Why Don't Super-GMs Play the Morra Gambit?

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"Why don't super-GMs play the Morra Gambit?" was a question on Friday's Q&A with Coach Heisman show.

In order to answer that question in more depth than I could during the show, I first would like to refer to an earlier article "What's a Good Opening?"

That particular question depends on your definition of "good", but one thing is clear. In all the most popular GM openings have one thing in common: White fights for a slight advantage/initiative.


Because if the opening sequence was better for White and he could fight for a large advantage, GMs would not play that line with Black.

And, if a sequence did not yield White any advantage (or even a disadvantage) then, with a few exceptions in special circumstances, GMs would not play that line with White.

So there are two reasons that Super-GMs would not play the Morra Gambit for White. Either:

  1. Those GMs don't believe it would lead to positions where White has a good chance to fight for the advantage, or
  2. They do, but that opening is currently "out of fashion"

For those purposes, it doesn't matter what I think about a line or what you think, but it does matter what the GMs think if they are going to play that line. An objective view might be a top engine with its opening book turned off. So I gave 1.e4 c5 2.d4 cxd4 3.c3 to Stockfish 6. After about half-an-hour and 32 ply it gave an evaluation of -0.17. To learn over backwards for White, let's call this at best "equal".

But that means that with best play, White is not getting any advantage.

Also, keep in mind that GMs play in round-robin events where they know who they are playing and with what color well in advance. That's not like playing in a swiss event where your opponent likely has no idea what you are going to play and, even so, may not be too "booked up" on your openings.

The bottom line is that the Morra Gambit is a perfectly good opening which gives White many chances for the initiative. That makes it quite suitable for players of all levels to play in open events. But in the World of the Super-GMs where a small advantage means a lot more than it does in the "class-level" world, the Morra is considered no better than a surprise weapon.

One of the groundrules of the show is that the viewers are suggested to not ask questions that entire books (or at least chapters of books) are need to answer. I feel bad when that happens because the questions are legitimate, but I can't take more than a few minutes on any one question.

For example, someone asked "Can you show me the main ideas of how to play against the Najdorf Variation of the Sicilian?" Even if he had asked me to show him one line, I could hardly do it justice in two minutes!

They write entire books about lines within the Najdorf, like the English Variation (6.f3). And his question was a one which, if given sufficient time, I could take cover, since I played the Najdorf for years. All I had time to do was to show him the main sixth moves such as 6.f3, 6.Be3, 6.Bg5, 6.Be2, 6.Bc4, 6.f4, and I threw in the line from the 1962 Varna Olympiad Fischer-Najdorf game, 6.h3.

"Do you think at your age [64 quickly going on 65 - DH] you could become a GM?"

Short answer: "No, unless I bribed enough people."

Here is a link to a page with all of my articles and blogs. Many of these cover questions that are repeatedly asked on the show, so if you have never browsed this page, you are almost sure to find some of interest. Smile