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William Ewart Napier vs Frank Marshall
Buffalo (1901), Buffalo, New York USA, rd 6, Aug-15
Russian Game: Modern Attack (C43)  ·  1-0



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Kibitzer's Corner
Premium Chessgames Member
  tpstar: tpstar-diego2907 (QueenAlice 7/11/05): 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. d4 ed 4. e5 Ng8!? 5. Nxd4 Qe7!? 6. Nf3 d6 7. Qe2 de 8. Nxe5 h6!? 9. Nc3 b6?? 10. Nd5 Qd6 11. Nc4+ Qe6 12. Nxc7+ Kd8 13. Nxe6+ Bxe6 14. Bf4 and White won (1-0).
Premium Chessgames Member
  offramp: The 'Event' in the pgn of this game is given as 'hex'. I have seen this on other Marshall games as well; what does it mean?
Sep-25-08  whiteshark: WT<H>DTM ?

hafer hex ??

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: With Pillsbury defeating Delmar in this 6th Round at Buffalo 1901, Napier was his only real competition. By winning this game, Napier had scored 4.5 out of 6. Meanwhile, Pillsbury (whose 5th round game had been postponed) had 4.5 out of 5. With Pillsbury-Napier on track for the next round, the stage was set.

Meanwhile, Marshall's horrendous 1901 continued. He played another strange opening line, and survived this temerity when Napier misplayed a strong hand, but then blundered on move 18 and wound up in a lost ending. Thanks to some questionable endgame technique by Napier, Marshall managed to reach a Rook and pawn ending with some practical chances, but then blew his chances with some of the poor technique that characterized much of his play during 1901.

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nf6

The Petroff, a Marshall specialty with which he had some success at Paris 1900. He had won his 4th round game against last-place finished Karpinski in this tournament, but his bizarre opening play in this opening was less successful against the more dangerous Napier.

3. d4

According to Napier, he declined to play 3. Nxe5 because he was afraid Marshall would play 3...d6 4. Nf3 Nxde4 5. d4 Bg4?!

While Napier obviously knows his own thoughts, this claim nonetheless seems questionable. Why should Napier have feared that line.

If not for Napier's comment, I would have suspected that Napier played 3. d4 because in Marshall's game against Karpinski the day before Marshall had answered 3. d4 with 3...d5?!. Napier may have fancied playing against that inferior line for Black. In fact, as will be seen, Marshall had something even worse prepared to combat 3. d4 in this game.

3... exd4

3...Nxe4 is more usual, but the text is fine.

4. e5

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4... Qe7?!

4...Ne4 is almost always played here and leaves Black with about even chances. The text is another bad Marshall "innovation" (actually, Blackburne first played the move in 1888 in a game he won). This move has rarely been seen since this game (Blackburne only played it once). Small wonder:

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5. Be2!

Well-played. The e-5 pawn is no longer pinned, White is poised to castle, and with Black's Queen awkwardly placed and his King unable to castle for at least several moves, White has all sorts of potential threats.

Black is probably not theoretically lost yet, but his position was not a thing of beauty.

5... Ne4

5...Ng4 was somewhat better, but even then Black would be likely to suffer for quite a while thanks to his wild 4th move.

6. 0-0 Nc6
7. Re1

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Anyone wondering about Marshall consistently bad results in calendar year 1901 does not have to search much farther than to gaze at some of Marshall's outrageous efforts to concoct novel opening lines, almost all of which were inferior.

7... h6
8. Bc4!

While moving the same minor piece twice in the opening is usually poor strategy, there are exceptions. This is one of them. Marshall's Bishop now targets f7 while White's Rook on e1 is unleashed.

How could Marshall have let himself--yet again--reach such a poor opening position.

8... Ng5

8...Nc5 was no better.

After the text (8...Ng5), the position was:

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Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post II

9. NxN

Napier later said that 9. Nxd4 was "simpler." In fact, that we the only way for White to achieve a marked advantage from Black's questionable opening play.

9... hxN
10. Nd2 g4

"...the only good move." (Napier)

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11. Ne4 Nxe5
12. Ng5

Napier could also have just played 12. Qxd4 or 12. Bf4.

12... f6


13. Bf4

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13... d6

Forced. 13...fxN?? is obviously impossible because of 14. Rxe5 winning the Queen.

14. Qxd4 Bd7

14...fxN? is again impossible, this time because of 14. BxN!

15. Rad1

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Thanks to Napier's second-best 9th move, Marshall still had a playable, though still clearly inferior, game.

15... a6

Napier commented on Black's supposed lack of good moves. But with 15...Rh6 or 15...g6, Marshall would not have been all that bad. Even with the text, his position was defensible.

16. Re3

Napier spoke of his plan to cross to the Queen-side with this Rook on his third rank, but that seems a doubtful plan. 16. Qc3 or 16. Bg3 were better, though White remained better even after the text.

16... g6!

"Very well played. The attack is not quickly broken at the expense of a pawn." (Napier)

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17. Bf7+

17. Nf7 was not significantly better (and perhaps not better at all).

17... Kd8

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18. Bd5?

18. Bxg6 was the only way for White to obtain any edge. After the text, Marshall could have solved all his problems, the position now being:

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Marshall (Black) was still very much in the game. But with his next two moves, he allowed Napier to simplify down to a clearly winning ending.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post III

18... fxN??

Although Napier says nothing about this move in his commentary on this game, it was in fact a blunder and probably the losing move.

Marshall would have been OK with 18...Kc8.

19. RxN

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19... Bg7?

Marshall's position was already an eyesore, and it is doubtful there was any way to save the game, but this move was a disaster. Napier was correct that 19...dxR 20. Bxe5 was no bargain for Black (e.g. 20...Qb4 21 BxR [21. Bf6+ Kc8 22. BxR QxQ 23. BxQ a5 24. Be3 Bd6 25. Bxg5 also wins] QxQ 22. RxQ Bc5 23. Bf6+ Kc8 24. Rd2); but it was better than the text.

19...Qh7 also would not save the game, though the winning response is 20. Rxg5 and not Napier's 20. Bxg5+.

After Marshall's actual move, Napier was able to reduce to an easily won endgame:

20. RxQ BxQ
21. Bxg5 Rh5
22. Rg7+ RxB
23. RxB

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Material was nominally even, but Marshall's position was a mess (isolated doubled g-pawn and his King and a8 Rook at least temporarily imprisoned). This should have been routine for Napier. But he made heavy weather of the ending, and gave Marshall chances.

23... Re5
24. f3?

24. f4 (forcing Black to take the f-pawn immediately or not at all) was the way to win. After the check, Marshall had an opening, the position now being:

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24... c5?

24...c6 driving away the Bishop with 25...d5 to follow would have given Marshall real prospects of resistance.

25. Rd1

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25... gxf3
26. Bxf3 Kc7

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27. Bxb7

Stronger than 27. Rxg6, which also likely wins.

27... Rb8

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A winning position for White, but there were still some tricks and traps to be surmounted.

Premium Chessgames Member
  OhioChessFan: <...c5?

24...c6 driving away the Bishop with 25...d5 to follow would have given Marshall real prospects of resistance.>

24...c6 25. Be4. Black's totally busted.

click for larger view

Premium Chessgames Member
  OhioChessFan: Oops, I gave Black 25...d5. 26. Bxg6 is the easy response.
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: <OhioChessFan>Good catch!

I had focused on 25. Bb3 in response to 24...c6 after which 25...d5 gives Black some chances.

But your 25. Be4 is definitely an improvement on the line I had considered. You are entirely correct that after 25. Be4 Black would be busted if he played 25...d5 because of your 26. Bxg6. If White plays 25. Be4 Black would have to abandon the d5 idea and play 25...Re7, but White still wins handily after 26. Rg8+ 27. Rg8+ Re8 28. Rxg6.

In sum, my 24...c6 is probably marginally better than Marshall's 24...c5, but your 25. Be4 is nonetheless a refutation.

Once again, good catch!

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post IV

Returning to the position after 27...Rb8:

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28. Bf3

Almost certainly the best move over-the-board. Black cannot play 28...Rxb2 because of the threat of 29. Bg4, so Marshall had no effective counterplay and Napier had the game in hand.

The theoretically best move was probably 28. Bxa6 since after 28...Rxb2 29. a4 is a killer since 29...Rxc2 is impossible because of 30. Bb5 and so the a-pawn rolls. But in real life, it would likely be difficult to calculate all the ramifications, so Napier's 28. Bf3 is entirely reasonable.

28... g5
29. b3

Another practical choice which wins. Theoretically, 29. Bg4 is strongest.

29... Rbe8

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30. Bg4?

Giving Marshall a chance. The killer was 30. Rd5. Marshall would then have had to trade Rooks, and Napier would still have the game in hand after 30...RxR 31. BxR.

After the text, by contrast, Marshall was able to trade down to a Rook and pawn ending in which he had at least practical chances:

30... R8e7
31. RxR RxR
32. BxB KxB

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This may or may not be a theoretical win for White. But it is certainly not an easy win. At a later stage of his career, when he became a stronger endgame player, Marshall might well have saved this ending.

33. Rd2 Kc6
34. c4

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34... Re4?

Rook and pawn endings are delicate affairs. Here, 34...Re3 (with the prospect of a later Rc3) offers the most onerous resistance. 34...a5(and maybe 34...g4) is another way to try to hand on. After the text, White rolls.

35. Kf2

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35... Rf4+

Black is doubtless lost anyway, but this move by Marshall only handed Napier a tempo and allowed the White King an extra turn. Come what may, Marshall had to play 35...a5. After the text, Napier's task was easy.

36. Ke3

36. Kg3 also wins.

36... Rf1

36...Rf5 or 36...a5 may have been marginally better, but the game was beyond saving at this point.

37. Rf2! Rb1

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In this position, the Tournament Book simply says: "And White eventually won." The game reportedly lasted until at least move 60 and was adjourned. But the score after move 37 is lost. In the above position, the final outcome was not in much doubt: Black's King is out of play; his g-pawn is weak; d5 is not possible because of Rf6+; and the Black Rook is accomplishing nothing on the 2nd rank.

The game is a good example of Marshall's difficulties in 1901, and of Napier's opportunism that allowed him to achieve a tie for 2nd prize at Buffalo 1901 (well behind Pillsbury, of course).

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