Saint Petersburg 1895/96

Robert Sherwood

Reviewer: John Donaldson
Caissa Editions
124 pages (hardback)

Saint Petersburg 1895/96 by Robert Sherwood covers what is arguably the first super tournament ever held. The four player field of Emanuel Lasker, Wilhelm Steinitz, Harry Nelson Pillsbury and Mikhail Chigorin met each other six times for a total of 18 rounds.

Pillsbury, fresh from his triumph at Hastings 1895 at the age of 22, had a spectacular first half and led after nine rounds with a score of 6 1/2 including two wins over Lasker, but then collapsed managing only three draws the rest of the event. There has long been speculation what caused this collapse and the consensus today, shared by Sherwood, is that it was due to medical reasons that later caused Pillsbury’s premature demise at only 33.

Saint Petersburg 1895/96 is an expanded version of an earlier Caissa Editions work edited by John Owen that has been long been out of print. The present book has been enhanced with modern computer analysis by the author supplementing previous efforts by Owen, Mason and Pollock. The commentary can be quite detailed with many games receiving four to five pages of coverage.

This event may have been held over one hundred years ago, but some of the openings are still being used today; see Lasker vs. Chigorin from round 16 where the World Champion essayed the London System (1.d4 2.Nf3 3.Bf4), but with the twist that his queen knight was developed on c3 – not the normal d2. This same system was used with great success by Hikaru Nakamura in his recent blitz and bullet match victory over American number two Wesley So.

Those interested in learning more about Henry Nelson Pillsbury, one of the greatest talents and tragedies of American chess, will want to buy Saint Petersburg 1895/96.