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

The name Emanuel Lasker will always be linked with his incredible 27 years reign on the throne of world chess. In 1894, at the age of 25, he had already won the world title from Wilhelm Steinitz and his record number of years on the throne did not end till 1921 when Lasker had to accept the superiority of Jose Raul Capablanca. But not only had the only German world champion so far seen off all challengers for many years, he had also won the greatest tournaments of his age, sometimes with an enormous lead. The fascinating question is, how did he manage that?

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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.

 

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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

The name Emanuel Lasker will always be linked with his incredible 27 years reign on the throne of world chess. In 1894, at the age of 25, he had already won the world title from Wilhelm Steinitz and his record number of years on the throne did not end till 1921 when Lasker had to accept the superiority of Jose Raul Capablanca. But not only had the only German world champion so far seen off all challengers for many years, he had also won the greatest tournaments of his age, sometimes with an enormous lead. The fascinating question is, how did he manage that?


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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