... cd4 — he was worried about 13 c5, when White’s pawn would have cramped the Black position.
Perhaps Meier should have tried 19 ... Re8 to trade pieces and ease the pressure, even though after 20 Re8 Qe8 21 Qc2, Caruana would have won back his sacrificed pawn.
Meier’s 22 ... a6 was a blunder; 22 ... Re8 would have been better. After 24 Bf4, Re8 was no longer a good move because of Bf7. He resigned after 36 Ne4 because he was about to lose his bishop.