This particular chess opening is one of black’s most aggressive choices in his onslaught of options. ECO code C89. Although formally called the Ruy Lopez: Marshall counter-attack, in short most professional chess players refer to it as the Marshall. Black sacrifices a pawn for momementum, thus this opening is called a gambit. He aggressively develops quickly putting pressure onto white’s kingside while white becomes cramped, especially on the queen side. In my opinion someone playing the Marshall on the black side can get away with a casual knowledge of how to play it. White on the other hand cannot; white gets in trouble in three key moments which I will point out – where if they don’t play seemingly perfect they will lose. White has to account for the aggression of black’s technique by carefully waiting his due time. White is up a pawn, and must quickly develop while adhering to the checkmating threats. Some consider the Marshal to be black’s best defense/option against white’s Ruy Lopez.

There are many variations to every opening. For discussion purposes I’m going to go forward to three key positions. I am not going into details on how to take advantage of white mistakes except on these three key positions, and even at that I’m not going into much depth. What I suggest you do is go to and look for games from these three positions and see what alternative moves result in, or less satisfactory but still an edge – put them into fritz and put the line depth to like 15 and see all the bad moves ;). The following moves are pretty standard, and move order does not necessarily matter as long as you end up in the same position.
1.e4 e5
2.Nf3 Nc6
3.Bb5 a6
4.Ba4 Nf6
5.O-O Be7
6.Re1 b5
7.Bb3 O-O
8.c3 d5
Note here that white can choose not to take the pawn, but what’s the fun in that?
9.exd5 (other quality options: 9.d3 or 9.d4) Nxd5
10.Nxe5 Nxe5

                       Key position #1: after 11.Rxe5
                     |BR |   |BB |BQ |   |BR |BK |   | 8
                     |   |   |BP |   |BB |BP |BP |BP | 7
                     |BP |   |   |   |   |   |   |   | 6
                     |   |BP |   |BN |WR |   |   |   | 5
                     |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   | 4
                     |   |WB |WP |   |   |   |   |   | 3
                     |WP |WP |   |WP |   |WP |WP |WP | 2
                     |WR |WN |WB |WQ |   |   |WK |   | 1
                      A    B   C   D   E   F   G   H

    Ok here black has three (quality) options:
  1. 11… c6 followed by 12. d4 (For our purposes)
  2. 11… Bb7 followed by 12.d4
  3. 11… Nf6 followed by 12.d4

Key position #2. Note here a few key things. The difference between these three options will effect how you play the Marshall. 11… c6 allows for the knight to stay on d5 effectively. It blocks the light colored bishop from acting – in fact any capture of the knight by the bishop is likely to favor black. Last, 12.d4 is white’s best option regardless of black’s choice between those three moves. He has to have his dark colored bishop and knight a space to move out. This is the beginning of white relaxing his cramped position – he’s taking some laxatives!

12… Bd6
13.Re1 White can make the mistake of attempting alternative options. Although Re2 is okay, and Bxd5 is playable… Re1 is the superior move. Black will eventually have his back row rooks connected attacking the e1 square. Without the rook on e1 black has a stronger back row checkmate. That along with the checkmating threats of that bitching queen and her companions the bishops and remaining knight, the pressure is often too severe. I won’t show lines on alternative choices because there is no apparent material difference but only the positional flaws I have explained.
14.g3 (forced) Qh3 (smart)

                        Key position #3: after 14…Qh3
                     |BR |   |BB |BQ |   |BR |BK |   | 8
                     |   |   |   |   |BB |BP |BP |BP | 7
                     |BP |   |BP |BB |   |   |   |   | 6
                     |   |BP |   |BN |   |   |   |   | 5
                     |   |   |   |WP |   |   |   |   | 4
                     |   |WB |WP |   |   |   |WP |   | 3
                     |WP |WP |   |   |   |WP |   |WP | 2
                     |WR |WN |WB |WQ |WR |   |WK |   | 1
                      A    B   C   D   E   F   G   H

    White’s options:
  • 15.Be3 (best)
  • While all other options are playable, I’ve added the notation of a game where black wins for each.
  • 15.Qf3 Bg4 (Led to Black winning in Wawrinsky, L-Damm,F/Bad Woerishofen 2000/CBM. 16.Qg2 Qh5 17.Bxd5 cxd5 18.Be3 (looks familiar!) Rae8 19.Nd2 Re6 20.f3 Bh3 21. Qf2 Rfe8 22.Rac1 g5 23.Kh1 f5 24.f4 gxf4 25.Bxf4 Re2 26.Rxe2 Rxe2 27.Qf3 Bg2+ 28.Qxg2 Rxg2 29.Kxg2 Bxf4 30.gxf4 Qe2+ 0-1)
  • 15.Re4 g5 (White cannot take the bait of 16.Bxg5, loses when 16…Qf4)
  • 15.Qd3 (Torres/Del Pozo Heri, shows you black’s idea: Bf5 16.Qf3 Rae8 17.Bd2 Bg4 18.Qg2 Qh5 19.a4 Rxe1+ 20.Bxe1 Bf3 21.g4 Bxg4 22.Bxd5 cxd5 23.Nd2 Re8 24.f3 Bh3 25.Qf2 Bf4 26.Nf1 Qg6+ 27.Kh1 Qd3 28.Nd2 g5 29.Nb3 Re2 0-1)
  • The chessbase (online chess game database) showed 154 games for 15.Qf3, of these 93 were won by black that’s a 60% win rate in high rated games.

If white plays 15.Be3 the game is equal and often fun. There are thousands of games from this position alone, and I suggest you familiarize yourself with them at the webpage. You search the database and you’re in the money. I personally own the 150$ dollar program Chessbase 8.0 and it has a lot of added features like statistics and Fritz friendly abilities. But for your purposes you just seeing lines from this one option will sustain your Marshall playing skills.

Common continuation:
15.Be3 Bg4 16.Qd3 Rae8 17.Nd2 Re6 18.a4 f5 19.Qf1 Qh5 20.f4 (pieces will likely end up here)
This game ended in a draw: 20…bxa4 21.Rxa4 Rfe8 22.Qf2 g5 23.fxg5 f4 24.gxf4 Bh3 25.Rxa6 Bxf4 26.Qxf4 Nxf4 27.Bxf4 Qg4+ 28.Bg3 Qxg5 29.Ne4 Qf5 30.Nf2 Qb5 31.Bxe6+ Bxe6 32.Ra7 Qf5 33.Ne4 Rf8 34.Be5 Qg4+ 35.Kh1 Qf3+ 36.Kg1 Qg4+ 37.Kh1 ½

Click this link to go to 20 tactic puzzles resulting from Marshall games. This is a must for anyone who wants to understand all tactical combinations of this opening.

Black gets to kick ass, take initiative, and play a safe aggressive opening. This opening is for all play levels, but if you master it at lower level I can promise you a higher success rate than any other typical black opening. With the Sicilian Defense being so prevalent in modern game play, going back to the most popular opening in history – the Ruy Lopez, with the edge of the Marshall counter-attack, you will find yourself knowing the lines better and being able out maneuver your opponent. Especially if you understand the three key positions I brought up – and they aren’t from a book they're my own analysis so if you find some master chess player going into depth on a different move I didn’t miss it per say. These three positions are the most commonly misplayed by on white’s end between 1400-2000 USCF levels. And on a personal note - there also where I lost on white’s end of things before I studied it out.

Previous chess writeup: Philidor position. Next: Teaching Chess

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.