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Harry Nelson Pillsbury vs Geza Maroczy
London (1899), London ENG, rd 6, Jun-06
French Defense: Classical Variation. Richter Attack (C13)  ·  1/2-1/2



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Kibitzer's Corner
Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: Pillsbury and Maroczy could claim to be the master of attack and minister of defense of their day, so it's not surprising that they played some terrific games. Here Pillsbury plays the pell-mell 5. Bxf6 Bxf6 and 7. e5, which even in 1899 was pretty crude stuff. Even so, after 14. g4 White's attack looks dangerous. But Maroczy carefully defuses it and dissolves White's center with ...c5, ...f6 and ...gxf6 (although ...Bxf6 was perfectly playable). After 19....Kh8! White's attack has come to a standstill. After 21. h5?, the simple (crude, perhaps?) 21....Bxc3 22. bxc3 e5 or 22...Qa5 gives Black close to a winning position. But Maroczy finds it hard to part with the bishop pair.

26. Ne3 is a blunder, allowing the surprising 26....e4 27. fxe4 Rxe4! 28. Bxe4 Rxe4, with a winning pin on the queen. But neither Pillsbury nor Maroczy see it. Instead, Black goes into an ending with a slight advantage. Maroczy may have though that his king march with ...Kh6 and ...Kg5 would bring victory. But Pillsbury's active rooks hold the balance.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Many thanks to keypusher for his (as always) thoughtful and excellent posts.
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: As keypusher notes, 5. BxN was old fashioned even in 1899. As Gligoric mentions in his book on the French Defense, the idea (reducing Black's pressure on White's center at the cost of conceding the two bishops)goes all the way back to Adolf Anderssen. The move, however, remained of more than historical interest even after the days of Pillsbury. It was played by against Stahlberg in 1936 and against Gligoric himself in 1949. and so Gligoric devotes space in his book to analyzing this move.

While 5. BxN is theoretically inferior to the usual 5. e5, it is certainly playable if White is satisfied with a very small advantage.

Dec-12-16  offramp: 29...d4 looks reasonable.
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Whether atavistic or not, the opening play here after 5. BxN was thrilling and the subject of much controversy. But what else would we expect when an attacking genius like Pillsbury crosses swords with a defensive wizard like Maroczy?

Gligoric thinks Maroczy's 6...0-0 was a mistake and says that 6...c5 was best. Fritz agrees that 6...c5 was best, but has no big problem with 6...0-0. The Tournament Book sees both moves as reasonable. While I can see that 6...0-0 was essentially castling into Pillsbury's intended attack, I don't see anything wrong with the move. Maroczy no doubt felt up to the challenge of defending against the storm he knew would be coming.

An even bigger disagreement arises with Pillsbury' 9. h4. Gligoric gives this a ! and suggests it shows what is wrong with 6...0-0. Fritz thinks the move is a major mistake and analyzes the game to a win or near win for Maroczy from here.

The key question is how to respond to 9. h4. Keypusher likes Maroczy's 9...f6, and there is no doubt that this move gives Black a defensible set-up. But was there anything better?

One thing that's clear is that 9...c5 is bad. It runs into 10. Bxh7 check KxB 11. Ng5 check. Black might survive this (perhaps with Fritz' heroic 11...Kg6) but who would dare enter this thicket against Pillsbury?

Gligoric thinks 9...f5 is best. It seems more dynamic that Maroczy's actual 9...f6, but is definitely not a game-changer.

The odd man out on this is Fritz, who plays the move Gligoric condemns, 9...cxd4. Fritz thinks this would have given Maroczy a win or near win. Gligoric says exactly the opposite. After 10. Bxh7 check KxB 11. Ng5 check Kh6 12. Qd3 g6 Gligoric recommends 13. h5 Fritz claims a win for Black with 13...Kg7 (instead of Gligoric's 13...BxN). So far as I can see, Fritz is right on this, but once again, who would try this out against Pillsbury over the board without a silicon friend nearby?

Even after Maroczy's 9...f6, the debate continues on how to play and evaluate the opening.

Pillsbury tried 10. dxc5. Fritz thinks this was a mistake, and plays the incredible 10. Ng5, which Fritz thinks ultimately leads to near equality.

After 10. dxc5, Fritz suggests 10...Bxc5 instead of Maroczy's 10...Nc6.

The final major controversy concerning the opening involves how to recapture after Pillsbury's 11. exf6. Maroczy played 11...gxf6. Fritz thinks this gives away Black's edge and allows Pillsbury attacking chances. Fritz prefers the move mentioned by keypusher 11...Bxf6, but says that best of all is 11...Rxf6.

After Maroczy's actual capture opening the g file, I share keypusher's assessment that 14. g4 looks scary for Black. Fritz defends with 14...Qf8, but has no real problem with Maroczy's 14...Ne5. The Tournament Book thinks that Maroczy was on the right road here in trying to eliminate White's Knight ASAP.

After 15. Qe2, Maroczy spurned the offered pawn and traded Knights. Fritz agrees with this, but thinks that 15...Nxg4 was playable. The Tournament Book does not even consider the possibility of accepting Pillsbury's pawn sacrifice here.

After 16...Bd7, Pillsbury certainly had the better game. However, Fritz thinks that Pillsbury's 17. Rhg1 was an error and presses on with the attack with 17. g5. I am surprised Pillsbury didn't try this instead of his slower effort to double Rooks immediately on the g file.

All of this, of course, was only an appetizer to what Pillsbury and Maroczy have in store for those lucky kibitzers who choose to play over and analyze this fascinating game.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: The middle game after Pillsbury's poor 17. Rhg1 was thrilling, but far from perfect.

Maroczy's 18...Raf8 was a blunder according to Fritz (why didn't Maroczy get his King off the g file with 18...Kf8 avoiding trouble?). Fritz claims a win for Pillsbury with 19. g5. But Pillsbury, as on his 17th turn, strangely spurned this advance.

keypusher is correct that after Maroczy's 19...Kh8 Pillsbury' attack is kaput. keypusher is also spot on in condemning Pillsbury's poor 21. h5. But I don't think that 21...BxN suggested by both keypusher and the Tournament Book would have given Maroczy any winning chances or indeed have been any better than Maroczy's 21...Be5. Fritz suggests 21...e5, but can't find anything approaching a win even after that. All in all, Maroczy's plan was fine.

The major error of the middlegame is the one missed by both players and by the Tournament Book--but not by keypusher. 26. Ne3 was a blunder, as only keypusher has noticed. I love his winning combination beginning with 26...e5. I see no answer to this move, and neither does Fritz.

Bravo keypusher!

After Maroczy's 26...BxN, Maroczy got a slightly superior endgame, but nothing close to the clearcut win keypusher has uncovered.

Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: <KEG> Thank you! I am enjoying your tour through London 1899's games. Here is my favorite fact about the tournament:

<London 1899 was a disaster for the White pieces overall. According to Hoffer's tourament book, White scored as follows: +59-81=46, or .31/.44/.25

Some particularly bad openings for White:

Vienna Game +1-7=1 (Steinitz had a terrible system that accounted for a number of the losses)

Evans Gambit +0-2=0
Sicilian Defense +1-5=0
Philidor +0-4=0

But even stalwart openings fared poorly:

QP Game +12-20=10 (this includes a lot of games by bottom finishers against the leaders)

Ruy Lopez +10-11=4
Scotch +1-3=0

These openings did well:

Ponziani Opening +3-0=0 (the tournament book called it the "English Knight's Opening."

Caro-Kann +3-0=3

White's score with the French and the QGD looks good only by comparison to the other mainstay openings:

French +10-8=5 (players were jumping at the chance to take on Chigorin's 2.Qe2)

QGD +7-6=11 >

I have to admit, though, 26....e4 was not my idea. It was Shredder's.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Maroczy had several chances to try to exploit his superior endgame position, but seemed satisfied with a draw, notwithstanding Pillsbury's repeated efforts to complicate.

Pillsbury's 29. c4 seems reckless, and offramp's suggestion of 29...d4 is certainly a better effort than Maroczy's wimpy 29...dxc4, but I can't find anything approaching a win even after this natural pawn push. The best chance is probably 29...e4. The Tournament Book says that Pillsbury's 29. c4 stopped 29...e4, but I don't see how or why, and neither does Fritz.

Following the pawn exchange, the only plausible way I can see for Maroczy to try for a win would have been to follow keypusher's king march idea. Consistent with this theme, the Tournament Book considers 34...Kf4, but after 35. Rc3 (or even the Tournament Book's slightly inferior 35. R5d3) neither Fritz nor I can see that Pillsbury would have been in serious danger.

As the game went, Pillsbury could have achieved an easy draw with the cute 36. f4 check. Instead, he played the strange 36. a4 and then repeatedly declined Maroczy's efforts to trade off a pair or Rooks. This tactic by Pillsbury could have come to grief. Maroczy might have tried 43...Rf2, and had chances to try the same ploy on his 45th, 47th, and 49th turns. I'm not saying this would necessarily have won the game for Maroczy, but Pillsbury would have had to sweat to get a draw. As seems obvious, Pillsbury was willing to do anything--including going into a clearly inferior position--to try to avoid a draw. He assumed, not without some basis, that his endgame prowess would allow him to press on. I would have enjoyed seeing how the game would have progressed had Maroczy tried the Rc2 Rook invasion.

But Maroczy decided to wait until he had White against Pillsbury in Round 19 to try to seek a win! As it turned out, that game was drawn too.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: I agree with keypusher about the surprisingly bad results obtained by White at London 1899. As he notes, however, this in part can be explained by certain players trying bad openings as White. As keypusher mentions, the White results with the Vienna Game can best be explained by the fact that five of the nine times it appeared were with Steinitz as White (who had four losses and a draw). This was Steinitz' last tournament, and his decision to follow reckless lines of this opening against Lasker, Pillsbury, and Schlechter was undoubtedly ill-judged.

On the flip side, one of the reasons White did well against the Caro-Kann Defense is that it was played exclusively at London 1899 by Lee and Cohn, twice against Lasker and twice against Maroczy.

Still, the anomaly cited by keypusher is remarkable!

Nov-26-18  Straclonoor: <Fritz claims a win for Pillsbury with 19. g5. > Stockfisch thinks same-:)))

Analysis by Stockfish 201118 64 POPCNT:

+- (2.10): 19.g5 fxg5 20.Qh5 Bd4 21.Rxg5+ Kh8 22.Rdg1 Bxc3 23.Qxf7 Qxb2+ 24.Kd1 Qa1+ 25.Ke2 Qe1+ 26.Rxe1 Rxf7 27.Reg1 Bg7 28.c4 Re7 29.R5g3 Kg8 30.h5 h6 31.cxd5 exd5+ 32.Re3 Rf7 33.Rf3 Rxf3 34.Kxf3 Kf8 35.Ke3 Bc3 36.Rg6 Bg7 37.Rd6 d4+ 38.Kf4 Ke7 39.Rg6 Bf8 40.Rg3 Be6 41.a3 Kf6 42.Ke4 Bf7 43.Rf3+ Ke7 44.Rf5 Be6 45.Rc5 Kd7 46.Ra5 a6 47.f4 Be7 48.Ke5 Bf7 49.Kxd4

Not clear win but decisios advantage.

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