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Frank Marshall vs Harry Nelson Pillsbury
Buffalo (1901), Buffalo, New York USA, rd 8, Aug-16
Center Game: Berger Variation (C22)  ·  1/2-1/2



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Kibitzer's Corner
Jan-13-12  RookFile: 15. Qg1


Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: A fun game to play through. It is hard to avoid the feeling that neither player took the game all that seriously. By the time of the game in Round 8, Marshall had lost six of his first seven games (and had no prospect of finishing above next-to-last place), while Pillsbury was nearly assured of first place.

Marshall, who by this point in the tournament was playing wild openings in almost every game, chose the Center Game. He played an ultra-aggressive line of this opening and was probably lost after his 14th move. Marshall then sacrificed a piece on his 16th move. Pillsbury had a win without grabbing the piece, but decided to play into Marshall's "trap" and gave Marshall a chance to win. The wild play continued until Pillsbury reduced to a Queen and Rook ending which he probably should have won, but allowed Marshall to draw as a result of his (Pillsbury's) sloppy 42nd move.

1. e4 e5
2. d4

The Center Game!

2... exd4
3. Qxd4 Nc6
4. Qe3 Nf6
5. Nc3 Bb4
6. Bd2 0-0
7. 0-0-0 Re8
8. Qg3

click for larger view

This move was first played by Tarrasch in 1889. Marshall revived the move here. Napier's suggestion that 8. Bc4 is better seems correct. But Marshall had decided to attack on the King's side with his Queen, even at the cost of a pawn, and ordinary principles of development took a back-seat in these plans.

8... Nxe4
9. NxN RxN

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10. c3

10. BxB RxB 11. a3 Rb6 12. Ne2 d5 13. Nc3 Ne7 14. Bd3 was slightly better, but White would still be hard pressed to justify the sacrificed pawn. So Marshall opted to keep the dark-square Bishops on the board and go for broke.

10... Bf8

10...Be7 was better.

11. Bd3

click for larger view

11... Re6?

Surprisingly timid play from the usually enterprising Pillsbury. 11...Ra4 was much stronger.

12. Nf3 h6
13. h4?!

Going all in. 13. Rfe1 or 13. Bf4 were more prudent. After the text, the position was:

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13... d5!

Pillsbury took immediate advantage:

click for larger view

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post II

14. Qh2?!?

Zooks. Marshall had a one-track mind at this point. 14. Bf4 or 14. Rhe1 or 14. Bc2 or maybe even 14. h5 all look sensible. But Marshall was hatching an all-out assault on the enemy monarch, the position after the text being:

click for larger view

14... Bd6
15. Qg1

[bad FEN: r1bq2k1/ppp1pp1/2nbr2p/3p4/7P/2PB1N2/PP1B1Pp1/2KR2QR]

"Wow." (<RookFile>)

That says it all.

15... Qf6
16. Ng5?!

16. Be3 (or maybe 16. Bc2) look prudent. But this Knight sacrifice was almost certainly Marshall's scheme all along, and he wasn't about to back down now.

But what was Pillsbury now to do, the position after 16. Ng5 being:

click for larger view

16... hxN?!?

Pillsbury must have known what he was letting himself in for. With 16...Re8 (or even 16...Re7), Black would be safe and have a likely win in sight. But--being nearly certain of first-place in the tournament, and wanting to test his tactical skills on Marshall's terrain--Pillsbury may have thought it less than sporting to decline the sacrifice. As will be seen, this decision could have cost Pillsbury the game in very short order:

17. hxg5 Qd8

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18. Bh7+?

A sure sign that Marshall was in poor form in 1901 is his mishandling of this sort of attacking position. It was in the handling of such attacks that Marshall's genius often shined bright. But here, he missed a fine chance. With 18. f4! Pillsbury would have been hard-pressed to hold the game. To give just one variation: 18. f4 Qe8 19. Rh4! f5 20. Qh1 Qg6 21. g4 Re4 22. gxf5 Qxf5 23. g6 Kf8 24. BxR dxB 25. Rh5 Qxg6 26. Rg1 Bg4 27. Rh8+and White wins.

By contrast, after Marshall's 18. Bh7+, Pillsbury was very much back in the game.

18... Kf8

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19. Bf5?

Marshall's attack would still have some life after 19. f4 or 19. Bc2, though it no longer looks lethal. But after the text, Marshall appeared sunk:

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Whatever the theoretical merits of the position, this contest still had a number of ups and downs ahead for both players. The wild adventure had only begun.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post III

19... Re8?

In his hurry to avoid losing the exchange, Pillsbury gave Marshall a fresh opportunity. The winning line was 19...Ke7! and now if 20. BxR BxB after which Marshall's attack would have been at an end and Pillsbury would have had two minor pieces plus pawn for the sacrificed Rook. Even had Marshall responded with the better 20. g4 then after 20...Qg8 Marshall would have nothing and the game would be likely won for Black.

But after 19...Re8 the position was:

click for larger view

20. BxB?

With 20. Re1! Ne5 (if 20...RxR+ 21. QxR Kg8 22. Bh7+ Kf8 23. Bc2 Kg8 24. f4 White's attack must prevail) 21. f4 BxB 22. fxN Be4 23. exB Qxd6 24. Rh4 Marshall would have his sacrificed piece back and with Bishops of opposite colors a draw would be likely.

The text gave Pillsbury the upper hand:

20... QxR
21. Rh8+ Ke7
22. Re1+ Be5
23. RxR+ KxR
24. f4

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'Regaining his piece." (Napier)

24... Qg4?

24...Qe6 would be far more promising.

The position after 24...Qg4 was:

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25. fxB

Overanxious to regain his sacrificed piece,Marshall missed the stronger 25. Qc5.

25... Kd7

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26. Qh2

Inferior to 26. Qc5 or 26. Qf2.

26... Re8
27. Bf4 Kc8

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28. g3

28. Rd1 was better.

28... d4

Pillsbury could also have tried 28...Qf5.

29. Qc2

He had nothing better than 20. cxd4.

29... dxc3

The position now with Marshall to recapture was:

click for larger view

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post IV

30. Qxc3

Marshall should have tried 30. bxc3. Now Black wins a pawn.

30... Qe6
31. a3 f6

"Winning a pawn." (Napier)

32. gxf6 gxf6

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33. b4?

Marshall might have had a fighting chance with 33. Qd3 or 33. Bd2 or 33. Qf3. But now the position was:

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33... Nxe5?

Hard to believe. Black should be looking for maximum attacking prospects with 33...fxe5. Now, Marshall again had chances to save the game.

34. Kb1

34. Re4 or 34. Re2 were perhaps better.

34... Qd5
35. g4!

"With 36. g5! in view." (Napier)

35... Rh8

click for larger view

36. Rc1?

36. BxN immediately was White's best chance.

36... c6
37. BxN fxB

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38. g5 Rh2
39. Rc2 Rh1+
40. Rc1 Qe4+
41. Kb2 Qg2+
42. Kb1

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42... b6?

"After which a draw must result." (Napier)

Uncharacteristically sloppy endgame play by Pillsbury, after which he loses his extra pawn and any real chance to win the game. With 42...Rh3 or 42...Rh2 Pillsbury would have retained winning chances. And if 42...Rh2 43. Rc2? (43. Qb3 was better but might still not save the game for White) Qxg5! 44. RxR Qg1 leaving Black two pawns up.

43. Qxe5

Did Pillsbury really miss this?

43... RxR+
44. KxR

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These sort of Queen and pawn endings are always tricky to play (so many possibilities to calculate). But here the result was clear. Pillsbury (Black) was certainly no longer better.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post V

44... Qf1+
45. Kd2 Qf2+
46. Kd3 Qf3+
47. Qe3

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47... Qf5+

Black can also draw here by just trading Queens (e.g., 47...QxQ+ 48. KxQ Kd7 49. Kd4 Ke6 50. Ke4 c5 51. bxc5 bxc5 52. Kf4 c4 53. Ke3 c3 54. Kd3 Kf5 55. Kxc3 Kxg5 56. Kc4 Kf5 and White cannot Queen his a-pawn). But this is all a matter of counting, and over-the-board even Pillsbury perhaps couldn't be sure. Or did he still fancy getting some chance to win with the Queens still on the board.

48. Ke2 Kd7
49. Qd3+

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49... Ke6

Once again Pillsbury could have forced a draw by trading Queens (with a variation similar to the one I give above).

50. Qc4+

By contrast, Marshall didn't care trade Queens since 50. QxQ+ Kxf5 is an easy win for Black. Did Pillsbury think Marshall might stumble into this?

50... Kd6
51. Qd4+ Ke6
52. Qe3+ Kf7
53. Qf3

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53... Kg6

Yet again Pillsbury could have drawn by swapping Queens. The text led to the same result.

54. Qxc6+ Kxg5

click for larger view

55. Qc7 Qe4+
56. Kd2

1/2 -- 1/2

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