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Edmar J Mednis vs Arthur Bisguier
US Championship (1957/58), New York, NY USA, rd 1, Dec-17
Italian Game: Two Knights Defense. Polerio Defense Suhle Defense (C59)  ·  1/2-1/2



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Kibitzer's Corner
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: If the score of this game appearing on this site is correct (and I have no other source with which to compare it), Bisguier hung a piece on move 39, Mednis missed it, and a draw was agreed after move 40 at a time Mednis held a significant advantage. Of course, time trouble (assuming a move 40 time control) may be the explanation, but the conclusion of this game is in stark contrast with the exciting and often brilliant struggle that preceded it.

Playing the Black side of a Two Knights' Defense, Bisguier made the "normal" pawn sacrifice to obtain better development and strong attacking chances. After a weak 16th move by Mednis, Bisguier sacrificed the exchange on move 17 for a powerful--and perhaps winning--attack. Mednis defended stubbornly, returning the exchange and eventually and sacrificed pawn as well. Bisguier was still better in the resulting ending, but Mednis outplayed Bisguier from there and obtained good winning chances before the bizarre concluding play on moves 39 and 40.

Although we remember the 1957-1958 US Championship as the launching of the career of then 14-year old Bobby Fischer, at the beginning of the tournament few if any of the fans expected Bobby to triumph. He had finished with a negative score in the 1956 Rosenwald tournament (which was similar to--but technically not--a US Championship event) that was won by Reshevsky with Bisguier finishing second, and there were three former champions in the event (Resheveky, Bisguier [the defending champion] and Denker).

Bisguier was certainly one of the favorites. He had won the last US Championship, had tied for first in the 1957 US Open with Fischer (who got the nod on tiebreaks), and had crushed Bobby in their game in the 1956 Rosenwald. Who would have imagined that, beginning in this tournament, Bobby would defeat Bisguier not only here but in each of the remaining games (12 plus the game here) they were to play.

This game goes a long way toward showing why the very capable and often brilliant Bisguier was one or more classes below Fischer. The ability to close out games in which he had a winning or near-winning advantage was one of Fischer's specialties. Bisguier let his chances lapse here (even ignoring whatever it was that happened on moves 39 and 40).

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. Bc4 Nf6

The Two Knights' Defense. In the most usual line (adopted here), Black sacs a pawn for better development and attacking prospects.

4. Ng5

Often called a "duffer's move," but it puts Black under sufficient pressure that the thematic pawn sacrifice is usually employed.

4... d5
5. exd5 Na5

This pawn sacrifice is much better than 5...Nxd5, which allows White to get much the better game with 6. d4!

6. Bb5+ c6
7. dxc6 bxc6

click for larger view

8. Be2

The most frequent move here. It seeks to hold the sacrificed pawn and try to catch up in development. 8. Bd3 and 8. Qf3 are the most frequently employed alternatives, and are both far more dynamic than the text.

8... h6
9. Nf3

9. Nh3 is also frequently played here. The text looks far more sensible.

9... e4
10. Ne5 Bd6

The main line. 10...Qc7 and 10...Qd4 are also frequently played. The simple 10...Bc5, though not often adopted, seems best of all for Black.

After Bisguier's 10...Bd6, one of the "normal" Two Knights' Defense positions was reached:

click for larger view

As so often the case in this opening, the question presented if whether Black's far better development is sufficient compensation for the sacrificed pawn.

11. f4?!

The sharpest line. The more usual 11. d4 is probably best. 11. Ng4 is also a reasonable alternative.

11... exf3 e.p.
12. Nxf3 0-0
13. d4

click for larger view

The battle lines had been drawn. The question remained: Did Black have compensation for his sacrificed pawn?

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post II

13... c5?!

Although MCO-13 gives only this move as an option, 13...Re8, 13...Qb6, and 13...Bb7 all look better. The text allows White to trade Queens and complete his development, thus making it difficult for Black to justify the sacrificed pawn.

14. dxc5

14. 0-0 has been played, but the text is simpler and much better.

14... Bxc5
15. QxQ RxQ

click for larger view

White now need only complete his development to secure a fine game with an extra pawn.

16. c3?

Too slow. 16. Bd2 was best. White would also be fine after 16. Nc3. The theme seems pretty obvious, White is undeveloped and his King is under assault. The answer is also simple: develop his Queen-side minor pieces and castle long. Black's pieces are menacing, and there was not a lot of time to spare. The text gave Bisguier the chance he was seeking, and he exploited it nicely:

16... Re8!

This Rook is now poised to rip White to pieces.

17. Kf1

An unhappy necessity. Anything else loses immediately. (e.g. 17. c4? Ba6). Mednis probably saw what was coming, but he had no way to avoid getting a miserable position.

click for larger view

17... RxB?!

This pretty move gave Bisguier the advantage. But his position was so good at this stage he might well have simply turned the screws on Mednis with 17...Bd7. 17...Nc6 was also good.

18. KxR

click for larger view

White's "development" at this stage was pitiful. How should Black proceed?

18... Ba6+

This allowed Bisguier to win back the exchange, but pressing with 18...Ne4 and deferring exchanges was even stronger. Little by little, Mednis was getting back into the game.

19. Kd1

19. c4 wouldn't be much fun for White after 19...Ne4. White's King must ran for his life to the Queen-side.

19... Ng4

19...Ne4 was perhaps more accurate, but in most variations both moves transpose to the same lines.

20. Kc2 Nf2!

click for larger view

21. Rd1

Forced. If 21. Re1 Bisguier would mate in two (21...Bd3+ 22. Kd2 Nc4 mate).

21... NxR
22. KxN

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White's lack of development is almost comical. But he is still alive!

For whatever is was worth, White was also still a pawn ahead. To say that Bisguier had compensation for the sacrificed pawn at this stage is an understatement.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post III

22... Rd8+
23. Bd2?

Walking into this pin was a serious mistake and could have cost Mednis the game. As frustrating as it would have been to have his King forced to retrace his steps, and as anxious as he must have been to move one of his Queen-side pieces from their original squares 23 moves into the game, Mednis should have played 23. Ke1.

After 23. Bd2, the position was:

click for larger view

23... Nc4!

Piling up on d2 and b2. Bisguier's attack looked devastating at this point.

24. b4!

Better than 24. Kc2. Mednis correctly decided to counterattack and not just play defense.

24... Be3

Premature. There was no rush to precipitate exchanges. 24...Be7 was best.

25. Kc2?

25. Kc1 was the best chance. Now both Be4 and NxB (after 26. BxB) will come with check.

25... Bb7

With White's King on c2, Black's light-square Bishop is ready to enter the White stronghold on e4 with check (and thus with tempo).

26. BxB

Exchanges were Mednis only hope to save the game.

26... NxB+
27. Kb2

click for larger view

27... Nxg2

There was no need for this yet. While it is easy to understand Bisguier's desire to win back his sacrificed pawn and obtain--at long last--material equality--he should have continued to turn the screws on Mednis with 27...g5.

28. Nd4 Ne3
29. Nbd2

Getting the Knight into the game at last! But Mednis chose the wrong square. 29. Na3 was correct. Now this Knight is on the same file as Bisguier's Rook meaning that the White Knight on d4 is suddenly pinned.

click for larger view

29... f5!

The march of the Black King-side pawns begins! Only heroic defense by White has any chance to save the game.

30. b5!

Sometimes the best defense is a good offense. Black has a 3 to 1 Pawn majority on the King-side, but White has the same edge on the Queen=side. With pawns rolling on both sides of the board, the game now became very exciting. But Bisguier seems to have a clear edge in the pawn race given where the respective pieces are posted.

30... f4!

The advance continues!

31. a4

Mednis continued his counterattack strategy--clearly his only chance.

31... g5

click for larger view

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post IV

Mednis had defended bravely for many moves, but it appeared he was nonetheless to suffer defeat.

32. Nf1

Mednis' best chance was probably to continue his pawn storm on the Queen-side with 32. a5. But even that would have left him poorly situated in light of Bisguier's King-side pawns.

But here Bisguier--perhaps because of approaching time-trouble--erred and let Mednis back in the game:

32... Ng2?

32...Ng4! would have continued to set Mednis difficult problems e.g., 32...Ng4 33. a5 Bd5 34. a6 Kf7 35. Nd2 (or 35. b6 axb6 36. a7 Ra8 immediately) Ne3 36. b6 axb6 37. a7 Ra8 38. Nb5 Bc6 39. Nd4 (39. Nc7 Rd8! and wins thanks to the vulnerable position of the White Knight on d2) Bb7 40. c4 Ke8

After the text, Mednis's stock went up:

33. Rd1

Not best. 33. Nb3 or 33. a5 would have increased his chances on the Queen-side.

After 33. Rd1 the position was:

click for larger view

33... f3?

This premature advance turned the game on its head, and suddenly Mednis was on top. 33...Kf7 or 33...Nh4 were the best ways to combine offense on the King-side with defense against Mednis' threats.

34. c4!

Now it was Mednis' pawns that looked scary.

34... Nf4

Having played f3, Bisguier might as well have played 34...f2 immediately.

35. Rd2

Hoping to stop f2.

35... f2

Played anyway, since 36. Rxf2 loses a Rook to a Knight fork (36...Nd3+). But this possibility will be fleeting, and Bisguier would have done better to play 35...Rf8 or 35...Rc8 (or perhaps even 35. Re8).

36. Nf5

This simplification leaves White with the better chances. 36. Kc3 also looks good.

36... RxR+
37. NxR

click for larger view

Time to take stock. White's threats are more serious, and only he had serious winning chances here. Bisguier's one trump was his Bishop, which could swoop from defense to supporting the advance of the f2 pawn in one move.

37... h5

This looked good to me at first glance, but on reflection I think Black should look to restrain the White pawns with 37...Kf8 or 37...Nd3+.

38. Kc3!

An excellent two-themed move. It both heads to stop Black's King-side pawns while poised to support his own Queen-side threats.

The position was now critical for Black:

click for larger view

To this point, the game has been nail-biting and, though not perfect, reasonably well-played.

From here, however (and if the score is to be believed) play became loony. Either the score is wrong or time-pressure overwhelmed both players into making blunders of the type not seen thus far in this game.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post V

The balance of the reported moves are painful to watch:

38... h4?

This should have lost outright even without Black's blunder on his next turn. He had to defend with 38...Ba8 (or perhaps with 38...Kf8).

39. c5!

click for larger view

White should now win, he will stop Black's pawns while his are ultimately unstoppable e.g., 39...Kf8 40. Ne3 Bc8 41. Kd4 Ne2+ 42. Kd3 Nf4+ 43. Kc4 Be6+ 44. Kd4 Ke7 45. Ne4 Ne2+ 46. Ke5 Ng1 47. Nxf2 Nf3+ 48. Ke4 Nxh2 49. a5 g4 50. a6 Bc8 41. Nf5+ Kd7 52. Nxh4.

But all this was meaningless since--again according to the score given on this website--Bisguier now played:

39... Bc8???

click for larger view

This simply loses the Bishop and the game to 40. Ne7+. But--again according to the score we are given here--Mednis somehow missed this and played:

40. Ne3??

How could this be.

I have played around with the possibility of an error in the score. Maybe Mednis' moves here were inverted and the game actually went 39. Ne3 Bc8 40. c5.

The problem with my little fantasy is it involves three blunders instead of two:n(i) 39. Ne3? would toss away the win White had with 39. c5!; (ii) 39...Bc8? in this variation would also be a losing move (in light of 40. Ne4) while 39...Kf7 would probably have saved the day; and (iii) 40. c5? presumes that Mednis missed 40. Ne4! winning.

In sum, there does not appear to be any explanation other than severe time-trouble, even if the moves played were the ones in my little conjecture.

A pity that time-trouble ruined what had been an intriguing struggle.

After 40. Ne3?? the position was:

click for larger view

40... g4

Time pressure was now over, and the following double-edged position was:

click for larger view

Here the players agreed to a draw. This night well have been the outcome had play continued, but it is a pity that--now that time pressure was over and one of the players could have sealed a move--we do not learn how the contest might have ended (all three results were now possible).

I would certainly expect that Bobby Fischer or Magnus Carlsen would have sought an win holding the White forces.

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