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Who's Afraid of the Smith-Morra Gambit?

  • GM Gserper
  • | Aug 25, 2013
  • | 30690 views
  • | 81 comments

I frequently hear the same question from many club players: "The Smith-Morra Gambit is such an exciting weapon against the Sicilian Defense, why don't grandmasters play it? Is there a refutation?" The question is simple, but the answer is not. 

First of all, let me reassure the numerous fans of this opening, there is no refutation of the Smith-Morra, or at least I don't know one. But from the other side, there are many very solid lines that force aficionados of this gambit to work really hard to prove that they have anything for the pawn. And even when White manages to recover the pawn, Black firmly grabs the initiative. The line frequently played by GM Boleslavsky in the 1960s is one of them. Just look how two experienced GMs made it look very easy for Black:

Of course the true enthusiasts of the opening will never give up their favorite toy. Here is how one of the world's biggest experts encounters the Boleslavsky variation:

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Marc Esserman wrote a book on the Morra recently

Which brings back the question: why don't GMs generally play the Smith-Morra if there is no refutation? I cannot answer for all the GMs, but I can tell you why I would never play it myself.

Say my opponent plays the Sicilian and I have a choice to play the Fischer-Sozin Attack or the English Attack (if he plays the Najdorf or Scheveningan), or the Yugoslav Attack (if he plays the Dragon), or the Richter-Rauzer Attack if he plays the Classical system, or... Well, I guess you got the idea: there are many dangerous attacks in the Sicilian that don't require a sacrifice on move two and they are very difficult to defend against. From the other side, I can play a line where I sacrifice a pawn on move two and my opponent has a variety of very reliable systems against it. Hmmm, tough choice.

But if you think I am trying to discourage you from playing this opening, then you missed the point of the article. I am just answering the question why GMs generally don't play the Smith-Morra, not the question if it is good or bad. There are many games where White scored very beautiful wins against extremely strong opponents:

Look at the masterpiece produced by Marc Esserman, isn't it beautiful?

So, should you play the opening that might be impractical, difficult to play, but can bring a lot of joy when the stars align?  It is up to you to decide...


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Comments


  • 5 months ago

    Apotek

    i find the title misleading.normally white ought to be afraid for choosing a rather second-rate opening.my understanding is that it appeals to players who want an early initiative,like piece play and maybe dislike defense.as a blitz opening choice it is perfect.at serious play however,if black does not mind defending for a while,he will almost certainly come out on top,either a pawn to the good in an equal position or with a big advantage with material being equal.with all due respect(im just an average player)the weaker the player the more formidable the morra gambit appears.sadly for the morra gambit lovers it has not discouraged people from playing the sicilian and it is therefore safe to assume that its capacity to cause fear is from minimal to non existent.in fact i would go as far as to say that most black players are very happy to see 3c3 on the board.

  • 7 months ago

    houshy

    In the last puzzle, if after 17... Qxg518. Qe1+!! 

    Black counters by bringing back his queen to e5, i.e. 18... Qe5 instead of

    18 ...Kd8

    Then I think that black defends successfully and is quite alright, say
    if white exchanges queens, then black captures back with the knight and has time to get his king out of a possible rook pin

  • 11 months ago

    fredou_79

    What to you think about Smith-Morra Gambit having very similar pawn structure with Sheveningen, but the white pawn on c2 ?

    How that would affect blacks minority attack with rook on C file if there is no c2 pawn to attack ?

    I know Morra for white doesn't usualy use f4 type attack, but is there a way to connect since structure is so much alike in pawn structure but plans seem to differ ?

  • 11 months ago

    SergioLino1987

    !!!!!

  • 11 months ago

    re9-se

    Grande aula!

  • 11 months ago

    kidrook85

    Why not play just ...Nf6? Seems like a good compromise to not play ...d3 move but still throw white off his game. The c3 sicillian should be familiar to black.

  • 12 months ago

    morgondag

    bomengda sure, but the point is you have to know those "more solid" lines after dxc3 or you will have a dangerous game. After d3 you can just play on relying on general familiarity with sicilian type positions. Even against higher ranking players I have never crashed the opening after d3, I have some times come out maybe a little worse and then lost the middlegame, but never been overplayed just in the first 10 moves or such, even though I know no lines after d3.

  • 12 months ago

    fredou_79

    Hello, what do you think of Edouard Goufelt book on the Morra ?

  • 12 months ago

    AllogenicMan

    Well I'm not! ... I don't see the 'big deal' here.

    And that's the way 'I' see it! ...

  • 12 months ago

    1ceberg

    obrigado.!

  • 12 months ago

    FM Malachi1971

    3...d3 is not the right move unless you know white will play 4.Bxd3.  If you're going to move the pawn a third time, you should make sure you are up a pawn.  Chess 365's opening explorer (slightly) prefers 3...d3, but only if white fails to play 4.c4, a move known to Smith for at least 40 years, and played by, for example, Alex Lenderman.

  • 12 months ago

    GM_rudy

    TQ SIR...If i play French Defend is ok or not?...TQ SIR Again....

  • 12 months ago

    dilgado007

    i Like it

  • 12 months ago

    DefinitelyNotGM

    I never play against the morra, for the simple reason that i don't play the sicilian!

  • 12 months ago

    didiz1016

    I'm not afraid :)

  • 12 months ago

    kidrook85

    d3 seems like a dubious move since you move the pawn for the third time. It will be rounded up in due course and white will be slightly better.

  • 12 months ago

    KageLord

    I wouldn't be too cavalier about the d3 declined line. I beat a 2100 (my rating at the time was 1700 or a bit less) in a tournament game when he played d3 against me. I'm not saying it's necessarily terrible but I always feel comfortably ahead when I'm white against it.

  • 12 months ago

    kerryjbradshaw52

    look me up if  you  not afraid

  • 12 months ago

    DoubIe_Dragon

    Second game - 36. ..Rd1!!  That moved wowed me!

  • 12 months ago

    Mixologist

    I'm not master or GM level (not even close), but I do love playing sicilian.  My favorite chess partner is a slightly stronger player and is more tactical, whereas I'm more positional.  When I play sicilian against him, he likes to play Smith-Morra and wins about 60% of the time.  My experience with it is that white's position is slightly weaker, but if white feels they have a tactical edge on their opponent and their assessment is correct, their chances of winning are good.  I could see at the GM level, where every player is extremely proficient in tactics, it would often be a losing gamble.  However, I think certainly for players under 2000 rating, it's a perfectly good opening if you have the stones to play it.

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