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James Mason vs Mikhail Chigorin
Monte Carlo (1902), Monte Carlo MNC, rd 16, Feb-28
Semi-Slav Defense: Normal Variation (D45)  ·  0-1



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Kibitzer's Corner
May-21-10  Dravus: At the end, Black's connected rooks stand like draperies with a rat crawling down, the b-pawn, defeating the Masonic.
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Tchigorin and Mason had a strange history of head-to-head meetings. Their games were rarely boring. In these 15 games, there were only two draws.

The games were topsy-turvy. In their first eight games (which include games before Tchigorin became a world champion contender), Mason won six and drew one. In their next six games, beginning with Hastings 1895 through the instant game in this tournament, Tchigorin won five and yielded only one draw. This brought their lifetime total to six wins apiece in 14 games.

Their final game was played at Hanover 1902, with Mason winning that game and thus ending up with a one-game lead in their lifetime games.

The present game was basically a blow-out with Mason trying a doomed attack. After 18. Nxb5?, the game was basically over.

1. c4 Nf6
2. Nc3 e6
3. d4 d5

So, by transportation, we have a Queen's Gambit Declined.

4. Nf3 c6

And now a form of Slav.

5. e3 Nbd7

click for larger view

6. Bd2

A minority choice which later became championed by Gurevich. It seems questionable as compared with 6. Be2 6. Bd3, or 6. Qc2 that nonetheless is entirely playable.

6... Bd6
7. Qc2 0-0

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8. cxd5?

Weak. White would be at least equal with 8. h3; 8. Bd3; 8. Be2. Now, Tchigorin had a small but clear edge.

8... exd5
9. Bd3 Re8
10. h3 Nf8

A strange overly defensive choice--unusual from Tchigorin. Better were 10...Qe7; 10...h6; 10...a5.

The text left a position:

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11. g4?!

A wild attacking scheme. Mason would have been OK with the simple 11. 0-0.

11... Qe7
12. 0-0-0

Nothing if not consistent. Having played 11. g4?! and thus had his bridges, the text was probably best.

12... Bd7
13. Kb1 b5!
14. Nh4

Again, if nothing if not consistent.

14... Ne4
15. BxN QxN

The only way for Black to retain his edge. This left:

click for larger view

From here, as I will discuss in my next post on this game, Mason lost his bearings and was gobbled up by Tchigorin.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post II

16. Bf5

Mason was still operating under the delusion that he had a powerful attack. The text wasn't fatal, but 16. Bd3 was better. If then 16...Qxf2 White gets decent counter-play with 17. Rdf1 Qh4 18. e4.

16... Qxf2

Tchigorin could also have played 16...BxB 17. gxB Nd7 with much the better chances.

After 16...Qxf2, the position was:

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17. BxB?

Having staked his chances on attack, Mason might as well have followed through on his concept with 17. h4 or 17. Rdf1. The text helped only Black (Tchigorin). As will be seen, however, Mason somehow thought he had a crushing combo to spring on his opponent.

17... NxB

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18. Nxb5?

Mason might still have had a fighting chance with 18. Rdf1 or 18. Rde1 or--if he wanted to try fireworks, 18. Ne4?! But Mason thought the text was stronger than it really was. As usual, the stronger player saw further ahead:

18... cxN
19. Qc6

The move on which Mason had misguidedly relied upon:

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19... Nb6

Even stronger was 19...Nf6, but the text also wins. What followed was now pretty much forced for both sides:

20. QxB Nc4

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Mason must either have overlooked this resource or mis-evaluated its consequences.

21. Qh2

A sad necessity.

21... NxB+
22. RxN Qxe3

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Not the easiest heavy piece ending to win, but---as they say--a pawn is a pawn.

23. Rf1 Rac8
24. Qf2

Proposing the trade of Queens was a bad choice. Mason here had nothing better than 24. Rdd1.

24... f6

24...Qe4+ was arguably simpler, but Tchigorin rightly did not fear the trade of Queens.

The position was now:

click for larger view

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post III

25. b3?

Huh? Why hang the h-pawn? To have any realistic chance Mason had to play 25. Qg2. And if--for some reason I cannot fathom--Mason was prepared to let the h-pawn go--why allow Black to play b4 (i.e., wouldn't 25. a3 be, though bad, an improvement on the text?).

25... b4?

This is almost as incomprehensible as Mason's 25th move. Why not just grab the h-pawn? Was this a game of bluff and counter-bluff? I see the merit in 25...b4 of course, but wasn't grabbing a second pawn far better still?

26. QxQ

Reducing to a theoretically lost double Rook ending. I know these can be frightfully difficult, and indeed Tchigorin from here made heavy weather of the play, but it the win would surely have been more difficult still with the Queens on the board.

26... RxQ

click for larger view

27. Rf5

Again hanging the h-pawn. Of course, everything else was also unattractive.

27... Re1+?

Tchigorin, of all people, seems to have feared 27...Rxh3 28. Rxd5, but Black then wins with 28...Rg3. Perhaps Mason and Tchigorin were in time trouble given the approaching move-30 time control. But this does not explain the foibles after move 30. I guess this all proves that double-Rook endings can be difficult even for strong end-game players such as Mason and giants of the game such as Tchigorin.

28. Kb2 Rcc1

Disdaining the defensive 28...Rd8 in order to create mating threats. Not TTHAT'S the Tchigorin we know and love.

This left:

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29. a4!

Now Mason had real drawing chances. If instead 29. Rxd5 Tchigorin would doubtless have responded 29...Ra1 leaving White is desperate straits.

29... Rb1+
30. Ka2 Ra1+
31. Kb2 Ra3

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Suddenly, the win looked difficult.

32. Rxd5 Re3

But, then again, Tchigorin always had nasty tactical tricks up his sleeve, even in the endgame:

click for larger view

33. Ra5 Rexb3+
34. Kc2 Rxh3

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The game lasted only one more move, but the bizarre play was nonetheless not at an end.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post IV

35. Kb2

The only chance to offer any sort of resistance. If 35. Kb1 then 35...b3; and if 35. Rd1 then 35...Ra2+ (or 35...Rh2+) spells fini for White.

The text left:

click for larger view

Now, 35...Rhb3+ does the trick. But...

35... Rab3+

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Now, after 36. Ka2 (or perhaps even 36. Kc1), Mason--though clearly lost--could still have made the win difficult. But that all became beside the point since, in the above position, Mason resigned!


Oh well!

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