have been many fine American chess players among whom Frank James Marshall
must be acknowledged as being one of the best. Not the best, that
honour must be reserved for Bobby Fischer, but certainly, Marshall was one
of the most colourful. Marshall's uncompromising style of play and
personality gained him invitations to many international tournaments.
in New York in 1907, he learned the moves by watching his father
play friends at home, like so many other players had done and
hopefully will do in the future. When he started playing his
father, he was soon winning the games. His father was so
impressed that when the family moved to Montreal he took his
eleven-year-old son to one of the coffee-houses frequented by
strong players. There the young Marshall's game improved
rapidly until he was proficient enough to join the Montreal Chess
Club. Here he not only had the opportunity of playing many
games, nut he also had access to a large library of chess books that
he studied assiduously. This formed the basis of the style he
evolved. He became very interested in the games of Paul Morphy
and this began to show in the games that he played.
the many visitors to the club were Steinitz, who was then World
Champion, and Harry Pillsbury. Marshall lost against Steinitz
in a simultaneous display, but not without impressing the great
master who predicted a fine future for the youngster. In
a Harry Pillsbury blindfold display, Marshall won his game in fine
style of which he was justly proud. It did not take him long
to win the Championship of the Montreal Club, achieving this at the
age of sixteen.
after, his family moved back to New York and Marshall now had the
chance to pit his skills against the strongest in America. In
1898, he was the runner-up to Napier in the Championship of the
Brooklyn Chess Club and in the following year, he won the
Championship out right. His performance was so impressive that
funds were raised to send him to the London Tournament in
1899. Chief among his patrons was Leo Nardus who also became a
sponsor of Janowski. Unfortunately, on his arrival in London
the Tournament Committee would not admit him as an entrant in the
Premier, claiming that he was not strong enough to contend. He
was obliged to enter the First Class tournament, which he won
success prompted him to look to chess for a living and combining
playing and displays he managed to survive as a professional for the
remainder of his life.
the year following his success in London, he represented the U.S.A.
in the Paris Tournament. Here he finished 3rd and 4th with
Maroczy, having beaten Emmanuel Lasker and Harry Pillsbury en
route. There followed several other European tournaments
in which he finished within the first five, but it was not until
1904 that he scored his greatest triumph to date. He then won
the very strong Cambridge Springs Tournament by a clear two points
ahead of such luminaries as Lasker, Schlechter, Tchigorin,
Pillsbury, Janowski and Mieses et al. He was destined never to
repeat this performance against the strongest opposition, but he did
win against lesser fields at St. Louis 1904 and Scheveningen 1905.
results in other tournaments showed that he was among the strongest
players of his age. He finished third at Monte Carlo 1904,
after Maroczy and Schlechter. Then, in 1905, he played his
first serious match against Janowski. Again this was sponsored
by Nardus. Match play was not going to be Marshall's forte,
but he did manage to win this match by eight wins to to five with
five draws. He tried another match against Tarrasc in the same
year but was well and truly beaten by winning just one game against
eight and drawing eight. However, the following year he scored
another outstanding tournament success at Nuremberg, coming first
with nine wins, seven draws and not losing a game. Among his
victims were Tchigorin, Janowski, Duras, Schlechter, Tarrasch,
Spielman and Vidmar.
fine win persuaded him and his sponsors that he was ready for a
World Championship match. Negotiations with Emmanuel Lasker
were satisfactorily concluded and the match took place in
1907. Marshall was to demonstrate yet again that he was no
match player and was soundly beaten by eight games to nil with seven
draws. Two years later, he took on the young Capablanca but suffered
the same fate. Of the twenty-three games played, he managed
just one win, losing eight and drawing fourteen.
he did win a match in the same year against Showalter, this time
winning seven games, losing two and drawing three. This was
for the U.S. Championship which Marshall then held until 1935,
albeit defending the title successfully just the once against Edward
Lasker. In those days, incumbent champions rarely put their
titles at stake unless they had more than a reasonable chance of
winning. In 1935 in the face of mounting dissatisfaction, he
relinquished the title and the directors of the National Chess
Federation promoted the first tournament for the U.S. Championship
that was won by Sammy Reshevsky.
was not tardy in representing his country. He played for and
captained the U.S. team in five Olympiads, 1930, 1931, 1933, 1935
and 1937. In these five tournaments, Marshall came home with a
gold metal on no less than four occasions. A great record.
on the tournament circuit, he continued to win first place at the
New York Tournament of 1911 and this was ahead of Capablanca.
Budapest, 1912, saw him equal 1st and 2nd with Schlechter ahead of
Teichmann, Maroczy et al. However, in the "Super"
grandmaster tournaments he did not fare so well although acquitting
himself reasonably at St. Petersburg 1914, New York, 1924 and Moscow,
1925. Amongst other tournaments that he won were Atlantic
City, 1920, New York (Evans Gambit Tourney) 1924, New York (Bishop's
Opening Tourney) 1924 and Chicago, 1926.
only interests were chess and his family life. He liked to
smoke cigars and take the occasional drink, although this did not
affect his play in the same manner as it did Alekhine. Hans
Kmoch has related an amusing little story that was published on the
Chess Cafe website :
like to drink, and although he never got drunk like
or Stoltz, he did have one too many now and then. On
such occasion, at his own chess club in New York City, he
a speech at a meeting to honor Oscar Chajes, who had died in
Chajes, who was born under the Austrian monarchy but lived
New York and was a member of the Marshall club, had one of
most often mispronounced names in chess history. It is
pronounced KHAH-yes (a form of the Hebrew word for
Reti reported how amusing it was at the Karlsbad
of 1923 to hear the wild variety of attempts to get the
right. I had noticed the same thing when Chajes once visited
It seemed to be especially difficult for English-speakers.
that day at the Marshall club, Marshall concluded his speech by
"I think it is good that the man died, because we couldn't
his name anyway."
played his last tournament at the Stockholm Olympiad in 1937, and in
1944, he collapsed and died in the street when returning home late
at night from a chess event in Jersey. his name will always be
in front of chess players as during the 1914-18 war, he founded his
Chess Divan in New York. this was to be re-named the Marshall
Chess Club. After his death, Marshall's wife continued to run
the chess club with the help of her son Frankie and when he died, aged
fifty, she continued alone. She died in 1971 aged in her
of his style of play, Marshall gained a reputation as a
"Swindler" and indeed, there were occasions when he played
the unexpected move and gained an advantage thereby. But never
let it be thought that this was his only attribute. His legacy
in opening systems awesome. The Marshall Variation of the Ruy
Lopez that he used (unsuccessfully!) against Capablanca is still
played today and is considered by some experts as being the best
defence that Black can adopt. He contributed much to the
Petroff Defence and the Marshall Attack against the King's Gambit
Declined was launched by the game Marshall - Cohn, Carlsbad, 1907.
his early beginnings as a combative player à la Morphy, he
matured his techniques and acquired a solid positional style when it
was required. His end game technique was also immensely
a writer, although not exactly wedded to the pen, he did produce a
book with Fred Reinfeld entitled "My Fifty Years of
Chess". this was later re-published as "Marshalls
Best Games." His expertise with the pen was very
questionable and another quote from Hans Kmoch well demonstrates
though a fierce attacker over the board, was otherwise a
simple man. Certainly he was not a man of the pen. I
when he gave his autograph and he gave a great many of
he drew his name using several strokes instead of writing it
a single motion. In Moscow 1925, I was present when
were handing out questionnaires to the participants.
recoiled from the horrible task of filling his out. "No,
he protested. "Come after the tournament." At the team
in Hamburg 1930, when he had just won a ten-mover
Petrov and was finishing the delicate job of correcting his
I jokingly remarked that there might still be some
He defiantly offered to wager a cigar that there were none. I
say I really enjoyed that cigar."
legacy of fine games is well worth studying and appended are just a
few that I hope you will enjoy playing.
Frost July 2006
preparing this article, I acknowledge reference to:
Best Games of
Oxford Companion to
David hooper & Kenneth Wyld
Chess Cafe website.
Levitsky - Marshall [C10]
Breslau (6), 1912