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Mikhail Chigorin vs Manuel Marquez Sterling
Paris (1900), Paris FRA, rd 16, Jun-15
Italian Game: Giuoco Pianissimo. Italian Four Knights Variation (C50)  ·  1-0



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Kibitzer's Corner
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Tchigorin had gotten off to a terrible start at Paris 1900 (0-2 and then 1-3) but then had scored 7.5 points in eight games to pull within hailing distance of the leaders, only to lose to Showalter in Round 15. But with three games remaining (he had a bye round and a game that had to be replayed with Maroczy), Tchigorin still had a chance for a nice finish. His last two opponents would be Maroczy and Lasker, so he needed to win against Sterling (1-13 going into this game) if had hopes of a nice finish. This he did through seemingly routine play, waiting for Sterling to blunder. Sterling played well through move 16, but then erred badly, allowing Tchigorin to finish the game brilliantly with an exchange sacrifice on move 20.

1. e4 e5
2. Nf6 Nf6
3. Nc3

With his second move, Sterling offered to play a Petroff's Defense, but Tchigorin--seemingly eager to avoid needless complications against a weak opponent--opted for the equality of the Four Knight's Game. His unenterprising strategy paid dividends here.

3... Nc6
4. Bc4

Tchigorin avoids the main line 4. Bb5 and instead transposes into what could have been the Canal Variation of the Giuoco Piano.

4... Bc5

4...Nxe4 was a reasonable alternative, but the text is also good for equality against Tchigorin's unambitious line.

5. d3

Offering to play the Canal Variation.

5... h6

This move looks feeble at first glance, but in fact is not bad. It was played by Morphy in his very first tournament game at New York 1857 (a 21-move crush against Thompson). The move has the virtue of preventing White's 6. Bg5. Of course, Sterling could also have simply played 5...d6 and then played 6...h6 in the event of 6. Bg5.

6. Be3

Tchigorin might have tried 6. 0-0 first against a different opponent. But he seems happy to trade Bishops and get an open (technically half-open) f-file. Indeed, the open f-file brings him victory in this game.

6... BxB

Rosenthal in the Tournament Book said that 6...Bb6 was preferable, but there is nothing wrong with the text (so long as Mortimer bewares the open f-file).

7. fxB d6
8. Qe2

This strange looking move was in fact very much in Tchigorin's style. Other players might have played 8. a3 here to be able to preserve the White-square Bishop in the event of Black's Na5. But Tchigorin preferred Knights to Bishops and thus welcomed the trade. He also liked variations with his Queen on e2. Given Tchigorin's incredible record of success, it is hard to argue with his reasoning.

8... Na5

Happy to trade Knight for Bishop. A reasonable idea--except perhaps when Tchiogorin was the opponent.

9. d4

Making sure the Knight for Bishop trade does not result in doubled pawns, and occupying the center.

9... exd4

Sterling should probably have just played 9...NxB and let Tchigorin figure out what to do with his doubled e-pawns.

10. exd4 NxB
11. QxN 0-0
12. 0-0

click for larger view

Tchigorin has undoubled his e-pawns and has a Rook poised on the half-open f-file. But Sterling's position is solid, and chances are about equal.

12... Be6

Since this Bishop can be chased away immediately with loss of time for Black, Sterling might have tried 12...c6 or 12...Re8 or even 12...a5. But he is still basically OK even after the text.

13. d5

Seizing the opportunity afforded by Sterling's last move. 13. Qd3 was a reasonable alternative.

13... Bd7
14. e5

Looking to open lines. 14. Rae1 was another reasonable option.

14... dxe5
15. Nxe5 a6

15...c6 was a good alternative, but Sterling is also fine after the text.

16. Rad1

Given the dangerous (for White) diagonal alignment of Tchigorin's Queen and f1 Rook, he perhaps should have played 16. Qd4 immediately.

16... Rc8

As a result of Tchigorin's questionable 16th move, Sterling could here have gotten a fine game with 16...Bb6 (17. NxB axN 18. Qxb5 and now either 18...Rxa2 or the more enterprising 18...Qe8).

17. Qd4

Belatedly avoiding the Bishop skewer mentioned above.

The position was now:

click for larger view

Tchigorin has what advantage exists, but Sterling is still basically OK. But from here he erred badly and got crushed as I will discuss in my next post on this game.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post II

Beginning on his 17th move, Sterling began to go astray, and was dead lost two moves later.

PS. So sorry for showing a Black King on g1 at the end of my last post. This--obviously--should have been a White King.

17... Be8

Either 17...Bb5 or 17...Re8 left Sterling reasonable chances. With the text, he was in trouble.

18. Rf3

There were various ways to go about attacking the Black position here. The text (potentially doubling Rooks on the f-file. 18. Ne2 was another.

18... Qd6

Another weak move. 18...Qe7 or 18...Nh7 were better defensive moves.

19. Nc4 Qd7

Either 19...Qd8 (as recommended by Rosenthal in the Tournament Book) or 19...Qe7 (another way to defend the f6 Knight) were essential. Now, Tchigorin had a winning combination.

The position was now:

click for larger view

White to move and win.

This is easy to solve when presented as a problem. Tchigorin found the solution over the board without anyone telling him he had a winning move.

20. RxN!

"A very pretty move which concludes the game brilliantly." (Rosenthal in the Tournament Book).

There is no answer to this move. It is absolutely crushing. Sterling could well have resigned. Thank goodness he did not, since we would be deprived of enjoying the closing technique of Tchigorin.

20... gxR

Opening up the g-file is fatal. But the alternative--letting White just win a Knight for nothing--was also a noxious prospect.

21. Ne4 Qf5
22. Rf1 Qg6

22...c5 was probably "best," but also hopeless.

23. Nxf6+ Kh8
24. Ne5 Qxc2

The only question is now how long it will take Tchigorin to mate Sterling, the position being:

click for larger view

There are various ways to finish off Black here. 25. Qf4 and 25. Qe3 were among the winning options. Tchigorin's move--which was also decisive--was perhaps most elegant of all.

25. Nd3!

Blocking the Black Queen from returning to guard the Black Monarch. Very cute!

25... c5
26. Qe4

With this devastating move, Sterling decided to give up the ghost.


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