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Joseph Henry Blackburne vs Harry Nelson Pillsbury
London (1899), London ENG, rd 11, Jun-13
Queen Pawn Game: Colle System (D04)  ·  1-0



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Kibitzer's Corner
Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: 25.bxa5 Ng3+ 26.Kh2 Qc7 27.Nf3 Nf1+ 28.Kh1 Qh2+ 29.Nxh2 Ng3#.
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: A scintillating battle that is thrilling from beginning to end. Both players are to be saluted. There is so much to enjoy in this game!

Even the opening was a fascinating duel. Blackburne played (as White!)a version of Janowski's defense to the Queen's Gambit with a move in hand. Pillsbury defended carefully but with his usual aggression.

The first crisis arose after Pillsbury's 12...Qe7. Rather than merely nurse his small advantage, Blackburne played the hyper-aggressive 13. b5, leaving the following position:

click for larger view

Both Hoffer in the Tournament Book and Sergeant in his book on Pillsbury fault Pillsbury's 13...Na5 in this position. But Pillsbury's move was far superior to 13...Nb8 suggested by Hoffer (which would have given Blackburne much the better chances) and drastically better than 13...Nd8 (recommended by Sergeant), which loses according to Fritz. Neither commentator recognized the subtlety of Pillsbury's move. This is evident, for example, in Sergeant's commentary following Pillbury's 16...Rfe1 which left the position as follows:

click for larger view

According to Sergeant, in this position Blackburne could and should have simply played to win a pawn with 17. BxN b6xB 18. Qxa5. Did Blackburne and Pillsbury actually miss this?

No way. As Blackburne recognized (and as Fritz--which rates the position after 17. BxN as 0.00--has confirmed), Pillsbury would have equalized in this line with 18...e4 19. Nd4 BxB 20. NxB Qe5 21. g3 Qh5 22. Nc3 a6!

This is only the first of many amazing combinations that Blackburne and Pillsbury saw and avoided.

With his actual move (the far superior 17. Rfe1), Blackburne retained a small edge at this stage.

This, however, is only an appetizer of the wonders that followed that I will address in subsequent posts concerning this game.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: As interesting as the opening play in this game was, it pales in comparison with the violent middle-game slugfest.

After 20. Nd4, Pillsbury should probably have taken Blackburne's Bishop at e2 rather than the one at b4, but he was planning an incredible attacking combination. In the following position, Pillsbury played 21...RxN:

click for larger view

Pillsbury had obviously been planning this extraordinary sacrifice for several moves. Contrary to the suggestions of commentators Hoffer and Sergeant, this was not a desperate ploy by Pillsbury to save himself in a lost position. Rather, as the players clearly recognized and as Fritz confirms, Pillsbury was very definitely in the game at this point. In the complications that followed, Blackburne had to play very accurately to avoid getting mated. Thus, after 21...RxN 22. e3xR e6 23. BxB e3xf2+, Blackburne's only move to avoid loss was 24. Kh1. Prior to Blackburne's 24. Kh1, the position was:

click for larger view

Had Blackburne taken the pawn with 24. Kxf2, he would have been mated after 24...Qe3+. Had he played 24. Kh2, he would have been a dead duck after 24...NxB.

Even after avoiding the above pitfalls by playing 24. Kh1, Blackburne faced another crisis after Pillsbury's 24...NxB. As keypusher has demonstrated, had Blackburne played the seemingly routine 25. b4xB here, Pillsbury would have had mated him in five after 25...Ng3+.

In fact, Blackburne erred slightly with 25. Nf1, which avoided all of Pillsbury's mating threats, but was not as good as 25. Qa3.

At this point, Pillsbury went overboard in his efforts to mate Blackburne, His 25...Qe4 was far inferior to 25...Nf4. Even here, however, Blackburne faced a nasty trap. The position was now:

click for larger view

Had Blackburne here played 26. bxN Pillsbury would have blown him away with 26...Nf4! (as Sergeant has pointed out). But Blackburne kept his head amidst all of Pillsbury's threats and played 26. Qa2. At this stage, Fritz rates the game (1.02) in favor of Blackburne.

Theoretically, Blackburne now had a won game. But Pillsbury was not done yet. He played the technically awful 26...Qf4 (instead of 26...Qh4). This is awful if you are playing a computer like Fritz. But against a human, Pillsbury had ideas that would probably wipe out most of us. After Blackburne finally (and correctly) took Pillsbury's Knight with 27. bxN, Pillsbury played 27...Re3. Had Blackburne taken the Rook with 28. 28. NxR, Pillsbury would have mated him in three moves beginning with 28...Ng3+. It was only after Blackburne's careful 28. Qd5 (28. Rd2 also wins) that he could catch his breath.

Apparently, Blackburne now had the game easily in hand. He was a Rook up and had foiled all of Pillsbury's mating threats. So the game was over, right?

In fact, matters were not that easy. After a small inaccuracy by Blackburne, Pillsbury managed to reduce the game to a Queen ending in which he was a pawn down. These can be tricky, but Blackburne was able to force the exchange of Queens with a few nifty Queen checks, and got himself a won K and Pawn ending.

An easy win? Yes, but caution was always necessary with Pillsbury. After Pillsbury's 52...hxg6+ the position was:

click for larger view

Hsd Blackburne carelessly played 53. hxg6, Pillsbury had a draw with 53...Ke8

But Blackburne was wide awake, played 53. Kxg6, and only then did Pillsbury resign.

What a great game on the part of both players! This is the kind of game I live for.

Premium Chessgames Member
  sackman: <KEG> thank you for your comprehensive annotations on this ding dong battle!
Jan-23-17  JimNorCal: Yes, thanks <keg> much to savor here
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Thank you sackman and JimNorCal for your kind comments.

This was indeed a great game with much to savor.

Premium Chessgames Member
  tamar: 25...Nc4 also appears to draw based on some intricate knight moves

if 26 Qxa7 Qxa7 27 Rxa7 f5! 28 Raa1 Ne3! 29 Nxe3 Ng3+! 30 Kh2 Rxe3

click for larger view

Black will win back the exchange and escape into an equal rook ending.

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