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Harry Nelson Pillsbury vs Louis Karpinski
Buffalo (1901), Buffalo, New York USA, rd 5, Aug-15
Sicilian Defense: Four Knights Variation (B45)  ·  1-0

ANALYSIS [x]

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Kibitzer's Corner
Dec-04-19
Premium Chessgames Member
  HarryP: What could have been an interesting endgame is spoiled by 32...Ra8?? Karpinski later on became a distinguished professor of mathematics at the University of Michigan.
Dec-08-20
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Pillsbury tore up the field at Buffalo 1901, winning eight and drawing two in this double round robin event. Given that Karpinski finished last, it is not surprising that Pillsbury triumphed in both their games. The circumstances of these two games, however, were unusual.

For most of the tournament, the players had two games per day. This fifth round encounter between Pillsbury and Karpinski was to have been played on the evening of August 14. But on that evening, Pillsbury gave a 16 game simultaneous exhibition. His results in this exhibition mirrored those in the tournament (12 wins and 4 draws).

The Pillsbury-Karpinski 5th round game was rescheduled for the following day (August 15) and was contested AFTER the 6th and 7th rounds were played. By the time of this game, therefore, Pillsbury had already beaten Delmar and Napier (who tied for 2nd). By beating Karpinski in this game, Pillsbury racked up three wins on the same day. How often has that occurred in a master-level tournament.

Compounding the scheduling issues, on August 16, after Rounds 8 and 9 were played (and by which time Pillsbury had clinched first place and Karpsinski was certain to finish last), Karpinski asked to leave early. So Pillsbury played his 10th round game that day, thus playing three games on August 16 (as he had on August 15). On that latter day, Pillsbury won two and drew one.

In total, Pillsbury played six tournament games in two calendar days, winning five and drawing one (with Marshall).

Given this brutal schedule, Pillsbury understanding seemed to have taken a light-hearted approach in many of his games. Many of his games--as here--wound down to endings. Pillsbury--again as here--was evidently confident that he could win even (or even slightly inferior endings) against the field here.

In this game, Pillsbury chose a questionable opening variation and found himself in an ending in which Karpinski had a slight edge. Pillsbury slowly but surely made progress in the ending, and then Karpinski blundered on his 32nd move and resigned soon after.

1. e4 c5

It must have taken courage to have tried the Sicilian against so skilled a tactician as Pillsbury.

2. Nc3 Nc6
3. Nf3 e6
4. d4 cxd4
5. Nxc4 Nf6

Via transposition, a fairly normal position was reached.

6. Ndb5


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6... Bb4

6...d6 is most usual. The text was a favorite of Blackburne and Mieses.

7. a3 BxN+
8. NxB d5!
9. exd5 Nxd5

Avoiding the arguably better 9...exd5.

After 9...Nxd5, the position was:


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Pillsbury could here have gotten the better game with 10. NxN or 10. Bd2. Instead, he tried a wild shot:

10. Qg4?!


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Now Karpinski had an easy way to thwart Pillsbury's plan (such as it was)

10... NxN
11. bxN Qf6
12. Bd2

12. Qg3 would have minimized the harm from his questionably opening play.

12... Qg6

Seeking refuge in an ending in which he was at least equal. The way to try to exploit Pillsbury's presumptuous play was with 12...e4.

13. QxQ hxQ


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Pillsbury has the two Bishops, but his Queen-side pawns are a disaster. On balance, Karpinski was certainly not worse.

No matter, Pillsbury played for a win.

Dec-08-20
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post II

How to play for a win as White in this sort of position. Fascinating to watch Pillsbury at work:

14. Rb1

14. Be3 may be theoretically best. But Pillsbury wanted to seize the b-file.

14... e5

Giving Pillsbury new options. Black is better with the seemingly obvious 14...b6.

15. Bd3

I would have expected 15. f4 or 15. Bb5. But Pillsbury wanted to castle and try to dominate with his two Bishops.

15... b6
16. 0-0

In his eagerness to bring his King to safety, Pillsbury missed the stronger 16. Be4. This failure gave Karpinski time for:

16... Bf5!
17. f4?!

A wild shot to mix it up. 17. Bb5 or 17. Ba6 were better. In fairness, though, the text must have been scary to face over the board. The position was now:


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17... e4?

With 17...BxB 18. cxB 0-0-0, Karpinski would (despite undoubling Pillsbury's pawns) have had much the better of the struggle).

After the text, Pillsbury was back in business, and from here he slowly but surely outplayed his over-matched opponent.

18. Rfe1 0-0-0!

A courageous decision. Too bad he didn't follow it up properly.

19. Ba6+ Kc7
20. Be3 Be6
21. c4

As anyone who has played over Pillsbury's games at Hastings 1895 will attest, Pillsbury was a demon in the endgame who pressured his opponents on both sides of the board. Karpinski was far from the first player to wilt under this relentless badgering.


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21... Nb8?

Very weak. 21...Nd4 or 21...Bc8 were much better.

22. Bb5 Nd7
23. a4!

Continuing operations on the Queen-side:


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23... f5?

Reckless. He could have survived with 23...Rh5 or 23...Nc5 or 23...Ra8

24. a5! Nc5


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25. axb6?

For once, Pillsbury mistimed the play. The winning move was 25. Ra1. After the text, Karpinski had a chance.

25... axb6
26. Ra1 Ra8
27. Bd4


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Dec-08-20
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post III

27... RxR

A reasonable decision.

28. RxR Rd8


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Does White have any real winning chances here. The best chances of making this happen appear to lie with 29. Bxg7 or 29. BxN

29. Bc3?

A doubtful choice that nonetheless wound up working wonderfully, but only thanks to Karpinski's upcoming poor play.

29... Kb7
30. Kf2


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Black would have decent counterplay with 30...g5! But Karpinski seemed paralyzed.

30... Bf7
31. Ke3 Ne6
32. Be5!


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As <HarryP> said on this site about a year ago, this could have been an interesting endgame if not for the following blunder that ended the game immediately.

32... Ra8??

Oops!

33. Bc6+ !

Not all that hard a move to find.

33... KxB
34. RxR

1-0

It would have been a treat to watch Pillsbury try to win from the diagrammed position preceding Karpinski's blunder.

Dec-09-20
Premium Chessgames Member
  fredthebear: Another delightful post <KEG>! Pillsbury games usually don't disappoint when clarified.

I appreciate your writing style of descending move-by-move w/plentiful diagrams, using symbols more frequently than others might. Such identifies ebb and flow easier for the reader.

For example, 25.axb6? is not a "bad" move, but it is less-than-best available. Most readers would simply pass by pawn-takes-pawn, but the symbol gives pause to question the move that would otherwise be mindlessly accepted.

Your notes provide more 'heads up' information than two of my favorites, Lasker and Blackburne would give. Your thoroughness means we don't need to ask the computer for analysis, because you do such fine homework before posting. A little bit of opinion is good too.

Thank you for your efforts!!

Dec-09-20
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: <fredthe bear>Thank you for your [too] kind comments. I'm glad you find my format (i.e., more of a narrative than lengthy variations) enjoyable and helpful.

I do however think that 25. axb6 was a poor move, especially for an endgame player of Pillsbury's caliber. As a theoretical matter, it may have turned a win into a draw. Since Pillsbury won easily anyway, this inaccuracy was easy for commentators to overlook.

I should also note that playing six tournament games in two days is no big deal today in blitz and rapid tournaments. But in classical chess in even minor tournaments such as Buffalo 1901, I think it quite unusual.

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