Random Posts

Friday, January 21, 2011

Frank Marshall

For the first time in a long time I was browsing Frank Marshall’s My Fifty Years of Chess and I had forgotten how much I really enjoyed this book.

When people think of Marshall they often think only of how he was soundly whipped by players like Capablanca or Lasker who were obviously far better players, but that’s only part of the story. Playing over his games are fun.

Frank Marshall (August 10, 1877 – November 9, 1944), was the U.S. Champion from 1909–1936. Born in New York City, he lived in Montreal, Canada, from ages 8 to 19. He learned chess when he was 10 years old and by the time he was 13, he was one of the leading players in Montreal.

He actually won the U.S. championship in 1904, but did not accept the title because the current U.S. champion, Pillsbury, did not compete. Even when Pillsbury died, Marshall still refused the title until he felt he had won it in an actual competition which he did in 1909.

In 1907 he played a match against World Champion, Emmanuel Lasker for the title and got beaten badly, losing 8 games and winning none. Then in 1909, he played a nontitle match against a new player named Capablanca. The result was another disaster when Marshall lost eight games, drew fourteen and won only one.

After this defeat Marshall did something rarely seen today: he claimed Capa had immense talent and deserved recognition. It was at Marshall’s insistence that Capablanca be permitted to enter the 1911 San Sebastion tournament and the rest was history. Despite protests from some of the competitors, Capablanca won the tournament.

Marshall finished fifth in St. Petersburg in 1914 and Czar Nicholas II the title of “Grandmaster” on the finalist: Lasker, Capablanca, Alekhine, Tarrasch and Marshall. Among those who failed to quailfy were Bernstein, Rubistein, Nimzovich, Blackburne, Janowski and Gunsburg. At least that’s what Marshall claims in his book. However there remains some controversy over this because the book was reportedly ghostwritten by Fred Reinfeld and according to Edward Winter there may be some reason to doubt the veracity of Marshall’s claim.

In 1936, after holding the U.S. championship title for 27 years, he relinquished it to the winner of a championship tournament which turned out to be Samuel Reshevsky.

Marshall has a number of openings named after him, but the most famous, of course, was played in a game he lost to Capa:  Ruy Lopez-Marshall Attack.  Lesser known is a gambit in the Semi-Slav Defense: 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nc3 e6 4.e4!?

It’s not generally known, but Marshall dabbled in chess problems and his first composition showed some promise. His first problem, which by the standards of the day, was well constructed, appeared in the Montreal Daily Star, June 19,1894.  Unfortunately, after a second problem was published in another newspaper and was less well received, Marshall gave up composition but remained a fan of problems and studies even to the point of taking part in a solving contests.

When people think of Marshall they usually think of one-sided player who didn’t know how to do anything but attack. That’s not correct because Marshall did play a lot of games that were models of strategy.

Some interesting links on Marshall are:


  1. He certainly left his name in the archives of chess. I really admire your appreciation for the history of the game! The personalities are as interesting as the games themselves.

  2. Did you see this? You were RIGHT all along!! :)


    "Experts (CHESS) use different parts of their brains than amateurs, maximizing intuition, goal-seeking and pattern-recognition, says a new study that examined players of shogi, or Japanese chess."