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Pillsbury - Showalter US Championship Match

Harry Nelson Pillsbury11.5/21(+10 -8 =3)[games]
Jackson Whipps Showalter9.5/21(+8 -10 =3)[games] Chess Event Description
Pillsbury - Showalter US Championship (1897)
For links to other game collections of US championship matches, see Game Collection: US Championship matches (meta).

Played at the Hamilton Chess Club, Brooklyn, NY for a purse of $2000. Games were scheduled for 8 PM to 2 AM Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, with exceptions made for the annual cable match with England and the State Association tournament. The time controls were 30/1 for the first two hours and 15/1 after that. If one player scored seven wins before his opponent scored six, the match would be ended. Otherwise, the winner would have to win ten games, with nine wins each being considered a drawn match.

New York, 10 February - 14 April 1897

Pillsbury = = 1 1 1 0 0 0 1 0 1 0 0 1 = 1 0 1 0 1 1 11½ Showalter = = 0 0 0 1 1 1 0 1 0 1 1 0 = 0 1 0 1 0 0 9½

Prior to the match, Pillsbury was quoted as saying, "I was not seeking the match, and even if I should win I shall leave Showalter in possession of the title; I am not in search of any title but one." Pillsbury was hoping to challenge Emanuel Lasker for the world championship, so, much like Jose Raul Capablanca years later, he was too preoccupied to care much about a national title. Showalter, the public and the press insisted his win made him US champion, so Pillsbury abided by his statement, "...I do not claim to be champion of anything. Whatever position is fairly awarded to me by others I will stand upon...".

Pillsbury faced a critical point in the match at Game 14. Showalter had won Game 13, giving him a lead of 6 wins to 5. One more win would win the match for Showalter. In Game 14, Pillsbury again faced Showalter's Ponziani, which Pillsbury had struggled against and lost in Games 10 and 12. In a "must not lose" situation, Pillsbury scored a fine win with Black to even the score and push the match requirement to ten wins with a two-game lead. Showalter did not try the Ponziani again during the match. The match was hardly a convincing win for Pillsbury, as he had to win the last two games of the match to reach the required ten wins and two-game margin. The players would play a return match the following year.

Pillsbury wrote short summaries of each game for the coverage in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Pope quoted these summaries in his book on Pillsbury. <Pawn and Two> quotes a number of these summaries in the kibitzing for individual games. I added the missing ones.

Original collection: Game Collection: Pillsbury - Showalter 1897 match, by User: crawfb5.

 page 1 of 1; 21 games  PGN Download 
Game  ResultMoves YearEvent/LocaleOpening
1. Pillsbury vs Showalter ½-½351897Pillsbury - Showalter US ChampionshipC71 Ruy Lopez
2. Showalter vs Pillsbury ½-½771897Pillsbury - Showalter US ChampionshipD00 Queen's Pawn Game
3. Pillsbury vs Showalter 1-0401897Pillsbury - Showalter US ChampionshipC50 Giuoco Piano
4. Showalter vs Pillsbury 0-1391897Pillsbury - Showalter US ChampionshipC67 Ruy Lopez
5. Pillsbury vs Showalter 1-0531897Pillsbury - Showalter US ChampionshipC71 Ruy Lopez
6. Showalter vs Pillsbury 1-0701897Pillsbury - Showalter US ChampionshipC67 Ruy Lopez
7. Pillsbury vs Showalter 0-1331897Pillsbury - Showalter US ChampionshipC67 Ruy Lopez
8. Showalter vs Pillsbury 1-0231897Pillsbury - Showalter US ChampionshipC67 Ruy Lopez
9. Pillsbury vs Showalter 1-0471897Pillsbury - Showalter US ChampionshipD31 Queen's Gambit Declined
10. Showalter vs Pillsbury 1-0671897Pillsbury - Showalter US ChampionshipC44 King's Pawn Game
11. Pillsbury vs Showalter 1-0661897Pillsbury - Showalter US ChampionshipD63 Queen's Gambit Declined, Orthodox Defense
12. Showalter vs Pillsbury 1-0581897Pillsbury - Showalter US ChampionshipC44 King's Pawn Game
13. Pillsbury vs Showalter 0-1531897Pillsbury - Showalter US ChampionshipD66 Queen's Gambit Declined, Orthodox Defense, Bd3 line
14. Showalter vs Pillsbury 0-1601897Pillsbury - Showalter US ChampionshipC44 King's Pawn Game
15. Pillsbury vs Showalter ½-½471897Pillsbury - Showalter US ChampionshipD63 Queen's Gambit Declined, Orthodox Defense
16. Showalter vs Pillsbury 0-1281897Pillsbury - Showalter US ChampionshipC67 Ruy Lopez
17. Pillsbury vs Showalter 0-1911897Pillsbury - Showalter US ChampionshipD68 Queen's Gambit Declined, Orthodox Defense, Classical
18. Showalter vs Pillsbury 0-1401897Pillsbury - Showalter US ChampionshipC67 Ruy Lopez
19. Pillsbury vs Showalter 0-1721897Pillsbury - Showalter US ChampionshipC67 Ruy Lopez
20. Showalter vs Pillsbury 0-1471897Pillsbury - Showalter US ChampionshipD00 Queen's Pawn Game
21. Pillsbury vs Showalter 1-0401897Pillsbury - Showalter US ChampionshipD63 Queen's Gambit Declined, Orthodox Defense
 page 1 of 1; 21 games  PGN Download 
  REFINE SEARCH:   White wins (1-0) | Black wins (0-1) | Draws (1/2-1/2)  

Kibitzer's Corner
Jun-21-13  RookFile: Showalter did well against a Pillsbury in his prime.
Dec-14-16  offramp: Many thanks to User: crawfb5 for the intro, and to <Pawn and Two> for taking the time to add Pillsbury's own comments to each game from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

This match must have been a shock for Pillsbury. He was thinking of challenging Lasker for the World Championship, and here he is only barely beating Showalter. Showalter was rated, according to, about 2550 in 1897. Pillsbury was rated about 2635 (world number 3) and Lasker was a whopping 2745.

So Pillsbury should have won easily. In fact the match was neck-and-neck for the first 19 games.

Premium Chessgames Member
  steinitzfan: I've never quite understood this. It seems that in light of Pillsbury's record against the world's elite he would have demonstrated a clear superiority against his main rivals for the national championship. It didn't happen.
Premium Chessgames Member
  tamar: It's a puzzle. My own theory is that Pillsbury's international success made it difficult for him to get motivated.

Alekhine had much the same trouble with Euwe. He knew Euwe was capable from playing him before the match with Capablanca Alekhine - Euwe Training Match (1926) but when he played the WC match with him in 1935 he relaxed after gaining an early crushing lead.

Pillsbury was similarly up 3-0 after 5 games, and I believe he checked out mentally.

Dec-14-16  RookFile: Yep. Meanwhile, Showalter gave it everything he had. Good for him.
Aug-15-18  ughaibu: My impression, from replaying games 6, 7 and 8, is that Pillsbury was suffering from shock, in the latter two, because he hadn't realised that Showalter could outplay him as he did in the first.

Those are the only games I've looked at, but I see no indication that Pillsbury lacked motivation.

Aug-15-18  RookFile: I think Showalter was a tough, practical player who got everything he could out of the talent he was given. If I were him I'd be frustrated at a guy like Pillsbury who had such ridiculous talent.
Aug-15-18  ughaibu: So, RookFile, what's your impression of the match overall, do you think Pillsbury played below par or do you think the closeness of the result accurately reflects the players' strengths?
Aug-15-18  TheFocus: At least Pillsbury got it right in the next match with Showalter.

Pillsbury - Showalter US Championship (1898)

Aug-15-18  RookFile: Yeah, I think TheFocus has the right take on this. I was going to answer the question in a different way. You always hear Pillsbury mentioned as a man who might have been able to defeat Lasker in a world championship match. So, it is interesting to look at what happened when Lasker played Showalter in a match:

Lasker - Showalter (1893)

There too, Showalter aquitted himself well: he was certainly more than competitive before Lasker showed his true strength in the 2nd half of the match.

So yes, certainly Pillsbury played below his strength in this match. That being said, the games were interesting. As you may remember, I've always thought that win, lose, or draw, Pillsbury is probably the most interesting player who has ever played the game. Pillsbury didn't make the same mistake in the next match against Showalter.

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