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Harry Nelson Pillsbury vs Isidor Gunsberg
Monte Carlo (1902), Monte Carlo MNC, rd 12, Feb-22
Queen's Gambit Accepted: Gunsberg Defense (D21)  ·  1-0



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Kibitzer's Corner
Premium Chessgames Member
  tamar: Gunsberg had to have a sick feeling of deja vu when he saw 19 f5! appear on the board, recalling 27 f5! seven years earlier. Pillsbury vs Gunsberg, 1895
Apr-21-05  Pawn Ambush: Not only that but this is an early example of how to play having an IQP. Note 14.Bd2. Very nice opening play by Pillsbury,Playing f4 and f5 way before Botvinnik.
Premium Chessgames Member
  tamar: I've noticed many of Pillsbury's games have intriguing geometrical patterns that are not immediately solveable. These form startling freeze frames that take his games out of the ordinary.

19 f5! is one such move.

Another is 22. Rxf5!, on the same square, which instigates Black into a rush hour type pile-up on the f file and gives Pillsbury time to pursue a simplification into a won rook endgame 11 move later.

Premium Chessgames Member
  tamar: After further study, maybe 22 Rxf5 doesn't deserve an exclam. Gunsberg could have resisted with 25...Bf8 instead of 25...Bh8

Premium Chessgames Member
  tamar: 22 Rff3 wins more surely. If White just attacks the King, the idle rook on a8 is too much to overcome.

22 Rff3 Bd6 23 Ne5! (the key move) Bxe5

(23...fxe5 24 Rfg3+ Kf8 25 Bh6+ Ke7
26 Bg5+ is curtains)

24 dxe5 f4 25 Bxf4 Nxf4 26 Rxf4 and Black has no reasonable defense.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Pillsbury had won a brilliant ending against Gunsberg in the final round at Hastings 1895 which gave him first place and his greatest tournament victory. That was their first meeting. They did not play between Hastings 1895 and this tournament (Monte Carlo 1902) in which they drew their 12th round game.

The instant game (a replay of their 12th round draw with colors reversed) was thus only their third meeting (they only played six times in total).

As to be expected, Pillsbury went on the attack in this game. He had overwhelmed Gunsberg by move 18 and had the game in hand, they made an unnecessary Rook sacrifice on move 22 that should have permitted Gunsberg to draw, and then won nicely when Gunsberg erred on his 25 (and perhaps 27th move--see my discussion on this latter point).

Pillsbury was fighting to catch Maroczy for first place at the time of this game, and his win here helped keep him in contention for top honors until the final round (Maroczy ultimately taking first place with Pillsbury a close 2nd a quarter-point behind under the unusual scoring rules at this tournament).

1. d4 d5
2. c4 dxc4
3. Nf3 c5

More aggressive than the usual 3...Nf6 but entirely sound.

4. e3 cxd4
5. Bxc4 e6

5...Qc7 is most usual and probably best, but there is nothing much wrong with the text.

Of course not 5...dxe3+ 6. Bxf7+ and Black loses his Queen.

6. exd4

click for larger view

So here it was White who emerges with an isolated d-pawn. Pillsbury obviously relished the attacking possibilities this created, and it was the White d-pawn that administered the coup de grace 34 moves later.

6... Nf6
7. 0-0 Be7
8. Qe2 Nbd7

8...Nc6 or 8...0-0 or 8...a6 are usually played here. The text is unusual but not bad.

9. Nc3 Nb6
10. Bb3 Nbd5
11. Bg5 0-0
12. Ne5

click for larger view

A typical Pillsbury attacking formation against the QGD. <Pawn Ambush> rightly comments that this is an "early example of how to play having an IQP."

Sergeant-Watts, in their commentary on this game in their biography of Pillsbury, claim that the above is a "fairly common position common position in the Queens Gambit Declined with a move in hand (for White)...the result of the acceptance of the Gambit." I do not recall seeing this precise position before, but I have no reason to question their claim.

In any case, White is slightly better here.

12... NxN

So much for the isolated d-pawn! But I see nothing much better for Black.

13. bxN

13... Nd5

I prefer 13...Qc7, but the text was hardly a mistake.

14. Bd2

14. BxB was also good for White, but Pillsbury--true to his style--wanted to retain the two Bishops.

14... Bf6

14...Qc7 keeping f6 available for the Knight or f-pawn, seems more accurate.

In any case, after 14...Bf6 the preliminaries were over the Pillsbury was set to launch one of his patented King-side attacks, the position now being:

click for larger view

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post II

15. f4?!

Here comes Pillsbury!

Like <Pawn Ambush> I admire Pillsbury's f4-f5 here, but there were many other (albeit less violent ) ways to go after Black here (e.g., 15. Qe4; 15. Rfd1; 15. c4; etc.

15... g6

Rather than immediately weakening his King-side, Gunsberg might have tried for counter-play with 15...b6 or maybe 15...a5. But the text was certainly understandable and definitely not a serious mistake.

After 15...g6, the position was:

click for larger view

16. Rf3

One way to go after the Black King. I might have expected 16. g4 from Pillsbury, but the text worked out fine for him.

16... Bg7

Perhaps better to play for action on the Queens-side with 16...b6 or 16...a5. The text was also the beginning of a bad plan by Gunsberg.

17. Raf1

Meanwhile, Pillsbury was going all in on the f-file. Other methods might be theoretically better, but it is hard to disagree with <tamar> that Gunsberg probably was shaken when Pillsbury commenced his f-file advance.

17... f6

Sergeant-Watts condemned this as a weakening move. But, Gunsberg's real mistake came one move later.

18. Nd3

click for larger view

Now f5 by White was looming, and Gunsberg had to find a counter.

18... b6?

Burying his head in the sand and ignoring the threat was a recipe for disaster. Gunsberg had to try 18...f5, or maybe 18...Re8.

19. f5!


click for larger view

As Bobby Fischer would have said: Black is busted. But it didn't prove to be as simple as it should have.

19... gxf5

As Sergeant-Watts pointed out, 19...exf5 loses a piece after 20. Nf4!

20. Rh3

20. Rg3 also wins. But the text was even stronger.

20... Rf7

20...Qe8 was probably best, but neither that nor the text should have allowed Gunsberg to survive much longer.

21. Qh5!

click for larger view

The game looks over. "Best" for Black now was 21...Kf8, but Black would soon be wiped out after 22. Qxh7.

So Gunsberg tried something else...a blunder that prompted Pillsbury to try to overreach:

21... Bf8?

click for larger view

The win for White now looks almost too simple: 22. Rff3 (e.g., 22...Bd6 23. Ne5 BxN 24. dxB Qc7 25. BxN exB 26. exf6 and Black is helpless.

But in the above-diagrammed position, Pillsbury became seduced by what looked like a brilliant Rook sacrifice that even sophisticated commentators such as Sergeant-Watts though was the correct winning line but which <tamar> on this site has demonstrated should have allowed Gunsberg to escape with a draw.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post III

22. Rxf5?!


"A beautifully conceived sacrifice of a whole Rook, leading to a won ending eleven moves later." (Sergeant/Watts)

In fact, however, and as did not escape the keen eye of <tamar> on this site, the text was actually a mistake that should have allowed Gunsberg to draw.

22... exR
23. Nf4

23. Rg3+ immediately leads to much the same thing.

23... Bb7

Forced, but entirely sufficient.

click for larger view

24. Rg3+ Bg7
25. Rh3

click for larger view

Here, as the Tournament Book and <tamar> have pointed out, Gunsberg could have saved the day with 25...Bf8 (25...h6 may also allow Black to draw). Instead, Gunsberg played:

25... Bh8?

click for larger view

Now, White wins with 26. Qxf5 (as Pillsbury eventually demonstrated). But instead...if the Tournament Book is to be believed--Pillsbury erred again and played:

26. Rg3+?

click for larger view

26... Bg7

And here we are, back in the same position as after 24...Bg7.

27. Rh3

The same position as after 25. Rh3. And yet:

27... Bh8?

Repeating his blunder on move 25.

If the game score appearing in Sergeant/Watts is correct, the game after 25...Bh8? went 28. Bxf5, suggesting that the 26th and 27th moves reported on this site and in the Tournament Book (which have Pillsbury and Gunsberg repeating their mistakes) never in fact occurred.

At this late date, it is of course impossible to determine which game score is correct. What we DO know is that either here...or back on move 26...Pillsbury played the winning:

28. Qxf5

click for larger view

From here, as I will discuss in my next post on this game, Pillsbury polished off the game nicely (and with a little help from Gunsberg that made Pillsbury's task simpler yet).

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post IV

28... Qd7

The only way for Gunsberg to prolong the game. But Pillsbury had no doubt calculated the win from here and gave Gunsberg no further chances.

29. NxN BxN

Because of the in on the Black Rook on f7, 29...QxQ falls to 30. Ne7+ Kf8 [not 30...Kg7 31. Bh6 mate] 31. NxQ after which--though White is nominally down the exchange for a pawn--White wins easily (e.g., 31...Bc8 [best] 32. Nh6+ Bg7 33. NxB BxR 34. Nf5+ Ke8 35. Nd6+ Kd7 36. BxR Bxg2 37. KxB KxN 38. c4 after which White with two Bishops for a Rook and a still unstopped attack must win).

30. QxB QxQ
31. BxQ

click for larger view

31... Raf8
32. Bh6

With his f7 Rook still pinned, Gunsberg was doomed.

32... Bg7
33. BxB KxB

click for larger view

34. Rg3+

A little finesse to win a tempo.

34... Kh8

34...Kh6 would likewise not save the day.

35. BxR RxB

click for larger view

The game had reduced to an easily won Rook and Pawn ending. It is not just the pawn minus that is fatal for Black, but also the fact that his King is locked up on the h-file.

36. Kf2 Rc7
37. Ke2 Rc4

A desperate try by Gunsberg, but the ending was beyond salvage for him.

38. Kd3 b5
39. Re3

39. d5 immediately was faster, but the text also wins with little difficulty.

39... Ra4

39...Kg8 might have extended the game, since the Queen-side attack Gunsberg now tries was hopeless.

40. d5!


"This is the only pawn that matters." (Sergeant/Watts)

click for larger view

40... Rxa2
41. d6 Ra6

It might seem that Gunsberg now had a chance, but Pillsbury had the rest calculated.

42. Re6 Kg7

click for larger view

43. d7

The game was now obviously over, but Gunsberg chose to struggle on for a few more moves.

43... RxR
44. d8(Q) Re5
45. Qd7+

With his new Queen, Pillsbury had the game entirely in hand.

45... Kg6
46. Qxa7 h5
47. Kd4 Rg5
48. Qe7

click for larger view


Jan-07-23  sudoplatov: Pillsbury seemed to like playing f5 against Pawns on e6 and g6.

Pillsbury vs Lasker, 1896

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: <sudoplatov> Indeed he did!

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