For a chess lover, still many reasons to give thanks

In this weird, disjointed year, for the world of chess and the world in general, there are still plenty of reasons for our annual Thanksgiving count-your-blessings column.

• Be grateful for the internet. With over-the-board events being canceled en masse this year, chess made a swift and smooth transition to online play, with world champion Magnus Carlsen organizing a string of strong elite events and U.S. Chess officials managing to hold five national championships in October with nary a technical hitch. Virginia chess officials gave us a glimpse of better times to come, successfully staging the 170-player U.S. Class Championships earlier this month at the Dulles Marriott while respecting the state’s COVID-19 safety protocols.

• Be grateful for the editors at The Washington Times, who, either through active support or benign neglect, have kept this column alive for nearly three decades, at a time when so many others have fallen by the wayside. I know I personally am deeply thankful for the support.

• Be grateful for billionaires. Investors Rex and Jeanne Sinquefield have used their fortune to make St. Louis one of the world’s great chess capitals, and now U.S. Chess officials have just announced a “transformative” record $3 million grant from John D. Rockefeller V, to be used to fund new tournaments and chess scholarships. (More on the gift, the largest in the federation’s history, in columns to come.)

• Be grateful for chess books, magazine and old scorebooks, which have gotten many of us through some long nights of quarantine and isolation.

• Be grateful for chess rivalries — McDonnell-La Bourdonnais, Tarrasch-Nimzowitsch, Botvinnik-Smyslov, Karpov-Kasparov — who have enriched and added spice to the history of the game. Today’s game is from the epic series played over the years by longtime German world champion Emanuel Lasker and the great American star Harry Nelson Pillsbury, perhaps the greatest U.S.-born talent in the century between Morphy and Fischer.

Played at the famous Paris tournament linked to the 1900 world’s fair, the game shows the two masters at the height of their powers in a scrappy, five-act masterpiece. Pillsbury is nearly knocked out in the first round by Lasker’s gambit — 8. Ne5! 0-0 (d6? 9. Bxf6! Bxf6 10. Qh5+ g6 11. Bxg6+ Ke7! 12. Be4!! dxe5 13. dxe5 Bg7 14. Rd1 and White is winning) 9. Bxf6! Rxf6 (gxf6? 10. Qg4+ Kh8 11. Ng6+! hxg6 12. Bxg6 f5 13. Qh5+ Kg7 14. Qh7+ Kf6 14. Ne4+! dxe4 16. 0-0+ Kg5 17. Qh5 mate!) 11. Nxg6! — but gets off the canvas and puts up a stout defense.

White regroups with 22. Nb1!, and the tactical slugfest transforms into a tricky positional battle, where at times it seems like Pillsbury might even have the advantage given White’s shaky g-pawn. Black’s critical mistake appears to come on 45. Kb2 Rh1 46. Bg6 Kxg3? (allowing the liquidation of the kingside; better was either 46…Ke3 or 46…Nf2) 47. Bxh5 Bf3 48. Bxg4 Bxg4 49. Rg6 — White will win a pawn on the queenside and Lasker, one of the greatest endgame players of all time, manages to convert the point.

Even to the very end, however, Pillsbury makes it tough (this was the longest of the 10 recorded games between the two). After 74. Kc4 Bd7, White doesn’t fall for the diabolical 75. b5?! Ka5 76. Kc5?? Bxb5!!, drawing with a stalemate trick, and after 80. Nc6+ Ka8 81. Kb6 Ba6!, White avoids the capture and another stalemate with 82. Nb4! Bb7 83. Na6 Bf3 84. Nc7+ Kb8 85. a6, finally forcing Black’s capitulation.

• And let’s be grateful for the beautiful geometry of chess and how problemists like the great Russian A.A. Troitzky can create works of art from the barest of materials. With leftovers to tackle and football games to watch, we won’t make you solve today’s diagram, where White seems hard-pressed to deal the advanced Black a-pawn.

The direct 1. Kc3? a1=Q+ 2. Kb3, threatening mate, is foiled by 2…Qf6!, so White must take the scenic route. Thus: 1. h6!! gxh6 (a1=Q? 2. Rf1+) 2. Kc3 a1=N! (the only chance — with the pawn on g7 gone, the …Qf6 trick no longer works) 3. Rb2+ Kc1 4. Ra2 Kb1 (the Black knight is frozen) 5. Rxa6 h5 (Nc2 6. Re6! h5 7. Re2) 6. Ra4 h6 7. Rh4 Ka2 8. Rh2+ Ka3 9. Rxh5 Ka2 (Nb3 10. Rb5!) 10. Rxh6 Kb1 11. Rh2!, and finally the knight is dominated and lost.

Happy Thanksgiving and, as always, thanks for reading.

Lasker-Pillsbury, Paris 1900

1. d4 f5 2. e4 fxe4 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Bg5 c6 5. f3 exf3 6. Nxf3 e6 7. Bd3 Be7 8. Ne5 O-O 9. Bxf6 Rxf6 10. Qh5 g6 11. Nxg6 Qe812. Nxe7+ Qxe7 13. O-O-O d5 14. Rde1 Nd7 15. Re3 Rf7 16. Rg3+ Kh8 17. Bg6 Rg7 18. Rf1 Nf6 19. Qh4 Ng8 20. Qxe7 Rxe7 21. Bd3 Bd7 22. Nb1 Rae8 23. Nd2 e5 24. dxe5 Rxe5 25. Nf3 Re3 26. Ng5 Rxg3 27. hxg3 h6 28. Nf7+ Kg7 29. Nd6 Re7 30. Nxb7 Nf6 31. Nc5 g4 32. Rf4 Bc8 33. Ra4 Ng4 34. Ba6 Bf5 35. Rf4 Ne3 36. c3 Kg6 37. Rf2 Be4 38. b3 Bxg2 39. Bd3+ Kg5 40. Rf8 Kg4 41. Rg8+ Kf3 42. Rg6 Ng4 43. Bf5 h5 44. Rg5 Re1+ 45. Kb2 Rh1 46. Bg6 Kxg3 47. Bxh5 Bh3 48. Bxg4 Bxg4 49. Rg6 Rh2+ 50. Ka3 Rc2 51. Nd3 Kh4 52. Ne5 Bf5 53. Rxc6 Kg3 54. Rc5 Rd2 55. Nc6 Kf4 56. Nb4 d4 57. cxd4 Rxd4 58. Ra5 Rd7 59. Nc6 Be4 60. Nxa7 Rd2 61. Nb5 Rd5 62. Kb4 Bd3 63. Nc7 Rxa5 64. Kxa5 Ke5 65. Kb4 Kd6 66. Nb5+ Kc6 67. a4 Kb6 68. Na3 Be2 69. Nc4+ Ka6 70. Kc3 Bd1 71. Nb2 Bh5 72. b4 Be8 73. Kb3 Bc6 74. Kc4 Bd7 75. Kc5 Bg4 76. Nc4 Bd1 77. b5+ Ka7 78. a5 Bf3 79. Ne5 Bb7 80. Nc6+ Ka8 81. Kb6 Ba6 82. Nb4 Bb7 83. Na6 Bf3 84. Nc7+ Kb8 85. a6 Black resigns.

David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email

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