Savielly Tartakower was one of the strongest players in the world in the late 1920s, and a highly respected author. Below, I explore his life and games.

Tartakower life and games

Photo: Adapted from Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, George Grantham Bain Collection, [LC-DIG-ggbain-36710], Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Table of contents:

  1. Biography
  2. Game Analysis
  3. Puzzles
  4. Solutions


Early life

Savielly Tartakower was born in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, in 1887, although his parents were Austro-Hungarian. At around 17, Tartakower moved to Vienna, and began to study law after finishing school. However, he also found time for chess. The move to Vienna proved beneficial, as it was one of the most important chess cities in the world at the time.

Onto the world stage

1906 was an important year in Tartakower’s chess career, as he won the secondary tournament at Nuremberg. This achievement earned him the master title, and he began to receive invitations to strong events.

Tartakower thus had the opportunity to compete in the major international tournaments at Ostend and Karlsbad in 1907, where he finished a respectable shared 10th and clear 14th respectively. This was an impressive achievement, as many of the world’s leading players competed at these events.

Competing at the top

In 1909, Tartakower became a Doctor of Law. He also competed at the famous tournament held at St Petersburg, where he finished in shared 11th place. The field was incredibly strong, and included World Champion Lasker, Rubinstein, Spielmann and Schlechter, among others. The following year, Tartakower played in another strong international tournament, this time in Hamburg. He finished with a score of 8/17 in a field headed by famous names such as Schlechter, Duras, Nimzowitsch and Spielmann. Tartakower also performed well at the famous Karlsbad 1911 tournament, scoring 13,5/25. Regular competition against the world elite was greatly beneficial to his development as a player.


However, the chess world was soon interrupted by the outbreak of WWI. Like many others, Tartakower had many fewer opportunities to compete in international chess during this time. He served in the Austro-Hungarian army, but fortunately survived the war.

A new decade

The end of the war saw the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and Tartakower became a Polish citizen. However, he chose to move to Paris, and began a professional chess career. He performed successfully at strong international events over the next few years, like Amsterdam 1920 (=2nd), Gothenburg 1920 (=4th), Budapest 1921 (=3rd), London 1922 (7th), and Teplitz-Schönau 1922 (=3rd).

Vienna 1923

However, the highlight of his career at this time was clear 1st place at the very strong tournament at Vienna in 1923. Tartakower finished ahead of a very strong field which included Réti, Spielmann, Grünfeld and Wolf, among others. It was clear that Tartakower was becoming one of the strongest players in the world.

Bold play and The Hypermodern Game of Chess

That same year, he shared 5th place with Euwe at Mӓhrisch-Ostrau, behind only Lasker, Réti, Grünfeld and Selezniev, but ahead of famous names like Tarrasch, Bogoljubow, and Rubinstein. An interesting quote emerged from after the tournament, with Lasker allegedly saying to Tartakower, “You will never attain a balanced positional judgement until you start to adopt the Ruy Lopez habitually.”

In 1924, Tartakower was invited to compete at the famous tournament New York 1924, one of the strongest tournaments of the decade. He finished 8th in a field of 11 of the world’s leading players. Despite not challenging for tournament victory, his performance there is remembered for his boldness, as he tried 1.b4 in one of his games. 1924 also saw the publication of one of Tartakower’s most famous books, The Hypermodern Game of Chess.

5th place

In 1925, Tartakower achieved a unique feat. He achieved the same result of shared 5th place at three strong international tournaments: Baden-Baden 1925 (with Marshall), Marienbad 1925 (with Réti), and Moscow 1925 (with Torre). The next year, he improved by one place, taking shared 4th with Nimzowitsch at Semmering, and clear 4th at Dresden, behind only Nimzowitsch, Alekhine and Rubinstein.

Prime years

The end of the decade, however, was perhaps the most successful period in Tartakower’s chess career. He took clear 1st place at Hastings 1926/7, ahead of Colle, Yates, and Réti, amongst others. This was followed by shared 1st place with Nimzowitsch at the strong international tournament London 1927, ahead of a field which included Marshall, Vidmar and Bogoljubow. At the end of the year, he again finished in clear first at Hastings 1927/8, ahead of famous names like Colle and Yates.

1929 saw Tartakower win another tournament, this time in Scarborough, England. Interestingly, he shared 1st place with the relatively unknown today Canadian-British player Harold Saunders. Later that year, he achieved an impressive 2nd place, behind only Capablanca, at Barcelona. There he popularised the Catalan, after the organisers asked him to invent an opening in honour of the city.

Tartakower scored 7,5/15 at the very strong tournament of San Remo 1930, but quickly bounced back to win a strong tournament in Liege, Belgium in August that year. This was one of his best ever performances, as he scored 8,5/11 and went undefeated. He finished two clear points ahead of Khan in 2nd in a very strong field which also included Nimzowitsch, Rubinstein and Marshall, among others. Also in 1930, Tartakower guided the Polish team to winning the gold medal at the Olympiad in Hamburg.

Olympiads and the Polish Championship

Tartakower’s career in the 1930s was defined by success at the Polish Championship and with the Polish team at Olympiads. At the 1931 Olympiad in Prague, Tartakower won the gold medal, while the Polish team took silver. At the 1933 and 1935 Olympiads at Folkestone and Warsaw, Tartakower took the bronze medal, while the Polish team also took the bronze medal at Warsaw. 1935 also saw Tartakower win the Polish Championship. In 1937, Tartakower again won the Polish Championship, while the Polish team earned the bronze medal at the Olympiad in Stockholm.


At the 1939 Olympiad in Buenos Aires, the Polish team earned the silver medal. However, this event was significantly disrupted by the outbreak of WWII. Despite having the opportunity to remain in South America, Tartakower chose to return to a Europe at war, where he served in the Free French army. After the end of the war, he became a French citizen.

Concquering age

Despite approaching the age of 60, Tartakower continued to compete after WWII. His performance at Hastings 1945/6 was particularly impressive, as he finished in clear first place, ahead of Euwe and Denker, among others. At the famous tournament at Groningen 1946, Tartakower competed well in a field which assembled many of the world’s leading players, scoring a respectable 9,5/19.

Later years

In 1950, Tartakower was named as one of the 27 original grandmasters. He also competed for the French team at the Olympiad in Dubrovnik, Yugoslavia. Three years later, he proved that he could still perform at a high level despite his advanced years, by winning the French Championship. Tartakower died three years later, at the age of 68.


Today Tartakower is remembered as one of the strongest players in the late 1920s, and as a leader of the new hypermodern ideas introduced into chess that decade. He is also remembered as an accomplished author, having worked for more than 30 chess magazines and written numerous books during his career, many of which are still loved today. His name is attached to many opening lines, including the important Tartakower variation of the Queens Gambit Declined.

Game Analysis

In 1920, Tartakower won a match against Réti in Vienna. The following game from the match is particularly instructive.

Lessons from this game:

  1. Isolated pawns are only weak if they can be attacked. In this game, white could not bring much pressure to bear on the c5 pawn.
  2. Undefended pieces are the building blocks which make tactical ideas possible.
  3. Pawns can play an important role in an attack on the king! The g6 pawn in the final position is a great example.


Lee – Tartakower, Ostend 1907

Maroczy – Tartakower, Teplitz-Schönau 1922

Opocensky – Tartakower, Paris 1925

Tartakower – Ahues, San Remo 1930


Further Reading

To find more about Tartakower’s life and games, the following are useful resources:

Tartakower’s article,

his article,

this chessbase article by Eugene Manlapao,

this article by Edward Winter,

and this collection of his tournament and match results.

If you’d like to receive notifications when new articles are posted, consider subscribing to Chessaglow.

2 Responses

Leave a Reply