Who's Afraid of the Smith-Morra Gambit?

Aug 25, 2013, 12:00 AM 65,214 Reads 84 Comments Strategy

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:


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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