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Louis Karpinski vs Harry Nelson Pillsbury
Buffalo (1901), Buffalo, New York USA, rd 10, Aug-17
Spanish Game: Closed Variations (C84)  ·  0-1



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Kibitzer's Corner
Premium Chessgames Member
  HarryP: Pillsbury's last game in the tournament. He didn't take it very seriously as he had already clinched first place and Karpinski had no wins and only two draws. Karpinski achieves a strong position, maybe even a winning position, but he eventually succumbs.
Dec-22-20  offramp: User: HarryP you have a good point there.

I do not want to say too much about this game as <KEG> may have it on his to-do list...but look at this position.

click for larger view

White to move. He is 2 pawns up. His rooks control the central files. He has a pawn on h7 protected by a bishop.
Black's king has zero pawn protection, and his knight is out of play on b6.
Karpinski played 29. Bxg7 which doesn't look right. Why exchange when attacking? And the move helps Black's rook to a good square with a gain of tempo.

It is hard to suggest a better move for White, though.
I think I'd play 29. Be3 with the idea of 30. Rg1.

Perversely, when White resigns the dratted pawn is still on h7.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: As <HarryP> notes, this game was played in the final round at Buffalo 1901 by which time Pillsbury (with 7 wins and 2 draws in nine games) had clinched first place; and Karpinski was certain to finish last (having lost his chance to catch Marshall when he lost their game in the penultimate round).

The game was played on August 16, not August 17 as given on this site. Karpinski apparently wanted to leave town on the evening of the 16th. So Pillsbury--who had played three full games on the 15th (winning all three)--agreed to accommodate Karpinski by playing on the evening of the 16th even though that meant he had to play three games on the 16th as well. By the time Pillsbury got around to playing his game with Karpinski, he had played an exciting draw against Marshall, and then won a 42-move tough game against Howell.

Karpinski must also have been pooped. He had lost his games to Napier and Marshall earlier that day.

With all this background, the Karpinski-Pillsbury game turned out to be quite exciting. Pillsbury played a relatively new move on the Black side of the Ruy Lopez (8...Bg4). This innovation--later championed by Duras and Nikolic--seems clearly inferior to the usual 8...0-0. But it did through the players on their own resources.

Pillsbury repeatedly played provocative chess. I'm not sure I would say--as has <HarryP>-- that Pillsbury didn't take the game seriously. Rather, Pillsbury seemed to seek complications so the game would not be extended. In so doing, he lapsed into a dead-lost position with his bizarre 22...Kh8?, and then--when clearly lost--sought the sharpest lines. This eventually paid dividends when Karpinski (who still had a win in the position diagrammed by <offramp>) repeatedly lost his way.

Even after Karpinski had blown his win, Pillsbury played almost manic chess on his 31st move, again courting disaster, but confusing his over-matched opponent who blundered away yet another winning edge on his 33rd move, and then blundering away any chance of survival with his 35. Rxd6?? Pillsbury then quickly wrapped up the game.

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. Bb5 a6
4. Ba4 Nf6
5. 0-0 Be7
6. Re1 b5
7. Bb3 d6
8. c3

Thus far, an entirely normal Closed Ruy Lopez. But now, instead of the normal 8...0-0, Pillsbury tried a nearly new move:

8... Bg4

click for larger view

Not a great innovation, but certainly playable. It was played on occasion by Janowski, Tchigorin, Rubinstein, Schlechter, and Burn, and later became a great favorite of Duras (who played it at least eleven time) and Nikolic.

9. d4

Sergeant-Watts, in their book on Pillsbury, called 9. d3 "safer." But simpler and best is 9. h3 or 9. a4.

The text is also reasonable, but it leads to the sort of sharp complexities that Pillsbury must have welcomed.

9... exd4

9...0-0 is surely better. But Pillsbury's move was motivated by his desire to wreck Karpsinki's King-side pawn structure and enable him to terrorize his less experienced opponent.

10. cxd4 BxN

Continuing with his plan, but the loss of the two Bishops was more sever than the weakness he created in Karpinski's King-side. 10...0-0 was probably best.

11. gxB

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The open g-file was to be a key theme throughout the balance of the game.

11... 0-0

Pillsbury could also have played 11...Na5 immediately.

12. Nc3

12. f4 was also good.

12... Na5

Sergeant-Watts speak of Pillsbury's "questionable maneuvers on the Queen-side beginning with this move. But the text, a standard ploy on the Black side of the Ruy Lopez, was hardly problematic. It was Pillsbury's subsequent play that created the tactical crisis that might have led to trouble for Black against a stronger player.

The position after 12...Na5 was:

click for larger view

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post II

13. Bc2 b4?!

13...c6 or 13...d5 or even 13...g6 or 13...Nc4 were sounder and probably theoretically better options. But Pillsbury obviously wanted a quick shoot-out, and 13...b4?! was the first salvo in his effort to create an early crisis and a quick end to what had already been a long day at the chessboard.

14. Ne2 c5

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15. d5?

This weak move was an indication that Pillsbury could get away with bullying Karpinski until the latter cracked. White could have seized much the better game with 15. dxc5 or 15. e5 and probably even 15. b3.

15... Ne8?!

15...Nd7 was obviously better, as Pillsbury must surely have recognized. But the provocative text spurred Karpinski to launch a King-side attack that, though unquestionably warranted, was likely to lead to his demise against a tactical wizard such as Pillsbury.

The position after 15...Ne8?! was:

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Who could resist attacking the Black King-side here?

16. Ng3

16. a3 or 16. f4 were definitely better. But Karpinski took the most direct approach. Send in all the troops and crash the barriers

16... g6?!

Just in case Karpinski lost his nerve, Pillsbury weakened his own King-side with this move, making a King-side attack irresistible. It was also clearly the correct strategy for White here, and offered excellent winning chances. But it required Karpinski to enter the realm of tactical warfare. Pillsbury must have been delighted by Karpinski's next move.

17. Bh6! Ng7

Pillsbury might also have sacrificed the exchange with 17...Bg5 19. BxR KxB 19. Qe2 Bf4 or 17...Bf6 18. BxR KxB 19. Rb1 Be5. But then Pillsbury would have been the attacker. He preferred to let Karpinski do the charging.

18. f4!

Sergeant-Watts, noting the open g-file and the upcoming line-up of Karpinski's King and Queen on that file, suggested 18. Kh1. But after 18...Bf6 White would have no advantage. The text was surely best, but was likely quite welcome to Pillsbury.

18... Nc4

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19. b3

Missing the boat. White would have much the better chances (theoretically, of course) with 19. a3 or 19. Qe2. The text gave Pillsbury chances for counterplay.

19... Nb6?!

Had Lasker been on the other side of the board, I bet Pillsbury would have played 19...Na3 almost instantly. But he wanted Karpinski to come and get him, so he played the strange text, which pretty much left his Knight out of most of the rest of the game.

20. Qg4

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My guess is that both sides were pleased with this position. From here, Pillsbury continued with wild and increasingly unsound play, soon reached a dead-lost position, and then outplayed and crushed Karpinski in the ensuing complications despite the theoretically hopeless nature of the Black position.

Note the line-up of Karpinski's King and Queen on the g-file. Sergeant-Watts certainly did, and we can bet that Pillsbury had the resulting possibilities very much in mind.

Feb-01-21  sudoplatov: 29.Bg5 or 29.Bf4 should win, at least after a short search using SF.
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: <sudoplatov>True. Perhaps even better would have been 29. Qg6. But as I will try to show in my commentary on the game, that is only part of the story.
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post III

20... Re8?!

20...Qd7 or 20...Qc8 challenging the White Queen directly would have been the best way to defang White's King-side attack. I cannot believe this all was not obvious to Pillsbury. If my hunch is correct, Pillsbury remained more interested in provoking an immediate crisis so he and Karpinski could go home at a decent hour. This, in any event, is my best understaning of what Pillsbury was up to here.

After 20...Re8 the position was:

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21. Nf5?!

Had Pillsbury been playing the other side of the board, I bet he would have played 21. e5 in a nano-second. This would have given White a powerful if not entirely winning attack. But Karpinski opted to try to exploit the pin on the g-file, perhaps not noticing that--as Sargeant and Watts stress in their commentary--the g-file is now a double-edged sword with White's King and Queen lined up on this same file.

The text gave Pillsbury an easy way to regroup, the position now being:

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21... NxN?!

This, as Pillsbury must have known, was playing with fire. 21...Bf6 (and maybe 21...Bf8 as well) would have nicely defused the situation. But that, it seems, is not what Pillsbury wanted to do

22. exN

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22... Kh8??

On the face of it, this was sheer suicide. Pillsbury would have had decent prospects of hanging on and defending his King-side with 22...Bf8 or 22...Bf6.

Once again, I cannot believe Pillsbury didn't know this full well. But he seems to have wanted to create an immediate crisis, secure in knowing: (a) he had already clinched first place; and (b) Karpinski would likely go wrong in carrying out his winning attack.

23. fxg6 fxg6

On the face of the position, Pillsbury was busted. 23...hxg6 would also not have saved him. After his actual 23...fxg6, the position was:

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24. f5!

A killer.

24... Rg8
25. fxg6

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I am reminded here of Soltis' account of a blitz game he played against Bobby Fischer in which a complex position was reached where--according to Soltis--both sides realized that: (1) Soltis had a won game; and (2) Fischer would nonetheless win.

25... Bf6


26. Rad1

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This sure looks wretched for Black. The manner in which this situation was transformed from a win for White to a win for Black is fascinating to behold; tragic as it must have been for poor Karoinski.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post IV

26... Ra7!!

This move is incredibly bad and should have doomed Pillsbury immediately. The closest thing to a defense Pillsbury could have mustered was with 26...Nd7. So why the "!!" ?

I so designate this move because it proved the perfect way to lure Karpinski to his demise, as will be seen presently.

27. Kh1

Sergeant and Watts criticize this move as giving Pillsbury "just the breathing time that he requires."

While it is true that Karpinski could have played the annihilating 27. Re6! or even 27. Qh5, the text didn't really ruin anything and at least had the virtue of getting the White King off the dangerous g-file. The only thing wrong with the move is that Karpinski obviously had no clue on how to follow it up.

27... Bg7

Theoretically hopeless, but so was everything else. The text had the virtue of being tricky, and this trickiness worked against Karpinski.

After 27...Bg7, the position was:

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28. gxh7

As <offramp> has noted, this pawn never leaves h7 for the balance of the game. Much stronger for White was 28. Bf4! with Re6 to follow. But even after the text, Karpinski still had a clear win. He was two pawns up and his position still seemed far to good to ruin. But watch what happened:

28... Rf8

Pretty much forced, leaving the following:

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29. BxB+

As <sudoplatov> has correctly noted, White can now win with either 29. Bg5 or 29. Bf4. And 29. Qg6 is perhaps even more crushing.

But even after the far weaker text, Karpinski still had a won game.

29... RxB

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30. Qe2

30. Qh3 or 30. Qe4 were more directly to the point, but even after this latest less than best move by Karpinski he still had the game in hand.

30... Qf6

The only real hope for Black lay in this move:

click for larger view

Karpinski was still two pawns ahead, had a strong attack, and Pillsbury's Knight seemed hopelessly out of play. But from here, Karpinski completely collapsed.

31. Qh5

White wins here by bringing his Rook into the show with 31. Rd3. I see no effective defense for Black after that move. Karpinski's effort, by contrast, gave Pillsbury a way out and definitely blew the win, the position now being:

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What followed was nearly surreal.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post V

31... Rg5?!

Pillsbury, who had been lost until Karpinski's 31. Qh5, now had an easy opportunity to play for a draw: 31...Qxf2. Play could then get lively, but Black seems fine in all lines; e.g., 32. Be4 Nd7 33. Qh3 Nf6 34. Bf5 Qxa2 35. Rg1 Qe2 36. Rde1 RxR+ 37. RxR a5 38. Qg3 Qe7 39. Bd3 Nxh7 40. Qg2 Nf6.

But Pillsbury wanted something more violent that might entail some risk but would likely lead to a faster conclusion of the game. Hence he played the text (31...Rg5, leaving:

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32. Qh3

Sergeant and Watts claimed that Pillsbury now had a win. But this is nonsense. Indeed, far from having a won position, Pillsbury's only legitimate chance to save the game lay in 32...Nxd5. But this would have given Pillsbury no real chance to win and might have led to a long endgame: e.g., 32...Nxd5 33. Rg1 RxR+ 34. RxR Qxf2 35. Bf5 Ne7 36. Qg4 Qd4 37. QxQ+ cxQ and White, though pawn down, would have the superior minor piece (Bishop versus Knight) and the only even possible winning chances.

Not fancying such a course of events, Pillsbury played yet another "unsound" move that theoretically left him lost but in practice successfully terrorized the hapless Karpinski:

32... Rxd5

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Now, with 33. Bd3 or 33. Qg3, Karpinski would have had excellent winning prospects. But instead, he played:

33. Re6?

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Suddenly, Pillsbury had the game in hand. He didn't hesitate:

33... RxR+
34. BxQ Qxf2

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White was probably lost anyway, but Karpinski left no doubt about it with the following lemon:

35. Rxd6?

White could at least have made a (probably futile) fight of it with 35. Qg4; 35. Bg4; 35. Qg2.

Pillsbury now finished off his stumbling opponent:

35... Qe1+
36. Kg2 Qf1+
37. Kg3

click for larger view

Karpinski's Rook was hanging (via the 37...Qf4+ fork). But Pillsbury, for whatever reason, allowed Karpinski to survive for another move or two:

37... Qf2+
38. Kg4 Qf4+
39. Kh5 Rf5+

Now Black picks up both the White Queen and then the White Rook. So...


Vert strange game.

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