Smith-Morra Gambit: Paulsen Formation [2]


In my previous blogpost with the Smith-Morra Gambit: Paulsen Formation, we could already see how the opening encourages active play and provides tactical opportunities. In my next game I could try-out the pleasure of sacrificing my knight on d5, a typical move in many SMG variations designed to break open the center and launch a brutal attack.

But before we get to the game, how does one know when it’s the right time to “sac the knight”? As in the SMG this usually doesn’t lead to a quick mating sequence or the gain of bigger pieces, it’s not always obvious when to jump into the darkness. Luckily for the gambiteer, Esserman established a list of favorable conditions for this move. No binary algorithm, but the more of these are fulfilled, the better chance your sacrifice will pay off. Here’s the cheat-sheet:

  1. The Black d-pawn is still on the 7th rank (so we can occupy d6 with a pawn)
  2. Black has a knight on c6 (so exd6 wins a tempo)
  3. White’s bishop is on b3 already (so Na5 after exd6 doesn’t win back a tempo)
  4. Black has not castled yet (the further away from castling, the better)
  5. Black played b4 (and lost a tempo)
So what about this position, I reached after 7. ..Bb7?
As you can see, the first four of the mentioned conditions were in place. Not the 5th one, but the move Bb7 itself didn’t contribute to the defense of the kingside either, so moving in was now or never. The only other condition that Esserman didn’t mention, is that Nd5 should actually threaten something, otherwise Black could just ignore the move. But playing mortals, which hungry pawn could ever say decline a free knight? I took my chances – result below! After all, I explained when it’s time to take action, but I didn’t mention why we should be so eager to give up material (other than for the thrill of it). Best is to see the result in-game.
Conclusion: If you’re not ready to step into the darkness with a knight- (or sometimes bishop-) sacrifice without knowing for sure how exactly your compensation will look like or how long it will take before you can cash it in, the Smith-Morra is probably not your thing. If on the other hand this excites you, then the above list can be a good guideline to help you spot the right moment. In my case it lead to a fun game and gave me the initiative I needed to force matters.