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Isidor Gunsberg vs Carl Schlechter
Monte Carlo (1901), Monte Carlo MNC, rd 11, Feb-21
Ponziani Opening: Jaenisch Counterattack (C44)  ·  1/2-1/2



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Kibitzer's Corner
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: The Tournament Book calls this game "An uneventful draw."

I beg to differ.

Going into this 11th round game (with just two rounds to go), Schlechter was (under the unusual scoring system in effect at Monte Carlo 1901) a quarter of a point behind tournament leader Janowski. Schlechter and Janowski was slated to meet in the next (i.e., penultimate) round. As could have been predicted, that forthcoming game would decide the tournament.

Meanwhile, Tchigorin (sitting in third place who had just lost his last two games) had been employing Ponziani's Opening in this tournament. He had defeated Winawer earlier in the tournament with this opening, and had tried it in his 10th round game with Janowski. Though Janowski ultimately won that game, Schlechter was obviously impressed with Tchigorin's opening play and had decided to use the same variation against Janowski in their upcoming decisive game.

How shocking it must have been for Schlechter when Gunsberg (who had so far as I can tell had never tried the Ponziani before) decided to employ that very opening in this game against Schlechter. Quite a dilemma for Schlechter. Janowski would almost certainly have been watching the game.

In terms of winning the tournament, the key for Schlechter was defeating Janowski in the next round. Under the rules at Monte Carlo 1901, a draw here would allow Schlechter a replay against Gunsberg with White. Since Schlechter later won that replay, he received 3/4ths of a point for this 11th Round rather than a full point he might have received had he won the game.

It was therefore hardly surprising that Schlechter chose a potentially drawish line. Nor is it surprising that Gunsber would be happy with a draw against this dangerous opponent (who, remarkably, he had only played once before--a draw at Hastings 1895).

What IS surprising about the game is that, though playing it close to the vest, Schlechter managed to outplay Gunsberg and had a chance at a winning combination. Perhaps he was so fixated on not losing that he failed to spot the (fairly obvious) winning combo in the ending.

Schlechter soon enough got his revenge on Gunsberg. Including the replay of this contest, Schlechter won the next four game against Gunsberg and ended up with a lifetime record against Gunsberg of 4 wins, 0 losses, and 4 draws (they drew their final two games against each other at Monte Carlo 1904).

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. c3

The Ponziani was, in those days, a big favorite of Rosenthal and Winawer and--especially--of Tchigorin and Showalter.

3... Nf6

3...d5 is the other main line. The text was played by Winawer and Janowski against Tchigorin earlier in the tournament and by Janowski against Schlechter in the next round.

4. d4 Nxe4

Winawer had played 4...exd4, and was unfairly criticized for this in the Tournament Book. Provided Black is prepared to face the Goring Gambit, 4...exd4 is probably best.

The text is also a recognized and entirely playable line. It was also the choice of Janowski in his game against Tchigorin and would be used by him in the next round against Schlechter.

5. d5 Nb8

The alternatives to this ugly looking move are 5...Ne7 and the wild and crazy 5...Bc5 (which may even be best!).

The text, however, is definitely sound and was used by Janowski in this tournament against both Tchigorin and Schlechter.

The position after 5...Nb8 was:

click for larger view

6. Qe2

Schlechter must have breathed a sigh of relief when Gunsberg played this move. Tchigorin had played 6. Bd3 against Janowski, and Schlechter was planning to play this same move against Janowski in the next round.

The text (a novelty at the time) is drawish and similar to the Qe2 lines against the Petroff. Gunsberg could not have expected how badly he would be outplayed here by Schlechter in this seemingly "safe" variation.

6... Nf6
7. Qxe5+

Probably better than 7. Nxe5, but allowing Black to force an early exchange of Queens.

7... Qe7

7...Be7 is perhaps stronger. But Schlechter probably was happy to play a drawish line and not disclose his preparations for the next round.

8. Bc4

Sufficient for equality. 8. c4 or 8. QxQ+ are the only ways for White to play for an edge here.

click for larger view

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post II

8... d6

8,,,QxQ+ immediately was simpler.

9. Qe2

If Gunsberg didn't want to initiate the trade of Queens, 9. Qe3 (allowing him to recapture with the c1 Bishop instead of with his King was better.

9... QxQ+
10. KxQ

click for larger view

Looks awfully drawish, but there is plenty of play left in the position. White's advanced d-pawn is more of a liability than a strength. Most endgame mavens with Black would try to make something of the position.

Gunsberg seems to have underestimated the resources of the Black position.

10... Nbd7
11. Be3

The first of a series of slightly second-best moves by which Gunsberg slowly got himself into trouble. 11. Re1 immdiately (or maybe 11. Bb3) was simpler.

11... Be7
12. Re1 Nb6
13. BxN


13... axB

click for larger view

There was still no reason for Gunsberg (White) to get into trouble here. The only things he had to address was his advanced d-pawn and Black's pressure on the open a-file. Drawing from here should be a piece of cake, right?

14. Kf1 Kd8
15. Na3 Nd7

click for larger view

A draw now seems even more inevitable, and White's task now appears even easier.

16. Bb5

This both tangles up White's pieces and allows Black to trade off his least active piece (his c8 Bishop) for White's developed White's remaining Bishop. The text was hardly fatal, but it was a definite step in the wrong direction.

16... Bf6

Keep an eye on this Bishop! The diagonal on which it is now posted is more dangerous than it may appear.

17. Nc4 Nc5

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Black's forces were slowly coming to life, and White's army was becoming more disjointed. But the game is still an inevitable draw, right?

18. Ncd2?

Further tangling up his forces. Gunsberg would still have been fine with 18. Nfd2 or 18. Re2 or 18. a3 or even 18. Ne3.

18... Bd7

Schlechter was obviously happy to trade Bishops here.

19. BxB KxB

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Although he had messed up his forces a bit, Gunsberg's game was still almost certainly holdable. But not after his next move:

20. Nb3?

Just awful. Gunsberg had plenty of ways to survive here, e.g., 20. Ne4; 20. Re3; 20. Re2. But after the text, he was lost (or should have been):

click for larger view

Black to play and win.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post III

Leaving his b-pawn undefended and (thanks to 20. Nb3?) blocked from advancing while Schlechter's Bishop was menacingly poised on f6 was--or should have been--fatal for Gunsberg:

20... Nd3

20...Na4 would also do the trick.

21. Re2

Reb1 would lead to much the same thing.

21... Rhe8

Schlechter could have played his winning combo here immediately, but the text bringing the h8 Rook to the party is equally good.

22. Rd2

22. Rc2 or 22. RxR KxR would also fail to the winning combination on b2.

After 22. Rd2, the position was:

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Here 22...Nxb2! is decisive: 23. RxN [nothing else is better] Bxc3 [the skewer is a killer here] 24. Rab1 [as good as anything] BxR 25. RxB Ra4 would have left the following:

click for larger view

With a Rook and three pawns for a Knight, Black should be able to win this ending . But, whether because he somehow missed this or because he was fixated on getting a draw, Schlechter played:

22... Ne5?

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Now, though Black remains better, the win was gone. Moreover, Schlechter made no effort to exploit what edge he still enjoyed:

23. NxN+ RxN
24. g3

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Lasker or Capablanca or Rubinstein or Fischer or Carlsen would press White to the hilt if given this position. Ideas such as 24...g5 or 24...c5 come to mind. But Schlechter--perhaps wanting to rest up for his battle the following day against Janowski (while Janowski was fighting Marshall in a 105 move struggle) listlessly allowed the game to end peacefully:

24... Rae8
25. Rad1

Gunsberg could have made life easier for himself with 25. f4 immediately (or maybe tried 25. h4), but perhaps he sensed that Schlechter was ready for a peace offering.

25... Re4

25...g5 still offered some chances to complicate.

26. Nc1 Bg5

Listless to the last, and ignoring the chance to play 26...g5 or 26...h5.

27. f4 Bf6
28. Re2


Oh well.

The final position was:

click for larger view

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