Frank Marshall: The Growth Of A Chess Champion

Frank Marshall: The Growth Of A Chess Champion

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Let’s talk about Frank Marshall. This man was U.S. Chess Champion from 1909 to 1936. He was a man who beat Emanuel Lasker once and Capablanca twice, a player who feared no one. He won many tournaments against world class competition. He was an American hero who dared dream of being world chess champion.

Hmmm… I’ve mangled the time frame. So, let’s chill out a bit, toss in some basic Marshall stuff, and start from the beginning.

Born in 1877 in New York City, his family moved to Montreal, Canada when Frank was 8 and lived there for 11 years. Unlike today’s extremely young grandmasters, Marshall took quite a while to “cook.” He was only recognized as a proven master in his very early 20s when he won a tournament (1899) in London. This immediately gave him, as Marshall put it, an “international reputation.”


15-Year-Old Marshall Challenges Steinitz & Pillsbury

Okay, these games were simultaneous exhibitions. And yes, Pillsbury was also blindfolded. In fact, both were given a sleeping tincture (a Mickey Finn) which made the two chess greats fall unconscious from time to time.

What? My wife tells me that there wasn’t any tincture! Oh well, I guess playing many opponents at the same time, with Pillsbury blindfolded to boot, was more than enough odds.

Though Marshall got odds, these games were still very important for the young Marshall and for the readers who want to understand him. Aside from playing such famous players (He must have been very, very excited!), these games show just how much he depended on attack and tactics (You can see his tactical talent bubbling out with every move.), apparently without any positional skills at all.

Imagine playing a simultaneous exhibition while being blindfolded. It's not easy at all!



After his excellent London 1899 result, he had some ups and downs, but his result in the Paris 1900 event (May 17 to June 20) was very good. Marshall tied for 3rd with Geza Maroczy (12 points). Pillsbury came in second (12.5 points), and Emanuel Lasker was first with 14.5. Other players who were below the top four were Amos Burn, Mikhail Chigorin, Carl Schlechter, Georg Marco, Jacques Mieses, Jackson Showalter, and David Janowski (He was born Dawid, but David is used nowadays.). Of course, the highlight of the tournament was Marshall’s win over Lasker!

Marshall played the endgame well, but it might surprise you to know that Marshall was actually very skilled in that phase of the game.

Marshall’s notes to the next game (from Paris 1900) are hilarious! Thus, I’ll let Marshall entertain us with moves and prose.

“Britisher Amos Burn was a very conservative player and liked to settle down for a long session of close, defensive chess. He loved to smoke his pipe while he studied the board. As I made the second move, Burn began hunting through his pockets for his pipe and tobacco.”


Monte Carlo

Marshall followed up with a tournament in Monte Carlo. One would think that after his London 1899 triumph and after Paris 1900, Marshall would continue to show that he was “the man.” Instead, he failed to live up to expectations, tying for 8th and 9th with Gunsberg. Janowski won the tournament with an impressive 10-3 result while Von Scheve, Chigorin, and Schlechter tied for second through fourth with excellent 9-4 results.

Here’s a game where he outplayed Blackburne and then fell apart on move 17.


His next tournament (in Buffalo) saw Marshall completely collapse, coming in 5th from 6 players (7 losses, 1 draw, two wins against last-place finisher Louis Karpinski). Pillsbury won the event with 2.5 points ahead of second and third-place finishers Delmar and Napier.

In fact, it seems to me that he was ill since he played horribly. Here’s an example from Buffalo.


Monte Carlo

After his poor result in Monte Carlo 1901, Marshall gave it another try. Once again he came in 9th behind Maroczy (1st), Pillsbury and Janowski (2nd and 3rd), Teichmann (4th), Schlechter and Tarrasch (5th and 6th), Wolf (7th), and Chigorin (8th). However, his 9th place put him ahead of 11 other players, and his form was far better than his earlier disasters.

Here’s a victory against Carl Schlechter where Marshall played the gambit which bears his name (Marshall Gambit).

London Matches:  Rebuilding Himself

It seems to me that these matches helped Marshall to get back on track and gave him some much-needed confidence.

In a six-game match against William Ward, Marshall won four games to two with no draws.

In a five-game match against Richard Teichmann, Marshall won two and lost none.

This game highlighted his positional skills, and it also showed him that every game he played didn’t have to be tactics, tactics, and more tactics.

Here’s Marshall in his most vicious form:

DSB Kongress

This was another letdown. He shared 9th and 10th with Rudolf Swiderski. Janowsky was first, Pillsbury second, and Henry Atkins was third.


Monte Carlo

Siegbert Tarrasch finished first. Geza Maroczy finished second; Harry Nelson Pillsbury was third (Marshall got a win and draw against Pillsbury in this tournament.), and Marshall ended up in ninth place. I’m seeing a pattern here! He came in ninth in Monte Carlo 1901, 1902, and 1903, and 9th and 10th in the DSB Kongress 1902. What does this mean? It means that he was still growing as a player, and much better things are yet to come.

The following game was against Colonel Moreau who came in last with a score of 0 wins, 0 draws, 26 loses! So why am I showing this game? For two reasons: This kind of King’s Gambit is very rare, and Marshall announced mate in 11 after Black’s 20th move!

Vienna Gambit Tournament

This game was played in the Vienna Gambit tournament of 1903. Players were required to start with 1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4. I would guess that playing in such an event would be great fun for everyone—players and spectators alike!

Chigorin won first place. Marshall came in second. Marco was third and Pillsbury fourth; the rest were Mieses, Maroczy, Teichmann, Swiderski, Schlechter, Gunsberg.

Before showing his game against Chigorin, I want to give you a puzzle (from Glasgow 1903) which highlights a very odd tripled pawn configuration; each tripled pawn was staggered on dark-squares! In fact, it’s hard for me to keep my eyes off those pawns!

Puzzle 1

The following game shows that Marshall was a bit of a gambler, sometimes he ignored the best move for more interesting, tactical ideas. Another thing that struck me in the following game is the creation (again!) of tripled pawns!

Here’s another example of the insanity that lurks in the King’s Gambit.


Monte Carlo Rice Gambit

In this six-player double-round tournament. Marshall tied for first with Swiderski. Mieses finished third while Marco finished fourth and Von Scheve fifth. Forgacs came in last.

Monte Carlo

This was a six-player double-round event. He came in third, but the top three (Maroczy on 7.5, Schlechter on 7, and Marshall on 6.5) were close to each other and far ahead of the last three.

Cambridge Springs

Though Marshall’s form had been all over the place, his last few tournaments showed that he was a whole new Marshall. Or was he? Since the world champion (Lasker) was almost certainly going to win, could Marshall keep up that form and come in one of the top five places (There were sixteen players). Nobody could have guessed that the Cambridge Springs tournament (The first major international chess tournament in America in the twentieth century) would be his greatest achievement! He won the event with an amazing (and undefeated) score of 13-2 (one of his four draws was with Lasker). Lasker tied for second and third with Janowski (with 11 points), and the rest (for example Marco, Showalter, Schlechter, Chigorin, Pillsbury.) were way behind.

In many peoples' minds, his clear improvement and winning this tournament  propelled him from a flawed but exciting tactician to a potential world champion!

So, how do you build a chess champion? Talent, hard work, and an incredible amount of perseverance.

Puzzle 2

Puzzle 3

Puzzle 4

Puzzle 5

Puzzle 6

Black is clearly winning and many strong moves are available. See if you can find the most surprising move.

We’ll see more of Frank Marshall in this continuing series.

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