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Harry Nelson Pillsbury vs Emanuel Lasker
London (1899), London ENG, rd 9, Jun-10
Spanish Game: Berlin Defense. Rio de Janeiro Variation (C67)  ·  1/2-1/2
ANALYSIS [x]

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Kibitzer's Corner
Apr-12-05  aw1988: Wouldn't Kh2 win in the final position?
Apr-12-05  hintza: 33.Kh2 Bd6+ ouch!
Apr-12-05  aw1988: Ouch indeed.
Apr-12-05  sneaky pete: <aw1988> I don't think so. If 33.Kh2 Bd6+ 34.R7g3 Bxg3+ 35.Rxg3... (this seems to be the critical line) black can play 35... Rf8 (36.Qxe6 Rxf2+ 37.Rg2 Rxg2+ 38.Kxg2 Qxc2+ etc).
Apr-12-05  aw1988: I saw that when hintza suggested it, but thanks.
Aug-23-05  capanegra: This was a great attacking game. Look for instance 28.Qh6, only Pillsbury dared to make such moves against Lasker! His final threat was the beautiful R1g6, but the old fox had a perp in his sleeve.
Aug-23-05  iron maiden: Lasker was thirty in 1899, not really an "old fox."
Aug-23-05  capanegra: But he played like one since he was twenty!
Nov-12-05  SuicidalKing: Lasker over estimated his chances of surviving the attack along the g file but still got away with it.
Nov-14-08
Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: A few comments from Hoffer's tournament book, supplemented by Shredder. Hoffer's comments are in brackets.

After 16. Qd2:

<Surveying the position now, it is evident that White has no advantage from the opening. As a matter of fact, Black has a better position than in any of the Qe2 variations. White consequently has to resolve now upon his future plan. Pillsbury selects the bold course of allowing 16....Bxf3, which means an attack at any cost; for if it comes to an end game Black's superior pawn position must tell.>

After 19....Rxe1 (instead of 19....Nc5) 20. Rxe1 Qxb2, Shredder thinks White is just losing.

After 20....Ne6.

<A simple and sound continuation would have been 20....Bd6 21. Bxd6 Qxd6, followed by ...Ne6, and Black would have had a marked superiority of position, with no attack threatened.>

After 21. Be5

<Pillsbury, with his usual judgment, immediately seizes the opportunity of occupying the clear diagonal with the Bishop; and in bringing the Knight into play he drives the Queen back, thus getting with a few strokes a powerful attack.>

After 27....Qh5

<Lasker pointed out afterwards that 27....Rad8 should have been played.>

Note that after 27....Rad8 28. Nh6, ...Qh5 is pretty much forced anyway. But White doesn't have a convincing followup.

After 28. Qh6

<A beautiful conception. The move itself is, of course, simple enough. Obviously the Queen cannot be taken; but the idea must be considered with all its ramifications, as it involves the sacrifice of the knight and bishop to make a breach in Black's position.>

Similar, Shredder observes, is 28. Bxf6 Qxf5 29. Qh6, which also leads to a draw after 29....Bh4! 30. R1g2 Qxh3+.

After 32....Qd1+:

<This is one of the finest games that has occurred for years, and it was a battle worthy of the two giants who fought it.>

Dec-23-14  Everett: < old fox had a perp in his sleeve.>

That's a funny line.

Dec-27-16
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: A heavyweight slug-fest between two of the greatest players ever to walk the face of the Earth. Every one of the Lasker-Pillsbury encounters was a classic, and this ninth-round battle from the London 1899 tournament does not disappoint.

Lasker played the same variation of the Berlin Defense to the Ruy Lopez that Tarrasch played in his second tie-break match game with Pillsbury in the Vienna 1898 tournament, and Pillsbury followed the same line he used to defeat Tarrasch in that game. On move 10, however, Lasker--following a suggestion he made when commenting on the Pillsbury-Tarrasch match--varied with 10...Re8 instead of Tarrach's 10...Nc5.

Pillsbury was fine until his 15th turn, when he played 15. Ne4 instead of the better 15. g4 followed by Qa6 (which would have given him a small edge). Pillsbury, of course, was not looking for a small edge but for a knock-out. He was--to the best of my knowledge--the only player to have a winning record against Lasker (3 wins, 2 loses, and three draws) as of the time of this game (their lifetime record ended at 4 victories each and 4 draws). And Pillsbury was one of the few players who didn't fear a tactical battle against the mighty Lasker.

With Pillsbury's 16. Qd2, he crossed the Rubicon. He allowed Lasker to wreck his pawn structure and relied on what he hoped would be a winning King's side attack. (16. Qd3 would have been safer, but who can imagine Pillsbury making that move). Pillsbury's 16. Qd2 ushered in a maze of thrilling complications in which Pillsbury's ingenious attack met equally brilliant defense from Lasker.

According to keypusher, Shredder thinks that Lasker would have been close to winning had he played 19...RxR followed by 20...Qxb2. Fritz thinks that both 19...RxR and Lasker's actual move (19...Nc5) are about equally good (Fritz keeps changing his/her mind about which is best depending on how long I allow the search to go) and maintain an edge for Black, but that neither yields a win.

Fritz also thinks...contrary to the Tournament Book and to the analysis of the game by Sergeant in his book on Pillsbury...that Lasker's 20...Ne6 is better than the proposed 20...Bd6, but that 20...h6 is slightly better than the text.

According to Fritz, Pillsbury's "losing" move was 26. Rg3. For reasons I still cannot fathom, Fritz thinks that Pillsbury could have held the game against best play with 26. Rg4 but not with 26. Rg3. Another enigma from our silicone friends.

The major crisis of the game came on Lasker's 27th turn when he faced the following position. According to Fritz, Lasker had played nearly flawlessly to this point:


click for larger view

After the game, Lasker claimed that he should have played 27...Rad8. Fritz disagrees, and says that Lasker's one and only winning move in the diagrammed position was 27...d4!

In any case, Lasker played 27...Qh5 and Pillsbury then forced a draw with the super-brilliant 28. Qh6 !!! which yielded the following position:


click for larger view

As is obvious, Lasker could not take Pillsbury's Queen with his pawn, and either 28...QxQ or 28...QxN (Lasker's actual move) lead to the same result--a draw.

Magnnificent!!

Dec-29-16  Straclonoor: <KEG ...According to Fritz, Pillsbury's "losing" move was 26. Rg3. For reasons I still cannot fathom, Fritz thinks that Pillsbury could have held the game against best play with 26. Rg4 but not with 26. Rg3. Another enigma from our silicone friends...> Stockfish gives 26.h4 as a best, 26.Kg2 goes second and only after it appears 26.Rg4
Dec-29-16
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: <Straclonoor...Stockfish gives 26. h4 as a best, 26. Kg2 goes second and only after it appears 26. Rg4>

I guess our computer friends are as divided on this game as are the human commentators. I ran a 20-ply search on Fritz, and got rankings for White's 26th move as follows:

1) 26. Rg4 (-0.92)
2) 26. Rg3 (-1.13) [Pillsbury's move)
3) 26. h4 (-1.24)
4) 26. Kg2 (-1.40)

In any case, Black (Lasker) is better, but--according to Fritz--the only move move that would have kept the differential below -1.00 (one criterion for whether Black has a won game) was 26. Rg4.

Maybe Fritz and Stockfish should play out the game! Interesting as that might be, I doubt the finish would be as thrilling or memorable as what actually occurred with the flesh and blood Pillsbury and Lasker.

Dec-30-16  Straclonoor: <KEG> Ok. I can provide more variations after NY.
Dec-30-16
Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: <KEG> <-the only player to have a winning record against Lasker (3 wins, 2 loses, and three draws) as of the time of this game (their lifetime record ended at 4 victories each and 4 draws). >

It was 3-3 in decisive games at this point and ended 5-4 to Lasker. You may not be familiar with Lasker's win the the so-called Impromptu tournament in 1893.

Lasker vs Pillsbury, 1893

Dec-30-16  Straclonoor: To <keypusher> if we include Pillsbury win in Augsburg in 1900 final score would be 5-5. Pillsbury was strong opponent for Lasker!
Dec-30-16
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: A big thanks to keypusher and Straclonoor for supplementing my account of the Lasker-Pillsbury record. I was unaware of the 1893 Impromptu game or the Augsburg 1900 game. In any case, as Straclonoor was said, "Pillsbury was a strong opponent for Lasker!" Too bad Pillsbury and Lasker never played a match for the title.

Another big thank you to Straclonoor for his willingness to look further into the alternatives to Pillsbury's 26. Rg3. This was indeed a fascinating game, and additional analysis may yield some important discoveries.

Dec-30-16
Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: <straclonoor>. That was an exhibition game. Fast time control and they stopped after 30 moves to analyze. Lasker never would have played an opening like that against Pillsbury in a real game.
Dec-30-16  Straclonoor: <keypusher: That was an exhibition game. Fast time control...> I know that, but in all apologhetical Lasker's biographies (i.e. Vainstein 'Thinker', published in USSR in 80s) this game included and counted.
Jan-09-17  Straclonoor: As promised, I want to add analysis position in this game after 25 moves by Stockfisch (processor i72700) Analysis by Stockfish 070117 64 POPCNT:
1. (-0.78): 26.Kg2 a5 27.Bc1 Bc5 28.h4 a4 29.Rh1 g6 30.Ng3 Bd6 31.Qd3 axb3 32.axb3 Be5 33.Be3 Ra2 34.Ne4 Qf7 35.Nc3 Raa8 36.Ne2 d4 37.Bd2 c5 38.Rde1 Qd7 39.Qc4 Bc7 40.Qd3 Qf7 41.Ng3 Ra2 42.h5 gxh5 43.Qf5 Bxg3 44.fxg3 Qg6 45.Rxh5 Qxf5 46.Rxf5 2. (-0.95): 26.h4 Qf7 27.Kg2 Qh5 28.Nd4 Qxh4 29.Nxe6 Rxe6 30.Rh1 Qg5+ 31.Qxg5 fxg5 32.Rhe1 Rxe1 33.Rxe1 Kg8 34.Re6 Rc8 35.c4 Kf7 36.cxd5 cxd5 37.Re5 Be7 38.Rxd5 Rc2 39.Bd4 Rd2 40.Rf5+ Kg6 41.Be3 Rxa2 42.Re5 Bf6 43.Rd5 a6 44.f4 g4 45.Kg3 h5 46.f5+ Kf7 47.f3 h4+ 48.Kxg4 Rg2+ 49.Kf4 Bg5+ 50.Ke4 h3 51.Bxg5 3. (-1.09): 26.Rg4 Rad8 27.Ng3 Qf7 28.Qd3 Bc5 29.Rh4 Nf8 30.Bd4 Ng6 31.Rh5 Bxd4 32.Qxd4 Re5 33.c4 Kg8 34.Qg4 Rg5 35.Rxg5 fxg5 36.cxd5 cxd5 37.Ne2 Qf6 38.Ng3 Ne5 39.Qf5 d4 40.Kg2 d3 41.Qxf6 gxf6 42.Nh5 Kf7 43.f4 gxf4 44.Nxf4 Rd4 45.Kg3 d2 46.Ne2 Rd8 47.f4 Rd3+ 48.Kg2 Ng6 49.Kf2
Jan-10-17
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: <Straclonoor> Thank you. I see that Stockfisch flipped its opinion on the merits of 26. Kg2 and 26. h4, but still ranks 26. Rg4 behind them both.

Your search was deeper than the one I got from Fritz, so it is presumably more reliable. Both Fritz and Stockfisch have Black better in all variations, and the rankings for the three moves are pretty close on Stockfisch. It thus appears that Lasker was better but did not have anything approaching a clear or easy win.

Thank you again.

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