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Mikhail Chigorin vs Frank Marshall
Paris (1900), Paris FRA, rd 9, Jun-02
Russian Game: Three Knights Game (C42)  ·  1/2-1/2



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Kibitzer's Corner
Oct-05-14  RookFile: Wonder why Chigorin played this way. Usually he goes straight for the throat.
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: It is hard to disagree with the disappointment RookFile expresses in reviewing this game. A contest between Tchigorin and Marshall promised something akin to the Gunfight at the OK Corral. Instead, the game was a generally lifeless draw. But there are explanations from both sides.

Tchigorin, though a tactical wizard himself, would have seen how Marshall had outplayed the mighty Lasker back in Round 6 in a tactical battle. On the other hand, the young Marshall seemed less sure of himself in positional nuances and endgames. So a quiet approach may have seemed more promising--and perhaps Marshall would over-reach.

Marshall had a different problem. He had performed brilliantly thus far in this his first major international tournament. He had won six games (including one over Lasker) and lost only one (to Janowski) in seven rounds. But he had a "bye" round and two drawn games that had to be replayed (including this game that was one of his required re-plays) under the rules of this tournament (in which draws had to be replayed with colors reversed). As a result, going into this encounter with Tchigorin, Marshall had completed only seven games while Pillsbury and Lasker (his principal rivals for a top place) had completed nine and ten games respectively. The tournament was slated in end in the next 14-15 days. Thus, Marshall had a lot of chess ahead of him. Perhaps, he didn't fancy a long hard game.

What is most surprising to me is that Marshall--usually quite tactically astute--missed a combination on move 16 that would have allowed him to equalize immediately.

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nf6

In later times, the Petroff was a way to play for a draw. In 1900, it was played by the likes of Pillsbury and Marshall as a way to win.

3. Nc3

Tchigorin sidesteps the Petroff and seeks safety and a small advantage in the Four Knights Game. For those who might criticize Tchigorin for avoiding the chance to do battle with Marshall in a Petroff, see what happened to Pillsbury when he accepted the challenge in the next round (he got blown off the board in short order).

3... Bb4

Marshall is unwilling to settle for a placid game and so tries the more unbalanced Three Knights Game.

4. Nxe5

MCO-13 gives 4. Nd5 as best, but after 4...NxN White has no advantage that I can see. Tchigorin's move seems best.

4... Qe7

Avoiding the normal 4...0-0, but running the risk that Queens may get swapped off early in which case White gets a somewhat superior position while taking minimal risks.

5. Nd3

5. Nf3 may be a little more solid, but the text is fine, and sets a little trap for Marshall.

5... BxN

Marshall plays carefully and does not take the bait. As Rosenthal points out in the Tournament Book, 5...Nxe4 loses to 6. Nd5 (6...Qd6 7. N3xb4 [not 7...N5xb4 a5 perhaps giving Black some practical chances) c6 8. Ne3 QxN 9. Qg4 Qe7 10. Qxg7 and wins).

6. dxB Qxe4+
7. Qe2

Rosenthal says that 7. Be3 was better, but after 7...Nd5 (or 7...Ng4) White has no advantage to speak of. Tchigorin's move, by contrast, gives him a slightly superior endgame.

7... 0-0

7...d6 was perhaps slightly better.

8. QxQ NxQ

The position was now:

click for larger view

Tchgorin has two (small) but real advantages: (i) the two Bishops; and (ii) an extra open file. He is also better developed. This is all probably insufficient to win. But one imagines that a Lasker, Capablanca, or Rubinstein would have had every hope of victory with such advantages. Could Tchigorin make headway?

9. Be3

Not the best start. 9. f3 was better.

9... d6
10. 0-0-0 Nd7
11. Nf4 Nb6

11...Nef6 was safer and better.

12. Kb1

Rosenthal criticizes this as "loss of time" and recommends 12. Bd3. While Rosenthal's move may be a slight improvement, bringing the King to safety in this way is often good policy, and the move does not significantly impair Tchigorin's chances here.

12... Re8
13. Bd3 Bd7
14. Rhe1 Bc6
15. f3 Nf6

The position was now:

click for larger view

Tchigorin still enjoys a slight advantage. Neither player has thus far made any serious mistake. But in this position the one interesting tactical chance arose, as I will discuss in my next post on this game.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post II

After 15...Nf6, Tchigorin committed his one serious mistake in the game; a mistake that should have lost him the small advantage he had so carefully nursed to this point.

16. b3?

Giving Marshall the sort of tactical chance one might have expected him to spot in a nanosecond. 16. c4 was best.

16... Nbd5?

Missing his chance! Marshall could have completely equalized with 16...RxB (17. RxR Nfd5 [or 17...Nbd5] 18. NxN NxN 19. Rde1 [else Black forks with Nxc3+] NxR. 20. RxN0.

Now Marshall has to endure an inferior position for a while longer.

17. NxN NxN
18. Bd2 RxR
19. RxR Re8
20. RxR+

If Tchigorin was hell bent on playing for a win, he might have tried 20. Rg1 to keep the last pair of Rooks on the board. But the text--objectively--was equally good.

20... BxR

The position was now:

click for larger view

Was there anything left to be made of this game? Tchigorin did have the two Bishops. He therefore tried advances on both wings, but to no avail with Marshall's careful play.

21. Kb2 Kf8

Perhaps 21...Ne7 was more accurate.

22. h4

Trying his luck on the King's side.

22... h6

Nothing doing there.

23. c4

So Tchigorin tries the other side of the board.

23... Nf6
24. Kc3 Ke7
25. b4

The King is a fighting piece in the endgame, so perhaps 25. Kd4 was best.

25... Nd7

Marshall refuses to crack.

26. Be3 b6
27. a3 c5
28. b5

Given Marshall's solid play, Tchigorin decides to lock the Queen-side pawn structures. But this is tantamount to offering a draw,

28... Nf6
29. a4 Bd7
30. Bf4

If Tchigorin still wanted to try to make something happen, he might have tried 30. a5?! But it is doubtful that this would have avoided the draw that is looming.

30... Nh5
31. Bh2

Voluntarily burying his own Bishop, and relinquishing any advantage whatsoever he may heretofore have had (31. Bd2 was much better). The position was now:

click for larger view

Marshall, for the first time in the game, arguably had a small advantage. Yet, it was here that the players agreed to a draw.

It must be noted that this replayed game occurred on June 6--a day the other 13 competitors had free. The players may have been looking ahead. Tchigorin was scheduled to play Janowski the next day (June 7) and had another game to play on the following day (June 8). Marshall had games to play on the next three days: Pillsbury on June 7, Showalter on June 8, and Schlechter (a replay of their 10th round draw) on June 9. It is perhaps not surprising that neither Tchigorin nor Marshall chose to play on in the slim hope of making something out of nothing in this barren endgame.

1/2 --- 1/2

Dec-31-17  sudoplatov: Checking estimated player ratings again:

Chigorin 2600 (#7)

Marshall 2482 (#23)

And for comparison:

Lasker 2737 (#1)
Tarrasch 2660 (#2)
Pillsbury 2659 (#3)

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: <sudoplatov> Thank you for this information.

Two questions:

1) Were these the ratings before, after, or during the Paris 1900 tournament?

2) Who were #s 4,5, and 6? I am guessing that Janowski and Maroczy were somewhere in the mix.

Dec-31-17  Boomie: <KEG>

I'm not sure where <sudoplatov> got those ratings.

Chessmetrics has much higher ratings.

Considering that Tal among others considered Lasker to be the best ever, I think the high 2800's during the peak of his powers is not unreasonable.

Premium Chessgames Member
  beatgiant: <Boomie>
The other major historical rating system is

As for comparing chess ratings across eras, I'm through giving boring lectures on how the rating system was designed to work ;-)

Dec-31-17  Boomie: <beatgiant: The other major historical rating system...>

I prefer the opinions of the best players rather than rating systems to gauge the strengths of the older masters. For example, the admiration for Morphy's skills seems to be universal among the WCs. So I assume he would have been a formidable opponent in any age. Patzers like us can't really understand chess strength as a world champion can.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: <Boomie><beatgiant> Any attempt to compare players from different eras in any form of competition entails a myriad of problems.

I am quite certain (having seen them both play in their prime) that if Rod Laver from 1969 were put in a time machine and paired using his wooden racquet against Pete Sampras in the mid-1990's with his more modern equipment Laver would get crushed. But that doesn't mean that Sampras was in all respects truly a greater player than Laver. Similarly, while I suspect that Paul Morphy would be easily beaten by Kasparov if he suddenly traveled from 1858 to 1990. That, however, would only prove what we already know: Kasparov would start with a wealth of knowledge and experience Morphy lacked and would have an unfair advantge.

What if Laver and Morphy were transported and then given a year to prepare? How would they fare then? The answer is simple, we just don't know and there is probably no way to find out.

But none of this means that the kind of rankings sudoplatov mentions are useless. At the very least, they can help us compare players from the same time frame. Thus, it is obvious that Emmanuel Lasker was a better player than Janowski, Maroczy, Steinitz, and Tchigorin; and nearly certain that he was better than Tarrasch or Pillsbury in their primes. It may also be possible to quantify the degree of superiority. Thus, it seems likely that Bobby Fischer was farther ahead of his contemporaries than was Kasparov, just as Babe Ruth (as a hitter) was farther ahead of his contemporaries than were Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle.

Thus, ratings can be useful if they are used for certain purposes, and misleading and generally ridiculous when used in less legitimate ways.

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