Marshall Attack - Black Strikes Terror in the Lopez

The Marshall Attack provides Black with a sudden ambush to demolish White inside the Ruy Lopez Opening. Kind of like the way White can destroy Black's French Defense with the deadly Reti Gambit.

This central thrust of the d-pawn on Black's 8th move leads to dynamic attacking positions for his pieces against a sparsely defended White kingside. Black gets a lot for his sacrificed pawn. Long term attacking prospects. A bishop pair, a queen and a knight bearing down on a vulnerable castled position. The weakening of the light squares around the king through playing g3 at some point is practically obligatory in order to hold the position.

The Marshall is part of the Ruy Lopez family in the ECO Index. C60-99. It's own exact entry is C89.

History of the Marshall A

First ever Marshall Attack: Final Position

The very first Marshall Attack game played at the Manhattan Chess Club in New York in 1918. Frank Marshall (Black) had launched a violent attack on Jose Raul Capablanca (White) but Capa defended remarkably well and after 36.Bxf7+ Marshall had to resign with forced mate just a few moves away

Frank Marshall brought this ploy into the world back in 1918. His opponent was the Cuban maestro Jose Raul Capablanca. Frank J Marshall was the strongest US player of the day having won the US Championship several times. He was also one of the strongest players in the world.

But Capablanca was one of only a handful of players that Marshall just couldn't handle. They had played back in 1909 Capablanca had demolished him 8-1 with 14 draws. Half of Capa's wins had come when he had played the Ruy Lopez with the White pieces. Marshall had not played the Ruy Lopez with Black since that massacre. Secretly however he worked long and hard on a brand new system to beat it.

He waited for so long for a chance to play his new anti-Ruy Lopez system against Capa in a big tournament game. Finally after 9 long years his opportunity had arrived. What followed was one of the most famous chess games ever played. Capablanca - Marshall, 1918.

Marshall Analysis

Marshall Attack

Black plays 8...d5!? to initiate the Marshall Attack

White has a few different ways of declining the gambit. He can play 9.d3 or the stronger 9.d4. These lines are called the Fully Declined MA. If he accepts the first pawn but declines the second the game enters the Semi-Declined MA lines. He usually does this by 10.d3, 10.d4, 10.h3 or 10.a4. There are four main branches in the MA Accepted Lines. After 11.c6! White can play:

  • 12.d4
  • 12.d3
  • 12.g3
  • 12.Bxc5

12.d4 is by far the most popular of these and the theory amassed on it is quite deep. 12.d3 is also gaining in popularity as it accommodates the posting of the rook on e4 a couple of moves later. 12.Bxc5 tends to be drawish while the play arising from 12.g3 can be quite sharp. Take a look at the Marshall A Analysis using Fritz. These Marshall lines are appearing again and again in grandmaster play. Several of the biggest names are quite comfortable playing the Marshall from both sides. Here are some examples of the Marshall in the field.

Moving On

The Marshall Attack can be devastating in the right hands and White must be very careful in the face of it. If you don't know the main ideas in this ploy you're going down quick!

Black for his part can profit if he has a solid grounding in all of the lines and he remembers to keep his pieces on the board. He must avoid exchanges, especially queen exchanges. For White it is liquidation, liquidation, liquidation. If he can hold his position and pawn advantage and trade down a good endgame awaits.

Now that you're a expert gambiteer why not find out more about the very earliest pioneers of these age old ideas. Some of these gambits date back to the Middle Ages around the time of the changes to the modern chess rules. The men who began the work of developing the oldest gambits were the chess masters of Medieval Europe.

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