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Harry Nelson Pillsbury vs Jacques Mieses
Paris (1900), Paris FRA, rd 8, May-31
Sicilian Defense: Four Knights Variation (B45)  ·  1/2-1/2



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Kibitzer's Corner
Oct-27-07  Dr. Siggy: This is probably the most brilliant game ever played with the Sicilian Four Knights Variation! What a pity that Mieses, after 11... d4!, 13... Qe5!, 15... d3!!, 21... Bd5! and 22... Bxg2!, missed a well deserved win with 29... Re2? instead of 29... Rd8!...

Nowadays, this colorful variation is quite out of fashion - but perhaps because of the wrong reasons: I'm not sure "Lady Theory" is right claiming that White gets the upper hand with 10. Bd3. After 10... 0-0 11. 0-0 Bg4! 12. f3 Be6 13. Bg5 Qb6+ 14. Kh1 Nd7! 15. f4 f5 16. Qf3 Qc5 17. Rac1 Rae8, Black is not worse.

Critical seems to be the largely underestimated 6. Nxc6! bxc6 7. e5 Nd5 8. Ne4. After both 8... f5 9. exf6 Nxf6 10. Nd6+ Bxd6 11. Qxd6 Qb6! 12. Bd3 c5 13. Bf4 Bb7 14. 0-0 Rc8 15. b3 and 8... Qc7 9. f4 f5 10. exf6! Nxf6 11. Nxf6+ gxf6 12. Qh5+ Kd8 13. Be3 followed by 0-0-0, Bd3 and Rhf1, Black is in trouble.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: A spectacular effort by Mieses who--as Dr. Siggy pointed out over ten years ago on this site--allowed Pillsbury to escape with a draw just as just as Mieses' fine play was about to be crowned with victory.

The game was played in the 8th round at Paris 1900. Going into the game, Pillsbury (with 5 1/2 out of 6 plus a bye) and Mieses (with 6 out of 7) were atop the leaders' board with Lasker, Janowski, and the young star Frank Marshall (all with 6 out of 7). Mieses' failure to win here cost him a full point, since draws were replayed at Paris 1900 and Pillsbury won the re-play two days later. This was Pillsbury's third escape from a lost position (he had won lost positions against Didier and Maroczy in earlier rounds--in case of the Didier game when Didier hung his Queen).

1. e4 c5
2. Nf2 e6
3. d4 cxd4
4. Nxd4 Nf6
5. Nc3 Nc6

The Sicilian Four Knights' Variation.

6. Ndb5

At one time this was considered a refutation of the Four Knights' Variation. It was later considered one of several possible moves for White here, the others being 6. NxN; 6. Be2; 6. g3; 6. a3; etc.

6... Bb4

6...d6 is an alternative albeit less aggressive than the text. As will soon be seen, neither Pillsbury nor Mieses is looking for a draw in this game.

7. a3

7. Nd6+ leads only to equality after 7...Ke7 8. NxB+ RxN.

7... BxN+
8. NxB d5

"A trenchant advance." (Tartakower/Du Mont). The text seems to be Black's best chance to obtain counterplay in what is already shaping up to be a slugfest.

9. exd5 exd5

'Accepting the famous isolated Queen Pawn. If 9...Nxd5, White, after simplification, has a small but partial advantage." (Tartakower/Du Mont). "After 9...Nxd5 10. NxN QxN White stands somewhat better"). (Schlechter).

MCO-13 gives 9...Nxd5 as a respectable alternative, but the text--accepting the isolated d-pawn--is clearly the best move if Black is playing for a win (as Mieses most definitely is here).

The first key moment of the game is here reached, the position being as follows:

click for larger view

The soundest and probably best move here is 10. Bd3. Dr. Siggy, however, had opined on this site that White gets no advantage with 10. Bd3. But most authorities disagree, going back to Sergeant-Watts in their book on Pillsbury. Also favoring 10. Bd3 are MCO-13, Fritz, Deep Fritz, and Stockfish. Tartzkower-Du Mont criticize the text as a "pawn hunt" and call 10. Bd3 "the rational continuation."

In any case, Pillsbury agreed with Dr. Siggy's assessment and played:

10. Bg5?!

Now the game gets wild!

10... 0-0!

"Excellently played." (Marco). "A fine plan." (Schlechter). "Better than 10...Be6 which provides White with an easy mark [presumably referring to 11. Qf3]. (Tartakower/Du Mont].

Both sides were clearly playing for a fierce tactical battle, and that is exactly what ensued as I will describe in my next post on this game.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post II

After Mieses' 10...0-0 the position was as follows:

click for larger view

11. Be2

After 11. BxN QxB 12. Qxd5 White would be placed under a fierce attack by 12...Re8+." (Marco). "The gain of a pawn by 11. BxN QxB 12. Qxd5 would be bad, as Black would initiate a devastating attack on the e and d files." (Tartakower/Du Mont).

Of course, after 11. BxN QxB White need not play the losing 12. Qxd5 but could play 12. Be2 with at worst a slightly inferior position.

In any case, either the text or 11. Bd3 appear to be best for White here.

11... d4

"Up to here identical with Marco-Mieses, London 1899. But now Mieses introduced a novelty worthy of attention." (Marco).

The text is indeed the prelude to the murderous attack Mieses has in mind. But it should probably only have led to equality had Pillsbury not erred on his 15th and 17th moves. The best chance for Black to preserve the small edge he achieved with 10...0-0! was to play either 11...Bf5 or 11...Re8 here.

12. Ne4

12. BxN is a reasonable alternative if White wants to avoid the tactical battlefield that lies ahead after the text. The choice is a difficult one, and style may be the deciding factor here. [Fritz and Stockfish play 12. Ne4; Houdini plays 12. BxN]. For those of us who like to do battle on the chessboard rather than seek safety first, Pillsbury's move seems best.

12... Qa4+
13. b4

"Very risky. More solid was 13. Bd2." (Schlechter). "13. Bd2 was preferable." (Sergeant/Watts).

Both 13. b4 and 13. Bd2 are reasonable. As with Pillsbury's choices on move 12, the proper decision depends on style. I would bet that Kasparov would have played 13. b4 and that Karpov would have played 13. Bd2---and both would have been right!

13... Qe5
14. NxN+ gxN

The position was now as follows:

click for larger view

So Pillsbury has managed to mess up Mieses' King-side pawns, but Mieses has all the attacking chances. For now, Pillsbury must decide what to do with his Bishop.

15. Bh6

"Expecting 15...Re8 after which 16. Kf1 would restore the balance." (Tartakower/Du Mont).

But as will be seen, Mieses has no intention of settling for 15...Re8 here. For that reason, discretion was probably the better part of valor here for Pillsbury, who should probably have played 15. Bd2, difficult as it is to expect Pillsbury to settle for that sort of move in this game.

15... d3

"!" (Sergent-Watts). "!!" (Rosenthal in the Paris 1900 Tournament Book). "A master move." (Schlechter). "Black with this move has a considerable advantage, which more than compensates for the exchange which he gives up. Gunsberg, however, condemns the move as hasty and says that 15...Re8 instead would probably win [huh???--KEG." [Sergeant-Watts]. "The piercing of the critical sector is well worth the exchange." (Tartakower/Du Mont). "The scope of the method of play intended with 11...d4 now first comes to light." (Marco).

I hate to be a spoil-sport, but--speaking purely objectively--Mieses' move, exciting as it is, should probably not have led to anything more than equality had Pillsbury not played hastily on his 17th turn. Black could have retained his small edge with 15...Re8 (which--contra Gunsberg--most certainly does not win for Black).

One thing is for sure, after 15...d3, another critical moment in the game had arrived. I will discuss the exciting continuation in my next post on this game.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post III

After Mieses' 15...d3?!, the position was as follows:

click for larger view

Now the game gets thrilling.

16. cxd3 Nd4

Although not mentioned by any of the commentators, this move by Mieses was in fact a mistake. The best way to follow up his prior play was with 16...Bg4! Now, Pillsbury can obtain a small advantage with careful play. But Pillsbury--like Mieses--is going all out for a win here, and so he accepts Mieses' challenge:

17. BxR?!

As Marco pointed out, if 17. Be3, Black can play 17...Nc2+ and regain the exchange with perhaps a small edge. But best here for White is 17. f4! After the text, Mieses' attack becomes very strong.

17... KxB

As both Sergeant/Watts and Tartakower/Du Mont have pointed out, 17...Bg4 loses to the problem-like 18. Bd6.

18. Ra2

18. Rc1 was better. If then 18...Bg4 White could play 19. Rc5 with reasonable chances for counterplay against Mieses' ferocious attacking prospects.

18... Be6

Mieses clearly has the best of the game now. He likewise would have had good chances with 18...Bg4 or 18...Qd5.

19. Rd2?

19. Rb2 was the best theoretical chance of putting up a fight. But Pillsbury is setting a trap for Mieses. Had he now responded with the tempting 19...Bg4? his advantage would be gone after 20. f3! since if then 20...Bxf3 [20...Be6 maintaining the balance was best] 21. gxB Nxf3+ 22. Kf1 White wins. (22. Kf2 also wins in this variation, but it is not as convincing as 22. Kf1).

19... Re8

Mieses does not fall into Pillsbury's trap, and now has a winning--or nearly winning--attack. His chances would have been better still with 19...Rc8.

20. 0-0 Bb3

"Very well played." (Rosenthal in the Tournament Book).

21. Qb1

Another key moment in the game has been reached. The position was now as follows:

click for larger view

21... Bd5!

"!" (Rosenthal). A very important retrograde manoeuvre." (Tartakower/Du Mont).

21...NxB+ regaining the exchange was tempting, but after 22. RxN QxR 23. QxB White is fine and even (with his extra pawn) has the (slightly) better chances.

22. Bd1

An unpleasant necessity in a difficult decision.

Now Mieses was once again at the crossroads. Should he play for a draw with 22...Qg5 or try for more. The answer will appear in my next post on this wonderful game.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post IV

After Pillsbury's 22. Bd1, the position was as follows:

click for larger view

22...Qg5 simultaneously attacking the Rook at d2 and threatening mate on g2 looks superficially attractive, but Pillsbury would then have escaped with a draw after: 23. f4 Ne2+ 24. RxN RxR 25. fxQ Rxg2+ 26. Khi Rf2+ with a draw by perpetual check (if 26...Rb2+ 27. Kg1 RxQ White would emerge with a slight advantage).

But Mieses did not fall for this line and instead played:

22... Bxg2!

Now Pillsbury is really in trouble. Unhappily, he played the move that gave him the best chance:

23. KxB

If 23. f4 Qe3+ 24. KxB (if 24. Rff2 Bh3 is crushing; and if 24. Rdf2 then 24...BxR [far better than Marco's suggested 24. Bh3]) QxR 25. Rf2 and now 25...Qc3 wins (while Maroc's recommendation 25...Qe1 lets White off the hook).

23... Qg5+
24. Kh1 QxR
25. Bg4

25. Bh5 was somewhat better, but Mieses would still be winning.

25... Qf4
26. Rg1

Pillsbury is fighting for his life here.

If 26. Bh3 Black has a forced mate after 26...Nf3.

If 26. Bh5 then, as Tartakower-Du Mont have shown, White gets crushed by 26...Nf3 27. BxN QxB+ 28. Kg1 Re5.

Alternatively, if 26. h3 then Tartakower-Du Mont's 26...f5 wins after 27. Bh5 (27. Qc1 is slightly better but holding out no hope of survival, while 27. Bh5 gets killed by 27...Qh4) 27...Re3 (even better than Tatakower-Du Mont's 27...Re6, which also wins).

26... f5

This is doubtless sufficient to win, but 26...Nf3 is even better.

27. Bh5

The alternative (27. Bd1) is no better.

27... Nf3!

Accurate play. Had Mieses played the seemingly good 27...Re6, then--as Tartakower-Du Mont have shown, Pillsbury could have saved himself with the problem-like 28. Qc1!

28. BxN QxB+
29. Rg2

The position was now:

click for larger view

Mieses has regained the sacrificed exchange and is poised to win. But it was here that he erred and allowed Pillsbury to escape with a draw. How this happened will be covered in my next post on this game.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post V

After Pillsbury's 29. Rg2, Mieses had a clear win with 29... Rd8! Instead:

29... Re2?

As Dr. Siggy so aptly put it: "What a pity that (Mieses) missed a well-deserved win with 29...Re2? instead of 29...Rd8! As Marco pointed out long ago: "The defense 30. Qc1 by which White saves himself in the game is insufficient (against 29...Rd8)."

30. Qc1!

The always tactically alert Pillsbury finds the saving move!

"The saving clause, calling attention to the fact that the black King also is not too well guarded." (Tartakower/Du Mont).

The position was now as follows:

click for larger view

30... Qxd3

Mieses has to be careful in this position, since he would lose immediately with 30...Rxf2 because of the simple Queen fork 31. Qc5+. If Mieses wanted to continue to play for a win, he could have tried 30...b6 or 30...Qc6. But, having missed his chance, Mieses decides to call it a day.

31. Qc5+ Re7

31...Ke8 leads to the same result.

32. Qc8+ and draw by perpetual check.

1/2 - 1/2

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