21 December 2008

Chigorin Stumbles at Hastings 1895

Pillsbury's greatest triumph was first place at the 1895 Hastings tournament, ahead of Chigorin, Lasker, and Steinitz. His victory was based on strong play combined with good luck. Chigorin beat Pillsbury in the first round, overcame Lasker in the second round, and maintained the pace throughout the event. The following chart shows the cumulative score of the three main contenders round by round.

After 19 rounds, with two rounds to be played, Chigorin was leading his closest rivals by 1/2 point. In the 20th round he had White against Janowsky, who was languishing in the middle of the field with 8.5 points. For the only game in the tournament, Chigorin chose a relatively passive opening (see The Enigma of Chigorin for an overview of his openings at Hastings) with 1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.d3. The game continued 3...d5 4.exd5 Nxd5, when Chigorin played the second-rate 5.Qe2. He castled O-O-O, played a2-a3, and was demolished by a Bishop sacrifice on a3. Faced with unavoidable checkmate, he resigned on his 17th move.

In the other key 20th round games, Lasker suffered his second straight defeat, losing with White to Blackburne, and Pillsbury won with Black against tailender Vergani. In the last round, Pillsbury won with White against Gunsberg, after the Hungarian went astray in a drawn endgame. Although both of Pillsbury's rivals also won, neither could catch the American.

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