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James Mason vs Jackson Whipps Showalter
Paris (1900), Paris FRA, rd 11, Jun-07
Vienna Game: Vienna Gambit. Main Line (C29)  ·  1/2-1/2

ANALYSIS [x]

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Kibitzer's Corner
Jan-15-18
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Playing over this game, it seems incredible that Mason didn't win. He outplayed Showalter in the opening, and had a clearly winning position by about move 11 or 12. Even after he blew several winning chances, Mason had what appeared to be a won game after several later errors by Showalter. He even missed a number of forced mates.

All this makes this sound like a very poor play. In fairness to the players, however, the tactical complications were severe.

As with the Brody Lasker game played in the same round, one of the themes of the game is the attacking power and tactical chances on both sides in a middle-game featuring opposite color Bishops (though unlike Lasker, Mason was unable to thread his way through the maze of complications and had to settle for a draw).

The other theme of this game is the problems a player faces when--like Showalter here--two of his/her minor pieces get buried. For portions of this game, Showalter was effectively playing one or two pieces down.

1. e4 e5
2. Nc3

The Vienna Game, frequently played (often without success) by Mieses in this tournament. At this stage of Paris 1900, Mason had a miserable score of two wins and seven loses. He apparently decided to go for a knockout punch against Showalter. The strategy almost worked.

2... Nf6
3. f4?!

Now we have a Vienna Gambit. This is quite playable, but the result can be a wild game, as occurs here.

3... d5

The most aggressive and effective way to respond to the Vienna Ganbit.

4. fxe5

4. exd5 is a reasonable alternative. Steinitz liked to play 4. d3 here, but this leads to Black getting the better game after 4...exf4

5. Nf3

Rosenthal in the Tournament Book says that "White could play equally with advantage 5. Qf3." In fact, White has no advantage in either line. If 5. Qf3, Black has the advantage after 5...f5 (better than Rosenthal's 5...NxN, which also does not yield White any edge).

5... Bb4

This is playable but inferior to the more usual 5...Be7. It is hard to understand why Showalter wanted to trade off this Bishop. His lack of a dark-square Bishop will haunt him for much of the game.

6. Qe2 BxN
7. dxB 0-0
8. Be3 c6
9. 0-0-0 Qa5
10. a3

Rosenthal prefers 10. Kb1, but there is nothing wrong with the text. Having a pawn on a3 proves useful for Mason in the coming struggle.

10... Bg4

The beginning of Showalter's problems. The Bishop is better placed on e6. On its current perch on g4, this Bishop gets chased to h7 where it languishes as a near-useless ornament until its magic reappearance into the game on move 36.

11. Qe1

Mason should probably have tried to rid himself of his doubled c-pawns with 11. c4. In practice, however, Mason's doubled c-pawns are fated to live a charmed existence for the balance of the game.

The position was now:


click for larger view

It is hard to know what to make of this position. White's pawn structure is a bit of a mess, but he is preparing for a King-side assault and isn't worried about possible endgame weaknesses. Black's problems are: (a) his undeveloped Queen-side; and (b) what to do with his Bishop on g4. Showalter messes up in dealing with both of his problems, and is soon hopelessly lost--or so it seemed.

11... b5?

Showalter was in no shape to begin a Queen-side assault yet. He should have played 11...Nd7.

12. h3

Putting the question to Black's g4 Bishop, but 12. Bd3 was much stronger.

12... Bh5?

A terrible spot for the Bishop. Mason is obviously planning g4. By putting his Bishop on h5, Showalter allows Mason to play g4 with gain of time and to bury Black's light-square Bishop.

Showalter should have played 12...Be6 here.

13. g4!

Mason is now in business and his King-side attacking chances are excellent.

13... Bg6

14. h4

The steamroller continues its assault.

14... h6?

For better or worse, Showalter had to play 14...h5 here. Mason's attack now becomes unstoppable.

15. h5

Ouch!

15... Bh7

If Showalter thought this Bishop would be able to play a role in attacking on the b1-h7 diagonal, he was soon disabused of this notion.

16. g5

The position was now:


click for larger view

Things look bad for Showalter here, and they soon got worse.

Jan-15-18
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post II

In the final diagrammed position in my last post, Showalter--according to Rosenthal in the Tournament Book--decided to look for a counterattack. The plan seemed doomed to failure, but I'm not sure there was any balm in Gilead for Showalter any longer with best play by White.

16... Na6?!

Rosenthal is correct that 16...hxg5 (or 16...Nxg5) leaves Black in terrible shape after 17. Nxg5 NxN 18. BxN. The position would then be:


click for larger view

It is rare that a player has a winning attack with all but one of his pieces on the first rank, but this sure looks like an example. h6 and e6 are looming, and it is hard to see how Black could hold on for long here with the Black pieces. Showalter's actual move, howevre, was even worse.

17. gxh6

White has a number of ways to crack the Black fortress. Both the text and 17. Bd3 are sufficient to win easily.

17... Rfb8?!

Showalter, facing disaster on the King's side, goes all out for a Queen-side do-or-die attack. 17... Nac5 seems a better way for Showalter to bring all his troops into play. But even then White would have had the game well in hand with 18. hxg7.

18. Bd3

Mason again has his choice of winning moves. 18. Rg1 seems most lethal. But the text is certainly sufficient.

18... b4

It is too late for Showalter to back down now, though the text loses by force. Fritz 15 announces mate in 20 for White here, so Showalter's move is obviously not very good. But--with a human opponent--it may offer better chances than the theoretically best 18...Rb7.

The position was now:


click for larger view

Rosenthal claims a win for Mason here with 19. cxb4, but his analysis is faulty. It is true that after 19. cxb4 Black gets killed after 19...Rxb4 with 20. Qg1 (20. BxN and 20. Rg1 are even better than Rosenthal's move, but 20. Qg1 wins nonetheless) 20...g6 21. BxN (even better was 21. hxg6) dxB 22. axR (22. hxg6 leads to mate and is even better, but Rosenthal's move also wins).

But Rosenthal's analysis of 19...Nxb4 (after 19. cxb4) is misguided. According to Rosenthal, 20. Kb1 Qxa3! (a neat saving Queen sacrifice) 21. bxQ NxB+ Rosenthal says White wins. But after 22. Ka1 NxQ 23. RdxN the position would be:


click for larger view

White may still be batter here, but I don't see anything close to a win.

In view of the excellent move Mason actually played (which clearly wins), I can't imagine why Rosenthal went down the rabbit-hole of searching for a win with 19. cxb4

In any case, back to the game:

19. Qg1!

Mason's attack is now unstoppable, as I will attempt to demonstrate in my next post on this game.

Jan-15-18
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post III

After Mason's powerful 19. Qg1!, the position was:


click for larger view

White's attack is unstoppable.

19... g6

This delays, but does not stop, White's mating attack.

20. BxN

Equally crushing is an immediate 20. hxg6

20... dxB

This is hopeless, but other moves also fail.

As Rosenthal correctly notes in the Tournament Book, attempting to make headway with a pawn capture on the Queen-side here would also be futile. Thus:

A) If 20...bxa3 21. hxg6 axb2+ (21...fxg6 22. Bxg6 is also hopeless) 22. Kd2 fxg6 23. Bxg6 and Black cannot escape mate.

B) If 20...bxc3 21. hxg6 cxb2+ 22. Kb1 fxg6 23. bxg6 BxB 24. QxB+ and mate in three.

After Showalter's actual move (20...dxB) the position was:


click for larger view

Mason here played:

21. Qg5

Rosenthal in the Tournament Book claimed that this is where Mason blew the win, and claims that 21. cxb4 was the winning move. In fact, while 21. cxb4 is sufficient to win, Mason's move is better still (his problems began with his next move). Moreover, there is a better move in the diagrammed position than either Rosenthal's or Mason's.

First let's consider Rosenthal's 21. cxb4. After 21...Nxb4 22. axN (22. hxg6 also wins here, but Rosenthal's 22. axN is better), Black has two options, neither of which will save him: (i) 22...Qa1+ 23. Kd2 Qxb2 (23...Rd8+ leads to the same thing) 24. Rb1 Rd8+ 25. Nd4 and White is a piece up and must win; or (ii) 22...Qxb4 23. Bd4 exN (23...Qa5 may allow Black to survive a little longer, but leaves Black a piece down, subject to mate and obviously lost) 24. Qg5 Rd8 25. Qf6 (this move by Rosenthal is a winner, but 25. Bc3 is absolutely crushing) 25...Qf8 26. e6 RxB (26...Qxh6+ 27. Kb1 is hopeless) 27. RxR (even better than 27. QxR) Qxh6+ (27...fxe6 might delay the end a bit longer, but is also hopeless) 28. Kb1 fxe6 29. Rhd1 and wins (29. Qxe6+ is even faster).

Thus Rosenthal's 21. cxb4 is a winner. But: (A) as I will show in my next post, Mason's 21. Qg5 should have been an even easier win; and (B) the fastest and easiest way to win was 21. hxg6.

Jan-15-18
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post IV

After Mason's 21. Qg5, the position was:


click for larger view

Rosenthal in the Tournament Book claims that Mason had blown the win with 21. Qg5. A glance at the position reveals otherwise. White has a powerful King-side attack, while Black's Queen-side attack is easily parried, his Bishop is buried, and his Knight is on the edge of the board.

Contrary to Rosenthal'a analysis, Mason still has a clear win here.

21... bxa3

The only move to avoid immediate catastrophe. But White still has a clear win. It was here, however, that Mason botched the win:

22. Qf6?

Missing Showalter's two-move combo (22...axb2+ and 23...Qd8+) to avoid mate on g7. But Mason had an absolute win (not noticed by Rosenthal in his commentary) here with 22. Rd6! The position would then be:


click for larger view

Now Showalter's little combination doesn't work since 23... Qd8 no longer gives check and instead loses the Queen. If22...f6, White simply plays 23. Qxf6.

In short, White mates quickly after 22. Rd6, possibly picking up the Black Queen along the way. But after Mason's lemon (22. Qf6?), Mason's win was suddenly gone"

22... axb2+
23. Kd2 Qd8+
24. Nd4 QxQ
25. exQ

The position was now:


click for larger view

If anyone was better here, it was Showalter (Black), not Mason/

But this strange game was far from over, and Mason soon had a winning attack again. The story of how Showalter ruined the diagrammed position in just a few moves and how Mason once again failed to win a seemingly easily won game will be continued in my next post.

Jan-15-18
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post V

After the exchanges ending with 25. exQ it appeared that Showalter (who had been dead lost for much of the game) had new life. But he quickly went astray again in this game of never-ending vicissitudes:

25... Rd8?

Showalter would have been fine with 25...gxh6. His Bishop would be released and White's attacking chances would be all but extinguished. But Showalter thought he could make some progress by pinning White's d4 Knight and threatening c5. This, we we will see, was an error.

26. hxg6!

Now Showalter has no time for c5 and must yet again worry about his King-side.

26... fxg6

Showalter may have thought he could free his Bishop here with 26...Bxg6, but he obviously realized--perhaps at the last moment--that 26...Bxg6? loses to 27. h7+ for after 27...Bxh7 (27...Kh8? runs into a mating net after 28. Bh6!) 28. Rdg1! Bg6 29. Rh6 and White must win. And 26...c5 loses to 27. gxB+ Kxh7 28. Rhg1.

So Showalter must, no doubt reluctantly, bury his White-square Bishop yet again.

27. Ke2

The only move, and a good one. White escapes the pin and all his pieces are again poised for attack.

27... Rd6

Another poor choice by Showalter. He desperately needed to activate his Knight on the rim. 27...Nc5 was therefore clearly best.

28. Rdf1

Right square, wrong Rook. The d1 Rook is needed to guard against b1(Q) by Black whilst the h1 Rook is currently available for duty on the f-file.

28... Kf7?

A bad mistake. Putting his King on the second rank creates new prospects for Mason, who now finds a better square for the Rook he misplaced on his last move.

29. Rb1!

The position was now:


click for larger view

Showalter now probably noticed to his horror that he could not guard the b2 pawn with 29...Rb8 because of the 30. Bf4 skewer. As it no doubt dawned on him, he is again quite lost.

29... c5

This attempt at complications should have failed immediately. But I can't find anything better for Showalter here (maybe 29...Rxf6 immediately).

30. Nb5

This move was probably sufficient to win, but simpler and more spectacular was 30. Rxb2! since 30...cxN would get annihilated by 31. Rb7+.

30... Rxf6
31. Rxb2

The position was now:


click for larger view

Showalter may well have no defense here. His best chance was 31...Kg8. But instead he played:

31... Rb6?

After this error, it certainly appeared that Mason was about to wrap up the game.

32. Ra1!

A number of mistakes were made in this game, but it also featured a number of pretty and subtle moves, this latest move by Mason among them.

32... Rc8?

Only making a terrible situation worse. The only real hope to hang on was 32...g5. Now, surely, the game was over. All Mason had to do was play 33. Nxa7 and Showalter's goose was cooked. But here Mason tried to get clever.

33. c4

The win is still there, but now matters are a tad trickier.

33... g5

He has to find a way to deal with the pesky White pawn on h6, even at the possible cost of his g-pawn. His Bishop now at least guards his e4 pawn.

34. Rba2

Accurate play by Mason. The pile up on the a-file is deadly.

34... Rcc6

What else?

35. Bxg5 Kg6?

Another terrible mistake. 35...Rg6 was essential. The position was now:


click for larger view

The win for White seems easy now. But in fact the game was far from over, and the ups and downs of this contest were to continue for another 2-+ moves as I will discuss in my next post on this game.

Jan-15-18
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post VI

In the diagrammed position with which I ended my last post, Mason could have played the powerful 36. Rg1! If Black has a retort to this, I sure can't find it.

But Mason thought he had an even easier way to win, and forgot Bobby Fischer's injunction: "Watch the whole board."

36. Bd8

This didn't irrevocably thrown away Mason's win, but it certainly made matters unnecessarily hard for him. At first sight, 36. Bd8 does appear to clean house for White. But just one problem:

36... Bg8!

All of a sudden, Showalter's white-square Bishop returns to action and presents a threat that foils Mason's intended 37. BxR since Showalter could then have played 37...Bxc4+ 38. Ke3 BxR and been very much back in the game.

As always, when confronted with an unanticipated move, it is best to take a deep breath and take stock---and not panic. But Mason here did panic with:

37. Rg1+

Now, presto, Showalter has life. Had Mason reevaluated, he probably would have found 37. Ra4! that keeps him in the driver's seat. Now, however, Showalter has more than a ghost of a chance:

37... Kh7
38. Rg7+ Kh8
39. RxB+

Probably Mason's best chance to play for a win at this stage.

39... KxR
40. BxR RxB

The position--with much reduced material--was now:


click for larger view

This endgame is tricky, and Showalter's road to a draw is still a difficult one.

41. c3!

This is Mason's best chance. 41. Nxa7 would lead to a dead draw after 41...Nb4 (or 41...Rxh6 immediately) 42. Rb2 Rxh6

41... Rxh6
42. Ke3 Re6?

Showalter is not completely out of the woods, and had to rush his King to the Queen side. The text wastes time defending the e-pawn. 42...Kf7 or 42...Kf8 were much better.

43. Nxa7

Sloppy play by Mason, who should have seized the d-file with 43. Rd2 before Showalter had a chance to contest it.

43... Nb8?

A useless move. He should have played 43...Kf7. If he was set on repositioning his Knight, he could have played 43...Nc7.

44. Rd2

Now Mason is back on track and has real winning chances.

44... Kf7
45. Rd8

Thanks to Showalter's thoughtless 43rd move, Mason can now gain time by attacking the impotent horsey.

45... Na6

Showalter had nothing better. This Knight has indeed had a miserable existence in this game.

46. Nb5 Kf6

The position was now:


click for larger view

Can Mason win this endgame? Two things are for sure: (i) he didn't; and (ii) he didn't give the endgame best play as I will show in my next (and probably final) post on this game.

Jan-15-18
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post VII

How should Mason have gone about trying to win after 46...Kf6?

Material is even, and Mason's two pawns are doubled. His advantages are: (a) Showalter's weak e-pawn; and (b) his better placed Rook and Knight. The question was: how to try to exploit such advantages.

47. Ra8

This can't be the way. Attacking the defended Knight serves no purpose, and there is no much Mason can do on the a-file. There were two possible ways to make headway: (i) 47. Rd5, targeting the c-pawn and looking to control the 5th rank; (ii) 47. Rh8, putting the Rook on a file where it might have had a future. His chances of winning now appeared remote, or at least until Showalter's next move.

47... Ke7

Why put the King on the one rank where it is vulnerable to the a8 Rook. With 47...Ke5, Showalter would have been safe. But now...

48. Ra7+ Kd8
49. Rh7 Kc8
50. Rh4?

Giving up the trumps Showalter had given him. He had for now to keep his Rook on the 7th rank. Winning the e-pawn--which appears to be Mason's plan--almost certainly was not the road to victory.

50... Kb7
51. Rxe4 RxR
52. KxR

The position was now:


click for larger view

This looks like a clear draw, but it was easy for Showalter to go wrong.In fact, there is only one move to hold the game.

52... Kc6!

Everything else loses. For example: 52...Nb8 loses to 53. Kd5; and 52...Kb6 loses to 53. Kd5 and if then (for example) 53...Nb8 54. Kd6 Ba6 55. Na3 Nc7 56. Kd7 Kb7 57. Nc2 Na8 58. Kd6 Kb6 59. Ne3 with Nd5+ to follow.

Of course, 52...Kc6 is not a hard move to find. But it is remarkable that Showalter on this and his next two moves has only one way to hold the game.

53. Ke5 Nb8!

Once again, everything else loses.

54. Ke6 Na6!

Yet again, Showalter found the only move to allow him to hold the game.

55. Ke7

Given Showalter's tough play at this stage, Mason probably had no likelihood of winning. But the text takes the heat off of his opponent. 55. Nd6 would have made Showalter sweat a while longer.

The position was now:


click for larger view

55... Nb8

This is probably sufficient to draw, but Showalter's best chance here was 55...Nb4! (If 56. cxN cxb4 57. Nd4+ Kc5 with a clear draw.

56. Kd8

Mason may have decided to call it a day. If Bobby Fischer had the White pieces here, I bet he would have continued to torture Black with 56. Nd6.

56... Nd7

Now Black's Knight is on the loose and the draw is easy.

57. Na7+ Kd6

1/2 -- 1/2

The reward Mason and Showalter received for this exhausting struggle was a mandated replay two days later (another long draw).

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