Marshall-Rubinstein-Karpov, and the Stonewall with White
Levistky-Marshall, Breslau 1912

Marshall-Rubinstein-Karpov, and the Stonewall with White


Recently Knuppelberry published a forum post on the possible virtues of the Hungarian Defense.

and this stirred some memories. I remember liking this defense in 1979....(when the world was in black and white, and the dinosaurs ruled the Earth!). I wondered if it was sound, after all, because some people commented it was too passive and White could get an advantage with an immediate d4 (which I do not doubt). But the move is reasonable, and Black does not have any glaring weaknesses, so the question is: does it hold?

It has some patterns in common with the Philidor Defense, and I suppose some transpositions are possible:

Note the common themes: Black is a bit passive, but solid. White's Bishop on c4 vs. Black's bishop on e7.

But what does this have to do with the Stonewall with White, or with Frank Marshall? Before I answer that question, let me digress in a free association: the Hungarian Defense is a passive-looking alternative, but solid. This brought back more see, Karpov was trained by Semyon Furman, who was known as a great positional player, and also as a formidable opponent when he was playing White (I believe one of his nicknames was "World Champion with the White Pieces").

Karpov was also trained by Geller, who was well known as a great attacking player.

But playing white against the Sicilian, Geller's favorite system was the Be2 system, which is symmetrically opposite to the Be7 move found in the Hungarian Defense.

Now, Bobby Fischer liked to play the Sicilian Defense with Black, so in 1962, when Geller played Fischer in the Curazao Candidates. Geller just crushed Fischer with the Be2 system!

Many years later, in a Quarterfinal Candidates Match against Polugaevsky, Karpov would achieve two important wins with the Be2 system!

Ok, here is one of the main points of this journey: Sometimes the "passive-looking" systems can have quite a bit of venom. Otherwise, how can we explain that a player of Geller's aggressive energy would opt to play Be2 against the Sicilian?

This brings us back to Frank Marshall. Recently I had the pleasure of buying the book of his best games:

It is an absolute jewel! All the games are commentated by Frank Marshall himself. This alone makes the book worth having!

Perusing through the book, I came upon this game (Here with comments by Carl Schlechter!):

And I thought: Wait a minute! I have seen this before!...which is true, but where?....ahhh, I know! There was a Karpov-Spassky game! It was from their 1974 Semi-Final Candidates Match! Karpov was leading by one point....

Again, we go back to the notion of starting the game with a system that is not overtly aggressive, but very solid! Hmmmm....maybe we're up to something!

So I start researching games, looking for this idea, and trying to see where it probably goes back quite a bit, as I remember seeing some Chigorin and Zukertort games with a similar structure (White pawn on f4, Black pawn on f5), and White breaking through with g4 (sometimes after preparing it with Kh1 and Rg1).....oftentimes Black would play ...f5 as a means of stopping cold an attack by White based on f4-f5, but White would renew the attack with the eventual g4! move.

And then I find this game:

And Rubinstein writes (after 4.f4):

"It seems to me that this system in the Dutch Defense is my novelty. Its better side is that it substantially hinders Black's attack on the kingside. Its shortcomings are that White maintains a very slight opening advantage, and Black has no problems developing."

We can see now why Karpov used it in his match against Spassky. first of all, it suited Karpov's style perfectly, and second of all, Spassky wanted to attack, as he needed a win! The Rubinstein system took the sting out of Spassky's hopes for a kingside attack, which is the main idea behind the Dutch Defense.

.....and then, I found this other game!

and we see again the connecting link between all the great Masters.....from Chigorin and Zukertort, to Frank Marshall, Akiba Rubinstein and Karpov!

I will share with you two more games from our modern era, with similar ideas:

In conclusion, I just want to say that there is some virtue to choosing opening systems that do not give you an immediate advantage, or that are not overly aggressive, but which may give you chances later on.

Again, as I have emphasized in other blog posts, it largely depends on your style. Once you decide on which systems you will play, it would be useful to familiarize yourself with the typical middlegame and endgame positions arising from that opening, and the tactical and strategical themes related to it.