GM Jan Gustafsson: The Marshall Attack

by ChessBase
10/29/2010 – "I gave it full marks, five out of five," writes reviewer GM Hedinn Steingrimsson about his colleague's new DVD. Jan Gustafsson is a leading expert on the Marshall Attack, especially in the attacking lines where Black plays uncompromisingly for a win. "This might very well be the best opening DVD that ChessBase has produced," says Steingrimsson. Review with video samples.

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Jan Gustafsson: Black repertoire against 1.e4

By GM Hedinn Steingrimsson

I became interested in this DVD after watching some of the clips of the new Chessbase Tutorial series, where Gustafsson does a very good job. Although my expectations were high, I was pleasantly surprised.

The Marshall Attack, which arises after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 0-0 with the idea if 8.c3 to play 8…d5, has the reputation of being a very reliable drawing weapon in top level chess. This is somewhat surprising since the arising positions in the critical variations are quite sharp and Black often has an interesting initiative. The fact is that White has to be very careful and excellently prepared, since in many cases seemingly natural moves by White can lead to a quick loss due to a mating attack.

Even at high level it now and then occurs that White gets mated right out of the opening, as was the case in the famous game Naiditsch-Gustafsson from the European Championship in Dresden 2007, where Black won without having to find a single move at the board. This is basically everything that one can ask for from an opening for Black, that White needs to spend hours analyzing it in order not to loose the game straight away and that the opening is sound, meaning that the arising positions nevertheless do not provide White with any objective advantage.

There are, many ways to interpret the Marshall, and the fact is that even if the queens are exchanged, the position is objectively in many cases a draw, although White can try for a while. I suppose that games on a professional level, where Black heads for one of these positions right out of the opening, have played a big role in giving the Marshall Attack this draw reputation. Gustafsson, who by the way is a leading Marshall expert, interprets the opening in a more aggressive way, preferring to avoid queens exchanges and playing for compensation for the sacrificed pawn in the form of an attack on the white king. I am sure that the inventor of the idea, Marshall, would have agreed with that. The repertoire that he presents is thus one where Black plays for a win in every line. This approach has served Gustafsson very well, as can be seen from the fact that he has not lost a single game in the Marshall attack, only made some draws and won quite a reasonable number of games.

In general I like this DVD very much and think that it might very well be the best opening DVD that ChessBase has produced. The reasons for that are:

  1. Gustafsson is a true expert in the variation, his presentation is very good, he remembers all the relevant lines very well and in general manages to use the time of his audience very effectively. Some DVDs are quite slow and one can do other things while watching them. Not this one. Gustafsson also has a clear idea of the material that he wants to present resulting in a very well structured presentation of each line.

  2. Gustafsson manages to use the multimedia format very well. He explains Black's plans and long term ideas quite well while discussing the currently most interesting variations. It would, however, be an interesting improvement to go a bit further into this direction, that is start with a bit more general discussion of the basic ideas of the opening that is being covered and classical games before coverage of the concrete theory starts.

  3. The files that are presented with the DVD are probably the best that I have seen come with an opening DVD. Here you get detailed analysis of all the lines presented in a very neat and sensible way. The information that one needs to know in order to play this variation on a high level is presented in a manner that makes it reasonably easy to learn it.

Gustafsson's Marshall Attack gets the highest possible marks, five out of five possible stars. Excellent work! I hope that we will see many opening DVDs from Gustafsson.

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