A review of Schlechter’s Chess Games by Tom Crain

Reviewed by P.P.O. Kane

Schlechter’s Chess Games
By Tom Crain
Caissa Editions, 1998
ISBN: 9780939433537

Carl Schlechter was one of the strongest players of his era, which lasted for close to a quarter of a century, from about 1893 to 1918. He won prizes in virtually every tournament he entered, he drew matches with Lasker (in 1910) and Tarrasch (in 1911), and overall he was an elegant player with a classy positional style. You could well argue that he served as a bridge between Steinitz and the likes of Rubinstein and Capablanca. Yet he never quite made it to the very top. Once, when speaking of his closest rivals, Lasker gave this brutal appraisal: ‘Schlechter has only the ability – nothing more… [He] has so little of the devil about him that he could not be wooed to take anything coveted by somebody else.’

In a wide-ranging, interesting introduction Tom Crain attributes Schlechter’s easygoing nature – in time he got the moniker of ‘Remis Koenig’ or ‘Draw King’ – to the milieu of fin de siècle Vienna. Schlechter’s aim, according to Crain, was to perfect chess technique: to find the best plan, to make the most precise move at every turn. It was a quasi-scientific enterprise which often had artistic effects, but the sporting result was of only secondary importance. Consequently, many of Schlechter’s games present the appearance of being curiously incomplete. He would often agree a draw in a position where he had an advantage and, moreover, an advantage that he’d worked hard to attain. Of course, there are many beautiful games here as well; what Reti said of Schlechter in Modern Ideas in Chess holds true: he was an unpretentious artist.

This book contains pretty much all of Schlechter’s available games – about eight hundred in number – arranged chronologically by tournament and match; and there is also a section devoted to miscellaneous games: exhibition games, games played at odds, etc. Just the bare score of the game is given; there are no, or to be precise, very few annotations. A diagram is present only when the initial moves of a game are unknown, which is to say when the game commences from the diagram. There are several statistics relating to Schlechter’s career and a few photos. To be frank it is rather a dry, colourless book and certainly not for everyone. You probably need to have a definite interest in Schlechter as a player, and in chess history in general, to get the most out of it.

One discovery I made was that Schlechter played the Nimzowitsch Defence with …e5 (1.e4 Nc6 2.d4 e5) twice at Monte Carlo 1901, versus Winawer and Mieses: a curious opening for him to play.

Overall, this book added to and served as a significant contribution to my understanding and appreciation of Schlechter’s play.

About the reviewer: P.P.O. Kane lives and works in Manchester, England. He welcomes responses to his reviews and you can reach him at ludic@europe.com