Of Marshalls,
Morra Gambits And
Mind Sports

A while ago when I was reading some back issues of Chess magazine I came across an article called The Marshall Gambit has been refuted! It was published in the May-June 1970 issue, and in spite of the exclamation mark at the end of the title, it is meant to be taken seriously. It was followed up in the August 1971 issue with the even more ominously titled The Marshall Gambit - In Memorium. The author of both articles was David N.L. Levy, who gave up competitive chess many years ago for the delights of programming, and in recent years organising the Mind Sports Olympiad. As I would be playing in the Mind Sports I made a note to confront him with this ominous prediction.

The 2002 Mind Sports was a much lower key event than previous years. According to Tony Corfe, the 2000 event which was held at Alexandra Palace attracted around 5,000 entries. This year it was advertised very late, and there were only around 400 when I received my application form. Although there were a few late entries, the total was less than 600. I thought this might have been down to September 11 and possibly the recent stock market downturns, but was told it was due almost entirely to the event being advertised so late. The fact that it was held outside London for the first time, at Loughborough University, couldnít have helped either, at least not as far as overseas competitors were concerned, although a few turned up including regular multi-gamester Dario di Toffoli of Italy, and French Othello player Mark Tastet.

Another factor was that there was no prize money at all this year; it is a pity that an event of this nature has been unable to attract the sort of sponsorship that it surely deserves. There have too been other financial problems that I canít talk about here, but which have left Levy in particular a sad and rightly embittered man.

This year the event was a disaster for me; it was the first time in six attempts that I had not walked away with at least one medal, and it was entirely my own fault. I threw away what must have been a near certain medal in the draw poker by first raising and then calling a hand which although very strong was very likely not the winner. As second chip leader on the last table I would surely have made at least bronze. I entered only one of the chess tournaments, the Olympiad Championship, a 25 minute rapidplay like last year. Although there were fewer entries this year and the tournament was not as strong either, I had a bad feeling about it. Losing my first two games confirmed this, although I did have a spectacular win against one junior, and wins against both Tim Hebbes and one of the very strong Ghasi brother.

Hebbes is a very strong young player who celebrated his 20th birthday during the Mind Sports. He does though blow hot and cold. I remember some time ago watching him play against former Womenís World Amateur Champion Jessie Gilbert. He was sure to lose his queen or get mated or both; Gilbert had the game in the bag, as she obviously knew. Then Hebbes pulled out a tactic of which Alekhine himself would have been proud, and salvaged half a point. Against me at Loughborough the other Hebbes turned up, and he blundered away a rook, although I would surely have won the game anyway.

My game against Ghasi was far more satisfying. We reached an ending where I was a pawn down after having played a grossly unsound exchange sacrifice.

This game was a Morra Gambit, which he declined, although he grabbed a pawn later. My personal belief is that the Morra is unsound, as is the Marshall Attack, but both are extremely difficult to meet over the board, and I will continue to play them. I lost with a Marshall in the tournament though, and to a somewhat weaker player, although he was said to be playing very well. This was an original Marshall, and only the second time I have ever lost with it as far as I recall. My first loss was a Herman Steiner over twenty years ago.

When I caught up with Levy he remembered the first of his Marshall bashing articles was from 1970. A new move had come out, he said, which he identified as...g4 for black but was in fact 15. R-K4 for white. (This was in the days when chess magazines were written in proper notation!)

Do you stand by this claim, I asked? Well, you know how things are with chess theory, he hedged. Although Levyís prophecy re the Marshall did not come to fruition, sadly he was spot on with another prediction. At this time the whole country was buzzing with the news that two young girls had gone missing in Cambridgeshire. Over our newspapers I asked him what he thought had happened to them. He said he believed they were murdered within 24 hours of their disappearance. Shortly after he said this, the bodies of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman were found.

By the weekend I was resigned to coming away without a single medal, but fate had one more dirty trick in store for me. The weekend backgammon tournament was billed as the English Open. I didnít play in any of the backgammon tournaments last year, and have played less than a couple of dozen games since the 2000 event at Alexandra Palace. So it was more good dice than good play that led to me finishing the Saturday with four wins out of four, beating among others (in the third round) John Clark, probably the strongest player in the tournament and a backgammon fanatic. He accused me of throwing made-to-measure numbers. He should have seen the way I won my fourth round match.

That left myself and Rosie Bentley as the only two unbeaten players in the tournament. If I beat her in the next round I was guaranteed at least the bronze medal and probably the gold. Clark said she was a ďvery, very weakĒ player, and even the organiser said I was favourite the next morning because she had been up until 1am playing chouette * in the bar.

I lost in round five, and just for good measure I lost my last round match too. I could probably have played a bit better in the last round, but I donít think it would have made the slightest difference. In the end I had to settle for beating the bronze medalist (Clark) and the runner-up. **

I travelled back to St Pancras in the company of Tim Seymour, a ďRichmond juniorĒ to whom Iíd lost. Unlike me he was a medal winner. Although he is graded quite a bit below me, he is on the way up while my slowplay grade has slipped from 157 to 133 this season on account of inactivity. My rapidplay is still 160 (mainly on the strength of last yearís Mind Sports), but Iíve really lost it. My E-mail chess is not much better than my slowplay, or my blitz for that matter, but Iíve long since given up on any rewards other than the purely cerebral from this game.

Later, on my way through Victoria Station I passed two young girls about ten years old, one blonde, one not so. I realised then how lucky I was to be 46 years old, in near constant pain from my musculo-skeletal problems, medal-less on a hot summerís day, and a lousy chess player at that.

Click Here For Images


Below is a game I played as white against our own Jo Wharrier in the 2001 ACT. This is the only time I have ever dared face the Marshall. Like most players I donít have the time to study reams and reams of theory, certainly not for a variation where the Main Line starts at move 17! Iím not sure exactly where I went wrong but we are probably not even out of the book. Unsound it may be, but it remains a fearsome weapon for black.

1.  P-K4                P-K4
2.  N-KB3               N-QB3
3.  B-N5                P-QR3
4.  B-R4                N-B3
5.  o-o                 B-K2
6.  R-K1                P-QN4
7.  B-N3                o-o
8.  P-B3                P-Q4
9.  PXP                 NXP
10. NXP                 NXN
11. RXN                 P-B3
12. P-Q4                B-Q3
13. R-K1                Q-R5
14. P-KN3               Q-R6
15. B-K3                B-N5
16. Q-Q3                QR-K1
17. N-Q2                R-K3
18. P-R4                P-KB4
19. Q-B1                Q-R4
20. P-KB4               PXP
21. RXP                 KR-K1
22. B-KB2               RXR
23. BXR                 B-R6
24. Q-B2                BXP
25. N-B1                R-K7
26. QXB                 RXB
27. B-B4                RXBch

White resigns

* A variation where players take it in turns to play against a group.
** Three players finished with 5 out of 6; Bentley won the gold on a count-back system.

[An edited version of this article was published in CHESS POST, Issue No. 226, Vol 40, No. 6, November 2002, pages 30-33; click here to download in Portable Document Format].

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