Smith-Morra Gambit

  • IM Silman
  • | Jun 15, 2009

Srikanth Narahari asked:

The following variation of the Smith-Morra Gambit is one of my favorite opening lines with White:

1.e4 c5 2.d4 cxd4 3.c3 dxc3 4.Nxc3 Nc6 5.Bc4 e6 6.Nf3 d6 7.O-O a6 8.Qe2 Be7 9.Rd1 b5 10.Bb3 Ra7 11.Be3 Rd7 12.Rac1 Bb7 13.Nxb5 axb5 14.Qxb5 Nf6 15.Rxc6 Bxc6 16.Qxc6 O-O 17.Ba4 e5 18.Nxe5 dxe5 19.Rxd7 Nxd7 20.Qxd7 Qxd7 21.Bxd7 Rd8 22.Ba4 Rc8

Upon trying to evaluate the final position, I observed that white must give up the pawn on e4 in order to be able to make use of the two passed pawns "a2" and "b2." In the aforementioned position, white can prevent the a4-e4 rook fork by playing 23.f3; however, that would delay the maneuver of white's king from g1 to close to the passed pawns. Instead, if white chooses to go with 23.Kf1 Rc4 24.Bb3 Rxe4 25.Ke2, white's pawn loss could be compensated by the rapid shift of the king from the K-side to the Q-side.

I find myself unable to evaluate this position any further. I fail to see which side's position is truly superior, although I personally find white's position preferable. Your opinion regarding this position would be greatly appreciated.

Dear Mr. Narahari:

Yow! You seem to know what you're talking about, while I've never seen this line before. However, I'll bravely march on and tackle it, risking nothing less than public humiliation and, ultimately, ritualistic seppuku.

First off, let me state that I have little to no respect for the Smith-Morra Gambit. While it IS indeed dangerous against an unprepared opponent, someone that's armed with the best lines for Black can expect equality at the worst, and in many cases an advantage. I feel that there are three lines for Black that stand out above all the others. First up, the Finegold Gambit (don't forget to click on MOVE LIST to see all the text and moves):

Next up is a nameless system that Langrock (the man that wrote the definitive book on the Smith-Morra) called, "clever".

Finally we come to the most threatening line of all -- the Morra Killer!

Anyway, I apologize for getting so far off point! Let’s return to the line that interests you and your question:


  • 12 months ago


    My Smith Morra Gambit game against a player rated almost 100 points above me. I gave up two pawns and got into a position that was simply crushing. White wins at move 19 due to a blunder by black. Nevertheless the meaningless game continues after that.


  • 22 months ago

    IM pfren

    I'm afraid I fail to see reasons to be cheerful about Esserman's h3/Qb3 plan. It's quite clear that white is struggling to prove compensation for the pawn.

    White probably had to opt for 19.Bxh5 Nxf4 20.Nxf4 exf4 21.Rxf4 Bf6, which is slightly better for Black according to the engines, but I think white should have no real problems drawing.


    In another correspondence Taylor variation game, white (named Taylor) followed Esserman's analysis down to the last move- and lost.

    Moral of the story: A mule does not become a lion if you paint it yellow. White probably has enough to draw in the Taylor variation, but he still has to prove it: the ball is firmly in his court.

  • 23 months ago


    As Marc Esserman showed well in Mayhem in the Morra, all these analysis are flawed. For example, against the "Morra Killer" (namely known as Taylor Defense), White DOESN'T have to play moves like Bg5 or Qe2. He simply plays Bf4, and now Bg4 will be meet by h3, Bh5, Qb3!, that is unpleasant for Black

  • 3 years ago


    In the Finegold Gambit here cited as a modest refutation of the Smith-Morra, would not 12. Nxf7 be crushing for white...?

  • 3 years ago


  • 3 years ago


    at last,i got to know about how to beat smith-morra gambit. whenever i play c4 in reponse to e4, players usually play smith-morra gambit nad easily defeat me 

    thank you, silman for helping me. Smile

  • 4 years ago


    I will have to admit, the lazy man's approach to being more successful vs the gambits like Smith-Morra is to avoid it with a move like the ...d5 variation.

    I have to be objective and say this.  What takes years to do by beating around the bush is done a lot faster if taken on directly and persistently.  I do recognize that you will take some brutal beatings by taking on the gambit directly.  That is a fact.  Let's add this as well -- you will become much better vs the gambit by taking it on directly while at the same time studying TACTICS TACTICS, reviewing your game, studying the lines vs the gambit.

    You will be better faster.  Also, remember regardless of the level played, White HAS TO EARN his win.  He has to play better than you to win, regardless of you taking the gambit or not.

    What I know now about handling gambits made me think " I should have started earlier to learn all this.  I would have been better vs them earlier and faster." 

  • 4 years ago


  • 5 years ago


    One of the best methods for learning chess is "fighting" with a chess computer. The wisdom of this has been proven I think. What do you think? I enjoy this site very much.

  • 6 years ago


    Bobby moore v jeremy silman.

    in the hands of a senior master the morra can be a weapon.

    no doubt.

    i know bobby btw.

  • 7 years ago


    Gambits are about position – the end.  And the Smith-Morra gambit doesn’t give white any positional advantage as far as we can see.  We can all agree that white is developed, files are open, pieces are ready, etc.  But after reading the many different analyses above, I think white would be better off AVOIDING this gambit, even against an average player who has never heard of this opening.


    White loses with this opening unless black has suicidal ambitions of his own.

  • 7 years ago


    It seems that the three mentioned lines result in the illustrated outcomes only due to inaccuracies on white's part. Specifically,

    1) In the Finegold system, 9. Rd1 should be played before pushing onto e5. This maintains the pressure on black's position. On the other hand, a move like 9. e5 allows black to trade material, which is not favorable for white. With a material disparity of this sort, white would only want to trade if she or he can trade almost all the powers and then arrive at an endgame with two connected passed pawns on the a and b files.

    2) In Langrock's "clever" system, 10. Be3 works more in tandom with the themes of the Smith-Morra gambit. Specifically, a move like 10. Bf4 would allow black to play e5 and defend with tempo, whereas white would be best off maintaining his or her lead in piece activation and attack organization.

    3) It would be more accurate to call the "Morra Killer" Bg5 killer. Many people believe that in gambit openings, you must try to rip the opponent's position apart very quickly, and this may well be true with openings like the Queen's gambit, King's gambit, Benko gambit, Muzio gambit, and so on. However, there is reason to believe that such an approach may not work to succeed with the Smith-Morra gambit. Consider the following situation. As usual, there is one move that seems justifiable though not sound, one that is fundamentally sound in general, and one that is optimal in this opening line. If white were to move, what would you do? Hint: white is not trying to equalize but rather trying to gain an edge, and the best move in this position will help white achieve that.

  • 7 years ago


    Mr. Silman,

    This is to express my belated gratitude for your reply. As you mentioned, the final position is indeed difficult to assess in the sense that white may or may not be able to force a win. However, you have drawn my attention to some very interesting sidelines.

    As for the 12. Na4 line, I will soon write and share an article regarding why one would want to choose it and why I prefer 12. Nxa4. In the same article, I want to include two other very interesting lines, namely 8. ... Qc7 and 9. ... Qc7.


  • 7 years ago


  • 7 years ago

    NM ih8sens

    Wow, the guy who singlehandedly raised my rating 200 points is on =D!!!


    Got a kick out of this blog :P... "I know nothing about this line but..." and then proceeds to rhyme off the most precise analysis of the smith morra I've seen in ages. :P.


    Welcome aboard!  I'd die for a correspondence game if you're up for one? :P

  • 7 years ago


    thank you!!!

  • 7 years ago


    Check out my article offering a basic statistical analysis of the results of amateur opening choices: There you will see that the Smith-Morra scores very well on the amateur level, but either of the standard methods for declining the gambit (3... Nf6 and 3... d5) result in white losing all advantage. Of course, IM Silman is correct that this opening is objectively garbage, which is why it is rarely played on the GM level, but it is difficult for amateurs to play against. That is why I would suggest that all but the true theory dogs among amateurs avoid it when playing the Sicilian.

  • 7 years ago


    easy =

  • 7 years ago



  • 7 years ago


    Na4??? why cant black just leave it if its worst to take?

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