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Harry Nelson Pillsbury vs Emanuel Lasker
St. Petersburg (1895/96), St. Petersburg RUE, rd 6, Dec-25
Spanish Game: Berlin Defense. Pillsbury Variation (C67)  ·  1-0

ANALYSIS [x]

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Kibitzer's Corner
Mar-25-03  ughaibu: This is an exciting endgame. It's not clear to me that Lasker misjudged the position when exchanging the pieces.
Oct-04-03  Kenkaku: This is an example of endgame with pawns on both sides of the board where the knight proves itself stronger than the bishop.
Oct-04-03  zorro: I don't think this could be taken as an example of knight superiority with pawn on both sides 'cause the fact that bishop are generally better with pawns on both sides apply only to structures of two groups of pawns, and here Black has three. This already gives White a plus. Also, the knight is a strong piece against weak pawns (doubled or isolated) beacause unlike the bishop it can attack them on square of both colours. This said, 21...a5 look suspect to me, Lasker probably thought he was going to exchange off his weakness.
Oct-04-03
Premium Chessgames Member
  Calli: How about 32...Bf5 with the idea of getting to e4? If 33.Ng5 Ke5 34.Nxf7+ Kxf6 35.Nd6 Be6 36.Nc4 h4 37.Nxa5 Bd5 looks okay. Or 33.Nd2 g5 34.Nc4 Be4 35.g3 h4 with some counterplay.
Oct-05-03  zorro: <Calli> In your first line after 33. Ng5 Ke5 34. Nxf7+ Kxf6 35. Nd6 Be6 my first thought was to play 36. h4, here's what I tried: 36...Bd5

a) 37. g3 Ke5 38. Nc4+ Ke4 39. Nxa5 Kf3
a1) 40. Nxc6 loses on a couple of tempi
a2) 40. Nb7 40...Kxg3 41. a5 Kxh4 42. a6 c5 43. Nxc5 Kg3 and here Black should win.

a3) 40. Nc4 Kxg3 41. a5 Kxh4 42. Nb6 Bf3 43. a6 c5 44. a7 Kg3 45. a8=Q (45.Kd2 Kf2 doesn't change) 45...Bxa8 46. Nxa8 h4 and the Knight doesn't come back in time

b) 37. Nc4 Bxg2 38. Nxa5 Kf5 transposes to lines above

So after all 36. h4 doesn't look like a good idea

-to be continued-

Oct-05-03
Premium Chessgames Member
  Calli: Thanks for the idea of h4. Lasker plays Bf5 five moves later. I was trying to see why he apparently lost all that time. It may be he calculated some defense of the K side with h4 and so he delayed until he played h5-h4. 38.Nb7 may be faster in your line.
Apr-22-04
Premium Chessgames Member
  tamar: What a perplexing position after 32 Nf3. Which is better, the knight or the bishop? Lasker's 32...Ke6 looks awkward. Calli's idea of activating the bishop before going after f6 is tempting in conjunction with h4, but it appears that White can win. Here is the main line of what I found with Fritz 7 over a couple of days:

32...Bf5 33 Ng5 Ke5 34 Nf7+ Kxf6 35 Nd6
Be6 --the position examined by Calli and Zorro-- and now

36 Nc4 h4 37 b4! axb4 38 Kxb4 Bd5 39 Ne3
Be4 40 a5 Ke7 41 Kc5 Kd7 42 Kb6 c5 43 Kxc5 Kc7 44 Kd4 Bc6 45 Ke5 Kb7 46 Kf6 Be4 47 Kg5 Ka6 48 Kxh4 Kxa5 49 Kg5 Kb4 50 h4 Kc3 51 g3 Kd4 52 Ng4 and White's knight prevents the King from crossing and ensures an easy win.

A long line, but fairly clear in its exploitation of the ...h4 push. The 37 b4! push brings the White King to b4 from where it threatens to sit on c5 locking shut the diagonal, so black must bring over his King and can not go marauding for the g2 and h3 pawns. The knight on e3 holds just long enough for the a pawn to become dangerous, and when Black reacts White abandons it and races to the K-side. Do you see any improvements?

The 32...Bf5 idea still might be playable, but without the h4 push...Then the Black King can go directly to the K-side and leave defense to his bishop.32...Bf5 33 Ng5 Ke5 34 Nf7+ Kxf6 35 Nd6 Be6 36 Nc4 Kg5! and White must constantly weigh if his knight can get back over to save the pawns.

Dec-23-04
Premium Chessgames Member
  beatgiant: On 32...Bf5 33. Ng5 Ke5 34. Nxf7+ Kxf6 35. Nd6 Be6, I think White should reply 36. b4! axb4+ 37. Kxb4. White threatens to cut off the bishop with 38. Kc5, and if Black tries to hold with the king, then 37...Ke7 38. Kc5 Kd7 39. a5 Kc7 40. a6 Kb8 41. Kb6 and wins (the threat is a7+ followed by Ne8-c7#). Even if Black jettisons the c-pawn with 37...c5+ 38. Kxc5, I don't see how he can stop the a-pawn.
Dec-23-04
Premium Chessgames Member
  beatgiant: My suggested improvement for Black would be 31...cxd5. This creates a passed pawn, restrains White's b4 push, and hopes to keep more dynamism in the position to give scope to the bishop's long-range powers.

White could then get in trouble by pressing too hard for a win, because black has counterplay with ...d4+ followed by ...Kb4.

A line illustrating these ideas is 31...cxd5 32. Nf3 Bc6 33. h4 Bd7 34. Ng5 Be8 35. g3?! d4+ 36. Kd3 (or 36. Kc2 Kb4 37. Ne4 Bc6 is fine) Kb4 37. Kxd4 Kxb3 38. Ne4 Bxa4 39. Nd6 Kb2 40. Nxf7 Bb3 41. Nd6 a4.

Dec-23-04
Premium Chessgames Member
  tamar: <beatgiant> 31...cxd5 is much better than Lasker's move. The pawn on f6 may have tempted him. Sergeant's note to move 31...KxP is "Black is making an ill-judged attempt to win-and pays the penalty. The draw is not really difficult at this point."

<On 32...Bf5 33. Ng5 Ke5 34. Nxf7+ Kxf6 35. Nd6 Be6, I think White should reply 36. b4! axb4+ 37. Kxb4.>

This game was played on Christmas Day 1895. I am going to study your improvement and see if I can find anything for Black by Christmas 2004.

Dec-25-04
Premium Chessgames Member
  tamar: Okay it's Christmas, I promised to try to come up with a defense for Mr Lasker in Calli's and Zorro's line because this game was contested Christmas Day 1895.

<beatgiant: On 32...Bf5 33. Ng5 Ke5 34. Nxf7+ Kxf6 35. Nd6 Be6, I think White should reply 36. b4! axb4+ 37. Kxb4> That looks pretty clear, with the a pawn running. But there is one last hope.

After 36 b4 I think Black's best hope is 36...Bd5 37 bxa5 Bxg2 38 a6 c5 39 a7 g5! which looks unclear. The bishop will try to hold the a pawn long enough for the g or h pawn to queen. Play could continue 40 Kd3 Ke5 41 Nb5 g4 and Black might have chances to survive.

Dec-27-04
Premium Chessgames Member
  beatgiant: <tamar>
Thanks for the nice analysis for Christmas. Indeed, your ...Bd5 idea allows Black to stop the pawn. I played out a few branches from the end of your line and got draws. In the typical line, Black's bishop takes care of the first a-pawn, White's king is deflected to the kingside, and Black's king takes care of the second a-pawn. White ends up with an extra knight, but no pawns left.

A sample line is:
32...Bf5 33. Ng5 Ke5 34. Nxf7+ Kxf6 35. Nd6 Be6 36. b4 Bd5 37. bxa5 Bxg2 38 a6 c5 39 a7 g5 40. Kd3 Bc6 41. Kc4 Bf3 42. Kxc5 g4 43. hxg4 hxg4 44. Ke4 Ba8 45. Nc8 g3, etc. and it is heading towards a draw.

However, White can reply to ...Bd5 with g3 to slow down the counterplay. This looks strong, and I played out a few branches and got wins for White. The line starts as above but has White playing 37. g3 instead of 37. bxa5. I may post sample lines later if I have time.

The situation is very complicated, so at least we can say <Calli>'s idea with 32...Bf5 is a very good try for Black.

Dec-28-04
Premium Chessgames Member
  beatgiant: Here are some sample lines on the latest attempt against <Calli>'s and <tamar>'s suggestions.

It starts with 32...Bf5 33. Ng5 Ke5 34. Nxf7+ Kxf6 35. Nd6 Be6 36. b4 Bd5 37. g3, and now I give a few branches.

37...axb4+ 38. Kxb4 Kg5 39. Kc5 Bg2 40. a5 Bf1 41. h4+! Kg4 42. Nc4 and the Bishop is blocked (or 41...Kf6 42. Nc4 Bh3 43. a6 Bc8 44. a7 Bb7 45. Nd6 Ba8 46. Ne8 with the unstoppable plan of 47. Nc7 Bb7 48. Kb6 getting rid of the bishop and queening).

37...axb4+ 38. Kxb4 Ke7 39. Kc5 and Black doesn't have kingside counterplay, so we get lines with the a-pawn running similar to the one I posted on Dec-23-04. White's winning.

37...h4 (to leave White with only rook's pawns) 38. gxh4 Ke6 39. Nc4! axb4+ 40. Kxb4 Bxc4 (40...Kd7 41. Ne5+ wins the g-pawn and the game; 40...Be4 41. Kc5 with the a-pawn running; 40...c5+ 41. Kxc5 also plays out to a win such as 41...Bg2 42. a5 Bf1 43. Nc4 Bxh3 44. Nb6 Ke5 45. a7 and Black's king gets overloaded as White's knight aims both to block the h1-a8 diagonal and to take the g-pawn) 41. Kxc4 Kd7 42. Kc5 Kc7 43. a5 Kb7 44. Kd6 Ka6 45. Kxc6 and White wins the race to take the g-pawn before Black's king can get to f8.

So it seems likely that White can win against 32...Bf5 too. Whew!

Dec-29-04
Premium Chessgames Member
  tamar: <beatgiant> You're right. 37 g3 wins. I looked at mainly the 37...Ke7 or 37...Ke6 lines, where the black King makes it over to stop the a pawn, but White's knight can play Nb7-Nc5 sealing the queenside and entombing the Black King. Then White can win easily.

Pillsbury had a knack of switching into
Superman. The variations with mirroring knight tours through c4 is particularly impressive: Nf3-d2-c4-xa5 in the game, Nf3-g5-xf7-d6-c4 in some of the suggested variations with 32...Bf5

Apr-18-05  JohnBoy: In 100 Selected, Botvinnik raves about Chigorin vs Tarrasch, 1896 - as a great example of a master playing for an advantageous endgame. I find this to be another superb example. This shows Pillsbury as a tremendously skilled planner, steering toward a slight endgame edge. Hard to imagine better execution against a player of Lasker's caliber at the height of his powers.
Jul-09-05  calman543: But doesn't black queen first if the game continues 46.. Bf3 47. Nb6 f5 48. a7 f4 49. a8=Q Bxa8 50. Nxa8 f3 etc. ?
Jul-09-05  Veryrusty: Regarding Calman, 47. b6 Bxd5, 48.b7 and white queens.
Dec-25-06  ALEXIN: Great endgame. Very difficult to manage.

James Mason -in his book over the Tournament- said that:

1)21. a5 was unnecesarry "except in hopes of winning". 2)30. Kxd5 was an error.

The fact is that a5 and f7 pawns were the problems of black position. If black lost may be explained by the principle of two weaknesses ?

Nov-26-07  Ulhumbrus: 16...Bd7 allows 17 c4 keeping the d pawn back. 16...d5 may be safer.

With 32 Nf3!! Lasker begins to display his mastery of the endgame. The N threatens to go to g5, but also, less obviously, to d2. After Pillsbury answers the former threat, the N goes to d2, then to c4, and takes the Black a pawn. The ultimate result of this - and so the ultimate result of the withdrawal of the N by the move 32 Nf3 - is that White's a pawn will become sufficiently more advanced than any passed pawn of Black's on the King side to win the game.

Nov-26-07  RookFile: Well, Pillsbury is the one who displayed the mastery, here.

Did he ever play a boring game, whether he won, lost or drew? Not many, it seems.

Jul-10-08  Ulhumbrus: <RookFile: Well, Pillsbury is the one who displayed the mastery, here.> I stand corrected. I will post the message again.

16...Bd7 allows 17 c4 keeping the d pawn back. 16...d5 may be safer.

With 32 Nf3!! Pillsbury begins to display his mastery of the endgame. The N threatens to go to g5, but also, less obviously, to d2.

After Pillsbury answers the former threat, the N goes to d2, then to c4, and takes the Black a pawn.

The ultimate result of this - and so the ultimate result of the withdrawal of the N by the move 32 Nf3 - is that White's a pawn will become sufficiently more advanced than any passed pawn of Black's on the King side to win the game.

May-17-09
Premium Chessgames Member
  Gypsy: <After Pillsbury answers the former threat, the N goes to d2, then to c4, and takes the Black a pawn.>

After <Lasker> answers the the former threat, ...

Dec-25-10
Premium Chessgames Member
  tamar: Christmas Day 115 years ago
Dec-18-18
Premium Chessgames Member
  HarryP: A great win for Pillsbury. Marvelous endgame play against the marvelous endgame player Emanuel Lasker.
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