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Frank Marshall vs William Ewart Napier
Buffalo (1901), Buffalo, New York USA, rd 1, Aug-12
Italian Game: Classical Variation. Albin Gambit (C53)  ·  0-1



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Kibitzer's Corner
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: 1901 was a bummer for Marshall. Having won games against Lasker and Pillsbury en route to tying for third at Paris 1900 with Maroczy, Marshall appeared to be on his way to a title shot.

But then came 1901. He finished 10th out of 14 at Monte Carlo 1901 despite the absence of Lasker, Pillsbury, and Maroczy; lost his game against Ward in the 1901 Anglo-American cable match, losing what should have been a won ending and thus causing the US team to have to settle for a tie in the match; and then at Buffalo 1901 he finished 5th out of 6, winning both his games against last-place Karpinshki but losing seven and drawing one against the top four finishers.

Soltis in his book on Marshall called this Marshall's "sophomore slump." Actually, it was worse than a slump; it was a disaster that left serious questions about Marshall's talent and his ability to do more than simply launch attacks.

His opening round game at Buffalo 1901 against Napier was a sad but typical example of Marshall's play in 1901. He played a wild and unsound opening line that had him in trouble (as White!) by move five and saw him lost by move 11. Thanks to some sloppy chess by Napier, Marshall managed to reach an endgame he should have been able to draw, but more dreadful play on his part squandered his chances to save the game and he was lost after his 23rd move. (His 25th move was wrongly identified as the reason for his loss in the Tournament Book).

Chess fans by the end of 1901 could not have predicted Marshall's coming triumphs at Cambridge Springs 1904, Nuremburg 1906, Dusseldorf 1908, New York 1911, and Havana 1913 (ahead of Capablance); or his reign as US Champion after defeating Showalter in a match in 1909.

That Marshall was talented was beyond doubt. The question was whether he had the discipline necessary to be a top grandmaster.

This game against Napier was one Marshall must surely have wanted to forget:

Napier, it should be noted, was a tough nut for Marshall to crack. In their first eight games head-to-head, Napier won six and drew two. At the time of this game, Napier was plus 4 against Marshall. He defeated Marshall twice at Buffalo 1901, and ended with a record against Marshall of 14 wins, eight losses, and five draws.

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. Bc4

A Giuoco Piano?

3... Nf6

Prepared to play the Black side of a Two Knights' Defense.

4. 0-0

A Max Lange Attack maybe?

4... Bc5
5. c3

click for larger view

This doubtful pawn sacrifice was a favorite of Albin (who played it eight times) and of the remarkable Indian player Bonnerjee Mohishander (who played it an amazing 43 [!] time in games against Cochrane). It saddles White with a terrible game, and it is hard to understand why Marshall chose to employ it here.

5... Nxe4

Often the best way to refute a gambit is to accept it.

6. d4 d5

Napier overstates the value of this move by calling it Black's "only good move" (6...exd4 is also good for Black). There is, however, no denying that it is strong and gives Black a decided edge.

7. dxB

This only makes matters worse for White. 7. Nxe5 is probably best.

7... dxB

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8. Qe2

Trading Queens with 8. QxQ+ is bad for White.

8... Qd3!

Solidifying his edge no matter how Marshall responded.

9. Re1

The trade of Queens now being inevitable, Marshall should have played 9. QxQ here.

9... QxQ
10. RxQ Bf5!

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The opening had obviously been a disaster for Marshall. At best, he faced an uphill battle to salvage a draw.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post II

11. Na3?

Marshall's only theoretical chance lay in 11. Nbd2. The text left him open to:

11... 0-0-0!
12. Be3

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Napier had played well to this point and had obtained a winning position. But from here he failed to consolidate his powerful edge (and pawn plus) and soon squandered his chances.

12... Nf6?

12...Rd5 should lead to a win for Black. The text, however, was the beginning of a bad stretch of the game for Napier. It set a beginner's trap that Marshall saw through.

13. Nd2

Not 13. Nxc4? which allows the winning fork 13...Bd3.

13... Bd3

Despite his poor 12th move, this strongly posted Bishop should have been enough for Napier to win.

14. Ree1 Na5
15. Bg5

This and 15. f4 were the two best chances for White in this difficult position.

15... Rd5

The simple 15...h6 was stronger.

16. b4 cxb3 e.p.
17. axb3 h6?

Napier called this "practically forced,' but in reality it was a mistake that gave Marshall a chance to obtain near equality. 17...Nc6 was best, e.g., 18. b4 h6 19. BxN gxB 20. Nf1 Rdd8 leaving Black serious winning chances.

The position was now:

click for larger view

18. Be3?

Missing 18. c4 Rdd8 19. Nb5 a6 (or 19...hxB 20. Nxa7+ Kb8 21. RxN ) 20. BxN gxB 21. RxN axN 22. Rxb5 with excellent chances of being able to hold his own in either case.

18... Ng4?

Black should win after 18...Nc6 19. b4 Ng4

19. c4

Forced but excellent and likely sufficient to save the game.

19... Rdd8
20. Nb5

The only chance. This left:

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20... Nc6?

Continuing to fritter away his edge. Best was 20...NxB

21. Nxa7+

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21... NxN

21...Kd7 was no better.

22. RxN NxB

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Thanks to inaccurate play by Napier, Marshall had survived and now only had to recapture the Knight with 23. fxN to reach a likely drawn ending. But here Marshall erred inexplicably and turned a drawn ending into a lost one.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post III

23. Ra8+??

This needlessly commits White to trading Rooks which, as Napier correctly pointed out, was bad for White.

Napier in fact understated just how bad the text was. With 23. fxR (Marshall's later statement that White should capture with his Rook was clearly wrong, though 23. RxN would have been much better than Marshall's actual move) White should be able to draw. After 23. Ra8+, White was sunk:

23... Kd7
24. RxR+ RxR
25. fxN

According to Napier, at the end of the game Marshall stated that 25. RxN was better. The issue is moot. Whichever way White captures, he is lost, the position now being (after 25. fxN):

click for larger view

With his pawn weaknesses, his inferior minor piece, and with his poorly placed Rook, Marshall had arrived at a clearly list ending.

If there was a way to save this game for White, Marshall's shoddy play from this point did not fit the bill.

25... Kc6
26. Nf3

It is hard to understand why Marshall did not at least try to defend his c-pawn with 26. b4.

26... f6

Napier could just have played 26...Kxc5 since after 27. Nxe5 Be4 28. Nxf7 Rd2 White's game quickly crumbles.

The text, however, didn't seriously ruin anything for Napier since the c-pawn wasn't about to run away.

27. Rd1 Kxc5

27...Rd7 was more accurate. The text, though not blowing the win, did give Marshall a final tactical opportunity to complicate, the position now being:

click for larger view

28. Ne1?

After this lemon what followed was a massacre. Marshall of all people might have been expected to find 28. Nd4! This would at lest have forced Napier to work for the win after 28...exN 29. RxB, though Black would still have likely prevailed.

Now, White was busted:

28... e4!

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29. Nc2 Rd6
30. Nd4 Kb4

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31. Ra1?

If Marshall wanted to play on, he had to try 31. c5 Rd5 (31...Kxc5 32. Rc1+ Kb6 33. b4 would give White some play for his two-Pawn deficit) 32. Ne6 with some counterplay (though Black must still prevail with decent play). The text allowed Napier to snuff out any remaining chances for Marshall.

31... Ra6.

31...c5 also wins easily, but the text is simpler.

32. RxR?

The trade of Rooks spelled certain doom for White. In fairness to Marshall, however, 32. Rc1 c5 33. Nf5 Kxc5 would not have been much fun either.

33... bxN

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The following minor piece ending, in addition to being clearly winning for Black, also provided no opportunity for Marshall to display any of his tactical brilliance. Though the game dragged on for another 13 moves, Marshall might have spared himself from what followed.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post IV

34. Kf2?

Marshall must have been sulking at this point, else he might have played 34. c5 to try to prolong the struggle.

In what followed, Napier played quite well enough to win, but didn't seem sufficiently focused to discover the fastest means of finishing the game.

33... c5!
34. Ne6

Hopeless, but so was everything else.

34... g5

Had Napier been doing more than playing by rote at this point, he doubtless would have gone for the jugular beginning with 34...a5 (followed by Kxb3 and Kxc4 and then by the advance of the Black a-pawn).

35. Ke1 Bc2

Once again, a5 was the immediate killer.

36. Nc7

Marshall had no time for this, but the "better" 36. Kd2 Bxb3 was also futile.

36... Bxb3

Missing his last chance to play a5. At this stage, however, nearly any sane move would win for Black.

37. Nxa6+ Kxc4

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Marshall could now play on for a while, but being two pawns down, the result was hardly in doubt.

38. Kd2 Ba4

Playing to trap Marshall's Knight rather than focusing on finishing off the game with 38...f5.

39. Nc7

"Forced, as Black threatens 39...Kd5 cornering the Knight." (Napier)

39... Bd7
40. g3 f5

Finally getting down to business.

click for larger view

41. Ke2 Kb3

41...Kc3 was faster.

42. Nd5

42. Kd2 or 42. Kd1 was the only way to prolong the struggle.

42... Kc2


click for larger view

43. h4 gxh4
44. gxh4 c4
45. Nb4+ Kb2
46. Nd5 c3

click for larger view


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