Bishop's Opening, Urusov Gambit C24

Frank James Marshall
Erling Tholfsen

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


1. e4 e5 2. Bc4 Nf6 3. d4 exd4 4. Nf3 Nxe4 5. Qxd4 Nf6 6. Nc3 c6 7. Bg5 d5 8. O-O-O Be7 9. Rhe1

This is the classic Urusov Gambit position. White has achieved complete development of his forces and his Rooks occupy the open central files. Though Black has built a seemingly solid wall of pawns in the center, that formation has cost him time, guaranteeing that White will have a strong initiative due to his lead in development. Note that Black cannot play 9....dxc4?? due to 10.Qxd8#. So White certainly exerts some pressure along those center files.



In a game of Schlechter's against allies (Carlsbad 1901), Black played 9....O-O 10.Qh4 h6? and the strength of White's initiative was apparent after 11.Bxd5! Nbd7 (11....hxg5 12.Nxg5 +- or 11....cxd5 12.Rxe7! +-) 12.Bc4 b5 13.Bd3 hxg5 14.Nxg5 Re8 15.Bh7+ Kf8 16.Bf5 Kg8 17.Nxf7 Kxf7 18.Be6+ Kg6 19.f4 Nh5! 20.Qg4+ Kh6 and now White should have played 21.Bf5! for a speedier victory than in the game.


10. Bd3

Following Schlechter's example, masters today often prefer to keep the Bishop at c4 by playing 10.Qh4 first. Besides allowing the Bishop to pressure the d5 pawn for a possible breakthrough sacrifice, the Queen move also has the advantage of immediately vacating the square d4 for the Knight. Of course, Black cannot take the Bishop right away due to the pin, but he should think twice about taking it even when the pin is broken. For example, on 10.Qh4 Nbd7 White can play 11.Nd4!? immediately since 11....dxc4? is met by 12.Nxe6! with a winning attack: 12....fxe6 13.Bxf6 Bxf6 (13....gxf6 14.Rxe6 Rg8 15.Qxh7 Rxg2 16.f4 b5 17.Rde1 Ne5 18.Ne4 c3 19.bxc3 c5 20.fxe5 f5 21.Qxf5 Kd7 22.Nxc5+ Bxc5 23.Rd1+ Kc7 24.Qh7+ Qe7 25.Rxe7+ Bxe7 26.Qxe7+ Kb6 27.Rd6+ Ka5 28.Qc7+ Ka4 29.Ra6+ 1-0 Dufek--COMP Rebel 8, Usti 1997) 14.Rxe6+ Kf8 15.Qf4 Rc8 (15....Qb8 16.Qf5 Nb6 17.Rdd6 Qc7 18.Rxf6+ gxf6 19.Rxf6+ Ke8 20.Re6+ Qe7 21.Rxe7+ Kxe7 22.Qe5+ Kf7 23.Qc7+ Kf8 24.Qxb7 Rg8 25.g3 Rg7 26.Qxc6 1-0 COMP MChess 4.0--COMP Genius 2.0, Euro-Chess K 1995) 16.Ne4 Qc7 17.Qf5 Kg8 18.Re7 Bxe7 19.Rxd7 h6 20.g3 c3 21.Qe6+ Kh7 22.Qxe7 cxb2+ 23.Kxb2 Qxd7 24.Qxd7 Rhf8 25.f4 Rcd8 26.Qe7 Rb8 1-0 COMP Chess Pro 3.5--COMP Chessmaster 4000, Faas 1994.


10....Nbd7 11. Qh4 Nc5

Black cannot castle right away due to the attack on h7. The Knight therefore goes to c5 to support his Bishop at e3 and potentially to eliminate the White Bishop at d3 (with check, you might notice) to make castling possible. Preparing to castle by 11....h6 has been less successful. The game Voigt-Mephisto Computer, Dortmund 1992 showed an interesting plan of attack for White after 11....h6 12. Kb1!? O-O 13. g4! Nc5 (not 13....hxg5? 14.Nxg5 with threats of Rxe6 and Bh7+) 14. Bxh6 Nfe4 15. g5! Nxc3+ 16. bxc3 Nxd3 17. Rxd3 gxh6 18. Qxh6 Qb6+ 19. Ka1 Ba3 20. Rb1 Qc7 21. Rd4 f6 22. gxf6 Rxf6 23. Rg1+ Kf7 24. Qg7+ Ke8 25. Qxc7 Rxf3 26. Re1 Rf6 27. Rh4 Rg6 1-0


12. Nd4 Kf8!?

Black wishes to remove his King from the e-file but 12....O-O? is met by 13.Bxh7+! and on 12....h6 13.Bf5! O-O there can follow 14.Bxh6 Nfe4 15.Qg4 Bg5+ 16.Bxg5 Qxg5+ 17.Qxg5 Nxg5 18.h4 Bxf5 19.Nxf5 Nge6 20.b4 Nd7 21.h5 Nf6 22.h6 g6 23.Nd4 Nxd4 24.Rxd4 Rfe8 25.Rxe8+ Rxe8 26.g4 which worked out well for White in Hartnak--Brewer, CompuServe 1993. Seeing that castling the traditional way is not good, Tholfsen decides to try castling by hand.


An alternate route for the King was tried in Lepre--Nyffenegger, Correspondence 1992: 12....Kd7!? 13.f4?! (Marshall's idea of 13.Bf5! appears much stronger here: 13....h6 14.Bf4! g5 15.Qh3 gxf4 16.Bxe6+ fxe6 17.Nxe6 Nxe6 18.Qxe6+ Kc7 [18...Ke8? 19.Qxf6 +-] 19.Qxe7+ Qxe7 20.Rxe7+ Nd7 21.Ne2 Raf8 22.c4 += and White has the better ending) 13....h6 14.Bxf6 Bxf6 15.Qf2 Nxd3+ 16.Rxd3 g6 17.Ne4 b6 18.f5 gxf5 19.Nxf5 Rg8 20.c4 Rg4 21.g3 Be5 22.h3 Rxe4 23.Rxe4 Qg5+ 24.Ne3 Bxg3 25.Qf3 Rd8 26.Kc2 Ke8 27.cxd5 cxd5 28.Nxd5 Rxd5 29.Qxg3 Rc5+ 30.Kd1 Qc1+ 31.Ke2 Rc2+ 32.Kf3 Qf1+ 33.Ke3 Re2+ 34.Kd4 Qf6+ 35.Qe5 Qd8+ 36.Kc3 Qc8+ 0-1.


Probably the best idea, though, is 12....Ng8! seeking exchanges, as Tholfsen tried in his game with Torre. Then can follow 13.Bxe7 Qxe7 14.Qg3 g6 15.f4! with good attacking chances for White. Perhaps better, though quite complicated, is Torre's idea of 13.f4! For example: 13....Bxg5! 14.fxg5 h6 15.Bg6! Kd7 16.Bxf7 Bxf7 17.Qg4+ Kc7 18.Qf4+ Kb6 19.Qxf7 Qxg5+ 20.Kb1 Qf6 21.Nxd5+! cxd5 22.Qxd5 Rc8 23.Re6+ Nxe6 24.Qb3+ Kc7 25.Nxe6+ Kb8 26.Qg3+ Ka8 27.Nc7+ Rxc7 28.Qxc7 a5 29.Rd8+ Ka7 30.Qb8+ Ka6 31.Rd6+ Qxd6 32.Qxd6+ b6 33.Qd3+ b5 34.a4 Nf6 35.axb5+ Kb7 36.Qf3+ Ka7 37.Qc6 Kb8 1-0 Monkman-Hiarcs3 COMPUTER, London 1995 .


13. Bf5! Qd7

The defender can try to hold the line or to bring about exchanges to break the attack. Black's plan is to defend the Bishop at e6, hoping to balance White's pressure there and hold the line. Most attempts at simplification are less promising. If 13....Nfe4 there can follow 14.Nxe4 Nxe4 15.Bxe7+ Qxe7 16.Nxe6+ fxe6 17.Qxe7+ Kxe7 18.Bxe4 dxe4 19.Rxe4 with a clear edge for White in the ending. And if 13....Bxf5?! White can simply play 14.Nxf5 Ne6 15.f4! with a strong attack, though he can also consider the complex 14.Rxe7!? Qxe7 (14....Be6? 15.Bxf6! +-) 15.Nxf5 Qd7 (Best might be 15....Qe5! 16.Nxg7 with unclear play) 16.Bxf6 gxf6 17.Qh6+! Ke8 18.Qxf6 Rg8 19.Re1+ Ne6 20.Ng7+ Rxg7 21.Qxg7 and White's attack continues with no material deficit.


Most thematic for Black, though, appears to be 13....Ne8, taking advantage of the King's move to f8 in order to invite exchanges. White could then win back his pawn with 14.Bxe7+ Qxe7 15.Qxe7+ (or 15.Qg3 Qd6! 16.Qxd6+ Nxd6 17.Bxe6 Nxe6 18.Nxe6+ fxe6 19.Rxe6 Nf5 =) 15....Kxe7 16.b4 Kf6! 17.bxc5 Bxf5 18.Nxf5 Kxf5 19.Re7 Rb8 20.Rxf7+ Kg6 21.Re7 Rf8 22.Rde1 Nf6 23.R1e3 and, though material is equal, I like White in the ending; White's strong initiative more than compensates for his potentially weak pawn at c5 and should allow him to win at least a pawn more.


Against the simplifying defensive strategy of 13....Ne8, White can try for an advantage in two ways. First, he could try 14.f4!? leading to an exciting fight after 14....Bxg5 15.fxg5 Bxf5 16.Nxf5 h6! 17.Re7!? Nd6 18.g6! fxg6 19.Nxd6 Qxd6 20.Rf1+ Kg8 21.Rff7 Rh7 22.Qd4 Ne6 23.Qf2, when White is two pawns down but maintains enough of a grip on the position to force Black to return the material for some freedom. Or second, he could try to keep the Queens on the board after 14.Bxe7+ Qxe7 15.Qg3 (15.Qf4 is similar) 15....Qd6! (on 15....Qc7 White can play 16.Re5 to double Rooks since 16....Nd7? fails to 17.Rxe6!) 16.Qe3 Nc7 or 16.Qf3 Bxf5 17.Nxf5 Qf6 with a tense struggle underway in which there are chances for both sides.


14. Re5 Re8

Black opposes Rooks to blunt White's battery on the e-file. A tempting alternative is 14....Bd6?!, attacking White's Rook (which cannot move without surrendering the Bishop at f5), but there follows 15.Bxf6! Bxe5 (not 15....gxf6? 16.Bxe6! Nxe6 17.Nxe6+ fxe6 18.Qxf6+ Kg8 19.Rg5+ etc.) 16.Bxe5 Bxf5 17.Nxf5 Qxf5 18.Bd6+ Kg8 19.Bxc5 and White's two pieces are better than Black's Rook and pawn, especially with the Black King so poorly placed.


Meanwhile, the immediate 14....Bxf5 15.Nxf5 Ne6 brings no relief after 16.Ne4! and the pressure on f6 leads to a breakthrough. Note that White cannot play instead 14....Bxf5 15.Nxf5 Ne6 16.Nxg7?! (which works well after 16....Nxg7 17.Bxf6 += or 16....Kxg7? 17.Bh6+ Kg8 18.Rg5+ +-) because of 16....Nxg5! 17.Qxg5 Rg8 and things are not so clear.


15. Rde1 Bd8 16. b4!

Probably best. The alternative way to resolve the fight over the e6 square is 16.Bxe6 Nxe6 (16....fxe6?! 17.b4! Nce4 18.Nxe4 dxe4 19.Rd1! wins material due to the threat of Nxe6+) 17.Qh3! and Black has no more defenders and must eventually surrender a pawn through exchanges at e6 (because 17....Nxg5? loses to 18.Qxd7! Nxd7 19.Rxe8#). Unfortunately, it is not clear that White can get much more than equality here in the long run despite the fact that Black's passivity gives the first player time to build up his position. Play might go 16.Bxe6 Nxe6 17.Qh3 Kg8 (a necessary preparation for 18....h6) 18.Nxe6!? (Perhaps White can improve his position in some way here before liquidating, but I do not see it) 18....fxe6 (18....Rxe6 transposes) 19.Rxe6 Rxe6 20.Rxe6 Ng4! 21.Qxg4 h5! (not 21....Bxg5+ 22.Qxg5!) 22.Qe2 Bxg5+ 23.Kb1 Kf7 24.Re5 Bf6 25.Re3 with about equal play.



The tension in the center must finally be resolved. Though Black retains his extra pawn in the ensuing complications, the exchanges reduce his defensive force and make the fact that his Rook is out of action at h8 more noticeable. White is now able to open up lines for attack and he finds a novel way to get behind Black's central fortress.


17. Rxe8+

This is probably better than 17.Nxf5 Rxe5 18.Rxe5 Ne6 19.Nxg7 Nxg7 20.Bxf6 Qd6! 21.Bxg7+ Kxg7 with rough equality.


17....Nxe8 18. bxc5

On 18.Bxd8 Ne6 19.Nxf5 Nxd8 White is still down a pawn and has not made much progress. By taking the Knight with his b-pawn, White creates some interesting tactical possibilities, especially around the d6 square and the h2-b8 diagonal.


18....f6 19. Bf4!

Marshall prefers this move over the immediate 19.Bd2 because the Bishop helps control the critical h2-b8 diagonal which he plans to use for an invasion of Black's position. Otherwise, Black might be able to play 19....Bc7, a move which now costs him material after 20.Nxf5 Qxf5 21.Rxe8+ gaining two pieces for a Rook. The swindling grandmaster may also have wanted to tempt Tholfsen into trying 19....g5? 20.Qh6+ Qg7 21.Rxe8+! winning.


19....Ba5 20. Qg3 Be4!?

An interesting idea, but Black does not follow up correctly.


21. Bd2 Bg6?!

White threatened to win a piece with the thematic 22.Nxe4. But Black should have offered a draw by repetition here with 21....Bc7 22.Bf4 Ba5 (when White would have to play 23.Re3 to continue the game) or even dared to grab a pawn with 22....Bxf4+ 23.Qxf4 Bxg2. The consequences in either case were unclear.


22. h3!?

There must be some swindling idea behind this move, but it escapes me. The most logical idea is to play 22.Qb8 before Black can prevent it with 22....Bc7. It may be that White wanted to take precautions against Black's possible counterplay following 22.Qb8 Qg4 by preventing this move. But on 22.Qb8 Qg4?! 23.Ne6+ Kg8 24.Nf4! looks very strong for White and forces 24....Kf7 (not 24....Kf8 25.Nxg6+ Qxg6 26.Bf4!) 25.Nxg6 hxg6 26.Qxa7! with a big plus since 26....Bxc3? is met by 27.Qxb7+ winning.


It may be that Marshall simply wanted to deprive Black of Qg4 in some lines. But what did Marshall have up his sleeve if Black had played 22....Bc7, which seems the most logical move? Certainly not 23.Ne6+? Qxe6! winning for Black! Perhaps 23.Bf4 Kf7 24.Re3 and White's position is improved, but it is not clear how 22.h3!? fits into his overall plan.



Perhaps the point of Marshall's 22.h3!? was simply to induce Black to play this logical looking move, which provides White with important tactical advantages in some critical lines because the King is now on the critical 7th rank rather than the 8th. Besides the logical 22....Bc7 (see above), Black could also consider 22....Qc8 (preventing White's invasion to b8), 22....Kg8 (getting out of possible checks by the Knight to e6), or 22....Bf7 (to meet Ne6+ with Bxe6). Any of these was better than the text, after which White is clearly winning.


23. Qb8!

An amateur playing this position might never consider Marshall's plan of attack, since he would be so focused on either the center or the kingside. But the grandmaster recognizes that the dark squares and the queenside pawns are Black's greatest weakness and therefore the easiest avenue of assault. The fact that White controls all parts of the board now becomes very clear.


23....a6 24. Nce2 Qc7 25. Qa7 Bxd2+ 26. Kxd2 Qa5+

Black tries desperately to develop a counterattack, since it is otherwise impossible to stop White from breaking through on the queenside with 27.Rb1! and Rxb7.


27. Nc3 Qb4

Notice that if Black's King were not on the 7th rank here, he would be winning! Could Marshall have foreseen this position when he played his subtle 22.h3!? We will never know. Now it is White who wins!


28. Nxc6! Qf4+ 29. Kd1 Be4 30. Qxb7+ Nc7?

Black could have lasted a bit longer with 30....Kg6 (the move 29....Be4 seems intended to clear this escape square for the King, after all). But perhaps he noticed at the last moment that his Bishop is in trouble after 30....Kg6 31.f3! Bf5 32.Nxd5! Now the Knight at c7 is lost instead.


31. Nxe4 dxe4 32. g3! 1-0


The Queen must now abandon the Knight. A wonderful demonstration by Marshall of the enduring initiative provided by the Urusov Gambit.