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Carl Schlechter vs Harry Nelson Pillsbury
Monte Carlo (1902), Monte Carlo MNC, rd 5, Feb-10
Tarrasch Defense: Symmetrical Variation (D32)  ·  0-1



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Kibitzer's Corner
Mar-06-04  Kenkaku: Wow... 23. b3 has to be the worst blunder of Schlechter's career.
May-18-04  PinkPanther: That can't be right, there is no way a player of Schlechter's calibur would just blunder away his queen like that.
May-18-04  ughaibu: You could say the same thing about Petrosian.
May-18-04  PinkPanther: What about Petrosian?
May-18-04  ughaibu: Petrosian vs Bronstein, 1956
Oct-28-08  thebribri8: Tunnel-vision claims another victim.
Feb-20-09  WhiteRook48: 23. b3?? is just the worst thing to play
Dec-28-19  sea7kenp: "Queen? What Queen?"
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: What is there to say about a game in which Schlechter hung his Queen on move 23 and immediately resigned thereafter?

Two things: (1) Sadness at this gross blunder by a player I so highly respect: (2) an account of the interesting duel involving an isolated d-pawn between two fine players before Schlechter's catastrophe on move 23.

Schlechter had beat Pillsbury at Hastings 1895 (almost costing Pillsbury his great triumph) but after that Schlechter played like a fish against Pillsbury, losing eight and winning only one in their post-Hastings 1895 encounters. For whatever reason, Schlechter seemed unable to play against Pillsbury.

1. d4 d5
2. Nf3 Nf6
3. c4 e6
4. Nc3 c5

Another appearance of the Tarrasch.

5. e3

A known and trusted line, but 5. cxd5 is most usual and avoids trouble.

5... Nc6


6. a3

Again following a respected beaten path. The alternative 6. cxd5 only yields equality, but avoids the isolated d-pawn.

Schlechter seemed OK with getting a isolated pawn, but his follow-up (even apart from his tragedy on move 23) suggests he was not entirely comfortable in handling such positions. As Bent Larsen once said, he likes playing AGAINST isolated Queen's pawns.

6... cxd4

Pillsbury seems to have been in Larsen's camp on this issue.

7. exd4 dxc4

There is much to be said for 7...Be7 here. But Pillsbury had apparently decided to go all in on combating the isolated d-pawn.

8. Bxc4

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And thus the battle lines were drawn. Was Schlechter's isolated d-pawn a strength or a weakness?

8... a6
9. 0-0 Be7

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So far so good for Schlechter. He had the better chances, and an immediate opportunity to rid himself of the isolated d-pawn. But beginning here he embarked on a bizarre sequence which, though not fatal, allowed Pillsbury to assume the initiative in very short order.

10. Qd3

10. d5 seems to solve all of White's problems and leave him with the better game. 10. Re1 is a fine alternative. But Schlechter chose a convoluted arrangement of his pieces, thus confirming the thesis that Schlechter was unable to play his usual good chess against Pillsbury.

10... 0-0
11. Bg5

Another odd choice. White would still have some semblance of an opening advantage after 11. Re1 or 11. Bf4.

11... b5

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Where to put the Bishop? Since White may yet want to play d5, 12. Ba2 was surely best. But Schlechter had ideas of creating King-side pressure by Bc2 and ganging up on h7 with Queen and Bishop. So he played the wishy-washy:

12. Bb3

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Sep-16-21  RookFile: White could have played a d5 break. For example, on move 10, you play 10.d5 exd5 11.Nxd5 O-O 12.Nxe7+ with a slight advantage.

In general, computers tend to go for this d5 thrust the first chance they get.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: <RookFile>10. d5 is indeed liked by both Stockfish and Fritz. It's also the first move most players would consider.

Fritz also likes 10. Re1.

Only a hyper-sophisticated player such as Schlechter would have looked much further. In this case, his judgment likely led him astray.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post II

12... Qb6

This extra attack on the White d4 pawn was unnecessary at this point. The simply 12...was almost certainly best.

After 12...Qb6, the position was:

click for larger view

13. Bc2

Schlechter should surely either tried either 13. d5 or 13. Ne4. The text creates an obvious threat that gave Pillsbury no trouble at all.

13... g6

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"Black's defense is a model of what it should be in this opening." (Gunsberg)

Perhaps an overstatement, but Pillsbury certainly played well for most of this game.

14. Qe2

Another weak effort by the usually positionally sound Schlechter.

14. Ne5 or 15 Rad1 or 15. Rfd1 were much beter.

After 14. Qe2, the position was:

click for larger view

14... Rd8

14...Bby was also good.

As Gunsberg noted, 14...Nxd4? would have been a mistake (though it only loses in his line because of doubtful analysis: giving Gunsberg's line: 14...Nxd4 15. NxN QxN 16. Qf3 16...Rb8? [This does indeed lead to loss. 16...Ra7 was correct after which Black would have a difficult defense but probably should not lose--KEG] 17. Rad1 [17. Rfd1 also wins] Qe5? [bad--but there is nothing all that much better--KEG] 18. Bf4 "and wins."

15. Rad1 Bb7

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This position was the subject of much discussion after the game.

16. Ne4

Pillsbury suggested 16. Be3. This looks good (16...Qc7 17. Rc1 Rac8 and White is very much still in the game, even if arguably slightly worse).

Gunsberg considered 16. d5 but conceded that "in the resultant complications Black would have quite held his own." In fact, after 16. d5, Black would be much better, e.g., 16. d5 Nxd5 17. NxN RxN 18. RxR exR 19. Bh6 Bf8 and Black ends up a pawn to the good.

The text also led to a poor position for Schlechter, who played this game well below his usual strength:

16... NxN
17. BxB

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Pillsbury here played, probably reflexively, and probably correctly:

17... NxB

But 17...Nc3 would have been fascinating; e.g., 17...Nc3 18. bxN NxB 19. Ng5 Nd5.

18. BxN BxB

18...Rac8 19. BxB QxB or 18...Bd5 were also decent options.

19. QxB

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Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post III

19... Rd5

Pillsbury could also have played 19...Rac8.

20. Rd3 Rad8
21. Rfd1 Nf5

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22. g4?!

Making trouble for himself. Schlechter would only have been slightly wprse after 22. h3 or 22. Qf4.

22... Nd6

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Schlechter would still have been in the game with 23. Qf4; 23. Qe3; 23. Qe2. But instead he inexplicably dropped his Queen with:

23. b3??

In a classic understatement, Gunsberg quipped: "To leave a Queen en prise is a fatal mistake."

23... NxQ


Schlechter's only consolation for this blunder was that he had a bad (though not a lost) position before 23, b3??

Sep-16-21  devere: A good Monday morning problem on Black's 23rd move.
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: <devere>That one I think I could get right!
Sep-17-21  RookFile: With b3, white prevents ....Nc4. But he forgot about something else.

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