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Emanuel Lasker vs Harry Nelson Pillsbury
London (1899), London ENG, rd 24, Jul-01
Queen Pawn Game: Krause Variation (D02)  ·  1-0

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Kibitzer's Corner
Mar-25-03  ughaibu: This is a very tough looking endgame to win. There are some nice points with discovered checks by the king.
Nov-26-07  Ulhumbrus: Instead of 18...f6 placing another pawn on a black square, 18...Rd5 gets ready for the moves ...Kd7 and ...Ke6 developing the King.
Nov-26-07  RookFile: Well, 18.... f5 is fine too.
Nov-26-07  black knight c6: 18. ... f6 is good against the bishop, as long as you can secure the base of the pawn chain - This then can block the bishop in. Unfortunately black failed to protect his queenside pawns, resulting in an inferior position rather than a better one.
Nov-26-07
Premium Chessgames Member
  Calli: Trying to make something out of nothing, Pillsbury makes a lot of weakening pawn moves. Had he moved, say, 19...Kd7 and Ke6, there is nothing in the position and draw would be inevitable.

36.b4+! is a clever Lasker-like move. Oh, wait, thats no wonder because it actually is Lasker :-o

Apr-18-11
Premium Chessgames Member
  NM JRousselle: A great display of technical ability to win the e pawn. This game is under commented, probably because it does not have the flashy sacrifices.
Apr-04-17
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: With this24th round victory, Lasker all but clinched first place in the London 1899 tournament.

For much of the struggle, Lasker seemed content with a draw, and Pillsbury--needing a win to have any chance of catching Lasker--tried desperately to complicate play. Lasker's play was excellent and exploited the chances Pillsbury's risky play presented.

From my review of this game, however, despite Pillsbury's risk-taking, he was not lost until move 31 at the earliest. In this I differ from other commentators here and historically. I will be grateful if keypusher, beatgiant, or others can tell me if I have overlooked something.

Lasker's opening play revealed his lack of ambition. After Pillsbury's 6...Qa5, Lasker avoided the theoretically better 7. exd4 and played the more stolid 7. Nxd4. By so doing, Lasker had fewer open lines, but did not have an isolated d-pawn.

Yet again, after Pillsbury's 7...NxN, Lasker avoided getting an isolated d-pawn with the solid 8. QxN instead of the probably better 8. exd4. As seems obvious, Lasker was keen on keeping the game in hand rather than entering a slugfest with the always dangerous Pillsbury.

Pillsbury's 8...e5 set a trap. Had Lasker played 9. Bb5+, Pillsbury would have won two pieces for a Rook and probably had a won game after 9...QxB !! 10. NxQ exQ 11. Nc7+ Kd8 12. NxR Bd6.

Lasker didn't fall for that. Instead, he played the hyper-drawish 9. Qd5 (9. Qd1 was theoretically better, but not if a draw is the object).

After the resulting exchange of Queens and of two sets of minor pieces, and after Pillsbury's 15...0-0-0, I must agree with the Tournament Book that the game was flat and would likely have been abandoned by many grandmasters as a draw.

But Pillsbury sought to complicate at all costs, even after a pair of Rooks was exchanged on moves 17-18. These efforts by Pillsbury--many of which have been unfairly criticized in the literature--made the game the fascinating battle it became. These efforts by Pillsbury will be the subject of my next post.

Apr-04-17
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: I meant to include Straclonoor to those I hope will tell me if I am missing something in my analysis of this game.
Apr-04-17
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: After Lasker's 18. Bc3, the game did seem headed for a draw. But Pillsbury did all he could to breath life into this seemingly barren game.

Reinfeld-Fine in their book on Lasker's greatest chess games say that Pillsbury's 18...f6 was "unnecessary and bad." They say he should have played 18...Kd7. While 18...Kd7 was fine, I see nothing wrong with 18...f6. Pillsbury's pawn structure was still sound, and after Lasker's 19. Rc1 Pillsbury had the slightly better game.

Reinfeld-Fine also criticize Pillsbury's 19...d6, calling it a "further weakness." They again say that 19...Kd7 was best. In fact, 19...e5 seems best. But after 19...b6 20. Kf1, Pillsbury still had at least an even game, despite all his supposedly "weakening" moves.

The Tournament Book joins the chorus and faults Pillsbury's 21...a5 as "compromising and ill-judged." While I would have preferred 21...e5, I still see nothing wrong with Pillsbury's game after 21...a5. Both the Tournament Book and Reinfeld-Fine next go after Pillsbury's 22...b5 as "still worse" and "likewise undesirable." Once again, while I think 22. e4 would have been best, I still see nothing wrong with Pillsbury's game.

The first even arguably bad move in this endgame by Pillsbury was his 28...f5, a move which, ironically, Reinfeld-Fine says was "practically forced." In fact, best here is the move Reinfeld-Fine claim was impossible, 28...Rc5. This does NOT lead to a win for White, Reinfeld-Fine notwithstanding.

After 28...Rc5, Reinfeld-Fine's proposed 29. RxR (29. Kd3 seems slightly better) leads nowhere. After 29...KxR 30. Kf3 (as Reinfeld-Fine proposed, missing the better 30. Kd3 or 30. b3), Pillsbury could simply have played 30...a4 with better chances. Even after Reinfeld-Fine's inferior 30...f5, Pillsbury had at least an even game. Reinfeld-Fine's 31. e4 was bad (31. b3 looks best) and Pillsbury could here have played 31...fxe4+ with the better chances. Even after the inferior move championed by Reinfeld-Fine, 31...g4+, Pillsbury was just fine.

Reinfeld-Fine outrageously claim that after 31...g4+ Lasker would have had a won game with 32. Kg3. This is nonsense. Pillsbury only needed to play 32...fxe4 to reach the following position:


click for larger view

How is this winning for White? In fact, White had best be careful not to overreach here with something like 33. Kxg4 Kc4 34. Kh5?? a4 and White is lost.

In sum, Pillsbury's play through this stage was enterprising and excellent. Even after his somewhat inferior 28...f5, he could have held the game, as I will attempt to show in subsequent posts.

Apr-04-17
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Pillsbury didn't start to go overboard until his 30...Kc5 (instead of 30...Kc6). Even then, he could doubtless have held the game had he played 31...Kc6 rather than his misjudged 31...gxh4. Pillsbury was setting a diabolical trap here for Lasker. After Lasker's 32. Rxh4, Pillsbury played the clever 32...Rb6. Had Lasker now played 33. Bxa5??, he would had lost a piece after 33...Rxb2+ (if 34. Bd2 Ba5).

But for all that, 31...gxh4 was bad, and with 33. f4 Lasker would have had good winning chances. His actual move, 33. Kd3 was not as good, and Pillsbury would have had decent drawing prospects with 33...Kb5. But after Pillsbury's inferior 33...Rd6+ and his very bad 34...Rg6 (34...Re6 was essential), Lasker had a winning advantage that he never relinquished, despite Pillsbury's heroic defense over the course of th next 40 moves.

I have said little about Lasker in my posts on this game because all of the efforts to make something happen came from Pillsbury. But once Lasker got a winning advantage, his handling of Rook and Bishop was superb.

I agree with Reinfeld-Fine that Lasker could also have won with 35. Bxe5. In fact, this move was probably best play. But I also agree that Lasker's 35. b4+ was sufficient to win and probably a simpler procedure.

Much of the commentary on Lasker's winning procedure seems bad to me. For example, Reinfeld-Fine say that after Pillsbury's 54...Bc5 55. Bxe5 Bxe3 would only have been a draw. Really? How about 56. Rc7+ Kb6 57. Kxb RxB+ 58. Kd4 sure looks like a win to me:


click for larger view

Am I missing something?

Bad commentary or not, this was a wonderful endgame by Lasker.

Apr-04-17
Premium Chessgames Member
  ChessHigherCat: <KEG: Am I missing something? >

I wonder why Lasker didn't just play 40. Rxf7 Kxf7 41. Bxd5+, with two joined passed pawns + a bishop versus the rook. Isn't that a "technical win"?

Apr-05-17  Straclonoor: <The first even arguably bad move in this endgame by Pillsbury was his 28...f5> Of course! Black helps White to make weak points in his position <In fact, best here is the move Reinfeld-Fine claim was impossible, 28...Rc5.> Yes, here is analysis
Stockfish 030417 64 BMI2 0.00 (depth 31) 28...Rc5 29.Kd3 Kb5 30.Rxc5+ Kxc5 31.b3 f5 32.f3 h5 33.h3 Kb5 34.g3 Kc5 35.e4 f4 36.gxf4 gxf4 37.Bd2 Kb5 38.Bc3 Kc5 Black had pretty same options

0.18 (depth 31) 28...h5 29.h4 g4 30.e4 Bd6 31.f3 g3 32.Kd3 Bc5 33.Kc2 Kb7 34.Be1 Bf2 35.Bd2 Bc5 36.b3 Kb6 37.f4 Bd4 38.f5 Bf2 39.Bc3 Bc5 40.Be1 Bf2 41.Bd2 Bd4 42.Ra4 Bc5 - I think. positional draw

0.22 (depth 30) 28...Rd5 29.Kf3 Rd7 30.Kg4 Kb5 31.b3 Bd8 32.Kf5 Rd1 33.Rc8 Bb6 34.Kxf6 Rf1 35.Kxe5 Rxf2 36.Rb8 Ka6 37.Rh8 Bxe3 38.Rxh6+ Kb5 39.g3 Rc2 40.Bd4 Bxd4+ 41.Kxd4 Rd2+ 42.Kc3 Re2 White better but not enough for win

Apr-05-17  Straclonoor: <Had Lasker played 9. Bb5+, Pillsbury would have won two pieces for a Rook and probably had a won game after 9...QxB !! 10. NxQ exQ 11. Nc7+ Kd8 12. NxR Bd6.> Not so yet

12...Bd6 Stockfish 030417 64 BMI2 -0.69 (depth 29) 13.Bd2 Ne7 14.Ba5+ Kd7 15.O-O Nc6 16.Bb6 axb6 17.Nxb6+ Kc7 18.Nxc8 Be5 19.Na7 Nxa7 20.exd4 Bxd4 21.Rac1+ Nc6 22.b3 Rd8 23.Rfd1 Bb6 24.Rxd8 Kxd8 25.Rd1+ Ke7 26.g3 Ke6 27.Kg2 It's not clear win, white have compensation

Apr-05-17
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: <ChessHigherCat> I agree that 40. RxN would have won for White, but Lasker's actual move, 40. f3, was just about as good. Best of all would probably have been 40. Rf7.

Your exchange sacrifice idea also would have worked well on moves 46 and 47, and were probably best play there. But Lasker's method, though not as immediately decisive as your excellent idea, was relentless and left Pillsbury no chances.

In terms of chess art, your method carries the day. In terms of grinding down his opponents with ruthless efficiency in the endgame, Lasker gets the gold.

Apr-05-17
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: <Straclonoor> Thank you for your posts and analysis.

In your line after 9. Bb5+, I agree that Black is well short of a win after your 13...Ne7. Would Black be better advised to try 13...Be6 or 13...Bg4? I was thinking along those lines and thought White would then have had insufficient compensation, but you have the capacity to conduct deep searches that are not available to me. So I would be interested to know if your engines see a win for Black in this line after 13...Be6 or 13...Bg4.

Apr-06-17
Premium Chessgames Member
  beatgiant: <KEG>


click for larger view

<How is this winning for White?>

At first glance, White would play 33. b3 to block the Black king's inroad, after which the weak kingside pawns would fall. And 33. b3 <a4?!> does not look quite good enough to me.

But in fact, it leads to complications after 33. b3 <e3!> 34. fxe3 Kd5 35. Kxg4 Ke4. It would take an in-depth analysis to prove anything conclusive, but at least there's no obvious win for White.

Apr-06-17  Straclonoor: <So I would be interested to know if your engines see a win for Black in this line after 13...Be6 or 13...Bg4.> Ok.
13...Bg4 looks more attractive, engine doesn't confirm it

13...Bg4 Stockfish 030417 64 BMI2 -0.69 (depth 35) 14.Ba5+ Kd7 15.h3 Be6 16.O-O-O Ne7 17.Nc7 Rc8 18.Kb1 Bxc7 19.Rxd4+ Ke8 20.Bxc7 Rxc7 21.b3 h6 22.Rc1 Rxc1+ 23.Kxc1 Nc6 24.Rd1 f5 25.Kb2 Ke7 26.Kc3 Kf6 27.Rd2 Ke5 28.f4+

13....Be6 according to analysis gives a little bit more advantage for black but I can't recognize difference-:))

13...Be6 Stockfish 030417 64 BMI2 -0.86 (depth 35) 14.Ba5+ Kd7 15.O-O-O Ne7 16.Nc7 Bxc7 17.Rxd4+ Kc6 18.Bxc7 Kxc7 19.b3 Nc6 20.Rd3 a5 21.Kb2 a4 22.Rc1 axb3 23.axb3 Ra8 24.Ra1 Rxa1 25.Kxa1 Ne5 26.Rc3+ Kb6 27.Kb2 Kb5

Apr-06-17
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: <Straclonoor> Thank you for this analysis. It appears you have resolved the question, and apparently 9. Bb5+ does not lose. But I still don't like it!
Apr-06-17
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: <beatgiant> I like your line for Black after 33. b3 and see no advantage for White after your wonderful 33...e3!

I see nothing better than 33. b3 or 33. Kxg4, and neither leads anywhere for White.

In sum, your 33...e3! seems to refute the last winning possibility for White in this line, and thus Reinfeld-Fine appear to be simply wrong in their analysis of 31...g4+

Apr-06-17  Straclonoor: <But in fact, it leads to complications after 33. b3 <e3!> 34. fxe3 Kd5 35. Kxg4 Ke4. It would take an in-depth analysis to prove anything conclusive, but at least there's no obvious win for White.> Yes,
Stockfish 030417 64 BMI2 0.08 (depth 31) 34.fxe3 Kd5 35.Kxg4 Ke4 36.Kh5 Kd3 37.Be1 Kxe3 38.Kxh6 e4 39.Kg6 Ke2 40.Bh4 Bxh2 41.Kf5 e3 42.g4 Bd6 43.g5 Be7 44.Bg3 Bxg5 45.Kxg5 Kd2 46.Bc7 Kc3 47.Bxa5+ Kxb3 48.Kf4
Apr-06-17
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: <Straclonoor> Thank you for this confirmation of what keypusher and I had concluded.

Interesting game!

Apr-06-17
Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: <KEG: <Straclonoor> Thank you for this confirmation of what keypusher and I had concluded.>

I think you mean <beatgiant>. He is a very fine analyst.

Apr-07-17
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: <keypusher>Yes, I meant beangiant who--like you--is a very fine analyst.
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