Saturday, March 10, 2007

Chess Column: Frank Marshall

Albert Frank Headshot by Albert Frank

Frank Marshall What was the greatest game ever played? The greatest player who ever lived? These questions can always provoke endless debate, and there will never be a final answer.

Another question is: What was the greatest move ever played? There are about 20 candidates. I'll present one of them here.

Frank Marshall, USA champion from 1909 to 1936, made one move that knocked spectators for a loop. According to a legend, they promptly expressed their delight by showering the board with gold coins. For sure, the final position can be compared to any artistic composition. Chess is an art form!

"The simple beauty of the decisive move is its penetration to the hostile King in a quiet way, without fanfare or fury," said Al Horowitz.

One of only three native American men to play a match for the World Championship, Frank Marshall's lengthy chess career had an impact on the development of chess in the United States that few others can match.

Born on the west side of Manhattan on August 10, 1877, Marshall's family moved to Montreal, where he learned to play chess. He won the Montreal Chess Club Championship at age 17, and subsequently moved back to New York.

Marshall's chess achievements are many. Here is a sample:

  • He won seven international tournaments without losing a game.

  • He held the U.S. title for twenty-nine years, resigning the title in 1936 to facilitate the organization of a championship tournament.

  • His performance against an elite field at Petersburg led to his being one of the first five players formally honored with the title Grandmaster in 1914.

  • He was a notoriously inconsistent player, capable of reaching the peaks of greatness, such as first place finishes ahead of Lasker (Cambridge Springs 1904) and Capablanca (Havana 1913) when both men were in their prime, while on the other hand he was also capable of losing matches by lopsided scores to both Lasker (0 "“ 8 with 7 draws in 1908 World Championship match) and Capablanca (1 "“ 8 with 14 draws in 1909).

  • The Marshall Chess Club he founded in 1915 in the back room of a mid Manhattan restaurant was a fixture on the New York chess scene for decades, helping develop the cream of America's chess talent, including Fine, Evans, Sherwin, Mednis and Soltis. Robert Fischer used the facility in 1965 to compete by teletype machine in the Havana Memorial tournament.

  • American chess players mourned the passing of a chess legend when Marshall passed away on November 9, 1944. In recognition of his significant contributions to American chess, Frank Marshall was an Inaugural Member of the Chess Hall of Fame.

Now lets see the game against Stepan Levitzky, a Russian master:

Stepan Levitzky — Frank Marshall, Breslau 1912

1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 c5 4. Nf3 Nc6 5. exd5 exd5 6. Be2 Nf6 7. O-O Be7 8. Bg5 O-O 9. dxc5 Be6 10. Nd4 Bxc5 11. Nxe6 fxe6 12. Bg4 Qd6 13. Bh3 Rae8 14. Qd2 Bb4

White's position is difficult, Black's threat Ne4 is tremendous.

15. Bxf6 Rxf6 16. Rad1 Qc5 17. Qe2 Bxc3

18. bxc3 Qxc3 19. Rxd5 Nd4 20. Qh5 Ref8

21. Re5 Rh6 22. Qg5 Rxh3 23. Rc5

White's position is very difficult but it seems he has some counterplay …And now comes the incredible:

Qg3!!! See the final position at which White resigned in the figure.

Final chess position

a. 24.hxg3 …Ne2 mate.

b. 24.fxg3…Ne2. 25.Kh1 Rxf1 mate.

c. 24.Qxg3 Ne2 25.Kh1 Nxg3 26.Kg1 Ne2 27.Kh1 Ra3 28.Re5 Nd4 (or 28.Re1 Rxa2) and black is a knight up for nothing.

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