Frank James Marshall vs. Dawid Janowski: A rivalry of two decades

by Eugene Manlapao
12/25/2023 – Frank James Marshall and Dawid Janowski are two very memorable figures of chess history. Both were outstanding competitors who became title contenders. They are remembered as two of the finest attacking players from the late 19th to the early 20th century.

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An intense rivalry

Frank James Marshall was born in New York City on August 10, 1877. He began international play at the age of 21, winning the minor tournament of London 1899. The following year, in Paris 1900, he placed third with Geza Maroczy, but defeated the winner and World Champion, Emanuel Lasker. He scored the greatest success of his career in Cambridge Springs 1904, winning the event by a two-point margin.

His other successes that followed, particularly 1st in Scheveningen 1905, 3rd in Barmen 1905, and 1st in Nuremberg 1906, solidified him as a world title contender. He lost the world championship match against Lasker in 1907, however, 8-0. Marshall won Havana 1913, one of his other notable achievements, and became the United States Champion from 1909 to 1936. In the 1930s, he captained the United States team to four Chess Olympiad gold medals.

Frank Marshall

Dawid Markelowicz Janowski was born in Wolkowysk, Russian Empire (now Belarus), on May 25, 1868. He settled in Paris in 1890 and began his professional career in 1894. His results before the turn of the new century, such as 5th in Nuremberg 1896, 3rd in Vienna 1899, and 2nd in London 1899, established him as a world-class player. Peaking immediately after, he won Monte Carlo 1901 and Hanover 1902, tied for first in Vienna 1903, and tied for second in Cambridge Springs 1904, the event Marshall won.

Janowski played three matches against Lasker. Two of these in 1909 were friendly matches, the first one ending in a 2-2 tie, and the second one won by Lasker, 7-1. Their third in 1910 is recognized as a world championship match, with Lasker winning, 8-0. Despite the loss, Janowski's presence still remained in major international events. He was a participant of St. Petersburg 1914, Mannheim 1914, New York 1918, New York 1924, Marienbad 1925, Hastings 1925-26, and Semmering 1926.

Dawid Janowski

Marshall and Janowski may have fallen short of becoming world champions, but they were well capable of the highest achievements. As elite players, each was made as the perfect match opponent of the other.

Marshall and Janowski, in fact, met each other in five separate matches, the most between players of their generation. The total number of match and tournament games they played, eighty in all, was not surpassed until Mikhail Botvinnik and Vassily Smyslov came along. This rivalry was as intense as any outside of the world championships.

These matches were very intriguing with all the similarities and differences Marshall and Janowski brought to the table. Both were known to be highly aggressive, tactical players. The young Marshall, in particular, played in the Romantic tradition. Although he easily assimilated into the classical school, his game remained highly energetic. His tactical abilities allowed him to wiggle out of trouble, and for this he was later called "The Great Swindler". He is not known for his endgame skills, but they were well-appreciated in his day.

Similarly, Janowski was a fighter who loved the heat of the middlegame battle. He was particularly deadly with the two bishops. The world champion Jose Raul Capablanca acknowledged his talent and said: "When in form he is one of the most feared opponents who can exist".

Janowski was a fast player, and patience was not his virtue. Owing, perhaps, to his impulsive nature, the endgame became his weakness. "I detest the endgame", he said.

Different characters and temperaments

The two players' characters and temperaments, however, contrasted markedly. Marshall made his mark with his extreme fair play and sportsmanship. In 1904, he won the US Championship but refused to accept the title as the defending champion, Harry Nelson Pillsbury, failed to participate. Pillsbury was gravely ill and would pass away from syphilis in 1906. After Pillsbury's death, Marshall still refused the title and accepted it only after earning it squarely in competition in 1909. He would hold it until 1936.

In 1909, Marshall played Jose Raul Capablanca in a match and lost, 8-1. Instead of resenting the lopsided loss, he helped bring the Cuban's extraordinary talent to the world's notice.

Janowski, in comparison, was Marshall's exact opposite. Reuben Fine called him "the master of the alibi". For his losses, there were always the playing conditions and his illness to blame, or the opponent to discredit. He would play on in hopeless positions, a habit that made him unpopular. Off the board, Edward Lasker recalled him as a compulsive and undisciplined gambler who would lose his chess winnings at the roulette wheel. Janowski was one of the most well-dressed masters, and he appeared every inch a gentleman in his elegant suits. Regretfully, he lacked the temperament and the self-restraint to be one.

Janowski's third place finish in Vienna 1898 established him as one of the world's elite, and shortly after the Manhattan Chess Club invited him to New York for a series of engagements. After defeating the United States Champion Jackson Showalter in a match, Janowski met Marshall in a match of their own. Thus began the rivalry that lasted close to two decades.

Frank Marshall, Dawid Janowski

Janowski vs. Marshall

The first match

The first match was played in New York on January 18-21, 1899. It was for five games, with the winner the first to score three points. Marshall scored a surprise win in the first game, but Janowski was victorious after taking three straight games. The Manhattan Chess Club hosted games one, two, and four. The Brooklyn Chess Club, whose champion was Marshall, hosted game three.

Janowski had White in the odd-numbered games

Marshall shows his love for Gambits and employs the Albin's Countergambit in the first game. He skilfully outplays Janowski and compels him to resign with a neat endgame zugzwang.

Match 1, Game 1

Of the three straight games that Janowski won, the second game was the most impressive. Here, he rips Marshall's position with consummate ease:

Match 1, Game 2

The second match

The second match was arranged after Cambridge Springs 1904, where Marshall and Janowski finished 1st and 2nd, respectively. On the heels of their spectacular performances, the match was largely seen as a face-off for the right to challenge Lasker. It was played in Paris from January 24 to March 7, 1905.

The conditions of the match that appeared in the February 1905 issue of the British Chess Magazine ran:

The stakes of 500 dollars each side to be deposited with the President of the Philidor Chess Club. The victory to be decided by attaining the score of eight-won games, drawn games not counting. If the scores should be seven each, the match will be prolonged until one of the players wins ten games, which will then be decisive. If the scores come to nine each, the match will be declared drawn.

Marshall surged ahead by two points twice, but Janowski came back twice to tie the score. Marshall then won three straight from games eleven to fourteen, and clinched the match with another win in game seventeen.

Marshall had White in the odd-numbered games

Marshall's win in the seventh game, one of the shortest in the match, was perhaps the least expected if the opening was to go by. From a quiet Slav Exchange variation, he uses the motif of Ne5 and f2-f4 to launch a decisive kingside-attack:

Match 2, Game 7

Unsurprisingly, Janowski took the defeat sourly. He quickly sent Marshall the following audacious challenge:

Mr. F. J. Marshall, Paris

DEAR Sir: - I consider that the result of our match far from proving our respective abilities. On the contrary, as in the great majority of games I allowed the 'win or draw' to escape me, I am persuaded that normally I should have won very easily.

I therefore challenge you to a return match on the following conditions: - The first winner of ten games to be declared the winner, draws not to count. I also offer you the advantage of four points: that is to say, my first four wins are not to count. Stakes are not to exceed 5,000 francs. JANOWSKI

The third match

The highly anticipated third match turned out to be a private affair. It was played in the residence of Janowski's noted patron, the wealthy art dealer Leo Nardus, in the Parisian suburb of Suresnes. The match ran from January 17 to February 4, 1908.

In this race to five, Janowski built a three-point lead after four games. Marshall rallied for two wins in games six and seven, but Janowski scored two straight wins of his own in games nine and ten to wrap up the match, 6½-3½.

Marshall had White in the odd-numbered games

Game one turned out to be an all-out affair where both sides go for a mate. Marshall ends up overestimating his attacking chances.

Match 3, Game 1

The fourth match

The fourth match took place four years later. A passage in the New York Sun's September 22, 1912 issue sheds light on this encounter:

When writing to a friend in this city, Marshall distinctly states this is not a match at all, that at the request of M. Nardus of Paris the masters were asked to play a series of ten exhibition games, the Parisian Maecenas paying a fee for each game. Both players consider these games good practice for the forthcoming New York-Havana Congress.

Notwithstanding Marshall's statement, this match was certainly played in the same spirit as all the others. Like the third match, this was made possible by the patronage of Leo Nardus. The art dealer this time sweetened the pot with a trip to the resort of Biarritz in southwestern France.

Janowski struck first. Marshall, however, turned the tables with a brilliancy in game three and cruised to victory, 7-3. Here is the famous 12...Qxf3 game:

Match 4, Game 3

The New York Sun released a report on the match in its October 6, 1912 issue. The report highlighted the intense and exciting struggle between the dynamic players. It ran:

Although not always successful, there are no more interesting chess masters to be found at the present day than the American champion, Frank J. Marshall, and the Franco-Polish expert, D. Janowski. A careful perusal of the games they played at Biarritz will show that these men do not believe in waiting tactics. Neither of them expects his adversary to beat himself, but they go hammer and tongs at each other and do not mind the consequences. Their object seems solely to be to create complicated and exciting positions and thus make it worth their while to fight.

Janowski had White in the odd-numbered games

The fifth match

Marshall and Janowski had thus split the first four matches, and a fifth and deciding match was only proper. It was fitting that the fifth one was played where the players' rivalry began — in New York at the Manhattan Chess Club. Originally scheduled for ten games, Marshall won it after scoring 5½ points in eight games. This match was played from June 1-15, 1916.

Marshall's best effort was arguably game four, where he catches Janowski in a mating net after a series of powerful moves:

Match 5, Game 4

Marshall and Janowski would not have stopped at a fifth match. A notice appeared in the May 20, 1917 issue of the Philadelphia Inquirer that they had prepared for a sixth encounter. The notice read:

We note that Frank J. Marshall, the American champion, and Dawid Janowski, of Paris, have agreed to play a match of eight games up. Play to start July 5. A new feature has been introduced in this match, in that drawn games will only count a quarter of a point for each player and the winner must have a clean lead of not less than two games. Time limit forty moves in the first two hours and twenty moves thereafter. Part of the games will be played in New York and the balance most probably at Atlantic City.

For certain reasons, however, the match failed to materialize.

Janowski had White in the odd-numbered games

In all the five matches, Janowski and Marshall played 49 games. Marshall won three of these, and the score stood in his favour at 21 wins, 16 losses, and seventeen draws.

Marshall and Janowski quite obviously relished the challenge of facing each other. The matches were closely fought as the overall 3-2 sore indicates, and the rivalry would not have gone for so long if they were not evenly matched. Each game won was hard-earned, and every match victory was a feather in their cap.

In all, the matches between Marshall and Janowski were a clash of the pride of two great chess players, and a test of their fearless, fighting styles. Their match games are valuable pieces of chess history.


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Eugene holds a degree in Bachelor of Arts, Creative Writing, which he obtained from the University of the Philippines, Diliman. Chess and writing are his passions, and one often completely absorbs him that he totally neglects the other. His other interests include classic literature, biographies, powerful memoirs, sports, and the visual arts. He spends his spare time doting on his two lovely daughters.