Just a bluff or really good? – Daniil Dubov's 8...d5!? in the Anti-Marshall

4/26/2020 – A popular way for White to avoid the Marshall Attack in the Ruy Lopez is the Anti-Marshall (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 0-0 and now 8.a4!?). However, at the European Team Championship 2019 Daniil Dubov shocked his opponent Jonas Bjerre by playing 8...d5!? anyway. Dubov won convincingly and the "Anti-Anti-Marshall" was born. But how strong is 8...d5 really? In the ChessBase Magazine #194 Krisztian Szabo takes a close look and draws first conclusions.

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The Anti-Anti-Marshall

Krisztian Szabo inspects the stunning 8...d5!?

The current survey is dedicated to the following opening line of the Ruy Lopez Anti-Marshall: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 0-0 8.a4 d5!?.

 

Pretty stunning indeed: White plays 8.a4 to prevent the Marshall Attack arising after 8.c3 d5, and what does Black do? Instead of reacting "normally" on the queenside (8...b4 or 8...Bb7), he completely ignores the threat to his b5-pawn and goes for the central thrust anyway! The first player to try this on a high level was Ivan Sokolov, but he lost, and probably people were put off by that. However, recently Dubov managed to win a nice game with Black, so 8...d5!? is likely to become popular soon.

In the diagram, there are two significant differences compared to the original Marshall (8.c3 d5): the b5-pawn is hanging and White can still develop his knight to c3.

White has three captures to choose from: A) 9.Bxd5, B) 9.exd5 and C) 9.axb5.

A) 9.Bxd5

 

This move was given an ! by Wedberg back in1996, but giving up the light-squared bishop should not give Black any trouble equalising. 9...Nxd5 10.exd5 Nd4. A typical central knight jump (the untested 10...Nb4!? is an interesting alternative to the text move, while 10...Qxd5? 11.Nc3! shows an advantage of White not having played 8.c3). 11.Nxd4 exd4 12.axb5 Bb7.

 

White's queenside's development is poor enough, and neither 13.bxa6 nor 13.Qg4 prevents Black from playing 13...Qxd5!, see Dumpor,A - Brenjo,S 0-1.

13.c4

White tries all he can to keep his pawn structure. Here Black should have gone for 13...axb5! 14.Rxa8 Bxa8 15.d3 c6!, opening the position and getting good counterplay for the pawn with his bishop pair, see De Firmian,N - Sokolov,I 1-0.

B) 9.exd5.

 

9...Na5! The first absolutely new move, and the key idea (9...e4?! has been tried before, but without giving Black enough compensation). Black prepares a nice tactical trick. 10.Nxe5 Nxb3.

 

The point is that here the tempting 11.Nc6? runs into 11...Bg4! 12.Nxd8 Bxd1 13.cxb3 Bxb3 with a splendid position for Black, see Tancsa,T - Pasztor,B 0-1. So White has to content himself with 11.cxb3, which is followed by 11...Bb7 12.Nc6 (neutralising the dangerous bishop) 12...Bxc6 13.dxc6 Bc5.

 

All white pieces are on the back rank, and Black's last frightening move exerts pressure on f2. Nevertheless White can bail out here with 14.d4! giving back a pawn, but opening the diagonal of his bishop with tempo. Instead, Bjerre,J - Dubov,D 0-1 saw 14.d3?! Bxf2+! (instantly played by Dubov) 15.Kxf2 Qd4+, and now White can still survive this position if he finds a series of only moves which is very difficult over the board. In the game, Black won quickly!

C) 9.axb5.

 

In my opinion, this is the critical line. 9...dxe4 10.bxc6 exf3 11.Qxf3 e4.

 

Black has some pressure for the pawn, and White is very much behind in development, but after the accurate reply 12.Qe2! Bd6 13.h3 he should be objectively better, see Kovacevic,A - Brenjo,S 1-0

Conclusion: Against White's attempt 8.a4 to calm down the position and play a solid middlegame, 8...d5!? is an extremely exciting idea to seize the initiative in Marshall spirit! Even if with most accurate play after 9.axb5 White is probably better, the structure of the game is dictated by Black who always has the typical compensation for his material deficit. Theoretical preparation is essential with both colours. In this variation, fresh practical games are required - how about you contributing some!?

You will find the full article with analyses and commented games in ChessBase Magazine #194 (March/April 2020).