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Ignatz von Popiel vs Heinrich Wolf
Munich (1900), Munich GER, rd 15, Aug-11
Italian Game: Giuoco Pianissimo. Italian Four Knights Variation (C50)  ·  0-1


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Kibitzer's Corner
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Nobody likes to finish a tournament with a losing record. Going into this final round game at Munich 1900, von Popiel had four wins and five losses, and Wolf had five wins and six losses. Thus, only one of the two could possible end up with an even record (and, as it turns out, become part of a four-way tie for a respectable 7th place). A win was therefore of use to both von Popiel and Wolf and a draw would have meant little.

Wolf, though playing Black, quickly got the better game. By move 16, he posted one of his Rooks on a3 and loaded up on von Popiel's a2 pawn. He maintained his edge until von Popiel mistakenly traded Queens on move 22. For the next 26 moves, Wolf kept his substantial (and at times seemingly winning) advantage, but couldn't manage to break through.

Having failed to obtain a win through his pressure on von Popiel's a2 pawn, Wolf suddenly switched tactics on move 49 and decided to seek a breakthrough on the e-file. Apparently thrilled to have weathered the attack on his a2 pawn, von Popiel played 50. a4? thus eliminating the attack on the a-file but falling into even bigger trouble. His game went downhill quickly after that, and Wolf traded down to a winning King and pawn ending.

1. e4 e5
2. Bc4

A Bishop's Opening?

2... Nc6
3. Nf3

Now we have a Giuoco Piano.

3... Nf6
4. d3 Bc5
5. d3

The Canal Variation, avoiding the unbalanced line beginning with 5. c3.

5... d6

Reacing a symmetrical position:

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6. Be3?

6. Bg5 is most usual here. 6. Na4 and 6. a4 are also reasonable moves. The text, however, allowed Wolf to play 6...BxB thus obtaining the better game.

6... Bb6?

Though most frequently played here, the text is inferior to 6...BxB.

7. BxB

Not giving Wolf a better chance.

7... axB

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8. Ne2?

Very weak. von Popiel should have prevented Bg4 with 8. h3. 8. a4 and 8. 0-0 were other reasonable moves for White here. The text allowed Wolf to mess up his hair with 8...Bg4.

8... 0-0

Missing the chance to play 8...Bg4.

9. Ng3

Missing another chance to play h3.

9... Na5

He could also have played 9...Bg4 or 9...d5.

10. 0-0

von Popiel should have played 10. Bb3 or 10. Bd5 of maybe 10. a4. Now, Wolf could have simply played 10...NxB.

10... Qe7

By passing the much better 10...NxB or 10...Bg4.

11. Qe2

von Popiel should surely have avoided the coming messing up of his Queen-side with 11. Bb3 or 11. Bd5

11... NxB
12. dxN

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With his better pawn structure and his Rook on the open a-file, Wolf had come out of the opening with the somewhat better game.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post II

12... Bg4

This move, that would have been so strong earlier, now did little to advance von Popiel's cause. He had many better options here: 12...Bd7; 12...Nd7; 12...g6; or even 12...Ne8.

13. h3 BxN

Why on earth trade off his Bishop? Wolf would have retained some edge with 13...Bd7 or 13...Be6

13... Qe6
14. Qe2?

If von Popiel planned to play b3 (see his next move), he should have played it now when he could have moved his Knight to e2 to displace any Rook incursion on a3. von Popiel's Rook now blocks that prospect. 15. b3 or 15. Qd3 were better here.

15... Ra5

15...Ra4 attacking the c4 pawn was better.

16. b3

16. a4, as suggested by the Tournament Book, was much better. All of the coming trauma for von Popiel on the a-file would thus have been avoided.

16... Ra3

"!"--(Tournament Book)

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Wolf now had a simple plan. Load up on the a-file and target the a2 Pawn.

Note how much easier von Popiel's game would be if his Knight had immediate access to e2.

17. c3 Rfa8
18. Rfe1

18. Rfb1 or 18. Nf5 were better.

18... g6

18...Nd7 and getting his Knight to c5 immediately was better.

19. Qc2 Nd7


20. Ne2

The Tournament Book's suggested 20. Re2 (another way to deny his own Knight access to e2) would have left von Popiel's game in shambles after 20...Nc5. 20. Nf1 or 20. Reb1 were the best moves at White's disposal here.

20... f5

This demonstration worked like a charm for Wolf, but only because of von Popiel's awful 22nd move. 20...Nc5 was better.

21. exf5 Qxf5

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22. QxQ

Given his weak a-pawn, a Queen trade was clearly not in von Popiel's interest. He should have played 22. Qb2 or 22. Qd2.

22... gxQ
23. Nc1

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Wolf here obviously had the better--and probably winning--endgame. But over the course of the next approximately 25 often agonizing moves--Wolf was unable to break through based on his a-file pressure. Indeed, during what followed, von Popiel seems to have missed a chance to claim a draw by triple repetition.

23... Nc5

Premature. 23...Kf7 immediately was best.

24. Rb1

Missing the chance to play 24. f4.

24... Kf7

Better late than never. 24...h5 or 24...Rf8 were also good here.

25. Rb2 Kf6

25...h5; 25...Ne4; or 25...Rg8 were other good ways to proceed.

26. f3

Pushing the wrong pawn. 26. g3 was better.

26... h5

26...f4 and 26...Rg8 were also good.

27. g3

von Popiel should have eliminated Black's possibility of playing h4 or Kg5 with 27...h4.

27... Ne6
28. Kf2

28. h4 was still a way to stop h4 by Black.

After 28. Kf2, the position was:

click for larger view

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post III

Wolf obviously was much better at this point and probably had a win. What followed, however, is painful to watch. Both sides missed chances.

With the move 30 time control approaching, it is possible that time pressure was a factor. But how to explain what happened AFTER move 30.

28... Rh8

28...h4 was very strong here for Black.

29. Rh1

"?"--(Tournament Book)

The Tournament Book was correct that 29. Nd3 was better, but 29. h4 was better still. The threat of 29...h4 should have been addressed.

29... f4

"!"--(Tournament Book)

The text was indeed forceful, but 29...h4 was better still.

30. gxf4

Once again, von Popiel should have played h4.

30... Nxf4

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31. Rd2?

Yet again missing the chance to play h4. This time this failure should have been fatal.

31... Rg8

And Wolf, yet again, missed the chance to play h4.

32. Rh2?

Sorry to sound like a broken record, but 32. h4 was essential.

32... h4!

At last!

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White was busted...or was he?

33. Ne2 Kf5?

Wolf had the game in hand after 33...NxN, e.g., 34. RxN Rg3 and White is tied in knots.

34. Ke3

von Popiel here could probably have salvaged the game with 34. NxN.

34... Ne6
35. Kf2 Rga8

35...Rg7 with the idea of doubling up on the g-file looks better.

36. Nc1

36. Ke3 was best, and would have set a neat trap (i.e., 36...Rxa2? 37. RxR RxR 38. Ng3+! and now White wins!).

36... Nf4
37. Ke3 Rg8
38. Ne2

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38... Ng2+?

This lets von Popiel off the hook. 38...Nh5 was better.

39. Kf2

Missing his chance in his apparent zeal to draw by triple repetition (a chance he missed on his next move). 39. Kd3 was his best chance.

39... Nf4

Apparently missing the fact that this allowed von Popiel a chance to draw by triple repetition.

40. Ke3?

von Popiel should either have made this move and claimed a draw by triple repetition or else played 40. NxN.

40... Nh5
41. Kf2

Playing in a fog. 41. Rf2 was his best chance.

41... Rga8

Here, perhaps, Wolf should have shifted course with 41...Raa8, especially since he did not seem to see a way to exploit the situation.

After 41...Rga8, the position was:

click for larger view

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post IV

42. Nc1

He could and probably should have played 42. Ke3, creating among other things the trap I described in my notes to his 36th move.

42... Ng3

Wolf should have tried 42...Nf4; 42...Rg8; or perhaps 42...Ng3. This Knight sortie got Wolf nowhere.

43. Rg2 R8a5

Another pointless move. Perhaps Wolf was worried about the move 45 time control.

44. Rg1

44. Ke1 was better, e.g., 44...Ke6 45. Ne2 (since 45...Rxa2? would lead to 46. RxR RxR 47. Nf4+ and White wins).

44... Ra8
45. Ke3 R8a5

Only time pressure can explain Wolf's play over the course of the last few moves. Any win he may have had a short while ago now seemed gone:

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46. Kf2

46. Rf2 was better and seems to lead to equality. Another try that may also be sufficient to draw was 46. Ne2 NxN 47. KxN Rxa2 48. Rg4 Ra8 49. Rxh4.

46... e4

"!"--(Tournament Book)

The Tournament Book's enthusiasm notwithstanding, this should have led to a draw, as will be seen. To have any chance of legitimate chance of winning, Wolf should have maintained the tension with 46...Ke6 (or even some "nothing" move such as 46...Ra7]. von Popiel should have had no difficulties saving the game after the text, especially since the move-45 time control had passed.

47. Ke3 exf3
48. Kxf3

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48... Re5

Having gotten nowhere with his attack on a2, Wolf sought a new approach--loading up on the e-file.

49. Rd3

49. Rd4 would seem to thwart Wolf's plan and lead to a draw, e.g., 49...Ne4 50. Rg8 Nxc3 51. Rf4+ Ke6 52. Nd3 Rf5 53. Rg6+ Kf7 54. RxR+ KxR 55. Kg4.

49... Ra8

Abandoning the plan he had been pursuing for most of the game and going all in on the e-file strategy.

click for larger view

This, as it turned out, was the critical moment in the game. von Popiel had been suffering with a Black Rook on a3 for over 30 moves. He must have been regretting his failure to play 16. a4. Now, all of a sudden, he could rid himself of that problem forever by--finally--playing a4. So:

50. a4?

Sadly for von Popiel, this turned out to be the losing move. Wolf never gave him a chance from this point.

von Popiel had a draw in hand with 50. Rd4. But he jumped to play the text, and got demolished.

50... Rae8!

von Popiel should surely have been able to see this coming after Wolf's last two moves. Compare the position now with that after 49...Ra8:

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White is busted. von Popiel apparently recognized his plight, since he played like a fish for the balance of the game. All that hard work defending a difficult position thrown away because of one impulsive move (50. a4?).

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post V

51. Rd5?

von Popiel was probably lost here anyway, but this lemon simplified Wolf's task. von Popiel should have sat pat with something like 51. Kg2 or 51. Rgd1 and made Wolf demonstrate the (far from easy) win for Black.

51... RxR
52. cxR Ne4!

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Wolf's Knight had morphed into multi-headed monster that dominated the board.

53. Rg4?

The game was almost certainly beyond salvage at this point, but 53. Rg7 was the best try for White.

53... Ng5+
54. Kg2

Obviously forced. Now Wolf could choose from among various ways to win:

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54... Re4

Trading Rooks was one way to win, since von Popiel had no chance in the resulting Knight ending. 54...Re1 was another way to win, e.g., 54...Re1 55. Nd3 Rg1+! 56. KxR Nxh3+ 57. Kh2 KxR with an easily won Knight and Pawn ending.

55. RxR KxR

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von Popiel should probably have spared himself what followed and just resigned here.

56. Ne2 Kxd5

This certainly wins for Black, but the nasty 56...Kd3 might have been sufficient to persuade von Popiel to call it a day. After the text, von Popiel's Knight was able to get into the game for a bit.

57. Nd4?

57. Nf4+ was the only way to offer anything approaching resistance.

57... Ke4
58. Nb5 Ne6

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59. Kf2

59. c4 might have made Wolf's task somewhat harder.

59... d5

59...Kd3 would have pretty much ended the game. But Wolf's move was also sufficient.

60. b4


60... Kf4

Again missing a killer (60...Kd3). After 60...Kf4, the position was:

click for larger view

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post VI

61. Na7?

61. a5 was von Popiel's last chance to make life difficult for Wolf. After the text, the game ended swiftly.

61... Ng5
62. Nb5 c6

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63. Nd6

Hopeless. Wolf now traded down to an easily won King and pawn ending.

63... Ne4+
64. NxN dxN

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65. c4

As Wolf soon demonstrated, von Popiel had no chances whatsoever on the Queen-side.

65... e3+

Wolf could have immediately put an end to any notions von Popiel had of creating something on the Queen-side with 65...c5. The text, of course, was also a winner.

66. Ke2 Ke4

Or 66...c5.

67. b5 c5

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