- The Washington Times - Friday, December 19, 2003

New York City’s Marshall Chess Club, located in Manhattan, is one of the shrines of American chess — a center of competition and instruction for nearly nine decades in the city that’s still the center of the U.S. game.

The 87th club championship, a nine-round affair that included a complement of visiting grandmasters and many of the city’s strongest local challengers, wrapped up this week. Estonian GM Jaan Ehlvest took this year’s club title, with a 61/2-21/2 score.

IM Jay Bonin, long one of New York’s top players, showed how tough life can be in the big city. Against reigning U.S. champion GM Alexander Shabalov, Bonin uses a positional pawn sacrifice to dominate his higher-ranked opponent. The loss was costly for Shabalov, who finished a half-point behind Ehlvest.

In a Queen’s Gambit Semi-Slav after 14. h3 b4 15. Na4 Bd4, White’s poorly placed knight is offset by Black’s ragged queen-side pawns. Shabalov’s last move is a bid to repair his broken pawns, but Bonin beats him to the punch with the inspired 16. Be3! Bxe3 17. fxe3 Nd7 18. e5 h6 19. e6!. White jettisons one of his doubled isolated pawns, but in return obtains a strong clamp on both c5 and e5, effectively shutting the Black bishop out of the game.

Another minitactic — 24. Nc5! Bc8 (Qxc5?? 25. Bxe6+ wins the queen.) 25. Nd3 — transforms the marooned knight into a powerhouse, hitting at both of the target squares. Shabalov, one of the game’s best attackers, is forced into a passive defensive shell for the rest of the game.

With White’s pieces dominating the board, the decisive infiltration comes on 35. Rg3 h5 (not good, but trying to save his queen-side with 35…a5 36. e4 Nf4 37. Qd6 Kf8 38. Nxc6 Bxc6 39. Qxf4+ Ke8 40. Qb8+ Kf7 [Kd7 41. Rd3+ Bd5 42. Bb5 mate] 41. Qh8 Kf6 42. Qf8+ Rf7 43. Rf3+ is also hopeless) 36. Qc5! Rb7 37. Qd6, and the Black center is collapsing.

The finale: 37…Nf6 (Bf7 38. Qd8+ Kh7 39. Bd3+ g6 40. Qf8 Qf2 41. Bxg6+ Bxg6 42. Qxf2) 38. Bxe6+ Kh7 39. Bf5+ Kg8 (Kh6 40. Nf7+! Bxf7 41. Qf4+ g5 42. Qxg5 mate) 40. Nd3!. Bonin threatens both the Black queen and 41. Qxf6, and 40…Qf1 (Ng4+ 41. Rxg4) 41. Qxf6 Rf7 42. Rxg7+! Rxg7 43. Be6+ Bf7 44. Qxf1 wins easily. Shabalov resigned.

The club’s presiding spirit is longtime U.S. champion Frank Marshall, who founded his “chess divan” at a New York chophouse in 1915. Marshall was one of the six original grandmasters, the title bestowed by Czar Nicholas II after the great St. Petersburg tournament a year before the club was founded.

Marshall was a crowd-pleasing romantic at the board, and he particularly delighted in taking on the scientific “hypermodern” players who came to dominate the game in the 1920s. One of Marshall’s best wins came against the godfather of the hypermodern movement, Aron Nimzovich, in a game that won the brilliancy prize at the 1928 Bad Kissingen tournament.

Nimzovich, as White, appears flummoxed by Marshall’s hypermodern opening (4. f3! is the modern move.), and after 8. e5?! (premature) Nd5! 9. Bg3 Nb4! 10. Qb3 d5! finds himself trapped in just the kind of wide-open game that Marshall always loved.

After 12. 0-0-0 N8c6 (The threat is 13…Na5 14. Qa4 [Qa4 Nd3+] Bc6 15. Nb5 a6, winning a piece.) 13. Bxd6? (The defensive 13. Rd2 was already preferable here.) Qxd6 14. a3 Nxd4! 14. Rxd4 (Reuben Fine, annotating the game for Chess Life, wrote that 15. Qxb4 c5! 16. Qa4 Bc6 17. Qa6 Qf4+ 18. Kb1 Qxf2 19. Nge2 Rfd8 leaves Black completely in charge.) Qxd4 16. axb4 Qxf2, White’s king-side is in knots, and Black has a ready-made attack by prying open the queen-side.

Marshall never needed any hypermodern coaching on the utility of open lines, and a flurry of pawn sacrifices decides the game quickly: 21. Nf3 Ra1 22. Kb3 (See diagram; the king’s spider hole proves no more effective than Saddam Hussein’s.) b5!! 23. Qe5 (cxb5 Bd5+ 24. Nxd5 [Kc2 Rc1+ 25. Kd3 Bc4 mate] Qa4+ 25. Kc3 Rxd5, and White’s king can’t survive, while Black also dominates on 23. Nxb5 c6 24. g3 Qc1 25. Nbd4 Ba6!) bxc4+ 24. Kb1 Qc1 25. Nb5 c5+!.

The pawn can’t be ignored and can’t be taken: 26. Qxc5 (Kxc5 Rd5+) Qxb2+ 27. Kxc4 Rc1+ 28. Nc3 Rxc3 mate. Nimzovich resigned.

It’s worse than we thought.

Maryland master Denis Strenzwilk has sent along a gently worded correction to the item in the column last week on the dearth of U.S.-born players among the world’s elite. We mistakenly listed Seattle GM Yasser Seirawan (No. 74 on the latest ratings ladder) as the highest American-born player.

It turns out that Seirawan actually was born in Syria, moving to the United States at a very young age — which means that there are no native U.S. players among the top 100 in the world. A very depressing state of affairs.

87th Marshall Chess Club Championship, New York, December 2003


1. d4Nf621. Qg6Rf6

2. c4c622. Rxf6Nxf6

3. Nc3d523. Rc1Rd8

4. Nf3e624. Nc5Bc8

5. e3Nbd725. Nd3Rf8

6. Qc2Bd626. Nf4Bd7

7. Be20-027. Qd3Rf7

8. 0-0dxc428. Ng6Qc5

9. Bxc4b529. Qd4Qg5

10. Bd3Bb730. Ne5Re7

11. e4e531. h4Qg3

12. dxe5Nxe532. Rf1Nd5

13. Nxe5Bxe533. Rf3Qe1+

14. h3b434. Kh2Be8

15. Na4Bd435. Rg3h5

16. Be3Bxe336. Qc5Rb7

17. fxe3Nd737. Qd6Nf6

18. e5h638. Bxe6+Kh7

19. e6fxe639. Bf5+Kg8

20. Bc4Qe740. Nd3Black


Bad Kissingen, Germany, 1928


1. d4Nf614. a3Nxd4

2. c4b615. Rxd4Qxd4

3. Nc3Bb716. axb4Qxf2

4. Bg5e617. Qd1Rfd8

5. Qc2h618. Qe2Qf4+

6. Bh4Be719. Kc2a5

7. e40-020. bxa5Rxa5

8. e5Nd521. Nf3Ra1

9. Bg3Nb422. Kb3b5

10. Qb3d523. Qe5bxc4+

11. exd6Bxd624. Kb4Qc1

12. 0-0-0N8c625. Nb5c5+

13. Bxd6Qxd6White resigns

David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by e-mail at [email protected]

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