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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Pillsbury vs. Showalter Match 1897

    The match was played at the Hamilton Chess Club, Brooklyn, NY for a purse of $2000. That was an enormous sum for the day…about $54,000 in today’s dollars. The schedule and requirements to win were somewhat odd. Games were scheduled for 8 pm to 2 am Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, with exceptions made for the annual cable match with England and the State Association tournament. The time controls were 30/1 for the first two hours and 15/1 after that. If one player scored seven wins before his opponent scored six, the match would be ended. Otherwise, the winner would have to win ten games, with nine wins each being considered a drawn match.
     Prior to the match, Pillsbury was quoted as saying, "I was not seeking the match, and even if I should win I shall leave Showalter in possession of the title; I am not in search of any title but one." Pillsbury was hoping to challenge Lasker for the world championship, so, much like Capablanca years later, he was too preoccupied to care much about a national title. Showalter, the public and the press insisted his win made him US champion, so Pillsbury abided by his statement, "...I do not claim to be champion of anything. Whatever position is fairly awarded to me by others I will stand upon..."
     Pillsbury faced a critical point in the match at Game 14. Showalter had won Game 13, giving him a lead of 6 wins to 5. One more win would win the match for Showalter. In Game 14, Pillsbury again faced Showalter's Ponziani, which Pillsbury had struggled against and lost in Games 10 and 12. In a "must not lose" situation, Pillsbury scored a fine win with Black to even the score and push the match requirement to ten wins with a two-game lead. Showalter did not try the Ponziani again during the match.
     The match was hardly a convincing win for Pillsbury, as he had to win the last two games of the match to reach the required ten wins with a two-game margin. The players would play a return match the following year.

Final results:
Pillsbury = = 1 1 1 0 0 0 1 0 1 0 0 1 = 1 0 1 0 1 1     11½
Showalter = = 0 0 0 1 1 1 0 1 0 1 1 0 = 0 1 0 1 0 0 

     For the public, this match was the overshadowing event of the year. Pills-bury ranked among top 3 or 4 in the world, and he was considered by many to be Lasker's most formidable rival for the world championship.  Showalter was the recognized champion, having beaten everybody but Pillsbury. The challenge came from Showalter, who, like so many of his American brethren, did not realize how great a player Pillsbury was.  Pillsbury' s rise in the chess world had been meteoric. He became known to the chess public at large in 1893, and he at once proved himself to be one of the strongest players in the United States.  He won first prize in a tournament of the City Chess Club (Hodges second, Showalter third), but finished out of the money in another (Steinitz first, Albin second, Showalter third). He beat Showalter in the League match, Brooklyn vs. City Chess Club, but lost to him in the Buffalo tournament. Then came his triumph at Hastings. The St. Petersburg tournament, wherein he came out ahead of Lasker and Tchigorin in their personal encounter, proved that his victory at Hastings was no fluke, and his winning third prize at Nuremberg and Budapest dispelled all remaining doubts as to his mastery.
     Upon his return, the public hailed him as champion, but for while some of the other U.S. players claimed of having made even scores with Pillsbury. However, the fact was that none of them could have come near to duplicating Pillsbury’s success in Europe.  This was substantiated by the poor showing Showalter made in the international tournament at Nuremberg where he scored 5.5-10.5. 
      The match caused great excitement and surprise. Most players thought that Pillsbury would gain a speedy and overwhelming victory; a few believed that he would beat Showalter 7 to o, while more conservative guessers placed the score at 7 to 3, or 4.
     At first it looked as if these predictions would be fulfilled. The first game was drawn, but in the second game Pillsbury clearly out played Showalter, and although the latter escaped with a draw, it was a moral defeat.
      Then came three straight wins for Pillsbury, but in the next game he was a little too confident, and was beaten. The seventh and eighth also went to Showalter and the score was a tie!!
      Pillsbury once more obtained the lead in the ninth, but Showalter squared matters again in the tenth. Pillsbury reassumed the lead in the eleventh game, but two successive victories put Showalter ahead, the score being then 6 to 5, two draws.
      At this critical juncture Pillsbury won two and drew one. The next four games it was nip and tuck between them, each winning and losing alternately. The twentieth and twenty- first game went to Pillsbury, who won the match by 10 to 8, three drawn.
      The result was disappointing for Pillsbury' s admirers, especially for those who wanted to bring about a match between him and Lasker. Showalter was a "moral" victor as he very nearly held his own. Showalter proved he was a better player than he had been given credit for.
      The chess played in this match, as a rule, was of a high order. Pillsbury' s conduct of some of the games was a model while in others he proved rather venturesome and, contrary to his style, he often gave up a Pawn for a future attack. Showalter played with his pluck and ingenuity, exhibiting great resource on occasion.
     Showalter’s fondness for a K-side attack by Queen and Knight was noticeable. The most frequent opening was the Ruy Lopez, which Pillsbury adopted four times and Showalter five.
     The Queen's Gambit was adopted six times by Pillsbury. Showalter declined the Pawn and played lines similar to those in the Lasker against Steinitz in their first match but then switched to novelties that had been introduced by Teichman and Maroczy.
      On three occasions Showalter played the Ponziani and in the first two games Pillsbury tried experiments that were interesting but turned out to be detrimental. Showalter also tried the Stonewall twice.  There was a solitary Giuoco Piano which was won by Pillsbury.

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