Frank James Marshall - Bruno Forsberg [C24]
In his book for beginning players, titled "Chess in an Hour," Frank James Marshall writes of this opening move: "White's first problem is to remove some obstruction so that as many pieces as possible will be free to move. By advancing the King's Pawn two squares White opens the way for his King's Bishop and his Queen to move." The pawn also occupies the center and helps White to especially exert control over the light squares there.
Marshall continues: "As Black must also free his pieces as soon as possible he too moves his King's Pawn two squares. This also stops White's pawn from advancing" to e5, after for example 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 (the Advance Variation of the French Defense) or 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 (the Advance Variation of the Caro Kann), when White immediately has a slight advantage in space. Though Marshall experimented with various defenses (even trying out Alekhine's 1....Nf6 on occasion), he usually played 1....e5 himself, since he regarded it as offering the best chances of equality for Black.
Though this move violates the famous opening axiom "Knights before Bishops," it is not without justification. White develops a kingside piece in order to quickly castle and increases his control of the center (preventing Black from playing ....d5 for example). The Bishop also immediately targets the weakest point in Black's position: the Pawn at f7, which is guarded only by the King. This can make for some rapid tactical wins if Black is not careful, based on the Scholar's Mate motif (see note below).
Classic opening commentators called this "The Berlin Defense." The move 2.... Nf6 was required of all participants in the Dimock Theme Tournament, of course, but it is also objectively best. Since White's Bishop does not create an immediate threat, Black takes the opportunity to attack in the center himself. The Knight contests White's control of the d5 square and supports a later pawn push with d5 to either seize the center or blunt the Bishop's attack on f7. It also protects the King by preventing White from playing the pesky Qh5 move while helping to speed kingside castling. No other move is as useful for the defense. And there are actually at least a few ways that Black can go very wrong here: 2... Be7 3. Qh5 g6 4. Qxe5+/-; or 2... Ne7 3. Qh5 Ng6 4. Nf3 f6 5. Nh4+- Edwards--Kuhla, Correspondence 1986 both point up the dangers of allowing White's Queen to h5!
Traditionally called the "Ponziani Gambit," this move was refined into an opening system by 19th Century players, following the lead of Prince Sergei Urusov. White's idea is to sacrifice a pawn for rapid mobilization and open lines while also attacking Black's only foothold in the center. It is an aggressive and powerful weapon that appears to give White excellent play, as the Dimock Theme Tournament helped to show.
Move three for Black was the first moment that
the players were allowed choice in the opening. Forsberg takes the opportunity
to continue the contest over the d5 square, hoping to force through the move
....d5 with pawn support. This move is likely not the best, however, as Marshall
demonstrates in the game. The most common move in
the tournament was 3... exd4 when most players
chose Urusov's 4. Nf3 (Ponziani
had recommended 4. e5?! when Black can play
4... d5=/+) 4... Nxe4
(about half of the tournament participants chose instead
4... Nc6 transposing to the more familiar
lines of the Two Knights Defense) 5. Qxd4
Nf6 6. Nc3!
( Urusov had recommended 6.
Better than 4. Nc3
Bb4! (4... Nxe4!?
5. Nxe4 d5)
5. dxe5 Nxe4
6. Qd4 d5!
White is also better after 4... Nxe4
5. Qe2 Nc5
6. Nc3 Be7
7. Bf4 ( though the Bishop
move pwerfully discourages Black from playing the d6-break, 7. f4
gains more space in the center and is also good in these types of positions)
7... Ne6 8. Bg3
c5!? 9. Nf3
In his match with Staunton, Cochrane tried here the inferior 5. c3?! Qxe5 6. Bd3 = perhaps hoping his opponent would fall into the trap 6... Nxe4? 7. Qe2! when the Knight at e4 will fall after 7....f5 8.f3 due to the pin along the e-file.
The objectively best move in this position, however,
may be 5. Nd2! Nxe4
(5... Qxe5 6. Ngf3
Black's loose Knight at e4 allows for a pretty combination. And though the temporary Bishop sacrifice is not without danger for White, it sure is fun to play! John Emms suggests instead the straight-forward 6. Qf3 d5 7. exd6 Nxd6 8. Bb3+/= after which White's pieces are better placed and he has a safe if slight edge. Marshall, however, was never afraid of risk if it gave him either a clear advantage or the initiative and the Bishop sacrifice does both.
White has won back his sacrificed piece and is temporarily up a pawn. He also enjoys at least a slight initiative due to the fact that Black's King will not be able to castle, giving him a target of attack.
If 8... gxf6
Black will be saddled with weak pawns and a weakened King position for the
rest of the game and White gets the advantage with simple developing moves:
9. Bf4 d5
Marshall refuses to allow Black the safe capture of the f-pawn with his Queen, which would give Black the better longterm chances due to his strong center (following ....d5) and the two Bishops. Of course, the adventurous Knight move is not without risk since it violates the well-known axiom that you should never willingly walk into a pin, but Marshall has calculated the consequences carefully.
And if 9... gxf6 Marshall would have very likely played 10. Bf4!? (10. Ne2+/= is the safer choice) when, if Black accepts the poisoned pawn, there could follow 10... Qxb2 11. Qh5+ Kg8 12. Nf3! Qxa1+ (Black can spoil things and actually equalize with >= 12... d5! 13. Ne5! Qb4+!! (not 13... <= fxe5? 14. Nf6+ Kg7 15. Bxe5!+-) 14. Kf1 Qe7! 15. Nd6! fxe5 16. Nxc8 Qf7 17. Qxe5 Nd7 18. Qg5+ Qg7 19. Qxg7+ Kxg7 20. Nd6 Bxd6 21. Bxd6= with relative equality, but Marshall well knew that it is hard to find such lines when your King is in jeopardy) 13. Kd2 Qb2 (not 13... Qxh1? 14. Nxf6+ Kg7 15. Ne8+ Kg8 16. Ng5 Bb4+ 17. c3 Qe1+ 18. Kxe1 Bxc3+ 19. Kf1 d5 20. Qf7#) 14. Rb1!! Qxb1 15. Nxf6+ Kg7 16. Ne8+ Kg8 17. Qg4+ Kf7 18. Ng5+ Kxe8 19. Qe2+ Be7 20. Qh5+ Kd8 21. Nf7+ Ke8 22. Nxh8+ Kd8 23. Nf7+ Ke8 24. Nd6+ Kd8 25. Qe8+ Kc7 26. Nc4+ d6 27. Qxe7+ Bd7 28. Bxd6+ Kc8 29. Qf8+ Be8 30. Qxe8#
Black continues with his plan. The pawn at f6 is still taboo, since 10... gxf6 11. Bg5! Be7 (11... Qxb2 12. Qh5+ Kf8 13. Bxf6+-) (11... 11... Re8 12. Qh5+ Kf8 13. Qh6+ Kf7 14. Qxh7++-) (11... 11... d5 12. Bxf6 dxe4 13. Bxe5+ exf3 14. Bxh8 fxg2+ 15. Kxg2+-) 12. Qh5+! (12. Re1+-) 12... Kg8 13. Nf3 Qxe4 14. Qe8+ Kg7 15. Bxf6+!!+-
Forsberg must have been happy with his position at this moment, thinking he had the stronger attack. The White Knight, after all, is pinned due to the possibility of a back-rank mate if it moves and Black can attack both the Knight and the Queen with ....d5! Marshall's response shows who really has the advantage and points up the weakness of the cornered Black King. But Black could not have improved by keeping his King in the center with <= 12... Kf8? 13. Bh6+ Ke7 14. Nf6!+- winning.
This must have come as a shock to Black. So often we assume that our opponents will passively try to defend against our threats rather than actively counter-attacking. But Marshall well knew that "the best defense is a good offense." And the deadly threat of 14.Bf6+ is quite offensive!
Forced, as Black must prevent 14.Bf6+, which either wins his Queen or mates his King. Now Marshall seizes the initiative and he uses it to develop his pieces and attack the cornered Black King.
[Annotated by Michael Goeller]
Game in PGN