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Geza Maroczy vs Harry Nelson Pillsbury
Monte Carlo (1902), Monte Carlo MNC, rd 1, Feb-03
Russian Game: Classical Attack. Chigorin Variation (C42)  ·  1-0



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Kibitzer's Corner
Aug-25-06  paladin at large: An odd game - 20....Kf7 looks premature, and 21.....Kf6 is a blunder - is Pillsbury already in decline here?
Jan-26-07  Calli: Pillsbury was decline from 1896 on. At least four errors here 19...Rfe8? ( bad spot for the rook because it allows 20.Rxb7 Rxb7 21.Bd5+ Kf8 22.Rxe8+ ) 20.Bd2? (Geza gazes but misses it) 20...Kf7? (20...Kh8 avoids the bishop check as <Paladin> points out) 21.Bd5+! (now he sees it) Kf6 22.Rxe8 Rxe8 23.Rxb7 Ne7? ( at least 23...Na5 24.Ra7 Re2 puts up a fight)

Premium Chessgames Member
  wwall: In this event (as in Monte Carlo 1901), draws were 1/4 point and the game was replayed. If the replayed game was drawn, both players won another 1/4 point. The winner of a replayed game received 1/2 point, and the loser 0. Maroczy won this tournament with the score of 14 3/4 out of 19. Pillsbury scored 14 1/2. Pillsbury lost 4 games in this event (Maroczy lost 2), two of them from tail enders. He defeated most of the prize winners except Maroczy. If the tournament had been played in the normal way of 1/2 point for a draw, Pillsbury and Maroczy would have tied for 1st-2nd.
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: This first round game decided first place, since Maroczy finished first a quarter of a point (see <wwall> for the scoring system used in this tournament).

This game hardly showed Pillsbury at his best; in some portions, his play was feeble. But he had not played in a major international tournament since Munich 1900. But I cannot agree with the claim by the usually reliable <Calli> that Pillsbury "was in decline from 1896 on."

Let's look at Pillsbury's record.

Hastings 1895--Pillsbury's greatest triumph, first ahead of Tchigorin, Lasker, Tarrasch, and Steinitz among many others. This was indeed the best result of Pillsbury's career. But he had no other great triumphs before 1896, and a bevy of fine results thereafter.

St. Petersburg 1895-1896" A poor result, Pillsbury finishing 3rd out of 4 at this super tournament despite having a winning record in his six games against Lasker.

Nuremberg 1896: Pillsbury tied for third with Tarrasch behind Lasker and Maroczy but ahead of Janowski, Steinitz, Schlechter, Tchigorin, Blackburne, etc.

Budapest 1896: Third behind Tchigorin and Charousek but ahead of Schlechter, Janowski, Tarrasch, and Maroczy.

Vienna 1898: Tied for first with Tarrasch ahead of Janowski, Steinitz, Schlechter, Tchigorin, Maroczy, and others. Tarrasch then won a close four-game play-off match for 1st place:

London 1899: Tied for second with Maroczy and Janowski behind only Lasker but ahead of Schlechter, Tchigorin, Steinitz, etc.

Paris 1900: Second behind Lasker but ahead of Maroczy, Marshall, Tchigorin, Schlechter, Janowski, etc.

Munich: Tied for first with Schlechter and Maroczy ahead of Janowski, Marco, etc. Pillsbury defeated Maroczy in the play-off for first place and then played a tied play-off match against Schlechter.

Buffalo 1901: First place with eight wins, and two draws in ten games ahead of Marshall, Napier, Delmar, and two others.

Monte Carlo 1902: Second place behind Maroczy but ahead of Janowski, Teichmann, Schlechter, Tarrasch, Tchigorin, and Marshall.

Hanover 1902: Second place behind Janowski but ahead of Atkins, Mieses, Napier, Tchigorin, Marshall, and others.

Monte Carlo 1903: Third place behind Tarrasch and Maroczy but ahead of Schlechter, Teichmann, Marshall, and others.

Only at Cambridge Springs did Pillsbury's play weaken considerably.

Looking at the period after Hastings 1895 through Monte Carlo 1903, Pillsbury had--with the notable exception of Lasker (who finished ahead of him in all three tournaments during this period), Pillsbury's record against the other top players speaks for itself;

Tarrasch: Pillsbury finished ahead of Tarrasch twice, finished behind him twice, and finished equal with him once (Nuremburg 1896).

Janowski: Pillsbury finished ahead of him five times, finished equal with Janowski at London 1899, the Janowski finished ahead of Pillsbury twice.

Maroczy: Pillsbury finished ahead of Maroczy three times, was equal with him at London 1899, and finished behind Maroczy twice.

Tchigorin: Pillsbury finished ahead of Tchigorin six times and behind him only once.

Steinitz: Pillsbury finished ahead of Steinitz three times and behind him once.

Marshall: Pillsbury finished ahead of Marshall in all six tournaments in which they both competed prior to Cambridge Springs 1904.

As is obvious, Pillsbury had a world-class record between 1896 and 1903, ranking only behind Lasker. Among all of the other top players, only Tarrasch had as good a record during this period. Given that Lasker was idle from 1900 to 1904, Pillsbury was--along with Tarrasch--the top active player for most of this period. Pillsbury and Tarrasch were the only players during this time who would have had even a fighting chance against Lasker in a match. Sadly, Lasker never played a match against Pillsbury, and only played against Tarrasch in 1908 by which time Tarrasch was no longer at his peak.

This period can therefore not fairly be described as one of "decline" for PIllsbury.

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Having said all this, let's turn to the first round game between Maroczy and Pillsbury at Monte Carlo 1902.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post I

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nf6

The Petroff was a Pillsbury favorite with which he won many important games (e.g., against Lasker in the opening round at St, Petersburg 1895-1896). It could not have een a surprise to Maroczy.

3. Nxe5 d6
4. Nf3 Nxe4
5. d4 d5
6. Bd3 Be7

6...Nc6 and 6...Bd6 were more frequently played. But the text--played three times by Morphy in his 1858 match against Lowenthal, is as least as good and--once again--would not have come as a surprise to Maroczy.

7. 0-0 Nc6
8. Re1

8. c4 is most frequently played, but the text (and 8. Nbd2) is also good and sufficient for White to retain a small edge.

8... Bg4
9. c3

9. c4 is a good alternative and, like the text, a reasonable way for White to attempt to retain his small advantage.

9... f5

click for larger view

Thus far, nothing out of the ordinary had occurred. But in the above-diagrammed position, Maroczy tried to shake things up:

10. c4?!

"An enterprising move." (Gunsberg)

While this tactic worked like a charm and quickly got Pillsbury in trouble, this was only because it took the American champion by surprise and led him astray. Theoretically best for White here would be 10. Qb3 or maybe 10. Nbd2. But the text created an early crisis that Pillsbury--for once--did not solve, the position now being:

click for larger view

10... 0-0

This is good enough for equality, but Black would do better with 10...Bh4.

Also better than the text would have been 10...BxN. Gunsberg, in his commentary on the game, Gunsberg incorrectly claimed that 10...BxN would be bad for Black. But his analysis was flawed: 10...BxN 11. gxB [Although not mentioned by Gunsberg, White could also play 11. QxB 0-0 (if 11...Nxd4 White would be fine after 12. Qh5+ g6 13. Qd1 Ne6 14. cxd5 Qxd5 15. Qa4+ Qd7 16. AxQ+ KxQ 17. BxN fxB 18. Nc3 c5 19. Nxe4 Rhe8) 12. cxd5 Nxd4 13. Qd1 Bb4 with a small edge to Black] 11...Nf6? [An awful suggestion by Gunsberg. Black is better with 11...dxc4 12. d5 cxB 13. dxN Nf6 14. cxb7 Rb8 15. Re3 Rxb7] 12. Bxf5? [Another inexplicable suggestion. White would have much the better--is not a winning--game with the simple 12. Nc3] dxc4 and though White--as Gunsberg states--may not be able to hold the advanced c-pawn, White's pawn structure is a disaster and White could hardly be deemed to be better.

11. cxd5

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11... Qxd5?

This wooden recapture was not critiqued by anyone. But it needlessly gave Maroczy the better game. Instead, Pillsbury could have had roughly equal chances via the following spectacular variation: 11...BxN! 12. gxB Nxf2 !! 13. KxB Bd6 [sacrificing a second piece!] 14. f4 [14. dxN? gets White mated after 14...Qh4+ etc.; 14. Kg2 is another decent option for White here that also leads to approximate equality] 14...Qh4+ 15. Kg2 Nxd4 16. Be3 Rf6! [sacrificing another piece] 17. BxN Qxf4 [sacrificing now a Rook] 18. Kf2 [18. BxR? gets crushed by 18...Qxh2+ 19. Kf3 Qg3+ 20. Ke2 Qg2+ 21. Ke3 Re8+ 22. Be4 RxB+ 23. Kd3 Qg3+ 24. Kc2 RxR 25. Qd4 gxB 26. Qxf6 Qg2+ 27. Nd2 (White gets mated quickly after 27. Kb3+ Qxd5+) RxR] 18...Qxh2+ 19. Kf1 Qh3+ 20. Ke2 Bf4 21. Qa4 Qh5+ 22. Kf1 Qh1+ and draws by perpetual check.


12. Nc3

click for larger view

Maroczy clearly stood better at this point, but Pillsbury's position was far from hopeless. But, as will be seen, he soon played a series of weak moves (perhaps not being inclined to play the sort of tight defense that was required to hold the game) and was blown off the board by Maroczy's mainly (though not always) accurate play.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post II

12... NxN

12...Qa5 was probably better.

13. bxN BxN

Acquiescing to the following series of exchanges. 13...Bd6 was a reasonable alternative. In any event, Maroczy would emerge with superior--but hardly winning--chances.

14. QxB QxQ
15. gxQ Bd6
16. Rb1 Rab8

click for larger view

17. Rb5

Better chances of exploiting his superior position lay in 17. h4; 17. Re6; and maybe also 17. Bc4+.

click for larger view

17... f4?!

Mere defense was not in Pillsbury's DNA. So it is not surprising he chose the active method. More most mortals, 17...Ne7 would be slightly better.

18. Be4 a6
19. Rb1

click for larger view

19... Rfe8?


This should have led to the loss of the game straight-away since, as <Calli> has pointed out, it allows White to play the crushing 20. Rxb7!

So what should Pillsbury have played? Gunsberg explained the flaws in two possible alternatives:

(i) if 19...Na5? 20. c4 "as the pawn cannot be taken." A possible variation demonstrating the hopelessness of 19...Na5: 20. c4 Rbd8 21. c5 Be7 22. Bxb7 Bf6 23. Bxf4 NxB 24. RxN Bxd4 25. Bxc7 Rc8 26. Be5 BxB 27. RxB Rf7 28. RxR KxR 29. Rh5 and White, with two extra pawns (one doubled but another a passed pawn) should be able to win handily.

(ii) if 19...Nd8, Gunsberg is correct that White wins. Since he gave no variations, here is my line: 19...Nd8 20. c4! Rf6 21. c5 Bf8 22. Bd5+ Kh8 23. Re8 g5 24. c6 Nxc6 25. RxR NxR 26. Rxb7 Rb6 27. Rxc7 Bd6 28. Rc8+ Kg7 29. Kg2 Nd7 30. Bd2.

The two saving moves for Black were 19...Kh8 (getting the King off the dangerous diagonal) and 19...g6.

After 19...Rfe8?, the position was:

click for larger view

Maroczy could now have won, as <Calli> has noted, with: 20. Rxb7! RxR 21. Bd5+ Kf8 22. RxR+ KxR 23. Bxc6+ Kd8 24. BxR leaving White up a piece and pawn in an easily won ending.

But Maroczy inexplicably played:

20. Bd2?

click for larger view

Pillsbury was now off the hook. But here he blundered once again, and this time Maroczy made him pay.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post III

20... Kf7?

Remarkably, there is no criticism of this move in the Tournament Book. But all that was exploded 14 years ago on this site:


As <Calli> went on to explain, Pillsbury had to play 20...Kh8 in order to avoid a Bishop check. The text gave Maroczy a second chance, and this time he pounced, the position after 20...Kf7? being:

click for larger view

21. Bd5+!

'Now he sees it." (<Calli>)

21... Kf6

<Paladin at large> said this was a blunder, but in fact there is no saving move for Black here. If instead 21...Kf8, White wins--as stated by Gunsberg--with 22. RxR+ RxR (Gunsberg's 22...KxR because of 23. BxN+) 23. Rxb7.

In any case, Maroczy gave Pillsbury no further chances:

22. RxR RxR

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23. Rxb7

This is entirely sufficient to win. But even better was the tricky 23. Kf1! cutting off all counterplay by Black (since 23...Rb8 would obviously not be possible).

After 23. Rxb7, the position was:

click for larger view

23... Ne7?


<Calli> correctly explained that 23...Na5 was the best chance for Black to be able to put up a fight. But his further analysis was flawed. After 23...Na5, 24. Ra7 (as suggested by <Calli>) would be a mistake in light of 24... Re2 after which it is doubtful that Black could win with best play. Instead, after 23...Nx5 White wins with 24. Rb1 since if Black now playws 24...Re2 White shatters all illusions with 25. Be1.

After 23...Ne7? the position was:

click for larger view

What followed is painful for us Pillsbury fans to watch:

24. Be4!

Black is busted. Resignation would not have been premature.

24... Nf5
25. Ra7 Rb8
26. Rxa6

click for larger view

26... g5?

Hopeless, but even with the "better" 26...Kg5, Black would still have been utterlu busted. After 26...g5?, the position was:

click for larger view

What followed was a massacre.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post IV

27. c4!

Game over. If 27...Nxd4 28. c5 is devastating.

27... Rb6

A sad necessity.

28. RxR cxR
29. Bc3!

click for larger view

Pillsbury was a wizard in tough endgames, but the position here was beyond repair, and the opponent was Maroczy.

29... Nh4?

29...Ne7 or 29...Ng7 and perhaps 29...Bc7 would have offered somewhat tougher resistance, but the game was gone in any case.

30. h3

Maroczy's position was so overwhelming he had time for this (and perhaps he was rushing to meet a move-30 time control).. Needless to say, 30. c5! was faster and more brutal.

30... h5?

This allowed Maroczy to finish quickly and neatly, but everything else loses as well.

31. c5!

click for larger view

31... bxc5?

This hastened defeat, but 31...Bc7 would not have extended the game much longer.

32. dxc5+ Be5
33. c6!


click for larger view


The c-pawn much Queen.

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