Friday, May 21, 2004

Exactly 100 years ago this week, a rising young master from New York won one of the strongest tournaments ever held in this country after having defeated a host of better-known U.S. and European stars.

At the luxurious Rider Hotel in the Pennsylvania resort town of Cambridge Springs, 26-year-old Brooklynite Frank Marshall finished an undefeated 13-2, besting reigning world champion Emanuel Lasker of Germany and France’s David Janowsky by an astounding two full points. Among the also-rans: Boston great Harry Nelson Pillsbury, former U.S. champion Jackson Showalter and Russian star Mikhail Chigorin.

Oddly, Marshall’s actual play from the tournament has been a bit overlooked despite his stupendous score. The two most anthologized games from the event are Pillsbury’s famous win over Lasker (avenging a brilliant loss to the champ in the same opening variation eight years earlier) and Lasker’s scintillating win over also-ran William Ewart Napier, one of the most tactically complex games ever played.

Marshall was famous for his romantic, attacking style, but his best effort at Cambridge Springs was his arduous Round 11 defensive stand against Janowski, a 76-move victory for the American that all but decided the tournament.

Still, the winner managed some other fine games, including a poignant Round 2 victory over Pillsbury, whose play already was being hurt by the brain illness that would kill him two years later at the age of 33. The two Americans had fought some wonderful duels in the past, but this time, Marshall scores a quick knockout.

Pillsbury as Black plays a modern opening, the Pirc, in an old-fashioned way, preferring piece pressure and quick development with 7…Nc6 to challenging the White center with 7…c5. A move later, Black creates a bad hole in his kingside with 8. Bc4 e6?! (Be6 was playable as Black is fine on 9. Ng5 Nxc3! 10. Nxe6 Nxd1 11. Nxd8 Rxd8 12. Kxd1 Rxd4+ 13. Bd3 Nxe5), and on 9. Bg5 Nxc3 10. bxc3 Ne7 11. 0-0, White has an alarming lead in development.

In his element, Marshall jettisons a pawn with 12. Bf6! Bxf6 13. exf6 Nf5 14. Qe2 Qxf6, and bores in with the aggressive 15. g4! Nd6 (Ne7 16. Ne5 Qh4 17. Rxf7 h5 18. Rxe7+! Qxe7 [Kxe7 19. Nxg6+] 19. Nxg6 Qg7 20. Nxh8 Qxh8 21. Bxe6, winning) 16. Ne5.

Marshall in his memoirs remarked that it is difficult to believe Black will be mated in just a few more moves, but the half-open f-file, the dominant knight on e5 and the weaknesses around the Black king all give White a big edge.

The payoff comes on 19. Raf1 Bd7 20. Rf6! Rg8 (see diagram; the g6 square is also fatally vulnerable in lines like 20…Be8 21. Nxg6! fxg6 22. Rxf8 Qxf8 23. Qe5+ Kg8 24. Rxf8+ Kxf8 25. Qh8+ Ke7 26. Bxg6) 21. Nxg6!! Qxf6 (fxg6 22. Rxg6+ Kh7 23. Rxh6+! Kxh6 [Kg7 24. Rh7 mate] 24. Qe3+ Kg7 [Qg5 25. Qh3+ Kg7 26. Qh7 mate] 25. Qe5+ Kh6 26. Qh5+ Kg7 27. Qh7 mate) 22. Rxf6 Kxf6 (hara-kiri, but Black was lost in any case) 23. Qe5 mate.

A round later, against Pillsbury’s old Boston rival John Barry, Marshall combined defense and offense for another quick decision. This 26-mover actually has two distinct phases, as Marshall first neutralizes a piece sacrifice by White, then efficiently switches to a mating attack.

White’s 6. dxe5 c6 7. Nc3!? cxb5 8. Nxe4 is a startling concept, although Black’s busted pawn structure pretty much ensures that White will get three pawns for his investment. But when the fun subsides on 12. Qe2 Qe5! 13. Nxf6+ gxf6 14. Qxe5+ fxe5 15. Bxb4, the initiative switches firmly to Marshall.

White may have been worried about the viability of his d-pawn, but it’s his king that comes under fire on 15…Rg8 16. Rd1 Rg4! (Rxg2? 17. d7+ Bxd7 18. Bxf8 Kxf8 19. Rxd7 is good for White) 17. Ba3 Re4+ 18. Kf1 Bd7, when the awkward position of White’s king, king’s rook and bishop spell trouble.

The d-pawn will fall on 19. b3 Rc8 20. c4 Rd4, but Barry gets into even bigger trouble after 19. f3 Bb5+ 20. Kf2 (Kg1 Bh6! 21. h4 Re2 22. c3 Kd7 23. Kh2 Rg8 24. Rhg1 Be3, winning at least the exchange) Re2+ 21. Kg3 Bh6 22. c3 0-0-0.

Black’s preparation for the final assault has been a model of economy. White’s game collapses on 23. Kh3 Bd7+ 24. g4 Rf8 25. Rdf1 Bf4 26. Re1 Rf2!, creating a crushing bind. Covering up with 27. Rfe1 Rxf1 28. Rxf1 allows 28…h5! 29. Rh1 (Rf2 hxg4+ 30. fxg4 Rh8+ 31. Kg2 Rxh2+ 32. Kg1 Rxf2 33. Kxf2 Bxg4, with an easy win) hxg4+ 30. fxg4 Rh8+ 31. Kg2 Bc6+, snaring the rook. White resigned.

Cambridge Springs International Chess Congress, Cambridge Springs, Pa., April 1904


1. d4d613. exf6Nf5

2. e4Nf614. Qe2Qxf6

3. Nc3g615. g4Nd6

4. f4Bg716. Ne5Qe7

5. e5dxe517. Bd30-0

6. fxe5Nd518. Rf2Kg7

7. Nf3Nc619. Raf1Bd7

8. Bc4e620. Rf6Rg8

9. Bg5Nxc321. Nxg6Qxf6

10. bxc3Ne722. Rxf6Kxf6

11. 0-0h623. Qe5 mate

12. Bf6Bxf6

Cambridge Springs International Chess Congress, Cambridge Springs, Pa., April 1904


1. e4e514. Qxe5+fxe5

2. Nf3Nc615. Bxb4Rg8

3. Bb5f516. Rd1Rg4

4. d4fxe417. Ba3Re4+

5. Nxe5Nxe518. Kf1Bd7

6. dxe5c619. f3Bb5+

7. Nc3cxb520. Kf2Re2+

8. Nxe4d521. Kg3Bh6

9. exd6Nf622. c30-0-0

10. Bg5Qa5+23. Kh3Bd7+

11. Bd2b424. g4Rf8

12. Qe2Qe525. Rdf1Bf4

13. Nxf6+gxf626. Re1Rf2

White resigns

David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by e-mail at dsands@washington

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