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Harry Nelson Pillsbury vs Eugene Delmar
Buffalo (1901), Buffalo, New York USA, rd 6, Aug-15
French Defense: Normal Variation (C00)  ·  1-0



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Kibitzer's Corner
Feb-02-08  frank124c: Harry Nelson Pillsbury was the founder of the Pillsbury Flour Company and the inventor of the Pillsbury doughboy.
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Pillsbury was on top throughout, and outplayed Delmar from start to finish. Two unusual features: (i) Delmar's bizarre handling of the French Defense (with 2...h6?!); and (ii) an extended double Rook ending which Delmar made Pillsbury play out long after the result was obvious. Pillsbury never gave Delmar a ghost of a chance in this ending, though he did not always find the fastest route to victory.

It must be remembered, however, that because Pillsbury had postponed his 5th round game against tailender Karpinski so as to be able to play a blindfold exhibition the prior day, he actually had to play three tournament games of classical chess this day. This 6th round game was the first game he played, and one gets the impression that Pillsbury coasted once he achieved a clear winning edge, knowing he still had his 7th round game and then his postponed 5th round game that evening.

Pillsbury won all three games, after which his victory at this tournament was nearly certain.

1. e4 e6
2. d4 h6

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This looks crazy, but--to my surprise--turns out to been entirely playable (though not the way Delmar handled it).

3. Bd3 d5
4. Nc3 dxe4

4...Nf6 was stronger.

5. Nxe4 Nf6

Not falling for Pillsbury's childish trap (5...Qxd4??? 6. Bb5+).

6. Nf3 Nc6

Blocking his c-pawn looks like poor strategy. He might have played 6...NxN or 6...Nbd7, or maybe even 6...Bd6.

7. c3 Bd6
8. 0-0 NxN
9. BxN 0-0
10. Re1 Re8

Not so much bad in itself, but part of a bad plan (i.e., preparing his next very weak move).

11. Bc2

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White is plainly better, but Black still has plenty of resources, until...

11... Bf8?

This sort of retreat can't be right:

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12. Qd3

Threatens mate in one, but is hardly the most forceful line for White. 12. Qe2; 12. Bf4; 12. b4; or even 12, h3 all look more promising for White.

12... g6
13. h4

13. Bf4 may be even stronger, but the text is classic Pillsbury, ready to go after the minimally defended Black King.

13... e5!

The only real chance Black had for counter-play.

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14. dxe5 Bg4

More enterprising than 14...QxQ. Delmar was willing to shed a pawn in order to mess up Pillsbury's King-side.

15. Bf4

Challenge accepted.

15... QxQ

Continuing with his plan, for better or worse.

16. BxQ BxN

He might have played 16...Bg7, but give Delmar credit for consistency--he was willing to play a pawn down with Pillsbury holding the two bishops so long as Pillsbury's King-side was shattered.

17. gxB Bg7

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Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post II

18. Bb5

Missing the stronger (and likely completely winning) 18. e6! Rxe6 19. RxR fxR 20. Bxg6. Yes, Pillsbury would have an isolated doubled f-pawn,but White's isolated e-pawn was also weak, and Pillsbury's two Bishops would be too much would rule the board in most variation.

But even with the text, Pillsbury had a huge edge.

18... Re6
19. BxN

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19... bxB?

Hard to understand. Delmar would have had an uphill fight even with the better 19...RxB. But now he was down a pawn and had a feeble Queen-side pawn "structure." The game was almost certainly now a theoretical win for Pillsbury, and Delmar was never really in the game from this point on.

20. Rad1 Rb8

If Delmar played 19...bxB because he thought the open b-file would give him equalizing counter-play, he was quickly disabused of this notion.

21. b3

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21... Re7?

The game was probably gone for Black even without this lemon, but from this point on, it was just target practice for Pillsbury. The only practical chances for Delmar lay in 21...Rbe8 (effectively conceding--as he did on his next move-- that his 20th move was a mistake) or 21...g5?!

22. Re4!

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Pillsbury understood what many of us sometimes forget--Rooks can operate horizontally in the endgame and now just vertically on open files. Here, the half-open 4th-rank is utilized by Pillsbury to mangle the lame Black Queen-side.

22... Rbe8
23. Rc4 Re6
24. Rd7!

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Pillsbury's Rooks operating in tandem were murder.

24... g5?

The only remote chance for Delmar lay in 24...Bxe5 25. BxB RxB 26. Rxc6 Rf5 27. Kg2 Re2 28. a4 a5 29. Rdxc7 Rb2 30. Rb6 Rh5 where Black is two pawns down in a double Rook ending but has real counter-play. I doubt Delmar would have had much luckk trying to hold this, but what happened after the text was far worse.

25. hxg5 hxg5
26. Bg3 Bxe5
27. BxB RxB
28. Rxc6 Rf5

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This ending will take time to win, but the outcome is not really in doubt.

29. Rcxc7

This prolongs the game, but perhaps Pillsbury relished having two Rooks on the 7th rank! Simpler of course was 29. Kg2.

29... Re2?

If Delmar wanted to play this out, he should have tried 29...Re2 and give Pillsbury something to worry about.

30. Kg2

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Not a position that's much fun to play as Black, but Delmar soldiered on for another 27 moves.

Spoiler alert: Pillsbury eventually won all three of Delmar's remaining pawns, but even then (with Delmar four pawns down) the game went on for another 15 moves. I guess Delmar enjoyed playing endgames against Pillsbury.

Premium Chessgames Member
  perfidious: It is vastly amusing to see this header styled 'Normal Variation': I must say that, in the dozens of times I played Black after 1.e4 e6 2.d4, the idea of 2....h6 never quite crossed my mind.
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: <perfidious>I missed that zany description of this opening.

I'm not surprised that 2...h6 never crossed your mind. I have never played the French as Black, but when playing against it as White, I never once was confronted with this move and never once heard or thought of it before analyzing this game.

Good catch!

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post III

30... g4?

Wild play by Delmar. 30...Rf5 was "best" (to the extent any move in such a hopelessly lost ending can be called "best."

31. Rd4 f5?!

Going for broke. The somewhat more "correct" 31...Rf6 or 31...Kf8 held out no real hope, so why not play for miracles!

32. Rdd7

It is hard to see why Pillsbury didn't just snatch the a-pawn and then start advancing his own Queen-side pawns with a seemingly easy win. But the text didn't really ruin anything, and Pillsbury may have enjoyed operating with two Rooks on the seventh!

32... Ra8

Hopeless, but pushing the a-pawn wasn't a whole lot better.

33. c4!

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What a picture!

33... Rh3
34. c5 Kh8

Delmar seems just to be going through the motions. He might as well have pushed his a-pawn. But...

35. Rf7

Strange that Pillsbury didn't take the a-pawn. Maybe the score is foul.

35... Rf3

Worse than useless, but Delmar's position was so far beyond repair that criticism seems churlish.

36. c6

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Time for Delmar to call it a day? Nope.

36... Re8

Quite a strange move. Delmar obviously couldn't move this Rook off the back rank yet since he would then be immediately mated.

37. Rxa7


37... Rc3

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38. Rac7

I don't understand this move at all. The game remains completely won for White. But why not either 38. c7 or 38. Rh7+ Kg8 39. Rag7+ Kf8 40. Rd7 with more crushing threats than I can enumerate (e.g., 41. Rh8 mate).

38... Kg8

Looks more like someone trying for a self-mate.

39. Rxf5

Murder. But 39. Rfd7 or 39. Rg7+ Kh8 40. Rh7+ Kg8 41. Rcg7+ Kf8 42. Rd7.

39... Re2

Not much of a threat.

40. Ra5 Re8
41. Rg5+

41. Raa7 was a faster method.

41... Kh8
42. Rxg4

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Four pawns down, with his King pinned to his back rank, and with Pillsbury sitting on the other side of the board, it is hard to explain why Delmar was still hanging around. Maybe, knowing that Pillsbury had two more classical games to play this day, Delmar was hoping to tire him out, or maybe was hoping Pillsbury would agree to a draw so he could get on with his other two game.

As is obvious, I have no explanation for the fact that the game continued for another 15 moves.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post IV

The balance of the game was of little or no interest:

42... Re6
43. Rh4+

43. Ra4 (threatening mate in two] was faster, but not by much. Perhaps the move 45 time control was a factor.

43... Kg8
44. Ra4

And now 44. Rd4 was quicker.

44... Re8
45. Raa7

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The move 45 time control had now been reached. Resignation now might have been a good idea. But...nope...the game dragged on. Pillsbury must have been bored to tears...or fuming.

45... Rc2
46. b4

Always nice to have an extra passed pawn (or two or three).

46... Kh8

Seemingly just playing on by momentum.

47. Rh7+ Kg8
48. Rag7+

He could also have played 48. b5 immediately.

48... Kf8
49. Rd7


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If now 49...Rxc6 50. Rh8 mate.

49... Kg8
50. b5 Rc5
51. Rdg7+ Kf8
52. c7

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If now 52...Rxb5 53. Rh8+ KxR 54. RxR

52... Re2
53. Rd7 Kg8
54. Rhe7

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Forcing Delmar to trade Rooks or face mate in one.

54... RxR
55. RxR Kf8
56. Rd7 Ke8
57. Rd8+

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