When Daniil Dubov advanced his queen’s pawn in Batumi last month, he might as well have chewed the head off a bat and set fire to the board. For diehard chess fans, it was a true rock’n’roll moment, still more transgressive for being done in a team event on behalf of Mother Russia. The 23-year-old had just come from a grotty performance at his previous event. ‘They asked me to calm down and not play some ridiculous lines,’ he said with a grin.
His brazen sacrifice is steeped in history. In 1918, Frank Marshall unleashed the related gambit with 8… d5 against José Raúl Capablanca. Never mind that he was not the first to try it, and that Capablanca won the game: Marshall’s concept was vindicated in the long run. In 2019, that gambit bears his name and is universally respected. Indeed, experts playing White often prevent their opponents from using it. For example, Kasparov deployed the ‘Anti-Marshall’ move with 8 a4 three times against Short in their 1993 World Championship match.
Dubov, as Black, was faced with the same Anti-Marshall. The move 8 a4 threatens to dismantle the queenside, so advancing the queen’s pawn à la Marshall is out of the question. Well, that’s what they want you to think. So there were whoops and cheers when Dubov stuck it to the man and did it anyway.
The gambit was dynamite, but no doubt Dubov had tested it extensively and knew perfectly well what he was playing with. His research was perhaps inspired by another innovation from 2007, when a young Polish player Grzegorz Gajewski concocted his own similar gambit. That spectacular game is worth giving in full:
Viktor Kuznetsov–Grzegorz Gajewski
1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 a6 4 Ba4 Nf6 5 O-O Be7 6 Re1 b5 7 Bb3 d6 8 c3 O-O 9 h3 Na5 10 Bc2 d5 11 exd5 e4 12 Ng5 Nxd5 13 Nxe4 f5 14 Ng3 f4 15 Ne4 f3 16 d4 fxg2 17 Ng3 Qd6 18 Be4 Bb7 19 Nf5 Rxf5 20 Bxf5 Rf8 21 Re6 Rxf5 22 Rxd6 Bxd6 23 a4 Bg3 24 f3 Bf4 25 axb5 Bxc1 26 Rxa5 Nf4 27 Qe1 Bxf3 28 bxa6 Nxh3+ 29 Kh2 Bf4+ 30 Kxh3 g1=N+ 31 Qxg1 Rxa5 White resigns
Jonas Buhl Bjerre–Daniil Dubov
European Team Championship, October 2019
1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 a6 4 Ba4 Nf6 5 O-O Be7 6 Re1 b5 7 Bb3 O-O 8 a4 Instead 8 c3 d5 is the Marshall Attack 8…d5 Dubov’s gambit. Already there is a bewildering choice: 9 Bxd5 Nxd5 10 exd5 Nd4 11 Nxe5 Bb7 or 9 axb5 dxe4 10 bxc6 exf3 11 Qxf3 e4 both give Black good play. 9 exd5 Na5 10 Nxe5 Nxb3 11 cxb3 White would like to play 11 Nc6, but 11… Bg4! is a strong riposte. 12 f3 Bc5+ 13 d4 Nxd4!! is complex but ultimately good for Black. 11… Bb7 12 Nc6 Bxc6 13 dxc6 Bc5 14 d3 (see diagram) 14 d4 was better, returning a pawn to expedite development. 14… Bxf2+! 15 Kxf2 Qd4+ 16 Be3? A decisive error. White could walk a tightrope to the draw with 16 Kg3. 16… Ng4+ 17 Kf3 Nxe3 18 Rxe3 Rae8 19 Re2 19 Qd2 Rxe3+ 20 Qxe3 Qxb2 21 Ra3 b4! embarrasses the rook. 19… Qf6+ 20 Kg3 g5! 21 Rf2 Qd6+ 22 Kh3 Qh6+ 23 Kg4 Qh4+ White resigns (in view of 24 Kf5 f6 with Re8-e5 mate to follow).