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Clarence Seaman Howell vs William Ewart Napier
Buffalo (1901), Buffalo, New York USA, rd 10, Aug-17
Sicilian Defense: Alapin Variation. General (B22)  ·  0-1



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Kibitzer's Corner
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Going into this final round encounter, Pillsbury had clinched first-place. But 2nd, 3rd, and 4th places were still in doubt and Napier, Delmar, and Howell were all in contention (Marshall and Karpinski were too far behind to have any shot). Delmar and Napier had 5.5 points before this round, and Howell had 4.5. Thus, had Howell won the instant game and had Delmar lost to Marshall, there could have been a three-way tie for 2nd.

Delmar quickly put an end to all such possibilities by defeating Marshall in just 14 moves. That game was doubtless concluded while Howell and Napier were just emerging from the opening. So the Howell-Napier game would decide. If Howell won, he and Napier would share 3rd prize (and Delmar would be in 2nd all by himself). If the game were drawn, Delmar would be 2nd, Napier 3rd. and Howell 4th. If Napier won (as he did), he would tie Delmar for 2nd and Howell would take 4th.

Given the foregoing, a tie was as bad as a loss for Howell. For Napier, victory would not be easy. Though, while playing White, he had defeated Howell in Round 2, Howell was tough as White. He had drawn against Pillsbury when playing White in Round 4 (one of only two draws Pillsbury allowed in this tournament) and had defeated Marshall and Karpinski and drawn with Delmar in his other games as White. To tie for 2nd, Napier would have to do what no one in the tournament had yet done; defeat Howell while playing Black. Napier managed to do this by adopting a strategy very similar to that used by Pillsbury in this same round: he allowed Howell to build a superior position with real attacking chances. At one point, indeed, Howell may have had a theoretically won game. But, as in the Karpinski-Pillsbury game, White (Howell) eventually lost his way, and Napier pounced when Howell blundered on moves 41 and 43 and thereafter quickly had his opponent ensnared in a mating net.

1. e4 c5

The Sicilian is a good choice for a player requiring a win.

2. c3

An off-beat but entirely sound line against the Sicilian. Among other things, it has the virtue of likely avoiding any prepared lines by Black:

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2... g6

2...Nf6 and 2...d5 are the most usual responses. The text, however, is certainly sound and a reasonable way to stay clear of any prepared variations by Howell in selecting 2. c3.

3. d4 cxd4
4. cxd4

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4... d6

Passive but playable. 4...d5 is most normal here and almost certainly best. But Napier seems in this game to be happy to allow Howell to obtain the initiative so long as the position remained unbalanced and new.

5. Nc3 Bg7
6. Be3 Nf6
7. h3

A reasonable prophylactic move, though less enterprising than 7. Nf3 or 7. Bd3 or even 7. Bb5+

7... Qa5

This got Napier nowhere (7...0-0 looks simplest and best), and the Queen and his Knights were soon driven back. But Napier may have gotten what he wanted: an unbalanced position in which Howell could not coast to a draw as he had done as White earlier on the White side of a Sicilian defense against Pillsbury.

After 7...Qa5, the position was:

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8. Bd3 Nc6
9. Nge2 0-0
10. 0-0

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White is certainly better at this point, but the Black position is sturdy and definitely playable. From here, however, Napier adopted a strange retreating/hedgehog approach and invited Howell to attack. Theoretically this could hardly have been sound, but in practice Napier survived and eventually prevailed, as will be seen.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post II

10... Ne8?!

My only explanation for this move is that Napier either thought he would be able to plan f5 at some point or else just wanted to lure Howell into trouble.

11. a3 e6
12. b4

Playing to expand on the Queen-side and gain time by driving Napier's Queen back home:

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12... Qd8
13. Rc1 Qe7

This only tangles up Black's pieces. 13...Nc7 or 13...a6 or 13...d5 all make more sense.

14. Bb1

Many other moves look better, but the text is quite rationale. In many variations, the Bishop can operate more effectively after Bb1-a2.

14... Nd8?!

A full-scale retreat. 14...Nc7 or 14...Bd7 made far more sense. After the text, the position was:

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If Napier's development scheme is correct then everything I think I know about positional chess is wrong. Nevertheless, it must be admitted that the Black position had no horrendous weaknesses and attacking it is no easy task.

15. Qd2

15. d5; 15. Qb3; and 15. Re1 all have their points. The text is also a plausible way to begin the assault on the Black King-side. ON d2, the Queen is ready to support Bh6 or f4.

15... Bd7
16. f4

The attack begins.

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16... Nc7

Another strange effort by Napier. 16...Bh6 or 16...a5 or 16...d5 or 16...f5 all seem to offer better chances of counterplay.

17. Nd1?

Huh. With 17. f5 or 17. d5, White would have a strong attack and definite winning chances. The puny text does open the c-file for the c1 White Rook, but has little else to recommend it, the position now being:

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17... Bb5

Poof! Howell's advantage had virtually disappeared.

18. Bd3 BxB
19. QxB

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Napier must have been happy. He had obtained a double-edged unbalanced position. White is obviously still somewhat better, but Napier needed a win to catch Delmar (by this point the Marshall-Delmar miniature must have been over) and this sharp position did not look at all drawish.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post III

19... d5

Napier rightly wanted to challenge Howell's center, and the text had merit. But better still was 19...f5.

20. e5!

This resource, locking up the Black position and the diagonal for the Black g7 Bishop, would not have been available after 19...f5.

After 20. e5, the position was:

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20... Nc6

Was this a misjudgment or a deliberate attempt by Napier to allow Howell to expand further with b5 (and make the game even sharper)? Sounder were 20...Qd7 or 20...a6 (to forestall b5 by White).

21. Bd2

Not clear what Howell was thinking. 21. b5 immediately was indicated. Was Howell afraid to make the move Napier seemed to expect?

21... Rcf8

21...a6 or 21...Qd7 were theoretically better. But Napier seems to have wanted Howell to play b5. This time he got his wish.

22. b5

22. g4 was also strong.

22... Nd8

So Napier got what he apparently--for whatever reason--wanted:

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23. Bb4 Qd7
24. a4 b6

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Howell was still better, but he squandered any hint of an edge for White with his next two less than best moves:

25. Nf2

25. Ne3 or 25. N(either) c3 were stronger.

25... a6
26. Bd6

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The upcoming exchanges promise nothing more than equality for White. The only chance to maintain any hint of the advantage he had previously enjoyed lay in 26. Nc3.

26... axb5
27. BxN RxB
28. RxR QxR
29. Rc1

This intermediate move looks clever at first sight, but it only helps Black. Best was the simple 29. Qxb5

29... Qd7

Given the importance the a-file will now have, 29...Qa7 was best for Black here.

30. axb5

Opening the a-file for Black, which Napier will later use to great effect. 30. Qxb5 was slightly better.

After Howell's actual 30. axb5, the position was:

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While White's position was not especially bad, Black had some attacking prospects that he would pursue with little risk. In that sense, Napier's strategy had been moderately successful. But the chances of winning (and tying Delmar for 2nd prize) still seemed small. Napier, however, now began playing energetically, and he began setting problems for Howell which eventually paid dividends.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post IV

30... Ra5

30...Nb7 (with a view to an eventual Na5) or 30...Ra2 or maybe 30...Qa7 were worth a look.

31. Rb1

Not awful but wimpy since the White b-pawn was not yet in need of further protection (e.g., 31. Qb3 Rxb5?? 32. Qa4 and wins).

31... Bf8

Bringing the Bishop into the fray and off the blocked diagonal.

32. Ng4 Be7
33. Ne3 Nb7

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34. g4?!

With Napier poised to attack, Howell decided he needed a counter-demonstration. Unfortunately, the text lacks any real bite, and Napier was able to proceed with his plan.

34... Ra3!

Napier now began to use the a-file to excellent effect.

35. Rb3

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35... RxR

Huh? Why give up operating with his Rook on the a-file. With 35...Ra1+ or 35...Ra2 or even 35...Ra4, Napier would have been able to continue to exert pressure on the fragile White position. The Rook trade must have come as a considerable relief for Howell.

36. QxR Na5

Napier had seemingly been counting on this move, but his winning chances now seemed remote:

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Whatever the theoretical status of the position, beginning here Howell (maybe because of time trouble though under the time controls in effect at that time it is questionable if that could really have been the case) went to pieces and played zombie chess till the end of the contest.

37. Qd3?

Ignoring the importance of the a-file. With 37. Qa4, Howell should have been able to hold the position. After the text, defending the Queen's side became a nightmare for Howell.

37... Nc4!
38. Nc3

Obviously forced.

38... NxN
39. QxN Bb4
40. Na2 Be7

Seemingly played to gain time on the clock (rather than playing 40...Bf8). The text, however, worked wonderfully given Howell's feeble response, the position now being:

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41. Qb3?

He had to play 41. Nc3. After the text, Napier demolished the White position with elegant dispatch:

41... Qa7!

Using the a-file for his Queen while his Bishop sat ready to attack on both wings, Napier finished nicely.

42. Kf2 Qa5!

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Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post V

43. Ke2?

Howell was almost certainly lost anyway, but this was hopeless. 43. Nc3 was the only even small chance to offer any real resistance. One does, however, get the impression from this point to the end that Howell was resigned to his fate and was ready to go home.

43... Bh4


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44. Nc3?

The best chance lay in 44. Nb4, but even then White doesn't seem to be able to hold on for very long, e.g., 44...Qxb5+ 45. Kd2 Qf1.

44... Qa1

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Howell might have spared himself the rest. He certainly does not appear to have expended much energy in defending himself any more.

45. Qc2?

Just about the worst move at his disposal, though 45. Kd2 (45...Qe1+ 46. Kc2 Qf2+ 47. Kb1 Qxf4) or 45. Nb1 or 45. Nd1 (both of which would be answered by 45...Qxd4) also don't look like much fun for White.

45... Qe1+
46. Kd3 Qg3+
47. Kd2

47. Ke2 would not have prolonged the game all that much after 47...Qf2+.

47... Qf4+

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48. Kd1

This allows mate in 2. The alternatives, however, were almost equally grim: (A) 48. Ke2 Qf2+ 49. Kd3 Qf3+ 50. Kd2 Bg5+ 51. Ke1 Qh1+ 52. Kf2 Qh2+ 53. Kf1 QxQ; (B) 48. Kd3 Qf3+ 49. Kd2 Bg5+ 50. Ke1 Qh1+ 51. Kf2 Qh2+ 52. QxQ

After the text, the conclusion was swift:

48... Qf1+

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If 49. Kd2 Bg5 mate.

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