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James Mason vs Mikhail Chigorin
Paris (1900), Paris FRA, rd 10, Jun-05
Center Game: Berger Variation (C22)  ·  0-1


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Kibitzer's Corner
May-21-10  Dravus: Chigorin beguilingly lets his bishop get trapped at 13, then let's off some tactical steam. Foretelling a variation of Alekhine's gun, he uses his rooks and queen to advantage.
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: A fabulous game by Tchigorin. As Dravus correctly notes, the climax of the game was Tchigorin's spectacular Bishop sacrifice (13...Bxa2!!). While this move would not have been a winner against best defense, it posed problems that quickly overwhelmed Mason.

The game would deserve a brilliancy prize except that Tchigorin erred badly on move 18 (an error that should have allowed Mason to survive the attack) and missed the best continuation on move 23 (jeopardizing his win).

Tchigorin suffered defeats in three of his first four games in this tournament (losing to Pillsbury, Schlechter, and Mieses) and was towards the bottom of the standings at the end of Round 5 (with one win, three loses, and one bye). But this win over Mason was Tchigorin's fourth in a row putting him back in contention. He was to lose only one more game in this tournament (to Showalter) and finished with nine wins and four loses and with sixth prize (ahead of Schlechter, Janowski, Mieses, Marco, and Showalter among others).

1. e4 e5
2. d4

The Center Game. This opening has rarely been played of late (and was long out of fashion in 1900) because Black is able to get quick development by attacking White's Queen. The opening, however, is OK if White is willing to settle for approximate equality.

2... exd4
3. Qxd4

3. Nf3 could transpose into the Scotch Game.

3... Nc6
4. Qe3 Nf6
5. Bd2

The text, like 5. Bd3, is sufficient for equality. If 5. e5 Ng4 6. Qe4 Ngxe5 (much better than 6...d5 as recommended by Rosenthal in the Tournament Book) gives Black a major advantage.

5... Be7

Schlechter, Ragozin, and Rosenthal all discuss 5...Ng4 as a reasonable alternative, as indeed it is. Best for White is then either 6. Qf3 or Ragozin's 6. Qe2 (after which Black would obtain equality after 6...Nd4). Another possibility after 5...Ng4 is Schlechter's 6. Qg3.

The text (5...Be7), however, is probably Black's best chance to seek an advantage.

6. Nc3 0-0
7. 0-0-0 Re8

Ragozing notes that 7...d5! is more accurate, but the text is certainly good enough for equality.

8. f3

Both 8.g3 and 8.c4 (Ragozin's suggestion) are superior to the text, which allows Tchigorin to seize the initiative.

8... d5

"!" (Rosenthal in the Tournament Book).

9. exd5 Nxd5
10. Qf2

If 10. NxN Black gets the advantage after 10...QxN. If then 11. Bb4? (Rosenthal's move) Black wins with either 11...Bg5 (Rosenthal) or even 11...Qxa2. But White can stay in the game with the better 11. Qb3 in this line.

The text (10. Qf2), however, is better and is sufficient for White to keep out of serious trouble.

10... Be6

"In practice it very seldom happens that in an open game Black so far outstrips his opponent in development that he begins to attack first." (Ragozin).

Ragozin's commentary on this game is generally quite excellent, but I respectfully disagree with him about 10...Be6, which seems clearly inferior to 10...Ncb4.

After 10...Be6, the position was:

click for larger view

Tchigorin is certainly better here, but White's position is still sturdy. There is no reason to expect that he will be blown away within four moves.

11. Bc4

The beginning of White's troubles. 11. Nge2 was much better.

11... NxN

Schlechter says that 11...Na5 "comes into consideration," but Tchigorin's move is much better. Black would have no discernible advantage after 11...Na5 12. BxN, but after the text Black has serious threats.

12. BxN Qc8
13. Bb5

Schlechter condemned this move, but in fact it is not the cause of Mason's loss here. Schlechter' suggested 13. Qg3 is not much of an improvement for White, since Black maintains the edge after 13...Bf8 14. Qf4 (much better than Schlechter's proposed 14. Bd3) h6. Perhaps best for White here was 13. Bd3 or 13. Qe2.

The position after 13. Bb5 was:

click for larger view

Black's position is certainly better (White has yet to develop his Knight on g1 [which remains on that square until move 24]), but it is hard to see any immediate forcing line for Black.

But it was here that Tchigorin play his wonderful move that--while not necessarily leading to a winning position--defined the rest of the struggle and posed problems for Mason that led to checkmate within 15 moves, as I will begin to discuss in my next post on this game.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post II

After Mason's 13. Bb5, Tchigorin sprang his incredible masterstroke:

13... Bxa2!

The commentators disagree in their assessment of this move. Schlechter calls it "A carefully thought out, but hardly correct sacrificial combination." Ragozin characterizes it as: "A daring and unexpected sacrifice of a pawn." Dravus on this site says that Tchigorin: "...beguilingly lets his bishop get trapped."

Schlechter notwithstanding, this is a powerful move that--even with best play--gives Black the advantage whether White wins the Bishop of not. As quickly becomes apparent, Mason's simple response: win the Bishop with 14. b3 and a later Kb2, lands White in a lost position. A great defensive player (e.g., Capablanca or Karpov...or Lasker) might have survived this move and achieved a playable position. But the brilliance of Tchigorin's conception would remain. In any case, Mason was not up to the task of staving off Tchigorin's brilliant attack.

14. b3?

This was not the way to hold the game. Mason should have combined attack and defense with the intermediate move 14. Qg3! and only after 14...f6 then played 15. b3. Then, after 15...a5 looked to blunt the attack with 16. Qh3. White would still have problems even in this line, but now Tchigorin has a winning attack.

14... Qf5!

Even better than 14...Ba3+ which allows White some play after 15. Bb2 (though 15. Qf5 probably still wins for Black even in this line).

15. BxN

Not 15. Bd3? Ba3+ 16. Bb2 Qf4+ (much stronger than 16...Qa5 as given by Rosenthal in the Tournament Book which wins but not as decisively as 16...Qf4+ 17. Qd2 Qe5! since after 18. c3 Black would have the crushing 18...Na5!

15... bxB

This move is sufficient to win, but even better was 15...Ba3+ since Black has an overwhelming advantage after 16. Bb2 Qf4+ 17. Qd2 QxQ+ 18. KxQ [if 18. RxQ Re1+ wins) Red8+ 19. Ke1 RxR+ 20. KxR BxB 21. Bxb7 Rd8+ 22. Ke2 Bc3 (with Rd2+ and Rxc2 to follow).

16. Kb2

White doesn't have time for this, though it of course wins the Bishop immediately. Mason should have developed his pieces with 16. Nh3.

16... a5

This move is strong, but better yet was 16...Bxb3, denuding White's King.

17. Kxa2 a4

The position was now:

click for larger view

So Mason has won the wayward Bishop but Tchigorin's attack is in full swing. Can White survive. Mason finds the only move to make a fight of the contest.

18. b4!

This looks ugly, but anything else leads to mate.

18... Qe6+?

The one big flaw in what is otherwise a masterpiece of a game by Tchigorin. As Ragozin notices, much stronger--and the only way to carry on the attack to victory--was 18...c5! The other commentators appear to have missed this possibility. Bravo Ragozin!

19. Ka1

Wrongly condemned by Rosenthal in the Tournament Book and by Schlechter in his commentary on this game. In fact, the text is the best way for White to hold the game. Schlechter's proposed 19. Ka3 gets crushed by 19...c5 and if 20. bxc5 Qc4.

19... Bf6

Rgozin criticizes this move and says it could have allowed Mason to avoid defeat, while (according to Ragozin) 19...c5 wins. But after 19...c5 20. bxc5 where is the win for Black?

After Tchigorin's 19...Bf6, the position was:

click for larger view

The position is double-edged. White has won a piece, but Tchigorin retains dangerous attacking chances while White's King-side Knight and Rook remain sadly lounging on their original squares.

From here, Tchigorin outplayed and overwhelmed Mason and administered checkmate in nine moves. How this came about will be covered in my next post on this game.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post III

According Schlechter in his commentary on this game, after 19...Bf6 White had an "obvious defense" with 20. Bd4 followed by c3. But 20. Bd4 would get White in trouble after 20...c5 21. bxc5 (best) Rab8.

20. BxB

Though criticized by both Schlechter (see above) and by Rosenthal in the Tournament Book, Mason's move looks fine to me, as does Schlechter's alternative suggestion 20. Qc5. The text is most certainly not why Mason lost the game.

20... QxB+
21. Bd4

Ragozin, in his superb commentary on this game, claims that the text "loses the game." That is perhaps an overstatement, but there can be no doubt that 21. Bd4 was far from best for White here.

Rosenthal's commentary considers the possibility of 21. Qd4, but as both Schlechter and Ragozin have noted this gets crushed after 21...Rab8.

Schlechter's simple 21. Ka2 seems fine and would have left Mason with at least equal chances. Another good alternative is Ragozin's 21. c3. Ragozin claims that White would have to struggle for a draw, but after 21. c3 Qxc3+ 22. Qb2 Qe3 (Ragozin's line) White seems fine after 23. f4 (slightly better than Ragozin's suggested 23. Nh3).

Ragozin's analysis notwithstanding, it is far from clear that White is lost after the text (21. Rd4), but he now has to play with great care to hold off the charging Tchigorin. Mason, however, was not up to this formidable task.


After 21...Rab8, the position was:

click for larger view

22. c3?

After this lemon of a move White is most certainly lost and Tchigorin finishes off the game nicely. Needless to say, 23. Ne2?, as Rosenthal pointed out, loses to 23...RxN (Rosenthal's move), and loses even more decisively to 23...c5.

The only chance for White to put up a fight would have been to play 23. Nh3 (about time this piece got developed!).

22... c5!

"A decisive opening of lines" (Ragozin). "!"-(Rosenthal).

Every other loses for White. But the text blows Mason off the board.

23. bxc5 Rb3

This move is probably sufficient to win, but 23...Qf5 was far better and would have left White no resource.

The position was now:

click for larger view

Mason now has his last chance to save himself. How he failed and got mated in just five moves will be covered in my next post.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post IV

Prospects certainly looked grim for Mason after Tchigorin's 23...Rb3. Could he have saved the game from here? One thing is for sure, his actual move ended his chances of surviving Tchigorin's monster attack.

24. Ne2?

This move cuts off the White Queen from the defense of the Queen-side and is immediately fatal. Mason's one and only chance after Tchigorin's last move was 24. Qd2! White can bring his King-side pieces into the game after bringing the Queen to the defense of the besieged King.

24... Reb8!

Devastating! Tchigorin's brutal finish is instructive.

25. Rxa4

This move is hopeless and allows a pretty finish. But even with the "better" 25. Nc1 Mason would not have lasted long after 25...Rb1+

25... Qc6!

Tchigorin does not let up for a second. Every move is a sledge-hammer blow. The text threatens...just about everything. Another killer move here was 26... Qf5.

26. Qd4

Rosenthal states that 26. Ra2 was "better," but this is only true in a relative sense (i.e., White might last a few more moves) since 26...Qb5 would then be decisive (as it is also after the text).

26... Qb5!

Game over. But Mason prefers to get checkmated rather than resign.

27. Qe4

The position was now:

click for larger view

Black to mate in two.

27... Ra3+
28. RxR Qb2 Checkmate!


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