12/03/2008 20:27          


There  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.

Born 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.

Among 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.

Shortly 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 handsomely.

His 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.

In 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.

His 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.

This 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.

However, 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.

Marshall 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. 

Back 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.

Marshall's 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 :

"Marshall like to drink, and although he never got drunk like Alekhine or Stoltz, he did have one too many now and then.  On one such occasion, at his own chess club in New York City, he gave a speech at a meeting to honor Oscar Chajes, who had died in 1928. Chajes, who was born under the Austrian monarchy but lived in New York and was a member of the Marshall club, had one of the most often mispronounced names in chess history.  It is correctly pronounced KHAH-yes (a form of the Hebrew word for "life"). Reti reported how amusing it was at the Karlsbad tournament of 1923 to hear the wild variety of attempts to get the name right.  I had noticed the same thing when Chajes once visited Vienna.  It seemed to be especially difficult for English-speakers.   On that day at the Marshall club, Marshall concluded his speech by saying: "I think it is good that the man died, because we couldn't pronounce his name anyway."

Marshall 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 mid-eighties.

Because 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.

From his early beginnings as a combative player la Morphy, he matured his techniques and acquired a solid positional style when it was required.  His end game technique was also immensely admired.

as 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 Marshall's problems:

"Marshall, though a fierce attacker over the board, was otherwise a peaceful, simple man. Certainly he was not a man of the pen. I noticed when he gave his autograph and he gave a great many of them he drew his name using several strokes instead of writing it in a single motion. In Moscow 1925, I was present when psychiatrists were handing out questionnaires to the participants. Marshall recoiled from the horrible task of filling his out. "No, no," he protested. "Come after the tournament." At the team tournament in Hamburg 1930, when he had just won a ten-mover against Petrov and was finishing the delicate job of correcting his scoresheet, I jokingly remarked that there might still be some errors. He defiantly offered to wager a cigar that there were none. I must say I really enjoyed that cigar."

Marshall' legacy of fine games is well worth studying and appended are just a few that I hope you will enjoy playing.


Bill Frost July 2006

In preparing this article, I acknowledge reference to:

"Marshall's Best Games of Chess"              P. Wenman

"The Oxford Companion to Chess"            David hooper & Kenneth Wyld

The Chess Cafe website.


Levitsky - Marshall [C10]
Breslau (6), 1912

                                                         1.d4                        e6  

                                                         2.e4                       d5  

                                                         3.Nc3                    c5  

                                                         4.Nf3                    Nc6  

                                                         5.exd5                 exd5  

                                                         6.Be2                   Nf6  

                                                         7.0-0                     Be7  

                                                         8.Bg5                   0-0  

                                                         9.dxc5                 Be6  

                                                        10.Nd4               Bxc5  


A common amateur error. The e6 pawn only appears to be weak, while the exchange of minor pieces leaves Black in control of the centre.

                                                       11..                       .fxe6  

                                                       12.Bg4                Qd6  

                                                       13.Bh3                Rae8  

                                                       14.Qd2?             Bb4!  

                                                       15.Bxf6             Rxf6  

                                                      16.Rad1             Qc5  

                                                       17.Qe2?             Bxc3  

                                                      18.bxc3              Qxc3  

                                                      19.Rxd5             Nd4  

White is hanging by a thread.


If 20.Qe5 Nf3+ 21.gxf3 Rg6+ wins.

                                                     20...                       Ref8  

                                                     21.Re5                Rh6  

                                                      22.Qg5               Rxh3  


A last gasp, since 23.gxh3 Nf3+ would have won the queen. Now 23..... Qb2 would win rather simply. But Marshall undoubtedly began calculating 23.... Ne2+ 24.Kh1 Ng3+ instead, only to give up on that variation when he saw that 25.Kg1! only draws. therefore he looked for a different way to exploit that idea.]

                                                     23...                     Qg3!!  

"The most elegant move I have ever played" is the concluding comment in My Fifty Years. The queen, which threatens mate, can be taken in three ways. But two of those allow mate 

                                                    24.fxg3              Ne2+ 

and 24...Rxf1 mate. The third, 23.Qxg3, allows 23... Ne2+ 24.Kh1, Nxg3+ and 25....Nxf1. Because of the last variation we can call 23.... Qg3!! the most remarkable transposition into the endgame ever. In his memoirs Marshall adds that the spectators became "so excited" by the finish that they "showered me with gold pieces." And because he often told this story, Marshall wanted to remove all doubt: "I have often been asked whether this really happened. The answer is - yes, that is what happened, literally!" But in his handwritten notes, there is no mention of coins being tossed. Marshall's only comment was, "A purse was presented to me after this game." Yet he often repeated the gold pieces version to friends. The best explanation of what actually happened comes from Walter Korn, who would later edit editions of Modern chess Openings. In America's Chess Heritage, Korn recalled that the version he heard as a young player in Prague from witnesses to the game was that Alekhine and another friend of Levitsky's  P.P. Saburov, had bet on its outcome. When their man resigned, they tossed their wagers onto the board in payment - gold marks and crowns. 0-1