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Manuel Marquez Sterling vs James Mason
Paris (1900), Paris FRA, rd 6, May-28
Russian Game: Modern Attack. Center Variation (C43)  ·  0-1



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Kibitzer's Corner
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Not a good game by any reckoning.

The contest can be divided into three phases:
(A) Moves 1-8--Sterling obtains an opening advantage.

(B) Moves 9-19--Sterling step by step ruing his position until he has a lost game.

(C) Moves 20-53--Sterling plays on in a clearly lost position and never really has a chance, but does momentarily manage to make the game at least superficially interesting by creating mating threats that might have tripped up a careless opponent--but did not work against Mason. Mason should have been able to finish off this game much sooner, but his win was never really in doubt after move 19.

In this post, I will cover phase A (moves 1-8)

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nf6
3. d4

As played successfully by Showalter against Burn three days earlier, and unsuccessfully by Brody against Marshall the following day. The move is a reasonable alternative to 3. Nxe5.

3... Nxe4
4. Bd3 d5
5. Nxe5 Be7

5...Bd6 as played by Marshall against Brody was better. The text is too passive, and allows Sterling to get a good game.

6. c4

Showalter played 6. 0-0 against Burn. The text is another reasonable try. Perhaps best is 6. Nd2 as played by Spassky against Hort in their 1977 match.

6... Nf6

6...Nc6 is better.

7. 0-0 dxc4

This move gives Sterling an isolated d-pawn which Mason later exploits, but Black's position is becoming too passive. Isolated d pawns can be weaknesses,but can also allow dangerous attacking possibilities. Better for Mason was 7...0-0

8. Bxc4 0-0

The position was now as follows:

click for larger view

His isolated d-pawn notwithstanding, White has obtained the freer and better game.

The manner in which Sterling managed to ruin this position in just eleven moves will be the subject of my next post.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post II

During moves 9 through 19 (what I have called Phase B), Sterling converted a better position into a lost one.

9. Be3 Nbd7
10. Nc3 Nb6
11. Bb3 c6
12. Qe2

Pointless. White retains a healthy advantage with either 12. Re1 or 12. Qf3

12... Nbd5
13. Rad1 Be6
14. NxN

Abandoning any effort to retain the advantage. The move recommended by Rosenthal in the Tournament Book (Bc2) would have been even worse, since Black would simply trade off White's Bishop with 14...NxB.

Best here for White was 14. Bg5.

14... BxN
15. BxB

Giving Black the pleasant choice between getting his Knight a nice perch on d5, or getting his Queen on this key square. Better was 15. Qd3

15... NxB
16. Bc1

Much too passive. He certainly wanted to move his Bishop, but 16. Bd2 was clearly better.

16... Bd6
17. Qg4

The beginning of a bad plan involving a misguided King's-side attack. Much better was 17. Nc4

17... Qc7
18. f4

If Sterling was serious about launching a King's side attack, perhaps he should have bitten the bullet and tried 18. h4?! here. In any case, he is getting a bad game.

18... Rae8
19. Qh3

Rosenthal is correct that 19. Rde1 would be bad (but Black would reply Re7, not 19...f6), but the text is even worse.

Correct was either 19. Qf3 or 19. Nc4

19... f6

Driving Sterling's Knight away and leaving White's position with more weaknesses than can be defended.

The position was now as follows:

click for larger view

Material is still even, but Sterling has a strategically lost position.

The manner in which Sterling struggled on in this awful position, and Mason's dilatory manner of finishing off the game, will be addressed (at least in part) in my next post on this game.

Oct-05-17  sudoplatov: How does White increase his advantage. 9.Nc3 developing and covering the d5 square seems one possibility. 9.Qb3 to pile up on f7 and perhaps hinder the development of Black's Queen's Bishop may be better; is 9... Qe8 forced (followed by Re1 and Nc3). The f7 Square seems Black's only weakness at move 9; White has more space and (using Tarrasch's count) is a couple of tempi ahead. The actual game move 9.Be3 isn't very good; the QP isn't under attack; the correct square for the Bishop isn't obvious; White must attack with an advantage in both space and time (according to Steinitz) though not necessarily against the King.

I like 9.Qb3 better on consideration. It puts pressure on both f7 and on b7.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: <sudoplatov> Thank you for this fine analysis. I agree that both 9. Qb3 and 9. Nc3 are better than Sterling's 9. Be3, though I don't think that this was the major reason Sterling's game went downhill as fast as it did.

While I see your points supporting 9. Qb3, I would opt for the simple developing move 9. Nc3. While targeting Black's weakness on f7 has its points, it seems time for White to get his b1 Knight into play.

Despite the questionable 9. Be3, Sterling still had a better game and better chances until his poor 12. Qe2 and 14. NxN.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post III

Mason may have had a theoretically won game after 19...f6, but actually closing out the game proved to be a chore even though Sterling's play from here on was not very good.

20. Nd3

Too passive. 20. Nc4 putting pressure on the d6 Bishop was better.

20... Re4

20...Qb6 would have put more pressure on White.

21. Nc5

Now Sterling will lose material. Better was 21. Rfe1

21... BxN!

21...Rxd4 looks tempting because of the potential pin on the Rook should White play 22. RxR BxN, but White would probably have played 22. Ne6. The text avoids these complications and is better.

22. dxB Qa5!

This fine move is properly praised by Rosenthal in the Tournament Book. The tempting 22...Nxf4 forfeits all of Black's advantage after 23. BxN RxB 24. Qe6+ (or 24. Rfe1)(Even better than Rosenthal's 24. RxR).

23. Qa3 Ra5

White is busted.

24. Qf3

24. Qb3 would have been a superior try, but White is lost.

24... Qxc5+
25. Kh1 Qc2

Giving Sterling a glimmer of hope. 25...Re8 was best.

26. a3

Missing the tactical trick 26. b3. If then 26...Rxa2 (26...Ra5 is probably better) then 27. Rd2 Qb1 28. Ba3! Black may still be winning, but now it's messy. After the text, Mason should have closed out the game in short order.

26... Qe4

Mason seems to have lost the thread of the game. He is up a pawn and still has a won game after the text, but 26...Re8 was much better.

27. Qb3 b5

Excellent. Mason seems to be back on track and beginning to exploit his Queen-side majority.

28. Rde1

28. Moving the wrong Rook. 28. Rfe1 was better.

28... Qf5
29. Re7

Exploiting the pin on Mason's Knight and throwing the kitchen sink against Mason's King.

29... Kh8
30. g4?!

Continuing his coffee-house attack on the King-side.

The position was now as follows:

click for larger view

Rosenthal in the Tournament Book claims that White would obtain at least equality if Black played 30...Qxg4 here. But Rosenthal's line is flawed. After 30...Qxg4 31. Rg1 Mason could have played 31...QxR+ 32. KsQ NxR with two Rooks and two pawns for the Queen and still a won game.

But Mason played an even better move than 30...Qxg4

30... Qc8.

Now Mason has a safe position, is up a pawn, and is ready to begin a counter-attack.

While the game seems clearly won for Black, Sterling was determined to continue attacking, and Mason's play from here on was less than flawless.

The upcoming complications will be discussed in my next post on this game.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post IV

After 30...Qc8, Mason seemed to be close to victory. But there was excitement yet to come, as Sterling pressed forward relentlessly in his wild attacking efforts.

31. Re2 Qxg4

Mason is now two pawns up. But Sterling is playing for mate.

32. Rg2 Qf5

32...Qd7 was better, but Mason still has the game in hand.

33. Rfg1

33. Qc2 is "better," but Sterling wants to play on the g-file.

33... Rg8

Not bad, but 33...Rc4! would have shut down Sterling's hopes. If then 34. Rxg7 RxB!

34. Qg3

Still focused on the g-file, but allowing a nasty response by Mason. Best--though probably hopeless--was 34. Qc2.

34... Re4

Contrary to what Rosenthal claims in the Tournament Book, 34...Nxf4 was best. Rosenthal claims that White would then obtain a defensible game with 35. Rf2 (actually, 35. Qg4 was "best" for White here), but he only considers 35...g5 and ignores Black's best move: 35...Qe4+ which is crushing. Even after Rosenthal's inferior 35...g5, Black still has a clear win in this line. After Rosenthal's supposed equalizing move: 36. b4 (36. BxN is best) Black wins with 36...Qd5+.

Even after Mason's inferior 34...Re4, he still should win easily.

35. h4?!

35. Qg4 was "best," but it is too late for Sterling to back off from his madcap attack.

35... Qh5

Good enough, but Mason should have begun exploiting his Queen-side majority with 35...c5

36. Qf2

36. b4 is probably "best," but Sterling is not interested in what is happening on the Queen-side.

36... Re7

More than sufficient, but bringing his Knight to the attack beginning with 36...Ne7 was best.

37. Rg4

37. Qg3 was "best," but Sterling--as will be seen--is planning to set a trap for Mason.

37... Qf5

Mason could have ignored Sterling's "threats" with 37...Rge8!

38. h5?!

Here it is! Sterling ignores the theoretically better 38. Qf3 to set a little trap for Mason.

Here was the position after 38. h5?!

click for larger view

38... Qd3

This move is fine, but as Rosenthal pointed out in the Tournament Book, Mason could have simply played 38...Qxh5.

Sterling's hope is that Mason would play 38...Qxh5 39. Rh4 Qf7??? after which had would have had a mate in three beginning with 40. Rxh7+!!. But Mason after 38...Qxh5 39. Rh4 could simply have played 39...Qf5! ending Sterling's hopes.

In fairness to Mason, his move---though less immediately decisive than 38...Qxh5--still wins.

39. R4g2 Rge8
40. Qh4

40. Qg3 was somewhat better, but the game is over.

40... Qf3

Mason should have started a Queen-side march with 40...c5, but the text also does the trick.

41. Qg3

Allowing Mason to swap Queens. The move is therefore equivalent to resignation. Sterliong should probably have played 41. Qg4, but that would also have allowed a Queen trade.

41... QxQ

41...Qxh5+ was of course best, but it is easy to sympathize with Mason's desire to get the Queens off the board and ending Sterling's clumsy mating threats.

42. RxQ Re1

43. RxR

If 43. Rxg7 RxB!

43... RxR+
44. Rg1 RxR+
45. KxR Kg8

Mason is now two pawns up in a Knight versus Bishop ending and the game is over.

The remaining moves are of no interest.

46. Kf2 Kf7
47. Kf3 Ke6
48. Kg4 c5
49. f5+ Ke5
50. h6 gxh6
51. Bxh6 Ke4
52. Bf8 c4
53. Bc5 a5


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