Marshall Gambit: The Best Way to Attack the Ruy Lopez

There is little doubt the Marshall Gambit was played before Frank Marshall played it against Jose Raul Capablanca in 1918. However, being prepared to play a gambit against Capablanca is indeed reason enough to have an opening named after you.

Marshall Gambit: The Best Way To Attack The Ruy Lopez

Although that game did not end well for Marshall, the soundness of the Marshall Gambit has been verified over time. In fact, the Marshall Gambit is so sound it has led to the development of anti-Marshall lines for White.

Black’s compensation for the pawn is positional and comes with easily remembered strategies to make your middlegames easier to play.

The current world chess champion, Magnus Carlsen, has played the Marshall Gambit against the very best players in the world today. 

All 1…e5 players need to know how to face the Ruy Lopez Exchange Variation. Here is GM Damian Lemos to show you how to beat it. If you’re looking for more than one way to beat the Ruy Lopez his Deep Dive course is a must-have! Included in the course is how to beat the Italian Opening too!

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

Why the Marshall Attack is An Excellent Defense

After the moves 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 9.exd5 Nxd5 10.Nxe5 Nxe5 11.Rxe5 we reach the main tabiya of the Ruy Lopez Marshall Gambit.

Marshall Gambit: The Best Way To Attack The Ruy Lopez
The starting position of the Marshall Gambit

There is no doubt Black’s best move is 11…c6, which supports the centralized knight and opens Black’s second rank. This provides an excellent way to get the a8 rook into the game.

By sacrificing the pawn, Black gets easy piece development and aggressively placed pieces. One attacking option is the …Bd6 and …Qh4 combination, which often weakens the light squares around the white king.

The solid knight on d5 often causes White to give up his light-squared bishop. Gaining the bishop pair is enough compensation on its own for the pawn, but with a crucial queenside defender exchanged, Black can also launch a minority attack.

Black’s kingside pawns have no reason to feel left out because it isn’t unusual for Black to advance the f-pawn and h-pawn.

This can lead to a decisive attack if White plays g3!

White is often left without any option but to play g3. Black creates a queen and bishop battery aimed at the h2-pawn with …Bd6 and …Qh4. 

The black f-pawn advance is supported by both the rook on f8 and the knight on d5 when it reaches f4.

Want to be able to surprise your opponents by having a second method of taking down the Ruy Lopez?

Marshall Gambit Mainline

The mainline of the Marshall Gambit clearly demonstrates the dynamic quality of this play. The play takes place on both sides of the board, with White counterattacking Black’s kingside attack with play on the queenside.

White’s multi-purpose move 18.a4 is played to activate the a1 rook and force Black to defend the queenside, thus reducing the number of attackers.

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 9.exd5 Nxd5 10.Nxe5 Nxe5 11.Rxe5 c6

Marshall Gambit: The Best Way To Attack The Ruy Lopez
Marshall Gambit 11…c6

12.d4 Bd6 13.Re1 Qh4 14.g3 Qh3 15.Be3 Bg4 16.Qd3 Rae8 17.Nd2 Re6 18.a4 Qh5

Marshall Gambit: The Best Way To Attack The Ruy Lopez
Mainline 18…Qh5

Dropping back to h5 is a crucial move for Black and allows him to capture on d5 with the queen if White plays Bxd5. 

White intended to damage Black’s queenside pawn structure with 19.axb5 axb5 20.Bxd5.

The queen is a long-range piece, so dropping back from h3 to h5 still allows this powerful piece to play a role in the attack while defending the knight on d5.

Notice how Levon Aronian uses a neat triangulation pattern with his queen to defend the knight on d5 and push his attack forward. This is a very well-played game, as you would expect between two players rated over 2700.

Shirov, Alexei (2730) – Aronian, Levon (2773), Grand Slam Final, 2009, 0-1

Want to be able to surprise your opponents by having a second method of taking down the Ruy Lopez?

The Modest but Dangerous 12.d3

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 9.exd5 Nxd5 10.Nxe5 Nxe5 11.Rxe5 c6 12.d3 Bd6 13.Re1

Marshall Gambit: The Best Way To Attack The Ruy Lopez
Marshall Gambit Modern Variation with 12.d3

The move 12.d3 is the second most popular move for White in the Ruy Lopez Marshall Gambit. White intends to defend the critical e4 square and use it as an outpost for his knight.

Black used to play 13…Qh4, but nowadays the move of choice is 13…Bf5, and this is the move Magnus Carlsen played against Sergey Karjakin in 2018. 

Developing the bishop puts pressure on d3 and this pressure can be increased with …Nf4. Black must also continue in thematic Marshall Gambit fashion and induce a weakness around the White king, which he does with …Qh4 and …Qh3.

Karjakin, Sergey (2778) – Carlsen, Magnus (2843), Vugar Gashimov Mem 2018, 1/2-1/2

Marshall Gambit: The Best Way To Attack The Ruy Lopez
Want to surprise your opponents by having a second method of taking down the Ruy Lopez?
For a Limited Time get 50% Off! Deep Dive 1e4 e5 Spanish and Italian for Black – GM Damian Lemos

Final Thoughts

The Marshall Gambit is an excellent choice against the Ruy Lopez for players who enjoy open positions with easy piece development and great attacking chances. 

This opening shows you don’t have to settle for the restrictions of the Closed Ruy Lopez but can obtain a good position despite being a pawn down. 

In fact, Black can even enter endgames a pawn down when the bishop-pair advantage on the open board ensures more than adequate compensation.

Remember, if you play a gambit it’s best not to rush to regain the material but to continue playing chess as you would if the material balance was equal. Playing sound gambits like the Marshall Gambit will help you shed your attachment to evaluating positions primarily on the material balance.

Act now! For a Limited Time get 50% Off! 1.e4 e5 Beating Italian and Ruy Lopez for Black which gives you more options to beat the Ruy Lopez plus arms you with a repertoire against the Italian Opening too! Top-quality chess coaching from strong grandmaster GM Damian Lemos. Over 7 hours for Only $29.95!

Also, be sure to read:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Share

iChess Blog

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

×
×