Frank Marshall and his Wild Opening Ideas

Frank Marshall and his Wild Opening Ideas‎

GM Gserper
23 | Tactics

I don't think I need to introduce Grandmaster Frank Marshall who was one of the strongest chess players in the World in the beginning of the 20th century and the US Champion from 1909 till 1935!! Today I would like to discuss his stunning opening ideas. They all have something in common. First of all, they all start with a pawn move two squares forward and also they turn solid positional openings into a tactical jungle. Two of these ideas, the Marshall Attack in the Ruy Lopez (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.O-O Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 O-O 8.c3 d7-d5!) and the Marshall Gambit in the Semi-Slav (1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nc3 e6 4.e2-e4!) are very popular today and played by super GMs. You can find a bunch of books and articles devoted to them. But I'd like to focus on two completely forgotten Marshall variations. One of them happens in the ultra-positional French Defense after the moves 1.e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 c7-c5!

I find it ironic that the next game features one of the most famous moves in the history of chess and yet, no-one remembers the opening of this game. By the way, according to a well-known legend, after Marshall played his unbelievable move, the spectators started throwing golden coins on the chess board!

(Just like in most of my articles I give you a chance to test your tactical skills, so the games are given as a Quiz.  Please remember that you can always replay the whole game from the first move if you click "Solution" and then "Move list.")




You might wonder why this opening was never popular? The reason is simple: just like all Marshall opening ideas, this variation offers a pawn sacrifice. But unlike his opening lines in the Ruy Lopez and Semi-Slav, here the compensation for the pawn is really questionable.  That is for mere mortals.  For Marshall himself an activity of his pieces was a good compensation already. Just watch how he checkmated GM Mieses in the next game:
Another forgotten Marshall idea starts with the moves 1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 c5 4. cxd5 exd5 (so far it is the regular Tarrasch variation of the Queen's Gambit, but now...)5. e2-e4!
The next game is quite remarkable. Just out of the opening Marshall got a very unpleasant endgame, but his opponent was David Janowski who famously said: "I detest the endgames." Indeed, according to Capablanca, endgame play was the greatest weakness of Janowski.  So, in this game Janowski misplayed the endgame again and allowed Marshall to play a study-like idea. According to an endgame database, Marshall played 22 absolutely best moves in a row starting from the position on the diagram!  These days he would be accused of getting computer help  :)
Despite the win, White's opening play was completely busted. Fortunately, 52 years later, another dare-devil, GM Tolush managed to rehabilitate Marshall's idea.  Enjoy the slug-fest!
You probably have a question: if you should employ these forgotten Marshall variations in your games. It depends.  If an exciting game with a lot of complications and tactics is more important for you then the result of the game (and I think that was Marshall's attitude to some extent), then by all means give these wild opening lines a try, you won't be disappointed!
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