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Harry Nelson Pillsbury vs Siegbert Tarrasch
"A Bitter Pill to Swallow" (game of the day Dec-28-2016)
Hastings (1895), Hastings ENG, rd 2, Aug-06
Queen's Gambit Declined: Orthodox Defense. Pillsbury Variation (D63)  ·  1-0


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Given 47 times; par: 77 [what's this?]

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Kibitzer's Corner
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Feb-22-12  LIFE Master AJ: That would be cool with me as well.
Premium Chessgames Member
  Phony Benoni: This is a great game on many counts. First, it is a struggle between two opposing plans pursued logically and ruthlessly, resulting in a thrilling conflict.

The game may have changed the course of Pillsbury's chess career. Before Hastings, he was a relative unknown in Europe. Sure, he'd had some mild successes in the States, but what great player had the U.S. produced outside of Morphy? Most of its representatives, like MacKenzie or Paulsen, were immigrants from Europe.

In the first round, Pillsbury had lost a difficult game to Chigorin. Had he lost this one as well, would he have gone on to success at Hastings? Or would his confidence have been sapped?

Instead, he went toe-to-toe with one of the top five players in the world, and beat him unflinchingly. That had to open a few eyes, especially when he kept doing it round after round.

So what about the opening, specifically <4.Bg5>? As pointed out, it had been played before, as you can see from this Opening Explorer list:

Sixty-one appearances in our incomplete database, including three times each in the world championship matches of 1886 and 1894. Steinitz seemed to be getting fond of it in the 1890s. However, the demerits of the move were well known. Here's what Isidor Gunsberg had to say about it in the tournament book:

<"No good results from this early sortie of the bishop. The attack, or, perhaps better speaking, would-be attack, differs from similar play in the French defence, inasmuch as White has not P to K5 at his command. Generally speaking, both the first and second player in this opening require their Queen's Bishop on the Queen's side.">

(One of the highlights of my chess career was finding a copy of the tournament book in the University of Michigan Graduate Library with a pencilled comment next to the note: <"Totally wrong! This game established 4.B-Kt5 as White's best move! Gunsberg is an idiot!!"> I imagine that writer is posting on the Internet at this very moment. Such creative anachronism never dies.)

Less colorful was C.E. Ranken's comment in the 1895 <British Chess Magazine>, p. 384:

<"The early sortie of the the QB to B4 or Kt5 has now become quite fashionable in this opening, but not infrequently it leaves the Q's side rather weak.">

This is, I feel, closer to the truth, and note that it's exactly what goes on in the game. The Opening Explorer offers some insight as to what came next. Pillsbury played <4.Bg5> several more times at Hastings, and Lasker, Janowski, and Tarrasch (!) also gave it a whirl. By 1896, it's in use by a wide range of players in several different tournaments. It had become fashionable.

We all know the legends of Greasy Grey-Haired Grandmasters who have burned the Midnight Oil in the never-ending quest for the Holy Grail, a <TN> next to one of their moves. More often than not, I have the feeling that an innovation is nothing more than a player looking at a position and saying, "Oh, what the heck! This looks interesting."

While submitting games from the US Opens in the 1950s, I checked each one against the Opening Explorer to avoid duplicates. I was constantly amazed how relatively unknown players would find a move that wouldn't be introduced into grandmaster play for another 40 or 50 years. I shouldn't have been. In all probability, they didn't know the book move and just played something that looked logical and didn't dump material.

Feb-22-12  LIFE Master AJ: <Phony Benoni> Fantastic post.
Aug-22-12  pers0n: did Tarrasch seriously miss that checkmate in a long game?
Premium Chessgames Member
  perfidious: A fascinating struggle in all its vicissitudes. The analysis performed by <DrMAL> with his silicon assistant-plus that of Kasparov and <Fritz> in OMGP-has uncovered some points of interest beyond those which were already analysed in bygone days.
Oct-10-13  SeanAzarin: According to the great master and analyst E. A. Znosko-Borovsky, Black's fatal mistake was 38...BxP. If 38...RxP instead, sacrificing the Exchange for two passed Pawns, White's 42nd move and the concomitant mate threats [43 R-N8 mate, or if 42...R-K1, 43 N-B7 mate] would have been defended against by the Bishop and Black would have had time to force a pawn through to promotion on the Q side, or force White to give up material to stop said promotion.
Oct-10-13  SeanAzarin: The exact wording of Mr. Znosko-Borovsky's analysis is:

"The game is lost because Black lacks the help of his Bishop. If he had captured the QNP with his *Rook*, giving up the Exchange, he would have preserved his Bishop, which was so essential to the defence, and the two united passed pawns supported by the Bishop would have been more than a match for the Rook. Black had this tactical opportunity and failed to take it. Either he did not see it, or he underestimated the dangers of the situation, or he lacked the pluck to make the sacrifice. White, by contrast, did not hesitate to sacrifice a whole Knight. Black did not lose because of a faulty conception; his tactical failure in its execution was his downfall."

Nov-20-13  drleper: <SeanAzarin> Znosko-Borovsky's exchange sac doesn't appear to work, due to white having the impressive resource 42.Ne5! (38... Rxb3 39. Nxb3 Bxb3 40. Rg2 Kh8 41. gxf6 gxf6 42. Ne5!). All of black's plans on the queenside turn out to be too slow, and his king gets caught instead.
Premium Chessgames Member
  Sally Simpson: Been reading all the post attached to this game. Hilarious. Some of you lot would start an argument in an empty house.

I liked the bit where two lads were (to put it more politely), discussing the relative value of a Bishop v Pawns and one challenged the other to a King and Bishop v King and five pawns game. (page 8)


Much mention has been made of Gunsberg's comment about 4.Bg5.

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"No good results from this early sortie of the Bishop..."

I have the original book of the tournament printed in 1896. What may not be too well known is that Gunsberg is still going on about 4.Bg5 as late as move 27.

click for larger view

"Now the position affords an object lesson as to the effect of White's early move 4.Bg5. The attack on the King's side, which this move was intended to promote, has apparently been met, and therefore Black begins to advance from the Queen side, where White's pawns are insufficiently supported."

No one can accuse Gunsberg of annotating by result. Infact quite the reverse. In the game:

K A Walbrodt vs Steinitz, 1895

We read:

"In the game Lasker v Steinitz, we have given our opinion about this defence , and the fact that Black is successful in this instance does not induce us to alter our views."

No idea who the 'we/our' are. The comment on the Lasker v Steinitz can be seen here.

Lasker vs Steinitz, 1895

All the games are given notes by different players from the tournament, no player being allowed to note up his own game. So you get a smashing mixture of prose and opinions. You could say Gunsberg was just unlucky in getting drawn to note up this game.

It would be good if one day Houndini Mark XXVIII proved 4.Bg4 is simply no good and after all these Gunsberg was right.

Dec-24-15  Amarande: Hardcore dogmatism seemed to be a thing around this time. Tarrasch was famous for it also (how much time did he spend trying to insist 4 Ng5 in the Two Knights was a duffer's move?), and it also wasn't just a chess thing (Henry Jones aka "Cavendish" was famous for it in his Whist treatise, even where irregular play is successful he cautions with "the result, however, is no criterion").
Dec-24-15  RookFile: Gunsberg is not a big fan of 4. Bg5. The funny thing is nobody talks about black's ....Bb7. What exactly was that bishop good for there? Yes, I know about the Tartakower variation, but even in those ...b6 lines black's best option can sometimes be to play ....Be6. My view is the time spent moving the bishop about, finally to get rid of it for a knight, gave white time for his kingside attack.
Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: <Sally> Gunsberg's funniest annotations that I've seen are to Lasker vs Steinitz, 1894, the last game of the 1894 championship. It disgusted Gunsberg from beginning to end. I'll post them some day.

<RookFile> some discussion of the pluses and minuses of the bishop on b7 at Tartakower vs W Winter, 1932 and posts gathered there. Of course no one can deny that the strategy often doesn't work out too well...

Premium Chessgames Member
  Mateo: I believe at the time this game came as a huge sensation, isn't it? Tarrasch was winning and then he played some weak moves but the way Pilssbury played from move 36 until the end was simply astonishing. 44.Qg3+!! followed by the quiet 45.Kh1! was just brilliant.
Premium Chessgames Member
  Phony Benoni: THe kind of game that makes any pun look good.
Premium Chessgames Member
  offramp: If it is Hastings it must be Christmas.

But this game was played on 6th August.

It was round 2, the first meeting of Pillsbury and Tarrasch. When history ended for them the score was 5-5 with 2 draws.

For Tarrasch losing this game was a puzzler. He thought he was stronger than Lasker, who had recently beaten old Steinitz. Lasker did not play at Hastings, so Tarrasch would have had strong aspirations to first place. Yet here he lost to a total parvenu.

Dec-28-16  Straclonoor: <Offramp ...Lasker did not play at Hastings> Really? Who take third place in this tournament (Hastings-1895)?
Premium Chessgames Member
  offramp: <Straclonoor: <Offramp ...Lasker did not play at Hastings> Really? Who take third place in this tournament (Hastings-1895)?>

Doh! I am a big Lasker fan, as well.

I knew that he didn't win a few of the tournaments he took part in while he was World Champion. I also knew Pillsbury won this one and I had a blind spot: "If Lasker didn't win it he wasn't in it".

Slightly disconcerting (for me).

Premium Chessgames Member
  kevin86: Black has two advanced pawns, but loses anyway.
Dec-28-16  antonioaguilar: Chernev's 1st or Second game in the Queen's Pawn chapter?
Premium Chessgames Member
  ChessHigherCat: What struck me was that by move 38 almost every black piece is on the wrong side of the board and almost every white piece is on the right side of the board. I can't believe Pillsbury really cared about the d4 pawn, it seems more likely he was just trying to lure Tarrasch away from defending his king so that he could pounce, as he eventually did (proving that a Pounce of invention is worth a careless pounding or something like that)
Dec-28-16  cunctatorg: An epic siege and in fact an epic war on the chessboard!!

It captures the imagination with envy and awe!!...

Premium Chessgames Member
  morfishine: Another "game title" that pollutes an otherwise great game, which is worthy of GOTD status, but not deserving of such an illogical, irrelevant, off-base, completely non-sensical label title

How long will this garbage continue?


Dec-29-16  Howard: Regarding Antonioaguilar's inquiry, this game was not in Chernev's LCMBM---I assume that's the book he's alluding to.
Jan-29-17  andrea volponi: 30...Dxa2!?- Cf4 Da5! =
Sep-04-17  Nerwal: Going over the game, first impression was that not playing 36... h6 was already asking for trouble (and trouble duly arised). It's not easy to understand why Tarrasch allowed g5 and went for queenside play immediately as including h6 really seems to slow down the attack.

For the same purpose of course computers want to play there some unfathomable junk like 36... g5!? 37. fxg6 hxg6 38. ♖xf6!? ♘xf6 39. ♖xf6 ♖h7!! (39... ♖e6 40 g5 ∞) 40. ♕f2 ♖f7!! -+.

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