Bishop's Opening, Urusov Gambit C24

Frank James Marshall
Carlos Torre

Dimock Theme 1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 Nf6 3.d4 (8)
Marshall Chess Club, New York, 1924


1. e4 e5 2. Bc4 Nf6 3. d4 exd4 4. Nf3 Nxe4

Torre eschews the familiar Two Knights Defense and challenges Marshall to play the Urusov Gambit, in which White gains rapid mobilization in exchange for a pawn. Alekhine wrote of the Urusov that “after 4....Nxe4 5.Qxd4 White has a very strong attack. I avoid such material gains in the opening on principle, for they lead only to loss of time and delay of development.” Most current players would agree with Alekhine and choose 4....d5 5.exd5 Bb4+ 6.c3 Qe7+ seeking to blunt White's potential initiative. As Torre demonstrates here, however, the extra pawn can be turned to account if White's attack fails.


5. Qxd4 Nf6

The best retreat for the Knight. Wrong is 5....Nd6? 6.O-O Nc6 (as Urusov noted in his original analysis, if 6....Nxc4? 7.Qxg7 Rf8 8.Bh6 wins) 7.Re1+ Ne7 8.Bb3 f6 9.Qd5 g5 10.Bf4! winning. An interesting alternative, though, is the countergambit line 5....d5!? 6.Bxd5 Nf6 7.Bxf7+ (7.Nc3!? is an option here) 7....Kxf7 8.Qxd8 Bb4+ 9.Qd2 Re8+! 10.Kf1 Bxd2 11.Bxd2 (perhaps 11.Nbxd2!? is better) 11....Bg4! when Black may have sufficient compensation for his pawn.


6. Nc3

Marshall chooses the correct method of playing the Urusov. The standard continuation had always been 6.Bg5?!, but as Torre demonstrated in his game as Black against Tholfsen, Black gains the upperhand in that case with 6....Nc6 7.Qh4 d5! According to Torre, it was C. S. Howell who first recognized the importance of the 6.Nc3 move order.


6....Nc6 7. Qh4 Bb4

An interesting sideline made possible by White's early Knight move. The Bishop sortee, however, weakens Black's defenses, and once the Bishop is exchanged for White's Knight at c3, White's dark squared bishop has the potential to become a monster. The standard approach here is 7....Be7 8.Bg5 when Black can choose between 8....d5 or 8....d6.


8. O-O

In his notes on this game, Gabriel Velasco suggests 8.Bd2 O-O 9.O-O-O to avoid the weakening of the Queenside pawns that follows. But Marshall plays in the romantic spirit, believing that "mate leaves no weaknesses in its wake."


8....Bxc3 9. bxc3 O-O

A complex alternative to immediate castling is 9....d5!? when White can try 10.Ba3! Be6! (10....dxc4 11.Rad1 Nd5 12.Qxc4 Be6 13.Rfe1 Nce7 14.Bxe7 Qxe7 15.Rxd5 c6 16.Rde5 O-O-O 17.Qa4 += or 16....O-O 17.Qe4 +=) 11.Rad1 Ne4! (11....Qd7 12.Bb5!) 12.Qh5!? g6! (12....Nf6 13.Qg5; 12....Nxc3? 13.Bxd5! Nxd1 14.Bxe6 g6 15.Ne5! Qe7!? [15....fxe6 16.Nxg6; 15....Nxe5 16.Qxe5; 15....gxh5? 16.Bxf7#] 16.Qxd1! +-) 13.Qh6 Qd7 14.Bxd5 O-O-O! (14....Bxd5 15.c4 +=) 15.Qe3! Bxd5 16.c4 which leaves White with a continuing initiative and material equality.


10. Bd3?

This is the wrong move, however. As Keres suggests, White's best is 10.Bg5!, developing another piece and asserting the power of his dark squared bishop which is unopposed by any Black counterpart. Play might continue then 10....h6 11.Bxh6! gxh6 12.Qxh6 d5 13.Rad1! Bf5 (13....Ng4 14.Qh5 Be6 15.Bd5 +-) 14.Nh4 Bh7 15.Rd3! Kh8 (15....Bd3 16.Bd3 Ne5 17.Nf5 Ne8 18.Ne7+ Qe7 19.Qh7#) 16.Rg3 (16.f4!?) 16....Rg8 17.Bd3 Ne4? (17....Ne5! 18.Rg8+ Kg8 19.f4 is unclear) 18.Be4 de4 19.Nf5! 1-0 as in Thompson--Weberg, US Correspondence 1949.



A brilliant defensive maneuver, bringing the Knight to the support of the Kingside. Expanding on Torre's notes, Velasco points out that if instead 10....d5 11.Bg5 h6 12.Bf4 Ne4 13.Qxd8 Rxd8 14.Bxc7 leads to material equality. In this line, however, White might also consider the daring 12.Bxh6!? with unclear play, though Torre suggests that 12...gxh6 13.Qxh6 Ne4 "saves the game." Torre's move avoids all such unpleasantries.


11. Bg5 Ng6 12. Qg3 d5!

Torre surrenders the pawn to put an end to White's initiative and to demonstrate the weakness of the doubled pawns on the c-file. Torre writes that "More logical and in accordance with his original plan would have been 12....d6. Then White's strongest continuation seems to be 13.Nh4." Velasco seems more correct when he points out that 12....d5! is the strongest move and better than 12....d6 13.Rfe1! h6 14.Bd2 Bd7 when White's intiative continues unabated.


13. Rfe1

Velasco writes that 13.Bxf6 Qxf6 14.Qxc7 Nf4! is no better than the game continuation.


13....h6 14. Bxf6?!

Surely there was a better way to exploit the mass of pieces poised for attack on Black's King. Torre suggests 14.Bxh6 gxh6 (14....Ne4? 15.Bxe4 dxe4 16.Ne5!) 15.Bxg6 fxg6 16.Qxg6+ Kh8 17.Ne5 which "looks good for White." He continues, "Black, however, could refuse the sacrifice with 14....Nh5 15.Qg5 Nhf4" when the second player still has the better position in the long run due to White's Queenside pawn weaknesses. Attempting to improve on Torre's note, Velasco suggests instead 14.Bxg6 fxg6 15.Bxh6!? Nh5! 16.Qg5 gxh6 17.Qxg6+ Ng7 18.Qxh6 and it appears that White should be able to secure at least a draw with his attack. In any event, Marshall could have attempted a breakthrough on the Kingside rather than trying to recover his pawn. By grabbing the pawn at c7, Marshall surrenders all claim on the initiative and only temporarily wins back his material since, after 14....Qxf6 15.Qxc7, he opens up the c-file in front of his doubled pawns, one of which must eventually fall.


14....Qxf6 15. Qxc7 Nf4 16. Qe5 Qxe5 17. Rxe5 Be6 18. g3

Marshall tries to undouble his pawns.


18....Nxd3 19. cxd3 Rac8 20. Rc1 Rc5 21. Nd4 Rfc8 22. f4!?

Velasco writes that this move sets up "a classic Marshall swindle try: now if 22....Rxc3? 23.Rxc3 Rxc3 24.f5 Rxd3 25.fxe6 Rxd4 26.e7! and White wins." White would have done better, however, to try 22.Nxe6! fxe6 23.Rxe6 Rxc3 24.Re8+ Rxe8 25.Rxc3 Re2, bringing about a complex Rook ending that Torre thought "looks like a draw." Black's next move avoids unnecessary simplification while winning a pawn, after which Marshall "has few good moves left" according to Torre.


22....Bg4! 23. c4 f6 24. Re7 dxc4 25. dxc4

No better was 25.Rxb7, when Velasco provides extensive analysis to show that Black wins by force, including the attractive line 25....cxd3 26.Rxc5 Rxc5 27.Nb3 Rc1+! 28.Kf2 (28.Nxc1? d2) 28....Rc2+ 29.Ke3 Rxa2 30.Kxd3 Rxh2 31.Rxa7 Rh3 -+.


25....Rxc4 26. Rxc4 Rxc4 27. Nb3 Rc2 28. h4 Rxa2 29. Rxb7 a5 30. Nd4 a4 31. f5 Rd2 32. Ne6 Bxf5 33. Nxg7 Rd7 34. Rb5 Bd3 0-1


Torre played a masterful game against very stiff opposition. This is a classic confrontation between these two competitors. Fans of the Urusov Gambit should note that even after White's imperfect opening play it took great care on Black's part to carry the full point, suggesting that the gambit's momentum is difficult to counter for better than a draw.


Notes based on those of Carlos Torre (American Chess Bulletin 1924, page 195) and Gabriel Velasco's The Life and Games of Carlos Torre.