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Wilhelm Steinitz vs Harry Nelson Pillsbury
London (1899), London ENG, rd 25, Jul-03
Vienna Game: Vienna Gambit. Steinitz Variation (C29)  ·  0-1



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Kibitzer's Corner
Jun-27-10  talisman: W.S. didn't believe in resigning too early.
Oct-13-11  AnalyzeThis: I guess, but when would you have him resign? Take for example 24. Re1 Rxe1 25. Kxe1 Nxg2. Just playing through the game, I thought that might have been very clever - white is sacrificing a pawn, but maybe he can rush a pawn through in the queenside before it really matters, and win or draw the game. I'm sure this is what Steinitz was thinking at the time.
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Steinitz was stubborn. Beginning with this contest, he lost three straight games with White in Rounds 25, 26, and 27 (to Pillsbury, Mason, and Lasker) playing the same questionable 4. d3 variation in the Vienna Gambit. In this game, however, Steinitz' loss had nothing to do with the opening.

After 3. f4 d5 in the Vienna Gambit, 4. d3 as played by Steinitz here and in his next two games is weak. The usual 4. fxe5 or perhaps 4. exd5 are both much better. After 4. d3, Black can get much the better game with the simple 4...exf4.

But Pillsbury had been experimenting with 4...d4 in this variation, playing it in a consultation game in St. Petersburg in 1896 and against Charousek in the Budapest 1896 tournament. So Steinitz perhaps guessed what was coming if he played 4. d3 against Pillsbury. Nonetheless, 4. d3 is weak and Steinitz could not know for sure that Pillsbury would go to the well a third time with his questionable 4...d4 variation.

In the Budapest 1896 tournament, Charousek beat Pillsbury in this variation with the bizarre 5. Nb1?!. Needless to say, Charousek did not win this game because of the opening, and Pillsbury clearly was not worried about facing 5. Nb1 again.

In fact, Steinitz played the much better 5. Nce2 as played in the St. Petersburg 1896 consultation game. The players here then repeated the same questionable moves from the earlier game, including 6...Bd6 by Pillsbury (6...Ng4 was much better and would have given Pillsbury much the better game); 7. c3 by Steinitz (which was inferior to 7. fxe5 and could have given Steinitz a poor game had Pillsbury responded 7...dxc3), and Pillsbury's 7...Bg4 (inferior as noted above to 7...dxc3), Pillsbury's 10...c6 (he should have played 10...b5), Steinitz' 12. Qc2 (12. Be3 was much better) and Pillsbury's 12...c5 (which could have given Steinitz the edge, Pillsbury should have played 12...0-0).

All this shows the danger of relying on a "known" line. Here, many of the prepared moves, perhaps played unthinkingly, were misguided.

In any case, after 12...c5, Steinitz emerged with much the better game. He should have continued with 13. Nb3 as in the St. Petersburg consultation game. Steinitz' new move in this variation, 13. Nf5 was bad, and--though up a pawn--left him with what I think was a lost game.

The commentators I have read on this game say that Steinitz would have had a bad game had he played 13. Nb3. I disagree, the position with Steinitz to make his 13th move was as follows:

click for larger view

So far as I can see, and as Fritz has confirmed, Steinitz would have had a definite (though not necessarily winning) advantage with 13. Nb3, while he had a likely lost position after his actual 13. Nf5.

There was plenty of excitement in this game even after 13. Nf5 as I will discuss in a subsequent post. But the claim that Steinitz would have been worse with 13. Nb3 seems simply wrong.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Steinitz may or may not have been lost after 13. Nf5, but he was definitely lost after his poor 17. Be3. (He should have played 17. Qd2). But here Pillsbury made his one major mistake of the game, playing 17...c4 instead of the much better 17...Ng4. After 17...c4 Steinitz carefully played 18. Qf2, and after the exchange of Queens Pillsbury had at most a tiny edge in the endgame.

But Pillsbury was an endgame genius and Steinitz was at the end of his career and misplayed the ending here. The result was therefore perhaps predictable.

After Pillsbury's 22...Nf4, the position was as follows:

click for larger view

Steinitz here played 23. RxR+. But 23. Re3 surely would have given him good chances to save the game.

The Tournament Book and Sergeant's book on Pillsbury both state that Steinitz should have played 23. g3. This is nonsense. After 23. g3, Pillsbury would undoubtedly have played 23...Ne2! How then would Steinitz have saved himself? Sorry guys, your 23. g3 would have been a blunder--far worse than Steinitz' actual move.

Even after Steinitz' poor 23. RxR+, he still might have saved the game with 24. Kf3. But instead Steinitz played the awful 24. Re1, allowing Pillsbury to trade off the other pair of Rooks and then grab the g2 pawn. After this, Ppillsbury was not to be denied.

Steinitz made Pillsbury's task much easier with his 27. c4? instead of simply playing 27. Kxd3. After 27. c4, Pillsbury soon won a second pawn, and the win was easy.

For whatever reason, Steinitz chose to play on even when he was two pawns down in a Bishop versus Knight ending, and even after he landed in a fork after his 39th move and lost his Bishop. I know that no one ever won a game by resigning, but Steinitz must have known long before he resigned after move 46 that the game was gone.

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