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Eugene Delmar vs Harry Nelson Pillsbury
Buffalo (1901), Buffalo, New York USA, rd 1, Aug-12
Nimzo-Larsen Attack: Modern Variation (A01)  ·  0-1



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Kibitzer's Corner
Premium Chessgames Member
  profK: I think I might have castled queenside as black and launched an eventual ...h5 and ...f5 to break up white's kingside. Pretty conservative Pillsbury stuff !!
Oct-10-13  SoUnwiseTheKnight B4: Not the kind of game I would enjoy playing. If was white right around move 50 i'd start clicking my pen and making sounds with my throat like a madman.
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Pillsbury dominated the field at Buffalo 1901, but some of the games, including this one, were long tough affairs.

Delmar finished in a tie for 2nd with Napier. His only losses were in his two games against Pillsbury.

Delmar beat Pillsbury in their first meeting, but then lost in the other five games they played, including in this one. He had several chances in this encounter. After Pillsbury had gotten the better of him in the opening, Delmar fought back, and emerged with the better chances following the exchange of both pairs of Rooks. But Delmar then weakened, and reached an inferior endgame. Pillsbury twice blew what should have been winning endgame positions, but Delmar's unaccountable blunder on move 51 allowed Pillsbury yet another chance, and this time Pillsbury cleaned up in the Knight and Pawn ending.

Not the best endgame Pillsbury ever played, but--as happened so often in his games--he prevailed in a long difficult ending.

1. b3

Having lost his last three games against Pillsbury going into this game, Delmar decided to get Pillsbury out of his opening comfort zone. This strategy didn't work, and Pillsbury quickly got--but later squandered--an overwhelming advantage.

1... e5
2. Bb2 Nc6
3. g3

click for larger view

A strange choice against Pillsbury. 3. e3 is most usual here. The text, however, is certainly playable. But offering to play defense against Pillsbury was not often the wisest course!

3... d5
4. Bg2 Be6

4...Nf6 is perhaps the most flexible choice. But the text is also fine.

5. e3 Nf6

While the text is unobjectionable, one might have expected the Tahl-like 5...h5 from Pillsbury.

6. d3

Still determined to assume a defensive pose, else Delmar might have tried 6. d4 or perhaps 6. Ne2.

6... Bd6
7. Ne2

In light of his prior moves, 7. Nf3 or 7. Nd2 seem called for.

7... Qd7

h5 was still a possibility. But--at this point at least, Pillsbury seemed to be aiming to castle Queen-side.

8. h3

Still intent on playing defense. 8. Nd2 was more consistent with his earlier maneuvers.

click for larger view

8... 0-0

The idea of <profK> to play 0-0-0 followed by h5 and f5 is excellent. I suspect that Pillsbury was thinking of 8...0-0-0 when he played 7...Qd7. He probably decided there was no need to take chances and that he would eventually be able to outplay Delmar in any even position. That ultimately proved to be the case, but Pillsbury's notion almost backfired.

9. g4?!

Out of the blue, Delmar decided to switch gears and storm Pillsbury's castled position on the King-side. This plan worked out better than it should have--at least for a while. On its face, however, 9. g4?! left White open to attack by Pillsbury, the position now being:

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9... Ne8?

A shocking choice by Pillsbury. With 9...d4!, Pillsbury could have exploited Delmar's premature 9. g4?! Now, however, Delmar could have repaired his misstep on his 9th move and achieve a decent position with 10. Nbc3. But, perhaps spurred on by his own temerity on his previous move, Delmar sallied forward, and into possible trouble:

10. e4?

click for larger view

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post II

10... dxc4

Pillsbury was apparently satisfied to achieve a small advantage rather than try to punish Delmar with the seemingly better 10...Bb4+ or 10...d4 or even the simple 10...Nf6.

11. dxe4 Rd8
12. Nbc3 Ne7

Looks more like Petrosian than Pillsbury, who might have been expected to play 12...a5 or maybe 12...f6. Pillsbury seemed content to operate with a small edge against an opponent he was apparently confident he could defeat from any slightly superior position. It certainly appears that Pillsbury wanted to avoid any risks against a player he must have believed was in a class well below him.

13. Qd3 Ng6

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14. Qg3

This effort at a King-side attack looks hopeless. Delmar would, by contrast, have had about even chances with 14. 0-0-0!

14... Bb4!

Queen-side castling for White now had to be put on hold. The prospect became moot after Delmar's next move:

15. 0-0 Nd6

Again, hard to believe this was Pillsbury. Better chances were available with 15...Nf6 or 15...Qc6.

16. Rad1 Qe7

More tentative play by Pillsbury. 16...Qc6 or 16...f6 were much better. Suddenly, Pillsbury no longer seemed to have the better position:

click for larger view

17. a3

Tentative play now by Delmar. With 17. f4 or 17. Nd5, he might have been able to exert some pressure on his famous opponent.

17... BxN
18. BxB

18. QxB or 18. NxB were better.

18... f6
19. Bb4

Not terrible, but pointless. 19. Bd2; 19. Bb2; 19. a4; and even 19. Qe3 all look better.

19... b6

Poised to attack on the Queen-side and to harrass Delmar's b4 Bishop.

20. a4 c5
21. Bc3

click for larger view

21... Nb7

Still hard to believe this was Pillsbury. He had plenty of better and more Pillsbury-like options; e.g., 21...Nf7; 21...Qc7; 21...b5; 21...c4. Once again, Pillsbury here gave Delmar chances:

22. h4

22. f4 was much better and would have yielded some attacking chances for White.

22... RxR
23. RxR Rd8
24. RxR+ QxR

24...NxR was better. The position was now:

click for larger view

If anyone had an advantage here, it was White. But Pillsbury had made a living winning from these sorts of roughly even positions against weaker opponents. He must have expected the same would be the case here. Though Pillsbury eventually did win here, it did not prove to be easy--at all.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post III

25. h5!

Delmar was now playing for a win. The commentary on this game in the Buffalo Morning Express ("BME") rightly stated that at this point Delmar had a "very strong attack which required the closest attention on Mr. Pillsbury's part to defend."

25... Ne7

Better was 25...Qd1+ 26. Bf1 Nf4. 27/ NxN exN 28. Qxf4 Bxg4. The ultra-defensive text allowed Delmar's attack to continue.

26. g5! Kf7?

Leaving himself vulnerable. Best was 26...Nc6. After the text, the position was:

click for larger view

27. Qf3?

This proved to be one of the pivotal moments of the game. With 27. h6!, Delmar's attack would have become truly dangerous. Pillsbury could probably have defended himself with best play, but he would have been on his heels: e.g., 27. h6 Qd1+ 28. Bf1 Nd6 29. Qf3 Ng6 30. hxg7 f5 (forced) 31. exf5 Bxf5 (forced) 32. b4 Kxg7 (forced) 33. bxc5 bxc5 34. a5 (leaving Black with a difficult but probably savable position). After the text, Pillsbury was able to recover, and after a few more missteps by Delmar, had a won game. A missed opportunity by Delmar to pull off a major upset at the very start of this tournament.

Ironically, it was the h-Pawn that Delmar failed to advance on this move and on his next move that proved to be the Pawn Pillsbury was ultimately able to snatch on his way to winning.

27... Nc6

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Delmar no longer had any advantage, but with 28. h6 he would have been OK. But, apparently worried about Pillsbury's possible Qd1+, he played the inferior:

28. Bf1?

Now Pillsbury was once again better, and worse was soon to befall Delmar:

28... Nd6
29. Ng3 Kg8
30. gxf6 Qxf6

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31. QxQ

The endgame favors Black, primarily because of White's isolated advanced h-Pawn, so Delmar might have considered 31. Qd3. But even after the text, all was not lost for White.

31... gxQ

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32. f3?

Awful. This blocks his own Bishop from protecting his weak h-pawn while giving White another weak pawn to attack White should be able to hold the position with 32. Be2. After the text, Black should have won with ease, but...

32... a5?

Missing the crushing (and seemingly obvious) 32...Nd4! This forks two undefended pawns, and after 33. BxN cxB Black must eventually overrun the weakened White position. After the text, however, Delmar was very much back in the game.

33. Kf2 Nb4
34. BxN

Forced, but sufficient to save the game.

34... axb4

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Delmar's position was still precarious, but he should probably have been able to hold on for a draw. From here, however, play became sloppy, and Delmar blundered, was able to achieve a possible draw, blundered again, likely save by another Pillsbury error, but ultimately lost after his completely fatal blunder on move 51.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post IV

35. Ne2?

A terrible mistake after which Pillsbury was able to win the White h-Pawn and thereby should have been able to win the game. But the win for Black here was not easy, and Pillsbury--whose only serious game since Munich 1900 eight months earlier was a single game in a cable match against Blackburne (in which his endgame play was again rusty--was seemingly not yet in form at the time of the instant game.

35... Kg7

Capitalizing on Delmar's error and preparing to gang up on and win the White h-pawn.

36. Nc1 Bf7
37. Nd3 Bxh5

click for larger view

As stated in the Buffalo Morning Express, the game was now probably a win for Pillsbury because of his extra pawn. But the win was far from easy, and the out-of-practice Pillsbury did not find the best lines.

38. Bh3

38. Ke3 was better.

38... Nb7

A strange move. A better strategy would have been to get his Bishop to the Queen's side and then press on both the Queen's-side while threatening on the King's side with his extra h-pawn.

But even after the text, the position was probably still a theoretical win for Black.

39. Ke3 Kf8?

Inexplicable. Now Delmar had targets to attack, and could probably save the game with best play.

40. f4! exf4+
41. Nxf4 Bf7

The situation had changed drastically in the last four moves:

click for larger view

42. Be6

42. Bf5 was also good, but playing to reduce to a Knight and Pawn ending was probably the clearest method of heading for a draw.

42... Nd6
43. BxB KxB

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44. Nd5

Forcing Pillsbury to defend his b-Pawn. The win for Black is probably gone at this point, despite his extra pawn and despite his passed h-pawn.

44... Nc8
45. Kf4 h5

click for larger view

46. e5?

Delmar need only have sat tight with 46. Ne3 to have held the draw. Now, however, Pillsbury was back in charge:

46... fxe5+
47. Kxe5 h4!

Nicely played by Pillsbury. White must prevent the Queening of the Black h-pawn, and by so doing must allow Black to win on the other wing.

48. Nf4 Ke8

48...Ne7 was simpler, but the text should also have won easily.

49. Kf5

click for larger view

The win should now have been routine for an endgame wizard such as Pillsbury, but here he yet again flubbed the win, and--as I will discuss in my next post on this game--might well have been held to a draw had Delmar played accurately.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post V

Correction: Upon further study, Pillsbury's 48...Ke8 was the culprit, not 49...Nd6+ (which was a mistake, though the forced win was probably gone by then).

As I noted, Pillsbury should have played 48...Ne7 after which White is helpless. If 49. Kd6 (as good as anything) Black wins with 49...c4! and then if 50. Nh3 (if 50. bxc4 Nf5+ after which one of the Black pawns must Queen) c3 and White's goose is cooked.

Going back to the diagrammed position with which I ended my last post (i.e., after 48...Ke8 49. Kf5), Pillsbury erred again with:

49... Nd6+

This should have made it easy for Delmar to draw, since the route for the Knight to take to reach d4 or e3 and then capture the White c2 pawn is made more difficult.

I had thought that Black could win here with 49...Kd7 or 49...Ne7. But White has resources I didn't immediately notice. Thus, if:

(A) 49...Kd7. If then if Delmar went for the Black h-pawn with 50. Kg4 (best) I had thought that 50...Ne7 thereby protecting the h-pawn would win since if then 51. Kxh4 Black wins by picking up the c-pawn via 51...Nf5+ followed by 52...Ne3 with an easy win. What I overlooked is that if White played 51. Ng2 the pretty 51...Nf5 White can still hold on with after which if 52. Nxh4 (the Knight is immune from capture since 52. KxN allows Black to Queen after 52...h3) and then 52...Ne3+ 53. Kf4 Nxc2 White seems to hold with 54. Nf3 Na1 55. Nd2

(B) 49...Ne7+ (the other move I thought would win) White saves the day in similar fashion after 50. Kg4 Kd7 51. Ng2 (Not 51. Kxh4? Nf5+) Nf5 52. Nxh4 Ne3+

In any case, Pillsbury's very poor 49...Nd6+ eased Delmar's task. The game continued:

50... Kd7

The position was now:

click for larger view

51. Kxh4??

As (according to the Buffalo Morning Express) Pillsbury pointed out after the game, Delmar could have saved the game here by holding off capturing the Black h-pawn. If instead 51. Nd5, Black can make no progress. If 51...Nc8 (51...Kc6 52. Ne7+ is futile) then 52. Kxh4 Ke6 53. Ne3 Ke5 54. Kg3 Ke4 55. Kf2 (arriving back just in time) Kd4 56. Kf3 (56. Ke2 also draws) Nd6 57. Ke2 c4 (the only try) 58. bxc4 Nxc4 59. NxN KxN 60. Kd1 and draws.

Delmar's move, by contrast, handed Pillsbury an extra tempo, making the win easy, the position now being (after 51. Kxh4):

click for larger view

51... Nf5+

The winning tempo.

52. Kg4

If instead 52. Kg5 Ne3 53. Ne2 Nxc2 54. Kf5 Kc6 55. Ke4 Na1 56. Nc1 Kd6 57. Kd3 Kd5 leaving White in zugzwang and forced either to cede the b-pawn or allow Black's King to advance.

52... Ne3+
53. Kf3

53. Kg5 Nxc2 is no better.

53... Nxc2

click for larger view

The rest was child's play for Pillsbury:

54. Ne2 Kc6
55. Ke4 Na1

click for larger view

a1 is rarely a crushingly effective post for a Knight. This position is an exception!

56. Nc1

What else?

56... Kd6

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White must now either abandon the b-pawn or allow the advance of the Black King. In either case, White was lost.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post VI

Delmar chose to play on despite the hopeless of his position:

57. Ke3

The alternatives were no better. If:

(A) 57. Kd3 Kd5 58. Kd2 (or 58. Ke3 Nc2+ 59. Kd2 Nd4) c4! [59...Kd4 also wins] 60. bxc4+ Kxc4 61. Ne2 Nb3+ 62. Kd1 Nc5 picking up the White a-pawn and Queening the Black b-Pawn soon thereafter; or

(B) 57. Nd3 Nxb3 58. Nb2 Na5 after which the Black pawns cannot be stopped.

57... Ke5

57...Kd5 would have been faster, but the text did the trick, the position now being:

click for larger view

58. Nd3+

If 58. Kd3 Kd5 59. Ne2 (if 59. Kd2 c4 60. bxc4+ Kxc4 61. Nd3 Nb3+ 62. Ke3 [or 62. Kc2 Nd4+ 63. Kd2 Nf3+] Nc5 63. Nb2+ Kc3 64. Nd1+ Kc2) Nxb3 and Black wins with his two extra passed pawns.

58... Kd5
59. Nc1

Hastening the end. But 59. Nf4+ Kd6 60. Kd3 Nxb3 was also hopeless.

59... c4
60. bxc4+ Kxc4

click for larger view

61. Kd2

61. Nd3 Kc3 or 61. Ke4 Nb3 were hardly better.

61... Nb3+
62. Kc2 NxN
63. KxN Kb3

click for larger view

64. Kb1 Ka3


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