The Marshall Gambit is an aggressive line white can choose against the Queen’s Gambit, if black plays the “triangle” defensive system. The starting moves are 1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 c6 4. e4
By delaying the typical move …Nf6, black has given white the opportunity to advance their e-pawn into the fray – though it will usually come at the cost of a pawn!
Let’s take a look at how the game can continue in the Marshall Gambit. Black generally responds with 4…dxe4 5. Nxe4 Bb4+
And now white has a choice. 6. Bd2 is the main move, even though it allows black to win a pawn with 6…Qxd4. The more timid 6. Nc3 is also playable – though it’s not often that someone plays the Marshall Gambit with the intention to “chicken out” and retreat!
For the price of a pawn, white has obtained the bishop pair and a lead in development. The dark-squared bishop is particularly menacing, because it has no counterpart! Black will need to watch out for threats along the a3-f8 diagonal.
8…Na6 is black’s most popular move, attacking this bishop and developing a piece. This often kicks off a rather forcing line. 9. Ba5 is the normal reply, threatening checkmate on d8, and now after 9…b6, white can play the in-between move 10. Qd6
Surprisingly, Rd1 is a big threat, where black would have no defense against white’s d-file pressure. 10…Bd7 is usually played (so that Rd1 can be met with …Rd8 or …0-0-0), and now white has time to save the bishop with 11. Bc3
11…f6 is the standard response to white’s threat to the g7 pawn (11…Nf6 has been tried, but white can quickly play Nf3 and then Ne5), and after 12. Nf3 Ne7 13. 0-0-0!, we arrive at the following position:
White abandons the e2 bishop to try to crash through on the d-file (the d7 bishop is now under attack!)
In the video above, I cover a game from this position where white won quickly – it’s easy to fall for a trap as black when white has such great piece activity! – as well as some alternatives to 8…Na6 that black can consider
White also has the option to block black’s check with the knight instead of the bishop.
This is generally considered a bit more timid by white, but it does have the advantage of not undefending the g2 pawn! White also has a very exciting continuation in mind if black proceeds as they did in the previous line…
If black plays 8…Na6, the standard move, then white will play 9. Bf8!
Whenever I think of the Marshall Gambit, this is the move that comes to mind. How often do you see a piece venture onto the opponent’s back rank in the opening, without even capturing a piece?
The move is surprisingly effective! Black cannot capture the bishop (because of Qd8#), and the g7 pawn is under attack. Fortunately for black, a rather forcing line has been worked out: 9…Ne7 10. Bxg7 Nb4 is the main line. Black gives up the g7 pawn and tries to “turn the tables” on white, threatening some deadly knight checks against white’s uncastled king.
The main line continues 11. Qd6 (white doesn’t capture the rook yet! White’s threatening to play Bd6 with some deadly threats on the dark squares which could result in checkmate) 11…Nd2+ (11…Nc2+ has been tried, but grabbing the rook in the corner is risky for black in light of white’s threats) 12. Kd2 Nf5
This move more-or-less ends the attack for both sides, and forces a series of equal exchanges. 13. Qxd3 Qxd3+ 13. Kxd3 Nxg7 with an equal endgame.
If black wants to avoid this line, then 8…Nd7 could be tried to avoid 9. Bf8. But unlike …Na6, this move doesn’t come with tempo on the bishop, and white is free to follow up with 9. Qf6. This line is covered in the video above – white has ways to generate some pressure here too!
This line is rarely chosen, but there’s nothing in particular that’s wrong with it. White simply retreats their knight and doesn’t sacrifice a pawn!
6…c5 is black’s main option here, striking at white’s center. I cover this line at the end of the video – both sides are able to comfortable finish development in most cases.
The Marshall Gambit is perhaps white’s most ambitious try to take on the triangle defensive system of the Queen’s Gambit. White’s unopposed dark-squared bishop is a force to be reckoned with – the player with black better know their stuff, if they want to survive!
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