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Harry N. Pillsbury - Emanuel Lasker;

St. Petersburg Quadrangular Tournament, 1895-'96.

This is a game I have been asked literally dozens of times to annotate it. I never got around to it - at least nothing more than what I refer to as a casual analysis. (To me, anything that takes more than a week - on one game - is a serious analysis.) I probably would have NEVER taken this project on, except I got caught up deeply looking at many of the games of Cambridge Springs, 1904. Of special interest is the game Pillsbury - Lasker, from that same event. (In fact, they are ALL great games!!) 

The only problem is that - LIKE IT OR NOT, (And I didn't like it most of the time!) - these two games of Pillsbury's are inexorably linked. In this one, Pillsbury loses. In the CS1904 encounter, Pillsbury improves on his play from St. Petersburg and wins a tremendous brilliancy. So it would seem that you cannot truly annotate one without also doing the other. (If you are genuinely seeking the truth ... which I believe I am doing.) So without further ado, I present you one of the greatest victories of Lasker's chess career. ENJOY!! 

 GM Harry Nelson Pillsbury (2581) - GM Emanuel Lasker (2699) 
Quadrangular Tournament, St. Petersburg, (RUS); 1895-'96 
(Rd # 10.1),  January 04, 1896

[A.J. Goldsby I]
   The CB Medal for this game - you can tell the salient features of this contest at a glance.  (lask_pillsvl-medal.gif, 02 KB)


   Click  HERE  to see an explanation of the symbols that I use in annotating a chess game.

      This is MOSTLY a text-based version of the game with just a few diagrams. 
       (You might need a chess board to follow the game AND the variations.) 


One of the greatest games of chess literature. MANY different authors, (like Reinfeld and 
 also Chernev); have said that this monumental fight is of Lasker's best games. 

An exciting struggle that features many sharp, daring and brilliant plays. 


This game is also from probably the FIRST true "Super-Tournament." Four of the World's 
"Top Five" players slug it out to determine who the World's best player really is. 

The ratings are exact and are those of Jeff Sonas
(I would have rated Lasker close to or OVER 2800 ... and Pillsbury around 2730 - 2750.
 This would more closely approximate their ratings in the year, 2003.)


1.d4 d5;  2.c4 e6;  3.Nc3 Nf6;  4.Nf3!?,  {Diagram?}  
Pillsbury avoids his own variation. The reason why? Probably he has 
not figured out the way to meet Lasker's own defense to this line. 
(After Bg5, Black plays an early ...h6; followed by ...Ne4.) 

     [ The best move is:  >/=  4.Bg5!,  {Diagram?}  which theorists all over 
        the world recognize today as  ...  "The Pillsbury Attack/Variation." ]  


4...c5;  5.Bg5!?,  {Diagram?}  
This is probably good enough for a slight advantage for White.
 (Theory today prefers cxd5 or even e3.) 

     [ Modern theory says it is better to play the continuation:  
       5.e3!? Nc66.a3!, "+/="  {Diagram?}  and White maintains 
       a fairly solid edge  ... no matter what Black plays from here. 

       [See MCO-14;  page # 432, column # 102.] ]  


Black now finds a clever way to clarify the center to his advantage.
5...cxd4!;  6.Qxd4!? Nc6;  7.Qh4!?,  {Diagram?}  
From here ... White will find it hard to get much of an advantage at all.
(But I should point out that this move is the FIRST choice of most strong 
 chess programs!!) 

   --->  Several books give this move a question mark.

This move has been deeply criticized by some. ('?') But since Lasker (later) wrote that 
7.Bxf6?! led to a serious advantage for BLACK ... and seeing that nearly every other 
square for the Queen (like d2) is blatantly INFERIOR ...  I am not really sure where White 
is supposed to put his Queen. 

In the mid-1970's ... I showed this position to a strong IM/GM ... who was like the # 3 active 
player in the U.S. at that time. (I told him this was a postal game of mine, and that I was 
playing Black. Apparently he did not recognize the game.) I asked him what the correct 
move was for White. He looked at it for several minutes and said: "I would play 7.Qh4, 
here, this would give a small advantage to White." (He also went on to comment that 
we both had not played the opening very well!) 

      [  In his last major tournament, the great Pillsbury played instead: 
         >/=  7.Bxf6!, "+/="  TN  {Diagram?}  and won one of his greatest victories

         Harry N. Pillsbury - Emanuel Lasker;  
         Super-Master Invitational Tourney 
         Cambridge Springs, PA; 
(USA) 1904.  ]


Pillsbury now typically plays the most aggressive line. 
---> (He was later criticized for this decision, but had he won {brilliantly}, 
        I am sure they would have heaped praise on him instead!) 

7...Be7;  8.0-0-0!? Qa5!;  {Diagram?}  
The most aggressive line, says the one and only Irving Chernev. 

   '!' - Irving Chernev. 

"Lasker starts an attack ..." (- Irving Chernev.)  

     [ Possible was: 8...0-0!?; {Diagram?} but I doubt if Black is better. ]  


9.e3 Bd7;  10.Kb1 h6!;  {Diagram?}  
Black immediately questions the Bishop. The Pawn on h6 is either a weakness, or 
allows Black to win the dark-squared Bishop. Everyone from Marco to Chernev to 
Kasparov praises this move and also awards it an exclamation point. 

     [ Black could try: 10...a6!?; or even 10...0-0; "=" ]  


11.cxd5 exd5;  12.Nd4!? 0-0;  13.Bxf6,  {Box?}  {Diagram?}  
Now White felt this was completely forced, as the sacrifice on h6 is unsound ... 
and retreating to f4 walks into a pawn fork.  

     [ 13.Bxh6? gxh614.Qxh6 Ne4!; "/+" ]  


13...Bxf6;  14.Qh5,  {Diagram?}  
This is practically the only good move for White in this position. 

     [ </= 14.Qg3?! Nxd415.exd4 Rac8; "=/+" ]  


Now Black unexpectedly exchanges and seemingly helps White out. 
But the most subtle difference is Black's Bishop on f6 is very strong 
and the c-file has been opened for both of Lasker's Rooks.  
14...Nxd4!;  15.exd4 Be6!;  {Diagram?}   
The best move according to:  '!' - GM Garry Kasparov. 

16.f4!?,  {Diagram?} 
What is the point of this move?

Chernev informs us that Pillsbury plans on a pawn avalanche ... 
(f5, g2-g4, h2-h4, and g4-g5); like he used to defeat the great Tarrasch 
at Hastings, 1895. (This tournament was Pillsbury's greatest triumph.) 

     [ 16.Bc4!? Rfd8; 17.Rhe1 Rac8; "=/+" ]   


16...Rac8; ('!')  {See the diagram - just below.}  
The heavy pieces very naturally occupies the open line. 


   Black just played his Rook to c8 ... should White play f5 here? If he does, how should Black respond? (lask_pillsvsl_pos-1.jpg, 20 KB)

 (2r2rk1/pp3pp1/4bb1p/q2p3Q/3P1P2/2N5/PP4PP/1K1R1B1R   w - - 0 17) 


This position looks nearly equal ...  
but sometimes appearances can be very deceptive! 

     [ Also good was: 16...Rfc8!?; "=/+" ]  


17.f5,  {Diagram?}  
This appears to gain a move for White.  

     [ </=  17.Be2!? Rxc3!!; "/+" ]  


Now comes one of the most surprising moves of high-class chess. 
17...Rxc3!!;  {Diagram?}  
This had to have been a shock for Pillsbury ... who predicts a seemingly random 
bolt of lightning like this??? 

Amos Burn - considered by many to be one of the best chess analysts of all time - 
later said:  "This begins the finest combination ever played on a chess board!" 

   '!!' - GM Garry Kasparov. 

     [ Also good for Black was: 17...Bd7!?18.Be2!? Rxc3; "/+"  {Diag?}  
        with a vicious attack. ]  


18.fxe6!?,  (Probably - '!')  {Diagram?}  
Pillsbury tries to be tricky.  

     '!'  - GM John Emms. 

     [ After the continuation: 18.bxc3 Qxc319.fxe6{Diagram?}  
        White might as well. 

         (19.Qf3!? Qxf3!; 20.gxf3 Bxf5+; 21.Bd3 Be6; "/+")     

        This looks to be forced. 

         (Even worse was: </=  20.Kc2? Rc8+; 21.Kd3 Qxd4+;     
          22.Ke2 Rc2+;  ("-/+")  {Diagram?}  and White will probably     
          be mated - in very short order.)    

       20...Rc8!!, ("-/+")  {Diagram?}  
       and Black should win. (exf7+, Kf8!) ]   


Pillsbury may have thought he was holding ... ... ...  
if so, Lasker's next move abused him of that notion. 
18...Ra3!!;  (Maybe - '!!!')  {Diagram?}  
A truly stunning move ... and one that must have caused Pillsbury's 
stomach to roll over a few times!! 

"One of the greatest single moves ever played." - GM R. Fine. 

The point of this move? Lasker is obviously going to attack White's King!

   '!!!' - GM Reuben Fine.   '!!'  - GM Garry Kasparov.   

     [ Also good for Lasker was: 18...Rc619.exf7+ Rxf7; "=/+"  {Diag?}  
        and Black is slightly better. ]  


19.exf7+!?,  {Diagram?}  
Pillsbury throws in a check ...  probably thinking it does not really change the 
situation a great deal. (But years later analysis determined that this move is 
probably inaccurate.) 

Pillsbury later wrote he expected to win rather easily - mainly because he felt 
he was better and his opponent was critically short of time here. 


     [ Believe it or not, White has to play the very dangerous looking 
        continuation of: >/=  19.bxa3! Qb6+20.Kc2!!,  "~"  {Diagram?}  
        which also leads to enormous complications from here. 
        (- GM J. Nunn, GM J. Emms, and also FM Graham Burgess.) 

        I must emphasize that most of this analysis was probably done with a 
        computer. And exposing your King - as White does in this line - is 
        VERY  UN-natural and runs counter to a player's normal instincts!! 


       The players - in the postmortem - came up with the following line:  
       </=  19.e7?! Re820.bxa3 Qb6+21.Kc2,  {Diagram?}  
       This is totally forced. (But most of my students bitterly complain that 
        White should be winning here - - the threats don't look that imposing 
        and White is ...  A WHOLE ROOK AHEAD!!!)  

          ( Or White could play: 21.Ka1 Bxd4+; 22.Rxd4 Qxd4+; 23.Kb1 Rxe7; "=/+"   
            (Maybe - "/+")  but Black is definitely better. )     

       21...Rc8+22.Kd2 Bxd4!23.e8Q+!? Rxe824.Bd3 Qa5+;  
       25.Kc1 Rc8+26.Bc2 Rxc2+!;  ("-/+")  {Diagram?}  
       and White is quickly mated.  ]    



19...Rxf7;  20.bxa3!?,  {See the diagram - just below.}  
This could be forced. (now)



  White has just captured Black's Rook on a3, what is the correct way for Lasker to continue the attack? (lask_pillsvsl_pos-2.jpg, 19 KB)

 (6k1/pp3rp1/5b1p/q2p3Q/3P4/P7/P5PP/1K1R1B1R   b - - 0 20) 


Now the only question is: "How does Black proceed from here?" 
His attack appears stalled. 

     [ </= 20.Bd3? Rxa2; "/+" ]  


Black has many different ways here to proceed with his attack. 
20...Qb6+; ('!')  {Diagram?}  
This is the correct way to continue the assault against the White King. 


     [ The most natural move here is to capture the Pawn on a3 
        with the Queen ... but after: </=  20...Qxa3?21.Qxd5, "+/-"  {Diag?}  
        White should win.  


       Another attacking idea that has been suggested by many of my 
       students here is:  20...Rc7!?;  {Diagram?}  
       but I think this idea too falls short. ]   


21.Bb5!,  {Diagram?}  
An ingenious defense ... that is nearly forced upon the great Pillsbury. 

   '!' - GM Emanuel Lasker.   '!' - GM Garry Kasparov.  

     [ After the moves: </=  21.Ka1 Bxd4+22.Rxd4 Qxd4+23.Kb1 Qe4+!; 
        24.Kc1!? Rf2; "-/+"  {Diagram?}  White is lost. - Irving Chernev. 


        Also bad for White is: </=  21.Kc2!? Rc7+22.Kd2 Qxd4+23.Bd3 Rc2+!!; 
        24.Kxc2 Qb2#.  {Diagram?}  - Irving Chernev. ]  


21...Qxb5+;  22.Ka1,  {Diagram?}  
This is definitely forced.  

     [ Going the other way - in this particular position - gets smashed; 
        and very quickly so:  </=  22.Kc1?? Bg5+23.Kc2?? Rc7#.  


       Or even:  </=  22.Kc1?? Rc7+23.Kd2 Qb2+!;  
        24.Ke1 Qxg2;  ("-/+")  {Diagram?}   
        and White probably cannot avoid mate. ]  


22...Rc7!?;  {Diagram?}  
A nice-looking move and certainly one which apparently gives Black a strong attack. 
(The threat is the very simple ...Rc2; followed by mate. And even more venomous is 
 the threat of ...Rc1+!! followed by ..Bxd4+; and a quick mate.) 

 --->  Yet Black had an even better move in this position! 

"Fifteen moves an hour was the prescribed time limit, and I already had consumed 
  nearly two whole hours. Thus - I had to make these moves in a hurry," 
  says (World Champion) Emanuel Lasker.
(Anyone who has been in time pressure knows it is easy to miss a winning line.)  

     [ After:  >/=  22...Qc4!; "/+"  {Diagram?}  
        Black probably has a decisive attack. - GM Emanuel Lasker.  

        (White is forced to protect his d-pawn with something like Qg4. 
         Then Black simply plays ...Re7; followed by ...Re2; winning.)  ]   


The players both miss some tactical opportunities over the next few moves. 

23.Rd2!? Rc4;  24.Rhd1!? Rc3!;  {Diagram?}  
Another nice attacking move ...  but many years later someone discovered 
another way to win for Black here. 

"The concluding moves were played under fearful time pressure." 
   - Dr. J. Hannak.  

     [ Even better was: >/= 24...Qc6!!25.Kb1 Bg5!26.Qe2[],  {Diag?}  
        No choice here for White. 

          ( Not </= 26.Re2?? Rc1+;  and Black gives mate. )    

       26...Bxd227.Qxd2 Qd6!;  "-/+"  {Diagram?}  
       and Black should win. ]   


25.Qf5, ('!?')  {Diagram?}  
Logically, White tries to re-centralize his Queen. (His most powerful piece.) 

     [  White is worse off after: 25.Qe2!? Rc1+!!26.Rxc1 Bxd4+;  
         27.Rxd4 Qxe2; "=/+"  {Diagram?}   - Irving Chernev.  


       The best move is probably  >/=  25.Re1!, "~"  {Diagram?}  
        with good chances to defend. (- GM John Nunn & GM J. Emms.)  ]  


25...Qc4;  26.Kb2,    {See the diagram - just below.}  
Pillsbury is trying to use "The aggressive King approach," a la'  Steinitz ... 
but it does not work here. (Lasker says this was a mistake {'?'} and says that 
Kb1 was definitely indicated.)



   Pillsbury just played Kb2  ...  it almost seems that White is about to free himself. What is the best move for Black in this position?  (lask_pillsvsl_pos-3.jpg, 18 KB)

 (6k1/pp4p1/5b1p/3p1Q2/2qP4/P1r5/PK1R2PP/3R4   b - - 0 26) 


I must say White appears - at a first and somewhat superficial glance - 
 to be quite secure here. 

     [ Black's threats are clearly seen in the following variation:  
       </=  26.g4? Rc1+27.Rxc1 Qxc1+28.Qb1 Qxd2; "-/+"  {Diag?}  
       and Black should win handily.  


       The best line was "King-to-Knight-One" says Lasker: 
       26.Kb1 Rxa3; ('!?')   27.Qc2, (!?)  {Diagram?}  
       While this looks good, Rc1 might be even better.  

       27...Rc328.Qb2 b5; "=/+"  {Diagram?}  
       but Black is probably better in this position. 
       - Analysis by: Emanuel Lasker. ]  


26...Rxa3!!;  (Maybe - '!!!/!!!!')  {Diagram?}  
Who says lightning never strikes twice in the same place? 

This thunderous shot, coming as it did with both players short of time, 
 must have floored poor Pillsbury. 

   '!!' - GM Garry Kasparov. 

    "This is some kind of {chessic}  mysticism: the second rook is also 
     sacrificed on the very same square!" - GM G. Kasparov.  

     [ Did he expect a move like: 26...b6!?; "~"  instead? ]  


27.Qe6+ Kh7!?; (Maybe - '!')  {Diagram?}  
Putting the King in the corner was much more accurate, but it must have been very 
difficult to thoroughly understand this with both players in extreme time pressure. 

     '!' - GM John Emms.  (Sorry John.) 


  NEWS FLASH Maybe Lasker was correct - as he maintained over a number of years. 
                                (He had always maintained that ...Kh7! was the best move, although 
                                 many analysts had disagreed with him.) A construction manager, who 
                                 lives in St. Petersburg, (Sergey Sorokhtin); may have found several 
                                 substantial IMPROVEMENTS over Kasparov's analysis of this game. 
                                 (Added:  Saturday; January 31st, 2004.)  


     [ Better was:  27...Kh8!; ("-/+")  {Diagram?}  
       which probably should win for Black. ]  


28.Kxa3?!,   (Really - '?'  here.)    {Diagram?}  
With his flag now hanging, Pillsbury (sadly) commits a severe mistake. 

Many a GM probably views this position as a very easy win. But most of my 
students - some who are well over 1600 - do not find the correct method for 
Black to mate from here. 

 '??' - GM Garry Kasparov. 
 (I think this is terribly harsh and an obvious case of  "over-kill.") 

     [ Better was  ...Qf5+! (Kasparov?) After the following moves: 
       28.Qf5+! Kh8!{Diagram?}  
This might be good, but maybe the more natural ...Kg8; is much better!
(See Sergey Sorokhtin's analysis on the ChessBase web site.)     

            (Maybe better was  (>/=)  28...Kg8!!;  {and} Black wins by force?) 

       29.Kb1!! Rxa2!!30.Rxa2!? Qb3+31.Kc1 Bg5+;  
       32.Rad2!? Qc3+33.Qc2 Qa1+34.Qb1 Qc3+35.Qc2 Qa1+;  
       36.Qb1 Qc3+;  ("=")  {Diagram?}  
       Black has a draw by perpetual check/repetition of the position ... 
       but isn't it a bit much to ask these players to find such a deeply hidden 
       resource - especially when both parties were in such desperate time 
       trouble? ]  


The end is now mercifully swift. 
(Some say Lasker may even now have announced a mate in five.) 

28...Qc3+!;  29.Ka4 b5+!!;  30.Kxb5 Qc4+!;  31.Ka5 Bd8+!; OUCH!!  {Diagram?}  
... and since White's only legal move is to throw his Queen in to block the check - 
and then promptly get mated ... (If 32.Qb6, then simply 32...BxQ#) - 
WHITE RESIGNS!!!  (0-1)  

Many years later ... the great Lasker himself was asked to choose one game 
that was his favorite and/or very best. Understandably he chose this game.


I have seen this game an almost countless number of times in print over the years. 
Other than photo-copies of very old books and magazines, I mainly used the following 
sources - given in the order that I consulted them!! - to (try and) annotate this great 

# 1.)  Masters of Chess, {series} No. Six. 
          "The Collected Games of: EMANUEL LASKER,"  by  Ken Whyld.  
          Copyright (c) 1998. Published by 'The Chess Player.' 
          ISBN: # 1-901034-02-X

# 2.)  "Emanuel Lasker, The Life of A Chess Master."  By  Dr. J. Hannak
           Copyright (c) 1952 and 1959. (1991) 
           Published by Simon & Schuster of New York, NY. (USA) [1959] 
           Reprinted by Dover Books in 1991.  ISBN: # 0-486-26706-7 (paper) 

# 3.)  << THE GOLDEN DOZEN >> 
          "The Twelve Greatest Chess Players of All Time."  (Plus annotated games.) 
            By the incomparable (late, great)  Irving Chernev
            Copyright (c) 1976, by the author. 
            Published by the Oxford University Press, New York, NY. (USA) 
            ISBN: # 0-19-217536-X  (hard-back) 

# 4.)  "Lasker's Manual Of Chess,"  by  GM Emanuel Lasker
           Copyright (c) 1947; D. McKay. (Published in New York.) 

# 5.)  "The World's Great Chess Games,"  edited by  GM Reuben Fine
            Copyright (c) 1951 and 1976. Dover re-print 1983.  
            ISBN: # 0-486-24512-8 (paper)

# 6.)  "Lasker's Greatest Chess Games, (1889-1914)"  
           by  Fred Reinfeld,  and  GM Reuben Fine
           Copyright (c) 1935 and (c) 1963. Dover reprint, 1965
           ISBN: 0-486-21450-8  
           (I also have an original edition {hard-back} of this book.) 

# 7.)  "The Match-Tournament At St. Petersburg, 1895-1896."  By  John C. Owen.  
            Copyright (c) 1989. Published by Caissa Editions. 
            (A division of Dale A. Brandeth books.)  ISBN: # 0-939433-10-9  (hard-back)  

# 8.)  [The Mammoth Book Of:]  "The World's Greatest Chess Games,"  
          by  GM John NunnGM John Emms,  and  FM Graham Burgess.  
          Copyright (c) 1998, by the authors. 
          Published by Carroll & Graf Books, London, (ENG); and New York. (USA) 
          ISBN: # 0-7867-0587-6  (paperback)  

# 9.)  Garry Kasparov On: "My Great Predecessors," (Part I).  
          By  GM G. Kasparov  and  D. Plisetsky.  Copyright (c) 2003,  by the author(s). 
          Published by EVERYMAN Chess. ISBN: # 1-85744-330-6  (hard-back)  

# 10.)  "Harry Nelson Pillsbury - American Chess Champion," 
              by  Jaques N. Pope.  Copyright (c) 1996, by the author and publisher. 
              Published by 'Pawn Island Press,' distributed by Lindsay Chess supplies.

# 11.)  A deep  ChessBase  analysis of this game. (Various contributors.)


   Copyright (c) A.J. Goldsby I    Copyright (c) A.J.G;  2003, & 2004.   
  Copyright (
) A.J. Goldsby, 2004.  All rights reserved.  


   (All HTML code - initially)  Generated with  ChessBase 8.0   


  0 - 1  

I personally tried (very hard) to be objective here ... but I did not   "grade"  these moves 
nearly as harshly as I might have. For example, in one book, White's first 15 moves gets 
something like 5 question marks. To me this is just plain silly ... 
and borders on purely retarded behavior.

In Kasparov's new book - see item # 9 in the bibliography above - he gives the following 
moves a question mark: White's 19th move; Black's 22nd move; White's 24th move; 
Black's 24th move, White's 26th move, and Black's 27th move. Additionally he gave 
White's 28th move a DOUBLE-QUESTION Mark ... 
  I felt this was extremely and overly harsh!!   


  I (strongly) feel the following factors ... should be taken into serious consideration:  

When one considers all of these mitigating factors, I feel that my job of annotation is much 
 closer to being objective than Gary Kasparov's hatchet job of this contest will ever be! I 
 also do NOT consider this the definitive analysis of this game. Probably the best job is in 
 the "Mammoth Book," (# 8, above); and the second best is in the Kasparov book. 

 Saturday; January 31st, 2004:   
Apparently Kasparov's analysis of this game contains  MORE THAN ONE fundamental error.  
(See the ChessBase web site  for 
 ---> If you go to the link given above, you can download a nice analysis of this game by    
        GM Garry Kasparov. Lots of detail and even some new ideas! Check it out!!    

    Page first posted (here) in  March, 2002.  (But I did little with it for a long time.)   
  This page was last updated on 03/19/06 .   


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I basically worked on this game over  TWO  months ... (on-and-off)  annotating it. (Several times!)
Then it took at least a week, (more like 2); to get the HTML page ready for publication. 
(I only worked on it a few minutes ... 20-to-30 ... every day. As usual, several other PAYING projects 
 got moved ahead of this one.) 

I will gladly mail you a copy of this game if you  contact me.  (For a very modest fee.)
[I have to charge a fee to cover my costs ... printing, paper, and postage fees. That sort of thing.] 

 Copyright ()  A.J. Goldsby;  2003 - 2005. 

  Copyright A.J. Goldsby, 2006.  All rights reserved.