Capablanca vs Marshall Attack, 100 years later

by Macauley Peterson
10/23/2018 – Exactly 100 years ago today, on October 23, 1918, one of the most famous games in history was played. (Even Wikileaks founder Julian Assange knows about it!) Frank Marshall, one of the world's strongest players at the time, had prepared a very special opening for his game against future world champion Jose Raul Capablanca. Charles Higgie has analysed this game in considerable detail. After studying his explanations you can try playing the Marshall Attack against an engine that matches your skill level. It's fun and can do wonders for your tournament results. | Photos: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Master Class Vol.4: José Raúl Capablanca Master Class Vol.4: José Raúl Capablanca

He was a child prodigy and he is surrounded by legends. In his best times he was considered to be unbeatable and by many he was reckoned to be the greatest chess talent of all time: Jose Raul Capablanca, born 1888 in Havana.


Still a mythic game


Earlier this year we ran a small story about Wikileaks founder Julian Assange mysteriously tweeting a chess position. The position — a search of MegaBase revealed — was from a classic game played exactly 100 years ago today: Jose Raul Capablanca vs Frank Marshall from the first round of the Manhattan Chess Club Masters, which began in New York on this day in 1918. Marshall was the US Champion at the time. Capablanca was still over two years away from becoming World Champion.

What was significant about this game to Assange or his followers remains a mystery. In computer security parlance, Capablanca's name could be taken as a stand-in for "White Hat" which is slang for ethical hacking. But that seems like a stretch.

If the date of the game was of any relevance, we might have expected to see some news related to Wikileaks today, but other than suing the government of Ecuador earlier this week over new "house rules" on a variety of topics including care of his pet cat, we haven't seen any of note. Perhaps that's because Assange's Internet access in London has been severely curtailed since March.

Photo: Public Domain, Library of Congress


As for the history surrounding the game itself, today we refer to the move 8...d5 in the Ruy Lopez as the "Marshall Gambit" although, as we noted in connection with the Assange tweet, historians have uncovered prior examples of the move being played as far back as 1893. It also wasn't true that he saved this move for the fateful 1918 encounter. He'd previously avoided playing 2...Nc6 entirely against Capablanca on several occasions since their 1909 match which the Cuban had won easily.

Here is a thoroughly annotated account of the game, courtesy Chess Magazine:


Reproduced from Chess Magazine October/2018, with kind permission

Like to try the Marshall Attack against the computer?

Play 8...d5 against an engine of your choice and see how well you do

Note that in the above player you can practice ideas you might have found in the annotated game Capablanca-Marshall. You can pick an electronic opponent that matches your playing strength: Very weak opponent (baby mode), Serious amateur (blue tie), Club player (blue T-shirt), Master (Yay!). There are additional buttons for a New game (from the given position), Take back move, Play move forwards, Play now, Get a hint, Switch colours, Analyse with a chess engine. You can change sides by taking back an opponent's move and playing a different one yourself.


Macauley served as the Editor in Chief of ChessBase News from July 2017 to March 2020. He is the producer of The Full English Breakfast chess podcast, and was an Associate Producer of the 2016 feature documentary, Magnus.


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Rational Rational 10/26/2018 05:40
Thanks for marking the anniversary of this iconic game. It is nice how Chessbase reminds us of classic chess moments.
ARK_ANGEL ARK_ANGEL 10/25/2018 01:05
Even in today standards Its really difficult for me to understand how capa managed to survive the attack and promoted a queen despite all the fire power. May be he is truly that really good as legends says. Such an amazing player.
behzadmaha behzadmaha 10/25/2018 04:11
A very good article, thank you.
macauley macauley 10/24/2018 09:42
@MHBChessFan - Sorry about that. An uncaught syntax glitch in the PGN. Fixed.
fons3 fons3 10/24/2018 12:37
Wikileaks likes to tweet puzzles, I don't know why and don't really care (although I do support them). Maybe they just want to keep people interested in what they're doing.

>>What was significant about this game to Assange or his followers remains a mystery.

Maybe the answer lies in Capablanca's annotations.

White took up the gauntlet knowing he would come under attack after, just like Wikileaks and Assange came under attack after exposing government corruption and subterfuge. But white managed to defend and eventually even come out victorious.

Also it's not inconceivable that certain tweets only make sense (or have double meaning) to people who know what's going on behind the scenes.
MHBChessFan MHBChessFan 10/23/2018 11:08
Truncated game. Give us the whole score please. Nuff said...