The Marshall attack belongs to the great family of positions arising from the Ruy Lopez opening, with a very specific strategy. But, let’s be honest, it is a one-of-a-kind opening and pawn center. So the usual plans in the Ruy Lopez do not exactly apply here.
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The Marshall Attack is in many ways an opening system, or an opening gambit, completely different to normal Ruy Lopez lines with the standard Ruy Lopez tense pawn center. Black offers a pawn in exchange for dynamic play and pressure against the white king.
This pawn formation is important not only because of the Marshall, but because black could be (purposefully or not) allowed to play the move d5 in other positions too, where the ideas discussed below may easily apply.
So consider this to be a chapter not only on the Marshall attack strategy, but on all pawn centers in which black has broken through with an early d7-d5.
Let’s consider what black gets in exchange for the sacrificed pawn. Before we continue, it has to be highlighted that if black gets in d5 “for free”, without having to sacrifice material this early on, then he will have won the opening battle already.
A strong Kingside attack for Black
The strategy for white is, therefore, to develop his queenside pieces as soon as possible.
A queenside play for White
After black has mobilized all his forces and pointed them towards the queenside, white has nothing better but to seek queenside counter play.
The light squared complex
One clear strategic plan in Marshall Attack centers is an onslaught on the light squares. By provoking the move g3, black has eliminated all light squared control in the white camp.
For white, this battle is of vital importance, as a single mistake could mean defeat. White must try and bring his pieces to the defense of f1, g2, h3, f3, and e2 any way he can.
The next part of white’s plan should be trading pieces into an endgame. If white manages to release the pressure, he will stand well with a clear pawn up and with black’s queenside pawns “locked”.
I hope you found this overview of the Marshall attack plans useful. There is one last pawn structure I wanted to tell you about on a next article: the Ruy Lopez exchange pawn center.