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Monster Opening Preparation, Part 2

  • IM Silman
  • | Aug 19, 2014
  • | 14835 views
  • | 24 comments

In our second installment of Monster Opening Preparation (part 1 here), we’ll take a look at two of the most famous “prep” games ever. Both are highlighted by legends concerning the length of time they prepared/analyzed/pondered their theoretical trap, with one legend verified and the other slightly deconstructed.

LEGEND ONE

Our first legendary tale took place in the great St. Petersburg tournament in 1895-96. Pillsbury was the hottest player on Earth after winning the extremely strong Hastings 1895 event, which happened to be his first international event (before Hastings, all his games were played in the United States).

After that he was recognized as one of the top five players in the world and, as a result, was invited to participate in an epic event in St. Petersburg (the top five players in the world were to play six games against one another -– I should add that Tarrasch withdrew before it started, leaving four players), and once again he took the event by storm, rushing out to a one-point lead (ahead of second-place Lasker) at the halfway point.


I should note that Pillsbury had beaten Lasker 2.5-0.5 in their first three games, so when the tournament continued, it was imperative that Lasker make a statement by stopping the streaking American. The result was the following game:


An absolutely wonderful game, but this clearly had nothing to do with preparation and everything to do with over-the-board creativity. Our monster opening prep occurs after this game, and its name was “revenge.”

Legend has it that Pillsbury discovered an important opening improvement in Lasker’s brilliant win over him in St. Petersburg 1895-96. He analyzed his idea for eight years and finally had a chance to make use of it.

William Napier (a friend of Pillsbury’s) verified this by saying: “We played the position whenever we met, which was often. Years we played it, here and abroad. It became a bore.”

Clearly, what was a bore to Napier was life itself to Pillsbury, who extracted brilliant revenge:



Pillsbury died two years after this win over Lasker.

As we saw, Pillsbury’s innovation didn’t offer White anything special IF Black was able to find all the right moves (which Lasker did!), but very few manage to walk unscathed from a dangerous TN, and even if they do find a way to equality, keep in mind that one side is moving quickly (since he’s worked everything out beforehand) while the other is working like a dog to survive. It’s not unusual for the defender to safely wend his way through the complications, only to collapse and toss the game away. 

PUZZLE 1:

PUZZLE 2:

LEGEND TWO

The story goes that the American grandmaster Frank Marshall (a legendary attacking player) had come up with a promising gambit against the Ruy Lopez and wanted to use it against Capablanca. Most renditions of this tale claim that Marshall kept this line a secret for several years before he was able to unleash it against the Cuban god.

However, though a long, long wait makes the legend red hot, Capablanca himself set the record straight in a note after 7…0-0: “I now felt that Marshall had prepared something… and had kept it for two years, awaiting the opportunity of playing it in a tournament against me.”

Frank Marshall via wikipedia


So much for “several years.” But preparing a line against a certain foe for two years is still epic in my book, so the whole “let’s prepare a monster gambit so that next time I face off against Capablanca I’ll wipe him off the face of the board” is more than worthy of its legendary status.

But, as is well known for those that studied chess history, the story gets even better since Capablanca not only walked into the “trap” but defended like the genius he was and won the game!


Capablanca wasn’t called a “chess machine” for nothing! The way he effortlessly refuted Marshall’s attack deserves to be the stuff of legend!

PUZZLE 3


What’s interesting is that Marshall not only claimed to have created the line (8...d5, which is now called the Marshall Gambit), but he also claimed that he was the first player to castle on move 7 (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 0-0 –- usually Black played 7...d6 first).

Of course, without databases it’s impossible to ascertain who was first. Indeed, even a database can’t give you a 100 percent guarantee, since many unpublished games might have been “first” in countless lines. Due to this, what’s far more important is who popularized the line and who did the really deep research that made it viable at the highest levels.

It turns out that a game in 1893 not only was the first known game with 7...0-0, but also the first known game with 8...d5! Oddly, it occurred in Capablanca’s birth nation, Cuba! The game was between the very strong (2550 rating according to Edo Chess) Carl Walbrodt vs. four opponents in consultation.


I highly doubt that Marshall was aware of this game. But if one wants to call the line with 8...d5 the Conill/Ostolaza/Lopez/Herrera Gambit, then go for it.

What Marshall clearly did invent was 9.exd5 Nxd5 10.Nxe5 Nxe5 11.Rxe5 Nf6, since before that the only two “Marshall Gambit” games known featured 9...e4. The second game that used the gambit was played by Marshall himself in 1917, a year before he played Capablanca!



HOWEVER, note that it wasn’t played in a tournament, it was a training game. This reminds us of Pillsbury going over his new move again and again with William Napier. Analyzing with friends and even playing training games to get ready for the “real thing” is common and actually helps to verify that Marshall was indeed keeping this line ready for a shot at Capablanca, but only after he ironed things out.

This explains why Marshall played 9...e4 against Frere, but most likely rejected it after further analysis and uncorked 9.exd5 Nxd5 10.Nxe5 Nxe5 11.Rxe5 Nf6 for the first time in history.

This leaves us with one more petite mystery to solve. Who came up with 11...c6?

In Marshall’s super-enjoyable book, My Fifty Years of Chess  (in the Dover edition, the title was changed to Marshall’s Best Games of Chess), there’s an opening theory section at the end of the book which offers up original analysis that Marshall and his friend, Tom Emery, worked on together. Naturally, the pair took a look at the Marshall Gambit.

This is what Marshall wrote:

“I have made some changes in my variation of the Ruy Lopez which tend to strengthen it. The opening moves of this line are as follows":


Okay, the analysis is pretty bad, but what’s important is that Marshall called this line “...my variation of the Ruy Lopez,” which clearly shows that he felt he was its creator.

BUT... Marshall’s book first appeared in 1942 (though I have no idea when Marshall and Emery cranked out their analysis –- Marshall made it clear that they had been analyzing together for “many years”).

I bring all this up because the first known game where 11...c6 appeared was Alberto Dulanto – Conel Alexander, Buenos Aires Olympiad 1939.

It doesn’t really matter if Marshall and Emery analyzed 11...c6 in 1936 or 1940, it’s clear that:

  •  Marshall honestly thought that he was the first to ever play 8...d5 (turns out he was the second player to have played it).
  •  Marshall clearly WAS the first to ever play 11...Nf6.
  •  Marshall really did keep the line under wraps so he could use it against Capablanca, though he only waited two years instead of “several.”
  •  Marshall was the first player to deeply analyze the position after 8...d5.
  •  Marshall’s use of 8...d5 put it on the map, and the name “Marshall Gambit” is fully deserved.

I’ll add that after Marshall lost to Capablanca, he played the gambit again (in the same tournament!) and won:


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Comments


  • 8 weeks ago

    shivaji1varad

    srry wrong comment i thoughtthe game u told was real before puzzle one

  • 8 weeks ago

    shivaji1varad

    capablanca could hav lost that game easily opponent cant find the check on capablanca king

  • 2 months ago

    b2b2

    Would be interesting to hear GM Levon Aronian's opinion on the gambit since he consistently plays it against anyone and everyone.

  • 2 months ago

    yureesystem

    Very well done article!!

  • 2 months ago

    TheGreatOogieBoogie

    Speaking of opening prep I find the Najdorf overrated.  It's objectively a great opening but the amount of study required offsets it.  White has the weak points d6, d5, b6, and f5 to work against (depending on the position and specific circumstances) and his pawn placements restrict black's pieces.  So much setup and studying theory for the hope of getting in a ...d5 break and keeping an eye on opportunities for counterplay while covering weaknesses isn't easy.

      Between hoping for 1.e4,c5 2.Nf3,d6 3.Bb5+,Bd7 4.Bxd7+,Qxd7 (Nxd7 is good too but Qxd7 allows Nc6) and if that doesn't happen hoping white is just a booked up fish who doesn't have the sense to play for an eternal knight on d5 or pressure the infamous weaknesses it may be better to find another main opening as black until one is a master. 



  • 2 months ago

    jocoma

    Amazing!

  • 2 months ago

    coolhand850

    I first saw the famous Capa-Marshall game several years ago. It is located in Volume I of Garry Kasparov's " My Great Predecessors ". They are my favorite books. I have all 5 volumes plus the continuations, " Garry Kasparov on Garry Kasparov". I am on my 3rd replacement of Volume I, due to one being worn out and the other lost. All of the famous players above are discussed in Volume I. Lasker, Capablanca, H.N. Pillsbury, and Marshall. Not to mention the great Morphy, Anderssen, Steinitz, Chigorin, Rubinstein, Tarrasch, Nimzowitsch, Reti, and Alekhine.

  • 2 months ago

    Wzzz

    Thanks for post. Wery interesting and cognitive

  • 2 months ago

    hellodebake

    [COMMENT DELETED]
  • 2 months ago

    hellodebake

    I'm surprised you didn't include Alekhine's 1927 World Championship game 1

    win against Capablanca,where the  ( greatest player of all time :) ) Russian master won Capa's C pawn early on and eventually that game.

    Legend has it he studied Capablanca's games for years before their titanic match.

  • 2 months ago

    LasagneKing

    Great stuff

  • 2 months ago

    corvuscor4x

    Thanks this very interesting article!

  • 2 months ago

    Axorcist

    Very thorough historical research. I knew the Pillsbury/Lasker-example but was unaware of the Capablanca/Marsjall-game. Thanks again!

  • 2 months ago

    kamalakanta

    Spektrowski, that is spectacular....his KID....nice story told by Geller....

  • 2 months ago

    mikso

    great article. CApablanca was greatest genius chess has ever seen, but I must say that Pillsbury was one of greatest talents World has ever seen side by side with Capablanca and Morphy, sadly he was very ill and in FACT THAT IS THE REASON WHY HE LOST THAT FIRST GAME AGAINST LASKER. he had chronical headache that day and the day before doctor told him he is sick and nothing can be done about it :( . 

  • 2 months ago

    pm11081994

    Capa - Mechanical Beast!

  • 2 months ago

    R0yalGuard

    "People often criticize a game when they see computers pointing out various mistakes. This is an ignorant stance. First off, we don't play like computers."

    I agree with you Mr. Silman.


  • 2 months ago

    BigKingBud

    Thanks Jeremy! My favorite chess writer , writing on what I'm studying most at the moment!

  • 2 months ago

    mnhsr

  • 2 months ago

    upen2002

    Nice article

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