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Amos Burn vs Harry Nelson Pillsbury
Paris (1900), Paris FRA, rd 13, Jun-11
Queen's Gambit Declined: Modern Variation. Normal Line (D55)  ·  1-0



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Kibitzer's Corner
Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: Quite a battle. After 18.Nde4:

click for larger view

Not quite clear if Pillsbury's exchange sacrifice is a desperate expedient or just a ploy that goes awry. It never looks like it's working, though.

Mildly surprising that Burn has a plus score against the American.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: The key moment in this game was identified on this site by keypusher over two years ago. Whether as the result of an oversight (as suggested in Marco's commentary on this game) or as a "desperate expedient" (to use keypusher's phrase) given that Pillsbury already had an inferior position, Pillsbury's 17th and 18th moves led to the loss of the exchange and ultimately to the loss of the game. But even after falling into a theoretically lost position by move 18, the game is noteworthy for the incredible energy Pillsbury injects into the struggle as he tried one tactical idea after another in an effort to save the game. Burn, however, was not to be denied this day.

In evaluating play here, we must recall the tournament standings. Going into this game, Pillsbury and Lasker had both lost to Marshall in this tournament but won the rest of their games --except for Pillsbury's draw with Showalter at the start of the tournament. Since Lasker defeated Mortimer easily on the day this game was played, Pillsbury no doubt thought he needed to win to have a chance to overtake Lasker. He thus pressed hard from the beginning and got into trouble.

keypusher expresses surprise that Burn had a plus score against Pillsbury. In fact, they only played five times. Pillsbury defeated Burn at Hastings 1895, and drew their first game at the great Vienna 1898 tournament. In their second game at that event, Pillsbury was fighting for the lead with Tarrasch. In the third to last round, he pressed too hard and lost an even position against Burn. As it turned out, this loss allowed Tarrasch (who drew his game that day with Tchigorin) to catch up with Pillsbury and ultimately defeat Pillsbury in a playoff match.

Thus, both of Pillsbury's losses to Burn were in games in which he was fighting to keep pace with Lasker or Tarrasch and was duly punished for his temerity by Burn.

They drew their final game at Munich 1900 and apparently never played again.

I will give a move-by-move analysis beginning with my next post.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post II

1. d4 d5
2. c4 e6
3. Nc3 Nf6
4. Nf4 Be7
5. Bg5 0-0
6. e3 Ne4

A similar idea to the one used successfully by Lasker in his 1907 match with Marshall, except that Lasker played Ne4 a move earlier. Pillsbury is looking to complicate in this game. Sounder at this stage was 6...h6 or even 6...Nbd7. Rosenthal in the Tournament Book called Pillsbury's move "premature."

7. Bf4

7. BxB was simpler and better, as noted by Rosenthal.

The opening position was now:

click for larger view

7... f5

Again looking to complicate. Theoretically better were 7...c5, or 7...NxN, or 7...Nbd7. Pillsbury, of course, undoubtedly knew exactly what he was doing here, and does get a fine and double-edged position in a few moves. His troubles in this game came later.

8. Rc1

8. h3 to save his Bishop from being exchanged was perhaps better.

8... c6

I prefer 8...NxN or--since he plans to play it anyway--8...g5 immediately. But, at least in the short term, Pillsbury's move turns out OK for him.

9. Qb3

Giving Pillsbury chances. Better were 9. h3 (to give his Bishop refuge on h2) or 9. Bd3.

9... Nd7

As pointed out by Rosenthal, 9..g5 to trade off White's Bishop was better here.

10. h3

Rosenthal's 10. h4 is an interesting alternative, but the text is sounder and consistent with Burn's strategy of playing hyper-sound chess as compared with Pillsbury's furious efforts to mix it up.

10... g5

One move too late to be able to trade off the Bishop. That being the case, 10...Nb6 was perhaps stronger here.

11. Bh2 Bf6

This long-handed way of bringing the Bishop to g7 is perhaps too slow. 11...Nb6 or 11...Qb6 seem better.

12. Bd3 Kh8
13. g4?!

Challenging Pillsbury's King-side pawn advances. Sounder and more in keeping with Burn's approach to much of this game was 13. a3 or 13. 0-0 or 13. Qc2.

13... Bg7
14. cxd5

14. gxf5 was more consistent with his last move and better.

14... exd5
15. gxf5

The position was now:

click for larger view

Pillsbury here played:


Rosenthal gives the text a "!" saying that 15...Rxf5 leaves White with the advantage after 16. BxN dxB 17. Nd2.

While Rosenthal's analysis of 15...Rxf5 seems to be correct, Pillsbury was playing with fire in playing the text, which gets him into trouble.

16. BxN dxB
17. Nd2

The position was now:

click for larger view

This--as previously noted on this site by keypusher--is the crucial moment in the game in which Pillsbury played what was either a miscalculation or a "desperate expedient" (to quote keypusher). I will discuss the development of the game from here in my next post.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post III

In the last diagrammed position from my previous post, Pillsbury played:

17... Nb6?

"A mistake which compromises his game. The right move was 17...Nb6." (Rosenthal in the Tournament Book).

"Correct was 17...Nf6 with a very good game [sic]. The text move springs from a hallucination." (Marco).

I agree that 17...Nf6 was best, but Marco's claim that it would have led to a "very good game" for Black seems daft. After 17...Nf6 18. Rg1 Burn would definitely have been better. For this reason, no doubt, Pillsbury looked for something better. His "hallucination," if any, may have been the belief that his next move was possible.

18. Ndxe4 Bxf5?

Pillsbury already had a difficult position, but this move loses the exchange. 18...Rxf5 would have left Pillsbury with a difficult game, but the text seems to lose immediately.

The position was now:

click for larger view

19. Bd6

Did Pillsbury overlook this? Or did he think that the pin he now gets on White's e-pawn gave him good counterplay? If the latter, Burn soon demonstrates that any such pin Pillsbury may have relied on was insufficient compensation for the lost exchange.

19... Qd7
20. BxR RxB

The position was now:

click for larger view

21. Nxg5

21. Nc5 was a good alternative, but the text is more than adequate to preserve Burn's winning position.

21... Qe7

This, if anything, was Pillsbury's idea in sacrificing the exchange.

22. h4

22. Rg1 looks even stronger.

22... Bxd4
23. Ne2 Be5?

After this move Pillsbury is definitely lost. His only hope lay in 23...Bg7.

24. e4!

"!" (Rosenthal).

"Black's apparent attack is most simply repelled by this excellent move." (Marco).

24... Bg4?!

Pillsbury is lost and he knows it. 24...Bc8 was sounder, but sound, careful chess won't save Pillsbury here against so formidable an opponent as Burn. So from here on Pillsbury seeks wild complications at every turn. None of these ideas proves adequate, but it is astonishing to observe how many possibilities Pillsbury finds and how many problems he poses for Burn until the game finally ends 32 moves later.

25. f3

25. Rg1 is more decisive, but Burn has a simple plan to simplify and exploit his material advantage.

25... Bh5
26. f4

"!" (Rosenthal).

26... Bxf4
27. NxB BxN
28. Qc3+ Kg8
29. Rg1

The position was now:

click for larger view

Most of us would play 29...Rxh4 here without a second thought, and that is no doubt "best." But Pillsbury wants a slugfest, so he played the wild:

29... Bg4?!
30. Qb3+ Kh8
31. Rf1 Nd5
32. RxR NxR

This left:

click for larger view

The game does appear to be over, but as will be discussed in my next post, Pillsbury was still full of fight, and there were still a few tactical tricks to be tried.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post IV

33. Qc3+

33. Qg3 would likely have concluded the game faster.

33... Kh8
34. Qc4+ Be6

34...Kh8 loses quickly to 35. Qd4+ Kg8 36. Kd2 as pointed out by Rosenthal in the Tournament Book.

34...Kg7 was Pillsbury's best chance.

35. NxB

The position was now:

click for larger view

The "obvious" move here is 35...NxN after which Burn would undoubtedly slowly marshalled his superior resources and prevailed. But Pillsbury wasn't about to bow out quietly.

35... Qah4+

"With this, Black may still be able to get a chance of a draw." (Marco).

While Marco overstates the effect of the text--since Pillsbury is still quite lost--the game does now become quite interesting, and Burn has to play with great care.

36. Kd2!

Much better than 36. Kd1 Qg4+ 37. Kc2 NxN, though Rosenthal's claim that this would have allowed Pillsbury to hold the game is preposterous. But the win would not have been easy for Burn.

36... Qf2+
37. Kc3

The position was now:

click for larger view

37... Qg3+?!

Rosenthal is correct that 37...Qe3+ is inadequate, but his line beginning with 38. Kb4?? is faulty since Pillsbury would then have saved the game with 38...Nd3+ (and not Rosenthal's 38...Qb6+?). But 37...Qe3+ does indeed lose to 38. Kc2. Rosenthal's claim that White would then have "problems" after 38...b5 is misguided, since 39. Qd4! would then be crushing.

Pillsbury's best chance in the diagrammed position was 37...Ne2+, though this would leave him down a piece for a pawn. But after the text Burn should have won easily.

38. Kc2

38. Kd4 was much stronger, and after 38...Qf2+ 39. Ke5 Ng6+ 40. Kd6 Qh2+ 41. Nf4+ the game would be over.

38... b5

Another neat trick by Pillsbury. The position was now:

click for larger view

39. Qxc6?? runs into 39...Qd3 mate!

But Burn is not about to fall into that trap.

39. Qd4

"Well played." (Rosenthal).

39... NxN

So Pillsbury has won back his sacrificed piece, but Burn now simplified to a clearly winning endgame with:

40. Qg1

"!" (Rosenthal).

40... QxQ
41. RxQ+ Kf7

This left:

click for larger view

The manner in which Burn closed out the game will be covered in my next and last post on this game.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post V

Once the game reduced to a Rook versus Knight ending, Burn closed out proceedings efficiently despite Pillsbury's frantic efforts to find a way to save the game.

42. Rf1+ Ke7
43. Kd3 a5?!

43...Kd6 or 43...h5 would make Burn sweat a little to finish off the game, but Pillsbury decided to stake all on a Queen-side blitz.

44. Ke3 Nc5
45. Rh1

Burn, reasonably enough, decides to pick off Pillsbury's undefended h-pawn.

45... Na4

Continuing his desperate plan of attack.

46. Rxh7+ Kd6
47. Rh2

I looked at 47. Kf4 to focus on pushing the e-pawn and give up the b-pawn, but Burn's method is sounder.

47... c5?!

47...Nb6 setting up a defensive shell might offer longer resistance, but Pillsbury is going for broke.

48. Kf4

48. Rd2+ also does the trick.

48... c4?!

No half-measures for Pillsbury, but the position was beyond saving. What was left now was:

click for larger view

Pillsbury is trying hard, but Black's position is beyond saving.

49. e5+ Kd7
50. Kf5 b4
51. Rh7+ Kd8

With his King now confined to the back rank, Pillsbury's chances are nil.

52. e6 Nc5
53. Kf6 Ne4+
54. Ke5 Nf3
55. Ra7 c3
56. e7+


Burn would have delivered mate in at most two move moves, the position being (if 56...Ke8 57. Ke6).

click for larger view

Aug-22-20  jerseybob: <KEG: The key moment in this game was identified on this site by keypusher over two years ago....> Very good post. I've been going through Sergeant and Watts lately and am shocked by the omitted games I've found, at least 3 so far(vs.Hymes 1905, the Staunton Gambit vs. Lasker 1900 and now this game). I'll bet there are more. I'd say we need an updated, thorough Pillsbury collection, and reading your notes on this game you might be the one for the job. Or is it already in the works?
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: <jerseybob>Thank you for your flattering comments.

I have put up posts on this site for all of the games from London 1899, Paris 1900, and Munich 1900, including all of those played by Pillsbury. I am currently annotating the games from Monte Carlo 1901 (in which Pillsbury did not compete), but expect to finish that soon and then plan to post comments on subsequent events at which Pillsbury was a contestant (e.g., the 1901 USA Great Britain match, Buffalo 1901, Monte Carlo 1902, Monte Carlo 1903, and Cambridge Springs 1904).

Whether these satisfy your understandable desire for a "thorough Pillsbury collection" is at best debatable, but I hope they are of use.

My notes on years before 1899 do not appear on this site. This includes such important Pillsbury tournaments as Hastings 1895; St. Petersburg 1895-1896; Nuremberg 1896; Budapest 1896; and Vienna 1898. These notes are all in handwritten form, and it is not (sorry to say) practical for me to try type and post them on-line.

I agree that an updated Pillsbury biography is in order, and hope that someone undertakes this task.

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