Posts Tagged ‘Chess Opening Theory’

The Fabulous 00s: Chess.FM and Handling the Smith-Morra

October 18, 2008

Defending the Smith-Morra – Updated with PDF ‘treatise’

I recently made some videos for Chess.FM and they will be released in November 08.  The theme is playing black in the Sicilian when white diverges from the main lines.  One of the segments is on the Smith-Morra gambit.   I was happy to see Alex Lenderman present ideas for the white side so I could advance those and further his analysis from the black perspective.   That’s what chess theory is, the give and take of various opinions coupled with practical examples and reader independent analysis and Q&A.

This web entry will serve as a placeholder so readers can comment on the variations I presented.  If you don’t want to wait for the video release, I will post the key lines here.  I will also create a single PDF document covering all the lines that readers can download for a nominal fee.

It’s nice to see controversy swirling around an opening (see comment section of this web entry) and it is a nice impetus to motivate the web effort to get at the truth.  Much like the Internet Engineering Task Force “does not worship Kings of Presidents, only running code” so should we only really pay attention to chess positions and their evaluations, not chess personalities attacking one another.

Installment 1. Smith-Morra background and Historically Important Games

Installment 2 (PDF Format): Smith-Morra Introduction and Lenderman’s try 6…a6 7. e5!?

Update Oct 22, 2008:  Font problems fixed!  I saved the RTF as PDF on my end to capture the Diagram fonts.

Kramnik WC Problems and Mid-course Repetoire Change

Kramnik should switch to 1. e4! Critics said “he has nothing against Anand’s Petroff.”  Well he can try this. Other critics said “he has nothing against Anand’s Marshall.”  But there are a lot of scary Anti-Marshall treatments, aren’t there?  :O

ICC Best in the 5 minute pool

Thanks to exciting wins, losses, and draws mostly versus the same guy (GM Atomrod), I have made the big-time.

best 5
(Human only)
2705 Dako(GM)             GM Dmitry Kononenko
2700 BOOO
2624 quangliem(GM)     GM Le Quang Liem (Vietnam, FIDE 2583, 17 years old)
2613 Shadeath(GM)        GM Andrey Deviatkin, 2563
2593 Olegas(IM)             Oleg Krivonosov (this guy flags K R v K R)
2561 MegaZZ(GM)         Now a GM,  Zong Yuan Zhao (Australia)
2541 DrainYou(GM)        GM Sune Berg Hansen (DEN) I beat Soren Bech Hansen. 🙂
2533 taktikus(GM)          GM Zoltan Medvegy (HUN, FIDE 2556) I recently drew him.
2531 Saint89(IM)           IM Sergei Yudin, FIDE 2556, RUS
2528 atalik(GM)             GM Suat Atalik, TUR
2521 Gor(IM)                 IM Igor Yanvarjov I have beaten him oodles of times, usually by swindle.
2519 UzbekDragon(GM)      GM Timur Gareev (UZB) FIDE 2580
2504 wasteoftime(IM)
2494 Dlugy(GM)             GM Maxim Dlugy
2493 aries2(IM)             me!
2493 Sauerkraut(GM)      GM Slavko Cicak  He has some pet Reti lines!
2478 Zirafa(IM)                IM Jure Skoberne
2470 Dinamit(IM)              Arthur Gabrielyan  I’m always playing him in Dos Hermanas.
2470 Me-better(IM)     IM Thomas Rendle  UK
2468 Snooker(GM)            GM Giannis Nikolaidis
2456 Josanz(IM)
2449 alexser(IM)

Probable Support from St. Petersburg

If Sports Illustrated model Anne V from St. Petersburg, Russia, played chess, she would probably agree with my Smith-Morra opinions.

Anne V:  Probably Excellent Support


The Fabulous 70s: Trying to Make the Early Bishop Move Work

January 5, 2008

In the 1970s, I spent a lot of time (with some help from future IM Steve Odendahl) trying to make this work:

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 Bb4!?


Position after 5…Bb4!? – the so-called “Pin Variation”.

I was particularly interested in 6. e5 Nd5 7. Qg4 g5!? with bizarre complications. Unfortunately the computer shows this is not very good (details shortly). Interestingly, the computer (Rybka in this case; sometimes I use Fritz) does have a good answer for the response advocated by theory: 6. e5 Nd5 7. Bd2. After 7…Nxc3 8. bxc3 Be7 9. Qg4, the computer plays 9….g6 (not 9…O-O?! 10. Bh6 and black has insufficient compensation for the exchange) and has some cleverness in store – see below. The situation is very sharp with white hoping to prove attacking chances outweigh the damaged structure. ICC tests are ongoing.

In the meantime let’s see some analysis.

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 Bb4

Variation “Zero” (an early ‘digression’ sideline): 6. Nb5!? Note I don’t write 6. Ndb5 because the c-knight is pinned!


Position after 6. Nb5!? – an early digression.

Before we get into the main move, 6. e5, first we have to look at 6. Nb5!? – an interesting try. Very safe but rather static for black then is 6…O-O 7. a3 Bxc3+ 8. Nxc3 d5 9. Bd3 (or 9. exd5 exd5 10. Bd3 Re8+ 11. Ne2 Nc6 with equality) 9…d4 10. Ne2 Nc6 11. O-O e5 with an equal game. For more dynamism, my ICC blitz reaction move, 7…Ba5!? is riskier but playable and better to play for a win. It just looks nicer to keep this bishop. For example, 8. b4 Bb6 9. e5 Ne8 and it’s not clear what white has, since 10. Bd3? a6! 11. Nd6 Nxd6 12. exd6 Qf6! is good for black (although white won a minor league game, S. Schubert-T. Geissler, Bochum 1992, after some bad blunders by black later).

Black can also immediately grab but it’s risky: 6…Nxe4?! 7. Qg4! Nxc3 8. bxc3 Bf8 9. Qg3! and white has more than enough compensation.

Conclusion: on 6. Nb5!? black should play 6…O-O and then on 7. a3 he can decide to go simple with 7…Bxc3+ or go complex with 7…Ba5. In both cases, he is fine.

Variation Zero-2: An Even Rarer Early Digression Sideline. 6. Bd3. White is not hoping for anything special; he just wants to avoid black’s preparation after 6. e5. IM Bobby83 likes to play this on ICC. More on this move later.

Let’s go ahead now and look at the main move, 6. e5.

6. e5 Nd5 A preliminary comment. This position does not look so bad for black. Therefore, I predict a revisiting of black’s chances in over the board play as, inevitably, strong players resuscitate forgotten lines with computers. White has some major tries now.

The first thing to notice is that

A. 7. a3 gives nothing: 8…Bxc3+ 8. bxc3 Qc7 9. Nb5 Qxe5+ 10. Qe2 Qxe2+ (note that 10..Qf6 is playable too) and black has no problems; in fact agreed drawn at this point in 1/2-1/2 Alzate,D (2419)-Pazos,P (2363)/Medellin 2000. A possible humorous and realistic continuation is 11. Bxe2 a6 12. c4 axb5 13. cxd5 exd5 with a fantastic rare pawn formation and of course… equality since black’s ruined formation gives him no real chances despite the pawns to the plus.


Position after 13…exd5. The rare “Expanded Pawn Square” formation. It’s equal!

B. Let’s try 7. Qg4. The best reply is 7…g6 -there is insufficient compensation after 7…O-O?! 8. Bh6 g6 9. Bxf8, as has been shown many times, although some points were scored from the black side in early (For example, Julian Hodgson) due to surprise value. And, unfortunately, my 70’s funkiness of 7…g5?!! (TN) is met by 8. Ndb5! and black has a bad game after 8…Nc6 9. Qxg5! Qxg5 10. Bxg5 O-O 11. Bd2 and white keeps an edge.

Let’s go back to 7. Qg4 g6. White has three common responses; the first one being the least important.

B0. 8. a3 – slow. Black’s best reponse is 8…Bxc3+ 9. bxc3 Qc7! 10. Qg3 (what else?) and now black can play 10…Nxc3 11. Bd2 Ne4! or 11. Bd3 Nc6! in both cases with an OK game. For example, 11. Bd3 Nc6 12. Nxc6 Qxc6 13. Bh6 b6! 14. O-O Bb7 with equal chances. Previously, the weak 10…a6? (Czerniak-Van Scheltinga, Helsinki 1952, 1-0 was played). Black also has the somewhat weaker 10…Qxc3+?! 11. Qxc3 Nxc3 12. Bd2 and now 12…Ne4! is correct with a very small white edge and not 12…Nd5? 13. Nb5 and white was on top and won convincingly in Toth-Blasko Fuzesabony 1994.

B1. 8. Qg3 which looks and is slow – but not quite as slow as 8. a3, since it does guard e5.

B2. 8. Bd2 – more logical.

Let’s go through each of these in turn.

Variation B1, 8. Qg3


Position after 8. Qg3.

B1. 8. Qg3 Nc6! This is correct and not 8…Nxc3? 9. bxc3 Be7 10. Bh6 and white has an edge. If 9. Ndb5?! O-O 10. Bh6 a6! 11. Bxf8 Qxf8 and black is getting huge compensation, for example 12. Nd6 f6! 13. Nxc8 Rxc8 14. exf6? Nd4! and black is way on top.

So white should play the more sensible 9. Nxc6 and we reach an important position. 9….dxc6 is OK, but kind of boring, after 10. Bd2 Qa5 11. Be2 Nxc3 12. bxc3 Be7 13. O-O O-O. More dynamic is 9…bxc6!?, for example 10. Bc4 Qa5 11. Bd2 Ba6! with balanced play. Or, 10. Bh6? Qa5! and black is just better: 11. Bd2 (crawling retreat) 11…O-O with an edge, or 11. Kd2? craziness, refuted by 11…Qc5! and the threat of 12…Nxc3 coupled by 13…Qd4+ next will win for black.

Conclusion in Variation B1: 8. Qg3 is harmless and is defused by 8….Nc6!

Variation B2, 8. Bd2


Position after 8. Bd2.

Let’s look at Variation B2, 8. Bd2. Black should play 8…O-O and now there is a large branch. Let’s see some lines.

B20. 9. Qg3 Nc6! transposes to variation B1 and black is happy.

B21. 9. a3?! Bxc3+ 10. bxc3 f5! gives white a bad structure.

The crazy looking but not bad

B22. 9. h4!? is met by the calm 9…d6! 10. h5 dxe5 11. hxg6 fxg6 12. Nf3 Bxc3 13. bxc3 Nc6 14. Bd3 Qf6 and black has sufficient defensive chances. Black also has an alternate defense: 9. h4 Nc6!? 10. Nxc6 dxc6 11. h5 Qc7!? to guard laterally.

On the developing move

B23. 9. Bd3!?, black is advised to play 9…d6! 10. exd6 (or the slow 10. Nf3 Nc6 with equal chances) and then play 10…e5! – looks fine. For example, 11. Nf5 Bxf5 12. Bxf5 Bxc3 13. bxc3 Qxd6 and white has nothing. Chigorin would enjoy his knights here.

A trap to avoid: On 9. Bd3, not 9…Qa5 10. O-O Nxc3 11. a3!! Nxe2+ 12. Qxe2 Bxd2 13. Nb3 and white has an edge! – a fantastic tactical shot.

Another possibility: the weird

B24. 9. Bc4?! is met by the simple two-step 9…d6 10. Nde2 Nxc3 11. Nxc3 d5! – for example, 12. Be2 Nc6 13. f4 f6! and black is doing well. Similarly, 12. Bb3 Nc6 13. O-O-O Qc7 14. f4 Nd4! and black is again fine. On the other hand, the frisky 10…dxe5 11. O-O-O Nc6 12. Bh6 f5 13. Qg3! is dangerous. It’s important to leave white with a bad structure and very few attacking chances.

Finally, we have to consider the primitive capture that displaces white’s own king to weaken only temporarily black’s pawns.

B25. 9. Nxd5?! Bxd2+ 10. Kxd2 exd5. As you might imagine, black has no problems. For example, 11. Qf4 Nc6 = or 11. Bd3 d6 12. Qf4 dxe5 13. Qxe5 Nd7 =.

Conclusion: in variation B2, 8. Bd2 O-O, black has to be very alert because there are numerous attacking tries, each with specific defensive responses. No easy day at the office, but black has enough resources.

In the next post, I will look at Variation C, the main line, which is 7. Bd2.

My original 1970’s notes on 6. e5 Nd5 7. Qg4 g5?! are on tiny pieces of Hotel Lombard (New York City) stationery! This is a good illustration of pre-computer work, very disheveled.

The only organized pre-computer person I saw was backgammon and poker-player IM Elliott Winslow. His notes were in micro-small handwriting with a fine-tip pen – incredibly precise and legible even in tiny (I would say 6 pt. font) writing. He would put incredible margin notes into ECO’s and Informants. What a diligent worker! I wonder how many important TNs came from his writings (one cannot say ‘scribblings’).

Similarly, others have tried another audacious early bishop maneuver to get active on the c5-f2 diagonal and dispense with the “Kan” preventative …a7-a6:

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Bc5!?


Position after the cheeky 4…Bc5!? – The Basman-Sale Variation

We’ll have to discuss this one too because the two tries are thematically linked.

Watch this space for the discussion. For now, simply notice that forcing variations are great in blitz. The chances are high that a rare variation will catch the opposition by surprise, even if they are dubious. Which of the two lines above is ‘superior’ objectively? Hard to say. It might turn out to be the Pin Variation. That’s one of the things we will figure out as the discussion grows. Does this (4…Bc5) have a name? News bulletin as of January 12, 2008: according to chessmanitoba, this is called the Basman-Sale variation (see comments).
Readers: send in any games that are interesting with the Pin Variation or the Early Bc5 Bishop Sortie lines.