Chess: The Last Mistake But One

Edward Winter

According to one of the most famous chess quotes, regularly attributed to Tartakower, the winner is the player who makes the next-to-last mistake.

We would point out that the observation pre-dates Tartakower. For example, the following was on page 313 of the October 1890 Deutsche Schachzeitung:

‘Es ging in den Turnieren ziemlich bunt her. Der erste Rang im Meisterturnier wurde nach dem bekannten Witzworte entschieden, wonach derjenige gewinnt, welcher den vorletzten Fehler macht (s. Partie Nr. 5391).’

The game in question was Makovetz v Lasker, Graz, 1890, which was given on page 305 of the same issue:

makovetz lasker

Another example of the remark is on page 167 of the June 1901 Deutsche Schachzeitung, in the notes by Alapin to Mieses v von Scheve, Monte Carlo, 1901:

‘Ein Fehler folgt dem anderen! Dieser hat aber den Vortheil, “der vorletzte” zu sein und muss deshalb gewinnen!’

mieses von scheve


C.N. 7228 gave two pre-Tartakower (1890 and 1901) occurrences of the observation that the winner is the player who makes the last mistake but one, but information is still sought on when it was first attached to Tartakower’s name, or to that of other masters.

In the latter category, Barnie F. Winkelman wrote on page 205 of Chess Review, September 1935:

‘To Lasker chess was (and remains) a contest, a personal encounter in which he frequently avoided the best variations, and sought to give battle on unfamiliar ground. “The winner of a game of chess”, he is reported to have said, “is he who makes the last mistake but one.”’

With terms like ‘is reported to have said’ (and ‘reportedly said’), the floodgates are open for anyone to write anything.


Christian Sánchez (Rosario, Argentina) points out the following in an article by Henry Smith Williams about Samuel Reshevsky on page 43 of the October 1920 issue of Hearst’s:

‘In the words of Lasker – for many years the undefeatable champion – the man who wins is the man who makes the last mistake but one.’


Latest update: 27 May 2024.

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