|KEG: Tchigorin had gotten off to a terrible start at Paris 1900 (0-2 and then 1-3) but then had scored 7.5 points in eight games to pull within hailing distance of the leaders, only to lose to Showalter in Round 15. But with three games remaining (he had a bye round and a game that had to be replayed with Maroczy), Tchigorin still had a chance for a nice finish. His last two opponents would be Maroczy and Lasker, so he needed to win against Sterling (1-13 going into this game) if had hopes of a nice finish. This he did through seemingly routine play, waiting for Sterling to blunder. Sterling played well through move 16, but then erred badly, allowing Tchigorin to finish the game brilliantly with an exchange sacrifice on move 20.|
1. e4 e5
2. Nf6 Nf6
With his second move, Sterling offered to play a Petroff's Defense, but Tchigorin--seemingly eager to avoid needless complications against a weak opponent--opted for the equality of the Four Knight's Game. His unenterprising strategy paid dividends here.
Tchigorin avoids the main line 4. Bb5 and instead transposes into what could have been the Canal Variation of the Giuoco Piano.
4...Nxe4 was a reasonable alternative, but the text is also good for equality against Tchigorin's unambitious line.
Offering to play the Canal Variation.
This move looks feeble at first glance, but in fact is not bad. It was played by Morphy in his very first tournament game at New York 1857 (a 21-move crush against Thompson). The move has the virtue of preventing White's 6. Bg5. Of course, Sterling could also have simply played 5...d6 and then played 6...h6 in the event of 6. Bg5.
Tchigorin might have tried 6. 0-0 first against a different opponent. But he seems happy to trade Bishops and get an open (technically half-open) f-file. Indeed, the open f-file brings him victory in this game.
Rosenthal in the Tournament Book said that 6...Bb6 was preferable, but there is nothing wrong with the text (so long as Mortimer bewares the open f-file).
7. fxB d6
This strange looking move was in fact very much in Tchigorin's style. Other players might have played 8. a3 here to be able to preserve the White-square Bishop in the event of Black's Na5. But Tchigorin preferred Knights to Bishops and thus welcomed the trade. He also liked variations with his Queen on e2. Given Tchigorin's incredible record of success, it is hard to argue with his reasoning.
Happy to trade Knight for Bishop. A reasonable idea--except perhaps when Tchiogorin was the opponent.
Making sure the Knight for Bishop trade does not result in doubled pawns, and occupying the center.
Sterling should probably have just played 9...NxB and let Tchigorin figure out what to do with his doubled e-pawns.
10. exd4 NxB
11. QxN 0-0
click for larger view
Tchigorin has undoubled his e-pawns and has a Rook poised on the half-open f-file. But Sterling's position is solid, and chances are about equal.
Since this Bishop can be chased away immediately with loss of time for Black, Sterling might have tried 12...c6 or 12...Re8 or even 12...a5. But he is still basically OK even after the text.
Seizing the opportunity afforded by Sterling's last move. 13. Qd3 was a reasonable alternative.
Looking to open lines. 14. Rae1 was another reasonable option.
15. Nxe5 a6
15...c6 was a good alternative, but Sterling is also fine after the text.
Given the dangerous (for White) diagonal alignment of Tchigorin's Queen and f1 Rook, he perhaps should have played 16. Qd4 immediately.
As a result of Tchigorin's questionable 16th move, Sterling could here have gotten a fine game with 16...Bb6 (17. NxB axN 18. Qxb5 and now either 18...Rxa2 or the more enterprising 18...Qe8).
Belatedly avoiding the Bishop skewer mentioned above.
The position was now:
click for larger view
Tchigorin has what advantage exists, but Sterling is still basically OK. But from here he erred badly and got crushed as I will discuss in my next post on this game.