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John Henderson
By John Henderson

Ever since the legendary figure of long-time US champion Frank J. Marshall (1877-1944) uncorked his super-secret weapon against world champion-to-be Jose Raul Capablanca, on his home turf, during the 1918 New York International Tournament, the dreaded Marshall Attack against the Ruy Lopez has continued to bamboozle the best of chess minds even to this day.

The myth goes that Hall of Famer Marshall deliberately kept his analysis secret for seven years before playing it against the great Capablanca – but this has largely been debunked by historians. According to author/journalist Andy Soltis, in his book Chess Lists (McFarland & Company, 2002), Marshall is on the record as having played it during some skittles and semi-serious club games long before 1918 – but then again, Marshall was never one to let mere facts get in the way of the telling of a good story!

Regardless of its origins, it continues to wreak havoc a century later both at club and elite-level in the game. Many even go as far as taking all the fun out of the Marshall by playing the Anti-Marshall with 8.a4, just as Garry Kasparov did (on the advice of Soviet-era leading opening theoretician, Efim Geller) against Nigel Short during their 1993 World Championship Match in London.  But now, in a spectacular game played last week in the opening round of the European Team Championship in Batumi, Georgia, as the exciting young Russian Daniil Dubov put all the fun back into the Anti-Marshall by insisting on playing the “Marshall”!

Dubov has established himself as a force in the game over the past year or so. After being revealed as one of Magnus Carlsen’s secret coaches for his title match with Fabiano Caruana, Dubov’s confidence was further increased as he went on to capture the World Rapid Championship crown ahead of Carlsen at the end of 2018. And we soon saw one of the main reasons why Carlsen recruited him to his team, as the young Russian “ideas man” uncorked his stunning new novelty that keeps the game firmly in the spirit of the Marshall Attack.

A little like Marshall himself, Dubov had worked on this new line at home in secret for some time. He explained he intended playing it at the recent FIDE/Chess.com Grand Swiss in the Isle of Man, but his opponent, Niclas Huschenbeth avoided the Lopez and instead opted for the Giuoco Piano. Instead, his ‘victim’ turned out not to be Capablanca, but the newly-minted 15-year-old Danish GM Jonas Buhl Bjerre!

Being hit by Dubov’s remarkable novelty of 8…d5!!? must have been like being hit by a sudden incoming tsunami for the young Dane – and even more so when he unintentionally walked right into Dubov’s homework of a follow-up piece sacrifice. “It was quite clear after 14…Bxf2 that he was shocked,” said Dubov as he showcased his win on the official live coverage (conveniently cut into a 9min video for everyone – see opposite). “It even took him a few minutes to take on f2. Obviously, you don’t have an alternative here – you take first and if it’s mate it’s mate, but you don’t have an alternative.”

 

GM Jonas Buhl Bjerre – GM Daniil Dubov
22nd European Team Championship, (1)
Ruy Lopez, Anti-Marshall
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 0-0 8.a4 The Anti-Marshall, once thought of as the perfect antidote to Black players playing the dreaded 8…d5 and the Marshall – but now Dubov puts the “Marshall” back into the Anti-Marshall! 8…d5!!? 9.exd5 Na5 10.Nxe5 Nxb3 11.cxb3 Dubov’s remarkable concept is seen in its full glory after 11.Nc6 Bg4!! 12.f3 Bc5+ 13.d4 Nxd4! 14.Nxd8 (What could try to bail-out with 14.Nxd4 but after the simple plan of 14…Qxd5 15.Be3 Rfe8 16.c3 Bd7 Black has the advantage with the bishop-pair and very active piece-play.) 14…Nxf3+ 15.Kh1 Nxe1 16.Qxe1 Raxd8 and with …Rfe8 coming next, Black not only has all the fun of this imbalanced position but with all his active pieces, he also has a big advantage. 11…Bb7 12.Nc6 Bxc6 13.dxc6 Bc5! This move is the key to Dubov’s work on this line, as we now reach the critical position – and one where White has to react with a move he doesn’t think he needs to play. 14.d3? It doesn’t look so obvious right now, but this is a fatal error for White. Dubov says White is now forced into 14.d4! where 14…Bxd4 15.axb5 Ne4! 16.Be3 Bxe3 17.fxe3 axb5 18.Rxa8 Qxa8 19.Qd5 Nf6 20.Qxb5 Qa2! Black will be OK as White can’t make anything of his extra pawns due to his own crippled pawns. A likely scenario running: 21.Nd2 Qxb2 22.Nf3 Qc2 23.Qc4 (There’s no time to try to go for the c7-pawn. After 23.Qb7 Nd5 24.Qb5 Nf6 25.Qb7 Nd5 will just repeat moves, and White can’t play 26.e4?? either as 26…Nf4! is winning.) 23…Qxc4 24.bxc4 Re8 25.h3 g6 etc. 14…Bxf2+!! By this stage, the young Dane must have looked a little like a rabbit caught in the headlights of an approaching car. 15.Kxf2 Qd4+ 16.Be3? It probably goes all against human nature, but White’s only hope was braving the voluntary king walk into no man’s land with 16.Kg3! Rfe8 which is quite survivable after 17.Rxe8+ (Or even 17.Rf1 Re3+! 18.Bxe3 Qxe3+ 19.Qf3 (It’s much the same conclusion after 19.Rf3 Qe5+ 20.Kh3 Qe6+ 21.Kg3 Qe5+ and the safe option of 22.Kh3 with a repetition, rather than falling down another rabbit hole with 22.Kf2?! Ng4+ 23.Kf1 Nxh2+ 24.Kg1 Nxf3+ 25.gxf3 (If 25.Qxf3? Qxb2 Black will have a serious material advantage.) 25…Re8! and now way to stop the deadly rook lift with …Re6 and the White king again caught in a pincer movement with the queen and rook.) 19…Qg5+ 20.Kf2 Qc5+ 21.Kg3 Qg5+ etc and another draw.) 17…Rxe8 18.h3 Ne4+ 19.Kh2 Qe5+ 20.Kg1 Qd4+ 21.Kh2 Qe5+ as it only leads to a repetition. But the human frailty of being the first to face this line in the public gaze over the board now induces the fatal error. 16…Ng4+ 17.Kf3 Nxe3 18.Rxe3 Rae8! 19.Re2 The key to all this is that White is left paralysed, with his king wandering dazed and confused in the middle of the board, and still yet to develop his final two queenside pieces – and no better was 19.Rxe8 Rxe8 20.Qd2 (If only it were so simple for White to finish his development with 20.Nc3? but unfortunately, it leads to a king-hunt forced mate after 20…Qe3+ 21.Kg4 f5+ 22.Kh4 Re6) 20…Re6! 21.axb5 Rf6+ 22.Kg3 Rg6+ 23.Kf3 Qd5+! with the king unable to retreat due to …Rxg2+, it has to take the walk of shame with 24.Kf4 Rxg2 with a decisive, winning advantage. 19…Qf6+ 20.Kg3 g5! [see diagram] A decisive final blow from Dubov that makes for a fitting finale of the game and its sure passage into annals as a modern-day miniature classic. 21.Rf2 Qd6+ 22.Kh3 If 22.Kf3 Qf4#. 22…Qh6+ 23.Kg4 Qh4+ 0-1 Bjerre throws in the towel in the face of 24.Kf5 f6 with now only the queen offer with 25.Qe2 left to survive a few moves more before the inevitable mate. Another revealing point of all of Dubov’s homework was the clock times at the end of the game: Dubov had 1hr 31 minutes and 35 seconds on his clock….he started with one hour and thirty minutes!

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