Sunday, January 31, 2016

Two Rooks vs Rook + Pawn: What is going on?

The following endgame position arose in one of my recent friendly games:

White to move

The question is: What is going on? White is better here in terms of material, while Black looks on the verge of getting checkmated. But Black's far advanced rook pawn offers drawing opportunities. Perhaps White could trade rooks and sneak into a winning rook vs lone pawn endgame... if he can force the rook trade.

So can White convert his advantage and win the game? Help me find out what is going on!

I will discuss my findings next week. Enjoy the problem!

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Beating the Marshall Defense: Part 3

We have looked through the two key refutations of the Marshall Defense: 4. e4 and 4. Nf3. But since it is established to be an unsound opening, why do players still lose to it? In Part 3 we examine what can possibly go wrong for White when playing against the Marshall Defense.

1. Falling for 1... Qxd5

Take a look at the position after 1. d4 d5 2. c4 Nf6 3. cxd5 Qxd5 (D)

Position after 3... Qxd5

In Part 1 it was made clear that this is a poor choice of capture, since it exposes the queen very early in the opening. After 4. Nf3, Black's best response without retreating the queen is 4... Qa5, pinning the knight and threatening 5... Bb4.

After the natural looking 5. Bd2 Qb6 (D) we arrive at the following position:

Position after 5... Qb6

Notice that the Black queen is aiming at the hanging b2 and d4 pawns. Many beginners as White may panic and play something like 6. Bc1? in an attempt to save both pawns, throwing any advantage they have out of the window.

What they don't realize is that Black cannot take on b2! Doing so falls for a trap:

The trap on b2 is one variation that you must know when playing against the Marshall Defense!

2. Taking on b7 too early

Rewind to the beginning, and look at the position after1. d4 d5 2. c4 Nf6 3. cxd5 Nxd5 4. Nf3 Bf5 5. Qb3 (D):

Position after 5. Qb3

White threatens to take on b7. However, after Black plays Nc6, White cannot take the pawn immediately or risk getting into trouble. We have examined this trap in Part 2, but let us look more in depth to ram the point home:

Only after White has consolidated his position with moves like e4 (opening the diagonal to allow Bb5) and Nc3, then can he safely take the pawn.

This danger isn't confined to the Marshall Defense. Always think twice before you grab wing pawns in the opening!

3. Failing to convert the advantage

Many of us-- especially lower level players-- simply aren't able to convert the advantage that we get out of the opening. But this is no longer a question of opening skills, but more of your technique and strategic thinking.

I will support this with an example, again featuring Frank James Marshall with his namesake defense. In the following game Richard Reti-- himself a famous chess player and author-- played 4. Nf3 against Marshall, and avoided the trap on b7. But when the time came for him to capture the pawn, he instead entered a complicated variation, subsequently getting the short end of the stick when Marshall sacrificed 3 pawns for a strong attack:

Marshall vs Reti, 1925



From this 3 part series, I hope you have gained a better insight on how to punish Black for playing the Marshall Defense. While this opening may contain a few tricks that will surprise a beginner, it will not survive a test against stronger and more experienced players.

Part 1:
Part 2:


Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Beating the Marshall Defense: Part 2

In Part 1 of our series, we examined the 4. e4 variation in the Marshall Defense. Although White is able to build up a pawn centre, Black can obtain good counterplay by pushing e5.

So how to stop Black from playing e5? The answer lies in the 4. Nf3 variation, now considered the main refutation to the Marshall Defense:

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 d5 3. cxd5 Nxd5 4. Nf3 (D)

Position after 4. Nf3

After 4. Nf3, White threatens to play e4. Black's most direct way to prevent this is 4. Bf5, but it weakens the b7 square. White can play 5. Qb3!, threatening b7 and buying time to push e4.

In his YouTube Channel, Matt Pullin gives a thorough analysis of the Marshall Defense, 4. Nf3 variation. I will use many of his suggestions here:

The above can be summarized into a few simple points:

  • After 4. Nf3, White's best follow up is to put pressure on b7 with Qb3, forcing Black to respond and lose tempo
  • Don't capture on b7 too early! Instead, focus on preparing the e4 push, usually with Nc3 or Nd2
  • When White is able to get in e4, the threats of pushing d5 and Qxb7 ensure a large advantage in development and piece activity

Sample Game

We will see a sample game played in 1951 between Lipnitsky and Bondarevsky. White responds to the Marshall Defense with 4. Nf3 and 5. Qb3, obtaining developmental advantage and winning a pawn.


So... now you know how to defeat the Marshall Defense, right? Then why do many of us still fail to gain that advantage, or even worse, losing? We shall examine some of the potential pitfalls when fighting the Marshall Defense in Part 3 (:

Part 1:


Saturday, January 2, 2016

Beating the Marshall Defense: Part 1

Since it's the New Year, I shall open it with a series of articles on the opening (pun intended). Now, I'm sure many of you would have played with or against this opening in the Queen's Gambit: 1. d4 d5 2. c4 Nf6 (D)

The Marshall Defence

I myself have faced this opening several times, and lost a few games against it. Something that I find regrettable, after having discovered its infamous reputation. For those who are unaware, this variation of the QGD is called the Marshall Defense, named after American chess master Frank James Marshall.

You might be wondering what I meant by "infamous reputation", so let me quote the Wiki Page of the Marshall Defense: "The Marshall Defense is a dubious variation of the Queen's Gambit Declined. It was played by Frank Marshall in the 1920s, but he gave it up after losing with it to Alekhine at Baden-Baden in 1925. It is no longer used by experienced players."

Dubious!? What a horrid word for something named after one of the strongest chess players in the early 20th century! But there is a reason behind everything (with the exception of Donald Trump's logic), and after doing some research, I am sharing this series of articles on how to refute the Marshall Defence.

Here is a summary of the main variations against this defense. As you will see, Black's second move 2... Nf6 is not the best way to protect the pawn:

We will concentrate on the main line 1. d4 d5 2. c4 Nf6 3. cxd5 Nxd5 (we have already established that 3... Qxd5 is bad). White has two main replies: 4. e4 and 4. Nf3. It is widely accepted that 4. Nf3 is the stronger refutation, but we need to look at both to understand why.

1. d4 d5 2. c4 Nf6 3. cxd5 Nxd5 4. e4 (D)

Position after 4. e4

In this article, we will look at 4. e4. White stakes an immediate claim over the centre, forcing Black to waste tempo by retreating the knight. However, Black has good chances to fight back with 5... e5!

It looks confusing, but our aim is not to memorize every single variation of the tree. Rather, I want to bring forward the basic idea for both sides behind each main line. Here, the above explanation can be summarized into the following:

  • With 4. e4, White tries build a pawn centre in the classical manner. The best move afterwards would be to continue reinforcing this centre with pieces, rather than pushing 5. e5.
  • Black has the strong reply 5... e5 hitting the centre.
  • If White captures on e5, Black has the dangerous Ng4 at his disposal
  • White's best response is to continue protecting the centre (6. Nf3)
  • However, White only gets a small developmental advantage with correct play from Black.

Sample game

We will finish off with a sample game: Alekhine vs Marshall, Baden-Baden 1925. This is the very game that led Frank Marshall to give up his namesake defense. While Black could equalize, he made an inaccuracy that allowed Alekhine to launch a vicious kingside attack, eventually breaking through with his central pawns and winning the game.

In Part 2, we will look at the other White alternative: 4. Nf3.