The day Frank J. Marshall gave up playing the Danish Gambit in Cleveland!
For Clevelanders it was a mildly pleasant day; high 45, low 34 with not a speck of precipitation to be found. It was Friday following Thanksgiving Day in the year 1921, when U.S. Champion F. J. Marshall appeared at the Hollenden Hotel for a chess demonstration of sportsmanship and skill. Cleveland, Ohio, with a population of almost 800,000 was ranked 5th in the U.S among other cities and boasted a very strong chess contingent. Native journalists were proud of the city’s standing and fondly referred to her as the “Fifth City.”
Mr. Marshall had visited the previous year and left an indelible mark of his prowess in giving a Simultaneous exhibition.
From the Cleveland Plain Dealer:
About this time last year, Marshall--although not in good form, played 65 boards simultaneously, winning 62 games, drawing 2 and losing but one. At that time, he was in poor health. The spectacular feat was said to be unique in the annals of chess in this country.
"Marshall however, expects to better his record when he comes to Cleveland this time”, says Francis T. Hayes, secretary of the City Club. “He will engage 75 of the city’s best players and he promises to give a good account of himself. If he does better than he did the last time he was here--and he is confident that he will--he certainly will be in wonderful form and his performance will be a memorable one.”
Cleveland players were not particularly pleased to hear this bold prediction. Yes, they remembered many of the Danish Gambits the Fox had played, and how easily he defeated player after player. But this time they worked out a strategy - and hoped it would carry the day. They would band together and work out what systems they could, to prepare them for the trial.
It is doubtful Mr. Marshall would have any difficulty dispatching his opponents man to man; but this was a simultaneous. How would he fare against players who pooled their resources and prepared for him and his gambit exclusively?
Boards were readied for play while the players conversed with one another sharing their strategies and secrets: Secrets which Mr. Marshall could not have imagined, but secrets which would be revealed later to his dismay.
F. J. stopped talking to the organizers and walked over to board one and made the first move. It was 1. P-K4…
The Simultaneous commenced and seventy-one hunched bodies with determined faces began concentrating over their black pieces, desperately searching for a plan that would grant a memory which would last forever.
Several hours later after the final moves were played, the score was 62 wins, 7 draws, and 2 defeats. An embarrassing result for the great Frank Marshall, but made even more so because of the ‘boasting’ during finalizing of terms for the simultaneous exhibition.
To put it into perspective, you have to acknowledge how many countless hundreds of ‘Danish Gambits’ Marshall had played previously, and how ‘automatic’ they must have been. He would arrive at positions he knew by heart with no analyzing necessary. Play here, he plays…take the ‘shot’, checkmate-or win material. All so simple and all from memory.
But here, because of the players pooling their resources beforehand, ‘shots’ were not easy to find and the grueling pace had taken its toll on the United States Chess Champion.
From the Cleveland Plain Dealer:
“I’ll not play Danish Gambit in Cleveland Again” “One of the biggest jolts I ever received in my life.” Was the terse comment of Champion Marshall after his remarkable simultaneous exhibition of chess a week ago Friday evening at the City Club. He referred to the two losses and seven draws made against him out of the 71 games that were played up until after 2 in the morning. He attributed what he called his poor showing to the fact that Cleveland players were “all primed” on the Danish Gambit which he proffered and was accepted on about nine boards out of ten."
“Let me give full credit, however.” He hastened to add “Your players showed a wonderful-almost an unbelievable-improvement in chess playing ability since my last visit here a year ago. Had I been told to prepare for such an array of talent and skill I should have smiled. Frankly, I would have been skeptical. But I’m convinced. As for the Danish Gambit-never again. When I come to Cleveland, I shall try something to which your chess devotees have given less study. That is mere prudence on my part-a measure of self-defense. Why, one of your men here made not less than ten book plays against me.”
Up to Mr. Marshall’s arrival in Cleveland, he had but one draw and no loss on his tour with 151 games played. Hence he felt the sting of losing two and drawing seven more severely.
One has to marvel at the demeanor of the U.S. Champion being a perfect gentleman, politically correct decades before his time. He was a true champion in every respect.
A last note. Frank J. got a measure of revenge about a year later when he gave another simul and scored forty wins with only two draws.
Cleveland, Ohio had a very active chess club in those glory days; hosting lectures, exhibitions and simultaneous play by such luminaries of chess as: Dr. Emanuel Lasker, Jose Capablanca, Alexander Alekhine, Geza Maroczy, Sammy Rzeschewski, Isaac Kashdan, Lajos Steiner, Edward Lasker and many more.
Edward Lasker once gave a brilliant lecture on Fundamental laws of chess of mobilization and a blindfold exhibition, winning 24 games and drawing one.
During the Marshall/Ed Lasker U.S. Championship of 1923, three games were played in Cleveland for the local gentry to observe.
It must have been wonderful to have lived in those days and witnessed the truly great players, who trailblazed a path for us to appreciate the finer points of the finest game. Imagine!
Following is one of the two wins against Marshall. Annotations are by Don Collins. Mr. Collins is a USCF Expert with a rating of over 2100 and a correspondence rating of over 2500. Any additional comments by me are indicated as such. Wikipedia has a good article on the Danish Gambit.