50 games you should know: Pillsbury vs Lasker, 1896

by Johannes Fischer
11/21/2017 – Emanuel Lasker, World Champion from 1894 to 1921, was a strong defender who kept his cool in bad positions and always seemed to find ways to pose his opponents problems. But Lasker was also an excellent attacker and tactician. Lasker's perhaps most brilliant attacking game is his victory against Harry Nelson Pillsbury, played at the St. Petersburg tournament 1895/1896. A brilliancy in a crucial moment. | Photo: Cleveland Public Library

Master Class Vol.5: Emanuel Lasker Master Class Vol.5: Emanuel Lasker

On this DVD our authors show the openings, tactics, endgames and strategy of the second World Champion Emanuel Lasker.


A crucial win

After winning the World Championship match against Wilhelm Steinitz in 1894 Lasker was new World Champion. But in his first tournament after winning the title Lasker was unable to show that he was also the world's best player. In Hastings 1895, he finished third behind Harry Nelson Pillsbury [pictured at right] and Mikhail Chigorin.

Harry Nelson Pillsbury

At the end of 1895, at the match tournament in St. Petersburg 1895/1896, Lasker played Steinitz, Pillsbury and Chigorin again. In a prestigious and long tournament: the four masters played no less than six games against each other and the winner of this tournament had good reason to claim that he was the world's best player, World Champion or not.

But Lasker did not start well and in the very first round he suffered a crushing defeat against Pillsbury. Lasker also lost the second game against Pillsbury, this time in an endgame. The third game between these two ended in a draw.

Against the other players Lasker was more successful but at the half-way mark, after 9 of 18 rounds, he was trailing Pillsbury by a full point.

Standings after 9 of 18 rounds

Rg. Name Country         Points
1 Harry Nelson Pillsbury
  11½ 0½½ 111 6½ / 9
2 Emanuel Lasker
00½   11½ 1½1 5½ / 9
3 William Steinitz
1½½ 00½   011 4½ / 9
4 Mikhail Chigorin
000 0½0 100   1½ / 9

In round ten Lasker had to play his fourth game against Pillsbury. And in this crucial moment Lasker showed his best chess and won a brilliant attacking game.


How to play the Queen's Gambit

Garry Kasparov took to the Queen’s Gambit at a relatively late stage of his chess career, but then had the best training anyone could imagine: in his first match for the world championship against Anatoly Karpov, this opening appeared on the board no less than 19 times. Now he shares his knowledge with you.


After this defeat Pillsbury collapsed. In the eight remaining rounds he scored only 1½, and in the end he finished third with 8.0/18. Lasker, however, finished the tournament in style and won with 11½/18. Second place went to Steinitz with 9½/18.

Final result

Rg. Name Country 1 2 3 4 Points
1 Emanuel Lasker
  11½01½ 00½1½½ 1½11½1 11½ / 18
2 William Steinitz
00½10½   1½½111 01100½ 9½ / 18
3 Harry Nelson Pillsbury
11½0½½ 0½½000   11100½ 8½ / 18
4 Mikhail Chigorin
0½00½0 10011½ 00011½   7½ / 18

With this victory Lasker showed that he was not only World Champion but also the world's best player. And he showed that crucial moments brought out the best in him.

St. Petersburg 1895/1896 - All games


Master Class Vol.5: Emanuel Lasker

On this DVD our authors show the openings, tactics, endgames and strategy of the second World Champion Emanuel Lasker.


50 games every chessplayer should know...

  1. McDonnell vs. Labourdonnais
  2. Anderssen vs. Kieseritzky, The Immortal Game
  3. Morphy vs Duke of Brunswick, Count Isouard
  4. Steinitz vs von Bardeleben


Johannes Fischer was born in 1963 in Hamburg and studied English and German literature in Frankfurt. He now lives as a writer and translator in Nürnberg. He is a FIDE-Master and regularly writes for KARL, a German chess magazine focusing on the links between culture and chess. On his own blog he regularly publishes notes on "Film, Literature and Chess".
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mdamien mdamien 11/22/2017 06:00
In Mason and Pollock's book on the 1895 tournament it is noted that the invitees were the top five players from the Hastings tournament, with Tarrasch declining because he had demands from his medical practice. At Hastings, Lasker was "convalescing from a grave illness" and was not expected to do well in St. Petersburg. There may have been opinions about the "world's best player" but such assertions still had to be proven in a match for the world championship. Interestingly, there is speculation that Pillsbury contracted syphilis during a break in the tournament and received the diagnosis on January 4th, 1896, just prior to the above game.
glanmaster glanmaster 11/22/2017 07:33
This game is annotated in Mega Database by Gary Kasparov ! The move 21. Bb5 begins the subject of a book called Mitrofanov's Deflection by Victor Charushin which is a piece being place en pris to deflect the attacker.
imdvb_8793 imdvb_8793 11/21/2017 10:18
"Such a shame he didn't capture with the 'a' pawn, delivering mate with a pawn is always my preference if it is posible. :)"

Same for me.

Anyway, I love Lasker! It was always between him and Bobby Fischer for the position of my #1 favorite (don't read "best" - that's a different thing) player of all time, but now I think Lasker is pretty clearly ahead. I especially love the book by John Nunn which is built entirely on Lasker's games, John Nunn's Chess Course...
marinkatomb marinkatomb 11/21/2017 12:26
Such a shame he didn't capture with the 'a' pawn, delivering mate with a pawn is always my preference if it is posible. :)
macauley macauley 11/21/2017 01:19
@treetown — We are: See "50 games every chessplayer should know..." — the links section at the bottom of the article.
treetown treetown 11/21/2017 12:32
Hi, nice series - would you mind keeping a running list with each new entry?