Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Lake Hopatcong tournaments

I began looking over the materials I have gathered on Lake Hopatcong 1926, a five-master double-round-robin tournament with Capablanca, Kupchik, Maroczy, Marshall and Ed. Lasker (who finished in that order). My goal is to put together a mini-site about the event, featuring the 20 games deeply annotated, as part of our Kenilworth club site. I hope to have it up before the end of the summer. That way there will be a full year's lag time before the 80th anniversary of the event--plenty of time for the site to become the first hit when people search for "Lake Hopatcong 1926" on Google.

The most important document on the tournament is "The Book of the Pan-American Chess Tournament, 1926" edited by Hermann Helms with game annotations by C. S. Howell. Howell's annotations are quite good, and I have been impressed by notes and analysis I've read of his in the past. Here are Howell's notes and my own (with assistance from Fritz) on the key first-round game:

[Event "Lake Hopatcong"]
[Site "Lake Hopatcong, NJ USA"]
[Date "1926.07.07"]
[Round "1"]
[White "Capablanca, Jose Raul"]
[Black "Lasker, Edward"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "D52"]
[Annotator "C.S. Howell / M. J. Goeller / Fritz / Junior"]
[PlyCount "59"]
[EventDate "1926.07.??"]
[Source "Tournament book"]

1. Nf3 Nf6 2. c4 c6 3. d4 d5 4. Nc3 e6 ({Annotator C. S. Howell writes: "This gives Black a cramped game and, in my opinion, is inferior to} 4... dxc4 {" when today's "book" line goes} 5. a4 Bf5 6. e3 (6. Ne5 $5) 6... e6 7. Bxc4 Bb4 8. O-O {and White has recovered his pawn, though the battle still rages over the e4-square.}) 5. Bg5 Nbd7 6. e3 Qa5 {The Cambridge Springs Defense, popularized in the 1904 tournament in that Pennsylvania resort town.} 7. cxd5 { The safest line for White.} ({Not} 7. Bd3 $2 dxc4 $1 8. Bxc4 Ne4 $1 $17) ({ Stronger may be} 7. Nd2 Bb4 8. Qc2) 7... exd5 $6 ({Much better is} 7... Nxd5 8. Qd2 Bb4 9. Rc1 O-O $11) 8. Bd3 Ne4 9. O-O Ndf6 (9... Nxc3 $6 10. bxc3 ({ Howell also suggests} 10. Qe1 Bb4 $6 11. a3 $14) 10... Qxc3 11. e4 (11. Qe2 $5 $44 {Howell}) 11... dxe4 (11... h6 12. Bh4 $5 g5 13. Bg3 $44) 12. Bxe4 Bd6 13. d5 (13. Qb1 $5) 13... c5 14. Rc1 $44) 10. Bxf6 $1 Nxc3 $6 ({Better} 10... Nxf6 {though, as Howell suggests, White would then be able to centralize his knight with} 11. Ne5 ({also possible is} 11. a3 Bd6 12. b4 $14 {or the similar}) (11. Re1 Bb4 12. Qc2 O-O 13. a3 Bd6 14. b4 $14 {and Black has the two Bishops to compensate for White's space advantage on the queenside.})) 11. bxc3 gxf6 { Now Black's pawns are permanently damaged--just the kind of long-term target that Capablanca liked to gain out of the opening. In compensation, Black controls e5, has an open g-file, and the two Bishops. But as Howell points out, "doubled and isolated pawns...lose more often than open files win."} 12. Qc2 Bd6 13. Bf5 $5 {Trying to gain the f5 square for his Queen, from which he can exploit Black's doubled pawns.} Be6 14. Rab1 Qc7 15. Bxe6 $5 {Trading one advantage for another. Now White opens the position favorably for his pieces while Black's pawns at e6 and f6 remain weak.} fxe6 16. e4 O-O-O {Howell notes that castling queenside is "Dangerous, of course, in view of the open b-file, but Black's game is shaky and his evident intention is to try for a King's side attack, utilizing his own open Knight file. Unfortunately White has both the center and the initiative and, as will be seen, his attack proceeds so rapidly [that] Black has not time to counter-attack."} 17. c4 $1 Bf4 $6 { Howell writes: "...this loses time and takes the B away from the defence of the K. However, Black may have wanted to prevent the posting of a white R on c1 or, forseeing e5, to be sure to keep the White Knight out of g5. A better resistance might have been madewith"} (17... dxc4 18. Qxc4 Qf7 19. e5 ({ perhaps better} 19. Rb3 $1 Bc7 20. Rfb1 Bb6 21. a4 $40) 19... Bc7 20. Rb3 Rd5 $1 21. Rfb1 Bb6 $13) 18. Rb3 {The Rook clears the way for its partner to double on the b-file while also gaining maximum mobility along the third rank.} dxc4 19. Qxc4 Qf7 20. Rfb1 Rd7 21. e5 {Cutting off the Bishop's retreat so that the Black King is denuded of defenders.} fxe5 22. dxe5 Rhd8 $2 {Howell writes: "This looks like an oversight but probably was not. Black is in danger of being slowly but surely strangled to death and, therefore, plays desperately to exchange a piece or so in hopes of relieving the pressure."} (22... Rc7 23. Ne1 $5 (23. g3 Rg8 24. Kh1 Bh6 25. Nd4 $16) (23. a4) 23... Bxe5 24. Qc5 Qg7 25. Nf3 Rg8 26. g3 Bf6 27. Qxa7 $40) 23. Qxc6+ $1 Kb8 (23... bxc6 $4 24. Rb8+ Kc7 25. R1b7#) 24. g3 Rd1+ 25. Kg2 ({The natural} 25. Rxd1 Rxd1+ 26. Kg2 { gives Black an extra tempo.}) 25... Rxb1 26. Rxb1 Rd5 27. Qc3 ({Not} 27. gxf4 $2 Qg6+ 28. Kh3 Qxb1 {and White must try for a perpetual check with} 29. Qe8+ Kc7 30. Qe7+ Kc6 31. Qxe6+ Kc5 32. Qc8+ Kb6 33. Qe6+ $11) 27... Qf5 (27... Bh6 $142) 28. Qb4 $1 b5 29. Nh4 a5 30. Qxb5+ $1 {Simplification combined with material gain completes the game. "Of course, if 30...Rxb5 31.Rxb5+ K moves 32. Nxf5. A good example of the champion's direct and forceful play against a cramped defence" writes Howell.} 1-0

Capablanca's style is exemplified here as he slowly builds up small advantages until his opponent is crushed. The winning moment is at move 23:

White to play and win.

There's a nice little puzzle for you. The solution is in the game score.

As I was reading through the tournament book, I saw mention of an earlier Lake Hopatcong tournament in 1923. I remember coming across mention of that event when I was putting together materials for the Frank Marshall website. The main research and html there is by a fellow named Adaucto Wanderley. But he did not have the full crosstable from Lake Hopatcong 1923. That came from Jim Kulbacki who had been doing research on the career of Abraham Kupchik. Jim came upon the Marshall site and took the time to provide the information we were missing. Since we had the crosstable, I assumed that most of the games would also be available. But a search through various databases (including ChessBase's MegaBase and most online resources) left me mostly empty handed. I eventually put together 16 out of the 91 games, most of which came from (This impressed me, by the way. I always considered an excellent site, but I didn't realize what superior coverage of classic games they had--especially compared to the other databases, which obviously focus mostly on new materials for opening analysis.

Of course, 16 games was not itself impressive. But I knew there were more out there. Fortunately, one of the PGNs I turned up gave me the month of the event as August 1923. So on my lunch hour today at work I stopped by the Rutgers library and went through the August 1923 micro-film on the Brooklyn Eagle with Hermann Helms's excellent chess column, and I was not surprised to find many more than the 16 currently available. While a number of the games repeat those I had, at least 26 were original, plus two qualifying games for non-masters trying to enter the event. That gives me a total of 42 out of the 91 total played (not counting the two qualifiers). Not a bad haul. And there may be even more out there since I was quite short of time and likely did not do a thorough search.

I was surprised by how much coverage Lake Hopatcong 1923 received in the Eagle. Typically, Helms's column appeared on Thursdays in the Sports Section and might feature one or two game scores. During the 1923 tournament, the column ran every day and sometimes showed four or five games! Pretty impressive for the time, and an incredible resource for the amateur chess historian.

I will try to decipher the score to a good game from the 1923 tournament and post that tomorrow. I will also be including the 42 games from the earlier Lake Hopatcong event as part of my mini-site project.

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