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Geza Maroczy vs Moritz Billecard
12th DSB Congress, Munich (1900), Munich GER, rd 14, Aug-09
Spanish Game: Berlin Defense (C65)  ·  1-0



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Kibitzer's Corner
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Going into this 14th round game, Maroczy and Schlechter were a half-point behind Pillsbury. When Pillsbury was held to a draw by Halprin and Schlechter having won his 14th round game, Maroczy needed a win to keep pace. This was particularly important given that Maroczy was scheduled to play Schlechter in the final round, and was to have Black in that game.

The good news for Maroczy is that he had White in this game and his opponent was Billecard, who was tied with Bardeleben for 14-15th place (above only cellar-dweller Jakob) and had lost to 8 of the other top 9 finishers (drawing only with Marco).

The bad news was that Maroczy played his worst game of the tournament. His listless play with White yielded the advantage to Billecard, and by move 29 Maroczy was probably lost.

Predictably, Billecard misplayed his better game, and--in turn--was lost by move 40. But Maroczy's blunders on moves 45 and 48 gave Billecard a likely win, but Billecard blew the win with his awful 48th move, and later managed to lose what--contrary to the Tournament Book's poor analysis--should have been a drawn position.

In short, Maooczy played bad chess here and won only because Billecard fell apart at the key moments. In other words, Maroczy was lucky.

I am, however, probably being unduly harsh on Maroczy. This game was played at the end of a long grueling tournament. Maroczy had some marathon games, including his long endgame win against Burn in which he was a pawn down and seemingly lost, and his heroic drawn endgame against Pillsbury.

Moreover, Maroczy was ill by the end of the tournament. Although he managed to draw his final round game against Schlechter and achieve a three-way tie for first with Pillsbury and Schlechter, Maroczy collapsed in his first playoff game against Pillsbury and then withdrew because of illness.

So what this game shows is that even a tired and sick Maroczy could tough out a win against the grossly over-matched Billecard. Beyond that, Maroczy showed little of his high talent in this game.

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. Bb5 Nf6

Yet another Berlin Defense in a tournament that preceded that near disappearance of this line against the Ruy Lopez before its revival by Kramnik in his match against Kasparov.

4. d3

4. 0-0 is more usual, but this is a solid alternative. It was played by Carlsen in his crucial 10th match game against Karjakin in 2016.

4... d6

A reasonable though passive alternative to 4...Bc5 as played by Karjakin in the above-cited game.

5. Nc3 g6

5...a6 chasing White's Bishop is a good alternative. But Black is also fine after the text.

6. Ne2

The idea of bringing the White c3 Knight to the Queen-side is often seen in the Ruy Lopez, but this plan is of doubtful utility in this variation of the Berlin Defense.

6... Bg7
7. Ng3

Continuing with his questionable plan. 7. 0-0 or 7. c4 or even 7. c3 or maybe 7. h3 (to restrict the Black Bishop) all seem better than the text.

7... 0-0
8. c3

Making room for his Bishop, which he correctly reckoned would soon be chased by Black.

8... a6
9. Ba4 b5
10. Bc2

click for larger view

Prospects appear about even at this point.

10... d5

Fighting for the initiative.

11. Qe2

This disguised attack on the Black e5 pawn goes nowhere. 11. 0-0 or 11. h3 were better.

11... d4

Once again--astonishingly enough--the lowly Billecard here continued to take the fight to his renowned opponent.

12. Bd2

More weak play by Maroczy. The simple and obvious immediate 12. 0-0 was best.

12... Re8
13. 0-0 Qd6
14. Rac1 dxc3
15. bxc3 Be6

click for larger view

With his weak a-pawn and his generally cramped position, Maroczy had lost the opening battle. His position was certainly playable and Billecard's advantage was still minimal, but Maroczy's play to this point was hardly impressive or encouraging. Matters were to get worse for him in this game before they got better.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post II

16. Bb1

More tentative play by Maroczy. There were better ways to protect the a2 pawn rather than further cramping his pieces, e.g., 16 a4 or 16. Ra1 (though the latter would retrace his 14th move, thereby conceding that was a poor move as well.

Further signs that Maroczy was out of sorts by this point at Munich 1900.

16... h6

Billecard also did not distinguish himself here. Unlike Maroczy's last move, however, it is easy to understand Billecard's desire to keep Maroczy's minor pieces off g5. But 16...Rad8 or 16...Qa3 seem more promising.

17. Nh4

This sortie proved a waste of time (see move 21). Maroczy should have been trying either to disentangle his forces with something like 17. Be3 (as played next move to provide further protection for the a3 pawn), or perhaps play to keep Black's pieces off g4 with 17. h3.

17... Qa3

A sign of aggression from Billecard.

18. Be3

Necessary to hold the a3 pawn.

18... Ng4

This didn't really threaten anything, and 18...Rad8 or 18...Na5 were probably theoretically better. But as will be seen from Billecard's next move, the text was an offer to draw by repetition.

19. Bd2 Nf6

The implicit question was whether Maroczy would repeat the position beginning with 20. Be3. Given that Maroczy had an inferior position at this point, a draw would not be a bad result for White here. But Maroczy had to play for a win given the standings (and given who he was playing). So:

20. Rc2

Further restricting his own pieces. But a draw would have done Maroczy little good. He could not, however, have fancied his position after the text:

click for larger view

20... Rad8
21. Nf3

A sad retreat. He should probably have tried 21. h3. 21. Be3 was theoretically good, but then Billecard would doubtless have again gone in for a drawing line with 21...Ng4.

Maroczy was in the unhappy position of playing for win from an inferior position against an opponent who would have been delighted with a draw.

21... Qd6

Making no real effort to capitalize on his superior position.

22. Rb2

Maroczy's desire to give his b1 Bishop some room was understandable. But 22. Rcc1 was a much better way to achieve this goal.

22... Nd7
23. Ne1

Digging a deeper hole for himself. Maroczy might have tried 23. Be3 here since Ng4 was no longer possible for Billecard. The position after 23. Be3 was not pleasant for Maroczy:

click for larger view

23... g5?!

There was no need for this. Billecard should have continued to build his superior position with 23...Nb6. 23...h5 was another good move for Black.

24. Bc1

Yet another wimpy retreat by Maroczy. He should have tried to exploit Billecard's temerity in playing 23...g5?! with 24. Nh5 or 24. h4. 24. Be3 was also OK.

24... Ne7
25. Nh5

Deciding to eliminate Billecard's fianchettoed Bishop.

25... Ng6
26. NxB KxN

click for larger view

Maroczy was still worse, but he was still in the game. His next few moves should probably have led to defeat, but then Billecard (perhaps because of time pressure) first blew his chance to win and then allowed Maroczy to achieve a won game (which he in turn messed up).

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post III

27. Kh1

Very weak. Maroczy was not himself in this game. Maybe he thought that Billecard would figure out a way to lose the game all by himself.

27... Nc5
28. Bc2 f6?

28...f5 or 28...Nf4 both leave Black very well placed to try for a win.

29. Be3?

Missing the threat. Maroczy should have played 29. f3. After the text, he should have lost against best play:

click for larger view

Black to play and win.

29... Qc6?

Missing his chance. 29...Nxe4 wins a pawn and should win the game, e.g., 30. dxN Bc4 [the players and the Tournament Book missed this] 31. Bd3 BxB 32. NxB QxN 33. QxQ RxQ and Black should win with his extra pawn.

After missing this winning chance, Billecard made a number of inferior moves, and then committed what should have been a losing blunder on move 40.

30. f3 Bf7

Giving up whatever was left of his advantage. 30...Nf4 or 30...Nb7 (en route to d6 and c4) were better,

31. g3 Ne6

31...Nd7 was better.

32. Qd2 Qd6
33. Qf2

This is good enough for equality, but 33. a4 was more enterprising here.

33... Qc6

More tentative play. Billecard should have tried to get something going on the King-side with 33....h5 or 33...Rh8.

click for larger view

34. Qd2

Maroczy seems unable to pull the trigger in this game. He would have had excellent chances with 34. d4!

34... Qd6
35. Bb3

Why not try 35. a4?

35... c5

Billecard was now very much back in the game. 35...h5 may have been even better.

36. Qf2 Rc8
37. Rd2 Qc7

37...Red8 was better.

38. Qg1

More dithering. Yet again, he should have tried a4 here.

click for larger view

38... Nd8

Why on earth play this? 39...Qa5 would make Maroczy's life miserable. And 38...Red8 were much better than the text.

39. Bd1

A thoughtless retreat. Maroczy should have tried to make progress with 39. Ng2 or 38. Nc2. 39. f4 was also a possibility.

39... Qa5?

Billecard would have been fine with 39...Ne6. After the text, he was in trouble.

40. f4!

Maroczy suddenly looks like the world-class player he was.

click for larger view

Things were looking better for Maroczy. What followed was a series of blunders by both players so that first Maroczy and then Billecard had won games until everything balanced out and left what should have been a drawn game. The finale certainly wasn't pretty, but it was exciting, as will be discussed in my next post on this game.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post IV

40... Bxa2?

Billecard was already in trouble, but this head-in-the-sand move ignoring Maroczy's threats should have been fatal. Billecard had various ways to try to salvage his position: e.g., e.g., 40...exf4 (the simplest); 40...Rc6; 40...Qc7.

41. fxg5

Maroczy, in turn, now had various winning methods at his disposal. 41. Qf2, 41. Bg4, and probably also 41. c4 (cutting off the Black Queen) all seem to do the trick. But the text seems simplest.

41... fxg5

click for larger view

The Black King is a sitting target here. With 42. h4!, Billecard would have been hard-pressed to survive, e.g., 42. h4 Rc6 43. hxg5 hxg5 44. Bxg5 Nf7 45. Bh4 Nd8 46. Rh2 Rh8 47. Ng2 (bringing the Knight to the party via e3 with crushing effect).

But Maroczy missed 42. h4! and played the much weaker:

42. Bh5?

Too slow. Billecard now had a chance to survive.

42... Bf7

42...Be6 was better, as was 42...Rc6.

click for larger view

43. Bxc5?

Again missing the chance to play h4 and again giving Billecard a golden opportunity to survive.

43... Qxc3
44. Rc2 Qb3

click for larger view

45. Bf8+?

A dreadful miscalculation that should have lost the game.

45... NxB
46. RxR BxB
47. Qa7+ Kg8

click for larger view

48. Qb8?

48. Qxa6 was Maroczy's only chance. After the text, the game should belong to Billecard.

click for larger view

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post V

48... Be2?

"?"--(Tournament Book)

With 48...Nfe6, Black--with two pieces for a Rook and his two passed pawns on the Queen-side, should have been able to win. After the text, Maroczy should be OK.

49. Rf2

click for larger view

49... Nfe6

"??"--(Tournament Book)

The Tournament Book correctly notes that Billecard would have been fine after 49...Bxd3 (e.g., 50. RxN RxR 51. QxR Bxe4+ 52. Kg1 Qb4 leaving Black with three pawns for the exchange and a likely draw).

But--and contrary to the "??" assigned by the Tournament Book--the text was also fine. As will be seen, Billecard's fatal blunder came later.

50. RxB Qd1
51. Re3 Qd2
52. Qb6 Rf8

52...Qf2 was simpler, but Billecard should still have been able to survive after the text:

click for larger view

53. Nf3

Maroczy could have played 53. RxN, but it this does not appear to lead to a win: 53. RxN NxR 54. Qg6+ Kh8 55. Qxh6+ Kg8 56. Qxg5+ Kh7 (not 56...Kh8? 57. Qxe5+ Kg8 58. Qg5+ Kh7 59. Nf3) 57. Nf3 Qf2 58. Qh5+ Kg7 59. Qxe5+ Rf6.

53... Qf2

53...Qd1+ also seems sufficient to hold the game.

54. Ng1

54. RxN still doesn't lead to victory for White: e.g., 54. RxN NxR 55. Qg6+ Kh8 56. Qxh6+ Kg8 57. Qxg5+ Kf7 58. Ng1 Ne6 59. Qh5+ Ke7 60. Re2 Wd4.

The position after 54. Ng1 was:

click for larger view

This proved to be the critical position of the game. With 54...Kh7 or 54...Kg7, Black would prevent a later Qg6+ or Qxh6+ and should have been able to hold the game. But Billecard ignored the threat and played:

54... b4??

Now, Maroczy has a clear winning line, and he polished off Billecard quickly.

55. RxN NxR?

Billecard would also have been lost with 55...RxR, but the text was even worse.

click for larger view

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post VI

56. Qg6+ Kh8
57. Qxh6+ Kg8
58. Qxg5

58. Qg6+ would have led to much the same conclusion.

58... Kh7

click for larger view

59. Qh5+

Had Maroczy been in better form, he would doubtless have immediately played the faster and more devastating 59. g4 (with the murderous and unanswerable threat of 60. Rh3+). But he gets to this on his next turn.

59... Kg8
60. Qg6+ Kh7

Reaching the same position that was on the board after 58...Kh7.

61. g4!

The decisive move he could have played two turns earlier. As was the case before, Black has no defense.


May-02-19  erimiro1: KEG Thank you very much for your detailed annotations, and the circumstances of the game
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: <erimiro1>So glad you found my commentary of interest.

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