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Smith-Morra Gambit


The Smith-Morra Gambit (or simply Morra Gambit) is a gambit against the Sicilian Defence distinguished by the moves 1. e4 c5 2. d4 cxd4 3. c3. It is not common in grandmaster games, but at club level chess it can be an excellent weapon.

The gambit is accepted by:

  • 1.e4 c5 2.d4 cxd4 3.c3 dxc3 4.Nxc3

White sacrifices a pawn to develop quickly and create attacking chances. In exchange for the gambit pawn, White has a piece developed and a pawn in the center, while Black has nothing but an empty space on c7. The plan for White is straight forward and consists in putting his bishop on the c4 square with attack on the f7 square, and control of both the c and d files with rooks, taking advantage of the fact that the black queen can hardly find a suitable place.


The Smith-Morra is named after two players, Pierre Morra from France (1900-1969) and Kenneth Ray Smith of the United States (1930-1999).  Hence in Europe the name Morra gambit is preferred; names like Tartakower Gambit and Matulovic Gambit have disappeared.

Morra published a booklet and several articles about the Smith-Morra around 1950. Smith wrote a total of nine books and forty-nine articles about the gambit. When Ken Smith participated in the international tournament against several top grandmasters in San Antonio in 1972, Smith essayed the Smith-Morra three times, against Donald ByrneLarry Evans and Henrique Mecking, but wound up losing all those games. In fact, when Mario Campos Lopez played the French Defence (1...e6) instead of the Sicilian against Smith, Bent Larsen gave Lopez's move a question mark along with the comment "stronger is 1...c5 which wins a pawn".

An incomplete overview

Black has a wide choice of reasonable defences. 1.e4 c5 2.d4 (sometimes White plays 2.Nf3 and 3.c3) cxd4 3.c3

A) The Morra Gambit Accepted: 3...dxc3 4.Nxc3

Classical Mainline: 4...Nc6 5.Nf3 d6 6.Bc4 e6 7.0-0 Nf6 8.Qe2 Be7 9.Rd1 e5 10.h3 or 10.Be3

Scheveningen setup: 4...Nc6 5.Nf3 d6 6.Bc4 e6 7.0-0 Nf6 (or Be7) 8.Qe2 a6 9.Rd1 Qc7 (probably inferior Qa5) 10.Bf4 (10.Bg5) Be7

Siberian Variation: 4...Nc6 5.Nf3 e6 6.Bc4 Nf6 and 7...Qc7

Nge7 Variations: 4...Nc6 (or 4...e6) 5.Nf3 e6 6.Bc4 a6 (Nge7) 7.0-0 Nge7 (d6 8.Qe2 Nge7 9.Bg5 h6) 8.Bg5 f6 9.Be3

6...a6 Defence: 4...Nc6 5.Nf3 d6 6.Bc4 a6 eventually 7...Bg4

Fianchetto: 4...g6 (4...Nc6 5.Nf3 g6 allows 6.h4!?) 5.Nf3 Bg7 6.Bc4 Nc6

Chicago Defence: 4...e6 5.Bc4 a6 6.Nf3 b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.0-0 and Black plays ...Ra7 at some stage

Early Queenside Fianchetto: 4...e6 5.Bc4 a6 6.Nf3 b5 7.Bb3 Bb7

B) The Morra Gambit Accepted: 3...dxc3 4.Bc4 cxb2 5.Bxb2

This line is to be more similar to the Danish Gambit

C) The Morra Gambit Declined:

Advance Variation: 3...d3

First transpostion to the Alapin: 3...Nf6 4.e5 Nd5

Second transposition to the Alapin: 3...d5 4.exd5 Qxd5 (Nf6) 5.cxd4

The latter has a bad reputation, as square c3 is free for the knight. Still 5...Nf6 (5...e5; 5...Nc6 6.Nf3 e5) 6.Nf3 e6 7.Nc3 Qd6 is likely to transpose to a main line of the Alapin: 2.c3 d5 3.exd5 Qxd5 4.d4 e6 5.Nf3 Nf6 6.Bd3 Nc6 7.0-0 cxd4 8.cxd4 Be7 9.Nc3 Qd6.

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