Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Marshall - Harding Variation

I note there is a new Everyman book on the Marshall on the horizon. The line has always fascinated me but the necessary preparation does not quite seem worth the effort - in particular because the Anti-Marshall 8.a4 is quite well motivated while 8.h3 and 8.a3 are very reasonable attempts to avoid the sharpest lines.

If I some day decide to take up the Marshall, I will seriously consider to adopt one of the minor lines for my first few games - most likely the 11...Bb7 variation. Here is the first part of an overview which may be a good starting point for serious analysis:

(1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0–0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 0–0)

I feel fairly well prepared up to this point after having co-authored 'The Ruy Lopez: A Guide for Black' in 2007.


I don't know in how many percent of the games this move is played but I suspect the number is decreasing the lower down the rating ladder you go.

8...d5 9.exd5 Nxd5 10.Nxe5

Also the Herman Steiner variation, 10...e4!? could be a nice surprise weapon.

Bb7 (Dia)

This is an active developing move. Its main spokesman has been Harding but it has recently been played by Short and Kamsky. In some ways it's a more natural move than the modern mainline 11...c6. Marshall's original 11...Nf6, I think is now defused and Balogh's 11...Nf4 has never been fully satisfactory. It could however be that 11...Nb6!? is underestimated. The knight isn't very active but it prevents White's important freeing a4 lever.


This has recently been the choice of Sutovsky and Ivanchuk and will be the subject of this post but I assume 12.d4 still must considered the mainline.


Thanks to a tactical point this move is playable after all. In the 12.d4 lines we will mainly see this bishop taking up a less threatening post on f6.

13.Bxd5 c6 (Dia)

White must save his rook so Black regains his piece.


This seem to be the most useful post for the rook, but the theory has not yet been cemented and alternatives have been played by strong GMs:

a) 14.Re3 cxd5 15.d4.

b) 14.Re1 cxd5 15.d4 Qc7 16.g3 Rae8 17.Rxe8 Rxe8:

b1) 18.Bd2 a5 19.b3 Qc6 20.a4 bxa4 21.Rxa4 Qb6 22.Qd1 Bc6 =+ A.Timoshenko-Mackintosh, corr 2002.

b2) 18.Be3 b4 19.cxb4 Qc2 20.Nd2 Bxb4 21.Qd1 Rc8 22.Nf3 += A.Sokolov-Yermolinsky, Vilnius 1984.

14...cxd5 15.d4 Qc7 16.g3 (Dia)

White seems a sound pawn up but his queenside is still undeveloped. The alternative 16.h3 Rae8 17.Nd2 b4 18.Nb3 Rxe2 19.Qxe2 bxc3 20.bxc3 Qxc3 21.Be3 Re8 was fairly equal in Szelag-Stern, Poznan 1999.


16...Rfe8 may well be better. In Sutovsky-Short, Montreal 2007, the rook was useful on the queenside: 17.Be3 a5 18.Nd2 b4 19.Rc1 Qd7 20.Ree1 bxc3 21.Rxc3 Bb4 22.Rc2 Rac8 23.Rec1 Rxc2 24.Rxc2 a4 25.a3 Bxd2 26.Bxd2 ½–½ .


It's worth noting that Ivanchuck preferred 17.Be3. Yet after 17...a5 18.Nd2 b4 19.cxb4 Bxb4 20.a3 Bd6 21.Ree1 Re6 22.Rac1 Qb6 23.Qd1 Rfe8 chances seemed balanced in Ivanchuk-Kamsky, Montreal 2007.

17...b4 18.cxb4 Qc2 19.Re3 Bc8

19...Bxb4 allowed White to keep a small plus after 20.Nf1 Rxe3 21.Nxe3 Qd3 22.Qd1 Qe4 23.f3 Qe6 24.Qb3 Rc8 25.Kf2 Qb6 26.Bd2 a5 27.Bxb4 axb4 28.Rd1 in A.Sokolov-Kharitonov, Vilnius 1984.

20.Nf1 Bxb4 21.a3 Ba5 22.b4 Bb6 23.Rxe8 Rxe8 24.Be3 Be6 25.Qd1 Rc8 26.Nd2
1/2–1/2 Anand-Short, Manila 1992.


12.Qf3 shouldn't worry Black if he knows how to keep an initiative burning without a direct kingside attack.

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