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Jackson Whipps Showalter vs James Mason
Paris (1900), Paris FRA, rd 11, Jun-09
Spanish Game: Open Variations (C80)  ·  1/2-1/2
ANALYSIS [x]

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Kibitzer's Corner
Aug-16-11  Artsemthon: 56.Nd2! wins, e.g. 56...Nxd2 57.b6! or 56...Nb6 57.c4 Nd7 58.Kf3 Kf5 59.Ke3 Ke5 60.Kd3 Nc5+ 61.Kc3 Nd7 62.Kb4 Kd4 63.Nb3+ Ke5 64.c5.
Feb-11-18
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Showalter won a long Rook and Pawn endgame against Marshall that should have been a draw. Against Mason, Showalter drew a long Knight and Pawn ending he should have won. Rosenthal in the Tournament Book identified Showalter's fatal blunder that let Mason off the hook (56. Nd4?). Artsemthon on this site in 2011 also identified Showalter's key mistake and also analyzed a key variation in the winning 56. Nd2! line that Rosenthal overlooked.

BRAVO Artsemthon.

There may be a problem with the text of this game, and Moves 24 through 32 are uncertain. I will analyze the two competing accounts of Showalter's 24th move.

Not a great game, but a further example, if such were truly needed, of how cruel chess can be (Showlater had the game in hand for about 30 moves only to lose his advantage with one second-best move). The game also shows why it can make sense to play on in a theoretically hopeless position. Mason's tenacity earned him a half-point here.

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. Bb5 a3
4. Ba4 Nf6
5. 0-0 Nxe4
6. d4 b5
7. Bb3 d5
8. a4?!

The normal move in this standard variation of the Open Ruy Lopez is 8. dxe5. The text was first played in 1883 by Tchigorin against Rosenthal and was later recommended by Pillsbury. (Wilson). Lasker played the move four times in his match against Schlechter and could only draw each time. 8. dxe5 is now recognized as best.

8... Rb8

Schlechter played this in Games 4 and 6 of his match with Lasker. In the other two games, he played the stronger 8...Nxd4.

9. axb5 axb5
10. dxe5 Be6

Rosenthal in the Tournament Book said that 10...Ne7 was best, but the text--as played by Schlechter both times this position arose with Lasker--is best.

11. c3 Be7

Schlechter played this in Game 4 of his match with Lasker. In Game 6, he played the better Bc5. The text, however, is a reasonable alternative.

12. Nbd2

Played by Lasker in Game 4 of his match against Schlechter. Schlechter said this is best. 12. Nd4 appears to be a slight improvement.

12... 0-0

Played by Schlechter against Lasker. 12...Nc5 may be a bit better

13. Bc2

Better than 13. Nd4 as played by Lasker in the Schlechter match. 13. Ra6 seems best. After the text, White's advantage is small.

13... f5

Creating needless problems for himself. 13...NxN was simplest and best.

14. Ra6

This is OK, but 14. exf6 e.p. was simpler and would avoid the possible need to sacrifice the e-pawn.

14... Qd7
15. Nb3 Ra8
16. RxR RxR
17. Nfd4

The position was now:


click for larger view

Showalter has the better game, but Mason has some significant trumps. But matters got dicey from here as I will discuss in my next post on this game.

Feb-11-18
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post II

After Showalter's 17. Nfd4, Mason decided to snatch the loose e-pawn:

17... Nxe5?

This could have landed Mason in trouble. Best 17...g6.

18. NxB?

Missing his chance. 18. f3 would have punished Mason for his temerity on his 17th turn, e.g., 18. f3 c5 19. NxB QxN 20. exN fxe4 21. Qe2 leaves White up a piece for two pawns: The position now being:


click for larger view

Black may not be lost here (he has a dangerous passed e-pawn) but the winning chances are all with White. After Showalter's move, White's advantage is again minimal.

Anyway, back to the actual game:

18... QxN
19. Nd4 Qf7
20. f3

Rosenthal in the Tournament Book said that 20. Nxf5 was best, but that also would not have yielded much of an advantage to White. Rosenthal only considers 20...c6 (and the terrible 20...QxN? which loses immediately to 21. Qxd5+). But best for black after 20. Nxf5 was 20...Bc5 leaving White with only a modest advantage (e.g., 21. Be3 BxB 22. NxB Nf6).

20... Nd6
21. Re1 Ng6
22. Bb3

Showalter should probably have gotten his King off the a7-g1 diagonal with 22. Kf1. Mason now nearly equalizes.

22... Nc4!

Careful play by Mason. As Rosenthal correctly pointed out, 22...c5 would lose to 23. Nxf5 c4 (to avoid the crushing 24. Bxd5) 24. Nxe7+ NxN 25. RxN! QxR 26. Qxd5+ (with 26...Kf8 27. QxR+ Ne8 28. Bxc4 and if 28...bxB 29. Qa3! leaving White two pawns up in a Bishop versus Knight ending.

23. Nxb5

Showalter wins back his pawn with a slightly better position.

23... Bc5+

23...Ra1 was better.

The position was now:


click for larger view

Showalter's King is now in check. According to the Tournament Book, he played 24. Kf1 (24. Nd4 was probably best). This site gives the move as 24. Kh1.

I have played out the game on both assumptions. The two accounts merge after White's 33. Kg2. By that point, White's advantage is close to winning. But which 24th move was actually made? On both assumptions, there were some serious efforts whether the move was 24. Kf1 or 24. Kh1.

In Post III, I will assume that the Tournament Book is correct and analyze the game with 24. Kf1. In Post IV, I will make the contrary assumption and analyze 24. Kh1. In Post V, I will pick up the game after 33. Kg2 (since the game from there on is identical in both versions of the score.

Feb-11-18
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post III

In this post I will assume that the score reported in the Tournament Book is correct and that Showalter played 24. Kf1. As will be seen, both sides erred badly on this assumption. However, this is also true on 24. Kh1, so I don't know how to choose between the alternatives, hence the double post.

24. Kf1 Ra1
25. BxN dxB
26. Qd8+

The position would now (assuming 24. Kf1 was played) have been:


click for larger view

Here Mason reportedly played:

26... Bf8?

This should lose (though it would make sense had White played 24. Kh1). Black should play here 26...Nf8

27. Nxc7 h6

The position would now be:


click for larger view

But now the Tournament Book score has Showalter playing:

28. Qd5?

Best by far, and probably sufficient to win, would be 28. Be3!

28... QxQ
29. NxQ Bd6?

Awful. Correct here was 29...Ra5 with some chances for Black.

30. f4 Bc5?

Another terrible move. Best here is 30...Kf7

31. g3?

Black would have little hope after 31. Be3!

31... Ra2?

Another losing move. Best by far was 31...Ne7

32. Kg2?

White wins here with 32. Re8+

The position after 32. Kg2 was:


click for larger view

This might or might not be a winning position for White, but if the Tournament Book is correct, the play was quite ragged in arriving here. However, the play was not much better if we assume that 24. Kh1 was played as given in the score on this site, as I will show in my next post.

Feb-11-18
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post IV

Since play was dreadfully sloppy if we assume the Tournament Book is correct and White played 24. Kf1. So let us analyze play assuming the score on this site is correct and Showalter in fact played 24. Kh1

24. Kh1 Ra1
25. BxN

This throws away just about any advantage White had. Best was 25. Qe2.

25... dxB
26. Qd8+ Bf8

This move is not terrible if we assume that White played 24. Kh1 (though it was a losing move if we assume 24. Kf1 was played).

27. Nxc7 h6

Creating problems for himself. 27...Nf4 was better.

28. Qd5?

Making a good position a bad one. Much better was 28. Rg1 (so the c1 Bishop can move).

28... QxQ?

Hard to believe. 28...Nf4 was best.

29. NxQ Bd6?

Now Black is in trouble. It is hard to understand why Mason would not have played the obvious 29...Ne5 here.

30. f4?

Another move I just can't believe. With one stroke, White converts a fine position to a losing one. 30. Bd2 was obvious and best, with White then having reasonable chances to exploit his pawn plus.

30... Bc5?

Terrible. Black wins with 30...Nxf4. (Remember, in this line the c1 Bishop is pinned).

31. g3 Ra2?

Now Black is probably lost. Why not play 31...Kf7

32. Kg2?

White should win with 32. Be3! (32...BxB 33. RxB Rxb2 34. Nxf5 leaving White a winning ending up a pawn.

In any case, by hook or by crook, and with some strange play on either of the reported scores, the following position was reached after 32. Kg2:


click for larger view

However it was this position was achieved, White is up a pawn with excellent winning chances. As I will show in my next post (Post V) Mason went astray from here and Showalter quickly reached what should have been a clearly winning position.

Feb-12-18
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post V

Picking up the game after Showalter's 32. Kg2:

32... Kf7
33. Kf3 Nf8?

Putting the Knight out of play this way gives White a clear winning line. Correct was 33...Ne7

34. Re2?

Missing his chance. 34. Be3! wins and allows White to untangle his pieces, since if 34...BxB 35. NxB Rxb2, White ends up a pawn ahead with the better position after 36. Nxf5. After the text, Black could put up tough resistance.

34... Ne6?

But this makes things easy for White. Mason could have had chances of holding the game with 34...Ra1

35. Be3 Ra5

As Rosenthal correctly points out in the Tournament Book, Black is pretty much dead after 35...BxB 36. NxB

36. BxB RxB
37. Re5 g6
38. Ne3 Ng5+

38...RxR was better.

39. Kg2 RxR
40. fxR Ke6
41. Nxc4 Kd5

The position was now:


click for larger view

This certainly looks like a clear win for Showalter. But--as many players at the time commented--Mason could be a tough fellow to beat in an ending. After Showalter's mistake on his 42nd move, Mason comes up with an idea to make things difficult for his opponent. He eliminates all the pawns except for White's b and c pawns, and then gives Showalter a chance to go wrong.

42. h4?

This should still win, but 42. Nd2 was much better--preparing to win on the Queen-side. The text plays into Mason's idea of wiping out everything on the King-side.

42... Ne4

42...Ne6 was theoretically better, but would lose with decent play by Showalter. The text is part of Mason's desperate attempt at a swindle.

43. Nd6 Nd2

As Rosenthal notes, 43...NxN obviously loses. With two passed pawns on the Queen-side, Showalter could not fail to win the King and Pawn ending. Mason has other ideas in mind. 43...Nc5 might seem better, but Mason's play is based upon his swindle, and he is not going to be distracted from pursuing his last tiny hope.

44. Nf7 Ke6

Ignoring 44...Nc4 in order to focus on his idea.

45. Nxh6

The position was now:


click for larger view

Black is obviously lost, but Mason has not abandoned hope. The White Knight is out of play, and his plan--hopeless as it seems--is taking shape.

45... Nc4
46. b4 Kxe5

46...Nxe5 seems "better," but Mason is not interested in "correct" play here.

47. Nf7+ Ke4

This looks like suicide, but it is consistent with Mason's desperate concept.

48. b5 f4!

Mason's idea--crazy as it seems--takes shape.

49. gxf4 Kxf4
50. Nh8

The position was now:


click for larger view

50... g5!

Mason's only chance.

51. h5!

Believe it or not, this is the only winning move here for Showalter. He cannot afford to trade pawns now with his Knight and King so far away from his Queen-side pawns.

51... Kg4
52. h6 Kh5
53. Nf7 Kg6
54. Nxg5 Kxh6
55. Nf3 Kg6

The position was now:


click for larger view

This, as it turns out, was the key position of the game. As I will show in my next and final post on this game, and as Rosenthal in the Tournament Book andArtsemthon has shown on this site, it was here that Showalter missed his way and allowed Mason to draw.

Feb-12-18  Straclonoor: I wanna add some more.
According Schredder 6-man TB, after 54 moves white have 2 way to win - Nf3 and Ne4 both in 28 moves.
Feb-12-18
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post VI

I completely agree with Straclonoor that 55. Ne4, like Showalter's 55. Nf3, both are sufficient to win. According to Fritz15, Showalter had a forced mate in 29 after Mason's 55...Kg6 (i.e., in the final diagrammed position in my last post). Mason, however, blew the win with his56th move:

56. Nd4?

Incredibly, the game can no longer be won after this mistake. The winning move, as pointed out by Rosenthal in the Tournament Book and by Artsemthon on this site, was 56. Nd2!

After 56. Nd2!, 56...NxN obviously loses to 57. b6! since Black cannot stop the b-pawn from queening.

56...Nb6 also fails as demonstrated by the analysis in Artsemthon's post here.

56...Nd6 loses (as shown by Rosenthal) to 57. c4 Kf5 58. Kf3 Ke5 59. Ke3

After Showalter's 56. Nd4?, however, the win is gone. The game continued:

56... Kf6
57. Kf3 Ke5
58. Ke2

58. Nc2 is no better.

58... Kd5
59. Kd3 Kc5
60. Ke4

60. Kc2 was a better try, but ultimately insufficient to win.

Showalter at this point seems to be resigned to a draw. There are a few points at which he could have made life tougher for Mason. After all, if he could err, might not Mason do so as well. Indeed, it was Marshall's blunder on move 106 (!) that gave Showalter his victory in that encounter in this tournament.

60... Nd6+
61. Kf4 Nc4+
62. Ke6

This was equivalent to offering a draw. He might have tested Mason a bit further with 62. Kf4 or 62. Kf5.

62... Na3+
63. Ke5 Nc4+
64. Ke4 Nd6+
65. Kd3

1/2 -- 1/2

A missed opportunity for Showalter, and gritty play by Mason.

Feb-12-18
Premium Chessgames Member
  Fusilli: What a pity.


click for larger view

The position at 56, white to move (above) is one of those cases where if you are told "white to move and win", you see it immediately. But if you are knee-deep in the pressure of actual competition, and have been focusing on other ideas, you may very well not realize that this is a key juncture where the outcome of the game is at stake.

<KEG> Thank you for posting your detailed analysis. From my own experience, folks here pay a lot less attention to deep analysis than to stupid posts about politics or one-liners about So or Carlsen or whoever, but I do appreciate your commitment.

Feb-12-18
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: <Fusilli>Thank you for your comment. I think you have hit the nail on the head. 56. Nd2 is far easier to spot when presented as a problem than in the rough and tumble of over the board play. Your point is important, and so easy to forget in conducting theoretical analysis of games in the comfort of our homes with plenty of time to reflect and books and computers to consult when we feel stumped as compared with what really happens in the excitement and pressure of over the board play.
Feb-12-18
Premium Chessgames Member
  Fusilli: <KEG> Yeah, it's a point I never tire from emphasizing. Most folks on this website do not play competitively, and that's of course totally fine, but they sometimes forget that the most difficult chess problem is to get the moves right in actual competition.
Feb-12-18
Premium Chessgames Member
  Dionysius1: It does go to illustrate the difference between treating chess as a competitive game, and chess as an art form or puzzle. If you think of chess as a competition, it could be churlish to point out a complicated win someone missed, because it would suggest they had failed. If you think of chess as an art form/puzzle then of course it's judgment free to point out the solution.
Feb-12-18
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: <Fusilli>I agree. I do think, however, that it is equally important to play against live opponents but also to indulge in the form of analysis this site permits.

Over the board play against a live opponent permits thrills at-home analysis never provides. Against live opponents I have hung my Queen and walked into mating nets more times than I like to remember, but have occasionally defeated very strong players (who sometimes make mistakes just like the rest of us). I once beat a 2590 player, alas not in a tournament. I have also lost to very low rated players on bad days. Everything is possible.

But the king of close analysis we can engage in on a site such as chessgames.com allows us to do something that is rarely possible over the board--to search for the truth in a position. There is great joy in this as well.

The most important thing is to keep your point in mind when we analyze games by even the greatest grandmasters. We have the luxury of spending hours analyzing a position. They did not.

The error by Showalter in his game with Mason is a case in point. The day before, Showalter had played a 110 move marathon against Marshall. Now he had another long game against Mason. He likely was tired, and perhaps frustrated because Mason was obstinately playing on in a lost position hoping for a miracle. And then he played 56. Nd4 and the won position he had worked so hard to obtain and to preserve was suddenly gone. So it goes in the real world of tournament chess. I wouldn't want to have it any other way.

Feb-12-18
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: <Dionysisu1> You put it much better than I did.
Feb-12-18
Premium Chessgames Member
  Fusilli: <KEG>, <Dyonisius> Exactly. Analyzing is needed for training, and in the process we judge positions, not necessarily players. I mean, we can evaluate players, but not with a sample of one. Everyone makes mistakes, overlooks wins, and blunders now and then. The backup story on Showalter's context, in this case, helps understand his mistake.

Competition can be cruel in that sense. One slip and your whole evening's work goes out the window. Check out my forum for a recent painful example (the last diagram I posted).

On the other hand, when our opponent slips, we cash in and give it no further thought. It's not a zero sum game. The joy of winning that way is by no means equal to the pain of losing that way. Or at least that's my theory!

Feb-12-18
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: <Fusilli> Well said. Thank you.
Feb-13-18
Premium Chessgames Member
  morfishine: <Fusilli> On your comment: <...The joy of winning that way is by no means equal to the pain of losing that way. Or at least that's my theory!> Quote of the year candidate

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