Posts Tagged ‘Smith-Morra’

The Fabulous 00s: The Smith-Morra, again?

September 26, 2009

Dealing with the Smith-Morra Again

The recent USCL Week 4 GOTW Esserman-Bartell put the Smith-Morra on the map yet again!  I thought it was dead and gone ever since Smith-Evans and Smith-Mecking, San Antonio 1972.

The Flexible Variation

After listening carefully to Manest (Alex Lenderman) material presented on ICC Chess.FM, I came up with improvements for black in what I think should be the main line of defense,

1. e4 c5 2. d4 cxd4 3. c3

Losing a Center Pawn for....

Losing a Center Pawn for....

White gambits a center pawn for space and a lead in development. If black can catch up in development without making any concessions, he will be left with that extra pawn.  The best defensive lines always involve being careful not to make concessions.

3…dxc3 4. Nxc3 Nc6 5. Bc4 d6 6. Nf3

And now I term the “Flexible Variation” the careful 6…a6!? leaving the option of Bc8-g4 open.  It is very appealing to me not to shut in the B/c8 quite yet.  However and of course, thousands of games have seen black defend with an early e7-e6 as well.  The “Flexible Variation” was espoused by GM Evans all those moon ago (tournament book, San Antonio, 1972).

A manuscript in PDF format on the Flexible Variation (Lenderman white suggestions  with my additional lines) has been very popular with thousands of downloads. The amusing thing about many of the lines in the manuscript is that black manages to get an attack on the white king when white overpresses, a highly unusual occurrence in this variation!   I think this is the way to play that is the soundest coupled with the most chances for counter-attack and victory.  However, there is a more solid option, namely…

The Solid Gulko Defense

We note in the Esserman-Bartell game, black chose to shut in the B/c8 with an early ….e6 which is perfectly sound if he plays accurately.  In fact, a Lenderman-Gulko game did see black play the right way so we should mention it.  I have no doubt that Gulko’s defense was taught to thousands of school kids in Soviet chess academies but since we don’t have those, Bartell was left out in the proverbial cold.

1. e4 c5 2. d4 cxd4 3. c3 dxc3 4. Nxc3 Nc6 5. Bc4 d6 6. Nf3 e6 7. Qe2 Be7 Note Gulko plays e6 and Be7 before Nf6.

8. O-O Nf6 9. Rd1 e5 and now Lenderman went wrong with the illogical 10. Bb5? Bg4 11. Qc4 O-O 12. Bxc6 Rc8 and white had a bad game.  Gulko duly won. I think this was a World Open a few years back…?

The question is, what does black do if white plays normally?

Well, let’s say he gears up with a3 and b4 as Esserman played in the Bartell game.

10. a3 O-O 11. b4 Be6! Black is smart to not play a6 yet.  It is much more important to get development completed fast to check what white is up to.  This well-timed …Bc8-e6 is just in time to neutralize white.

As Solid as Gulko

As Solid as Gulko

And now… nothing is really going on!

12. Bxe6 fxe6 13. Qa2 Qd7 is actually slightly better for black since 14. Ng5 Nd8! leads nowhere; and on 12. Nd5 black has the luxury of ignoring it and playing 12…Rc8!.   This is smart because white gets nowhere with 13. Nxe7+ Qxe7 winning the bishop pair but getting rid of his own most active piece and black is quite solid with an extra pawn.

Note in the Bartell game black incautiously took on d5 at a bad moment, after wasting time with Bc8-d7-e6, and got driven completely back and flattened.  He also didn’t want or need the move b7-b5.

Conclusion:  The Gulko Defense is smart because we dispense with …a6 and get on with development to neutralize white’s initiative.

Overall Conclusion:  It’s a tossup to play solidly (the Gulko Defense) or try the sharp counterattacking ideas in my “Improved Manest Flexible Variation” which starts with 6…a6 reserving the possibility later of …Bc8-g4.  The latter variation probably offers more winning chances and so appealing to Sicilian players….

2nd Overall Conclusion:  Any Sicilian Player needs to be ready with one of these.

Lesson by Analogy

Take a quick look at the Esserman-Bartell game score.

1.e4 c5 2.d4 cxd4 3.c3 dxc3 4.Nxc3 Nc6 5.Nf3 d6 6.Bc4 e6 7.0-0 Be7 8.Qe2 Nf6 9.Rd1 e5 10.Be3 0-0 11.Rac1 Bd7 12.a3 a6 13.b4 b5 14.Bb3 Be6 (obvious time-wasting, much better and perfectly playable was 14…Rc8!  Black can always do Be6 later if need be, without tactical problems) 15.Nd5 Bxd5? (15…Rc8! is still the most careful! After, e.g., 16. h3 (what else?) now black can safely play 16…Bxd5 17. exd5 Nb8 with a fighting middlegame in prospect, 18. Nxe5?? fails to 18…Rxc1.  The fact that the BR is on c8 makes all the difference.) 16.exd5 Nb8? Despite the earlier inaccuracies, this is really the huge blunder.  16…Na7! and 17. Nxe5? does not work due to 17…dxe5 18. d6 Bxd6 19. Bc5 Nc8!.   After, e.g., 17. h3 Qd7 black is not by any means losing.  It’s not optically nice with the N on a7 but at least he has an extra center pawn.

17.Nxe5! It’s gone already but it was pleasing to GOTW judges.  They don’t like defense or a well-contested game except for, apparently, Michael Aigner and Greg Shahade judging from the post-GOTW commentary.

17…dxe5 18.d6 Bxd6 19.Bc5 Bxc5 20.Rxd8 Bxf2+ 21.Qxf2 Rxd8 22.g4 a5 23.g5 Nfd7 24.Qxf7+ Kh8 25.Qe7 Rf8 26.Qxf8+ Nxf8 27.Rc8 Black resigns 1-0

Given our discussion of the Gulko defense, where is the key improvement?  Yes, you guessed it, 11…Be6! is the right move.

11...Be6!  The Right Defense!

11...Be6! The Right Defense!

In defense of white’s opening choice, after 11…Be6! the wild wing lunge 12. b4! (something Esserman likes to play) black is only equal after 12…Nxb4 or 12…Bxc4; no trace of an advantage.  The game will fizzle out and sail into Draw Harbour.  There are some other kooky lines here too.  After 11…Be6 12. Bxe6 fxe6 white again can try the wild 13. b4 – a move I’ve seen Esserman play in similar situations.  Black can defend with 13…Ng4! 14. Bc5 Qe8! 15. Bxd6 Bxd6 16. Rd6 Qe7! lining up the rook and the b4 pawn.  Or, 13…Ng4! 14. b5 Nxe3! 15. Qxe3? Nd4! and black stands well due to the tactical point 16. Nxd4 Bg5! – OUCH!  Better would be 15. fxe3 Na5 16. Nxe5 and at least white got his pawn back at the cost of structure.  That position is equal after 16…Qe8 or 16…Bg5.

Finally, a variation from Outer Absurdistan: 11…Be6! 12. Bd5 Ng4 13. Bc5!? Nf6 14. Be3 Ng4 repeating!  Black can also risk 12…Qe8 to play on or tempt white into the amusing 12…Bxd5 13. exd5 Nb8 and hope white plays 14. Nxe5 analogous to the Bartell game.  If 14. Nxe5 the whole thing might blow up in white’s face: 14…dxe5 15. d6 Bxd6 16. Bc5?? Bxc5 17. Rxd8 Rxd8 18. Qxe5 Bxf2!+ (This old tactical chestnut!) and black wins.  Or, 16. Nb5 Ne8 17. Bc5 Nc6! and black is better.  Bartell unfortunately allowed really one of the only structures where the Nxe5 trick works. Usually it backfires as in these lines.


I am particularly interested in reader comments on the Flexible Variation PDF manuscript.

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 00s: USCL Week 8 and Strange Hate Blog

October 16, 2008

Scorpions Problems Persist

The Scorpions lost in Week 8 (again!, sigh) to Seattle 1.5-2.5.

M. Ginsburg – S. Mikhailuk (2437), Gruenfeld Exchange

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 d5 4. cxd5 Nxd5 5. e4 Nxc3 6. bxc3 Bg7 7. Nf3 c5 8. Rb1

The key move popularized by Gelfand and Khailfman to reduce g7-a1 pressure. In many lines later on Bc1-b2 trading bishops and weakening black’s dark squares occurs.

8…O-O 9. Be2 cxd4 10. cxd4 Qa5+ At present, the main line.

11. Bd2 Qxa2 12. O-O a5 12… b6 and 12…Bg4 are big alternatives.

13. Qc1!?
White has other moves here too but the text is very interesting.

13…Qe6 Black has to evacuate his queen.

14. Bc4!? 14. Re1 is possible too. An amusing variation is 14…Qxe4 15. Bc4 Qg4 (15…Qc6 is weaker) 16. Bh6 Qd7 17. Ne5 Qd8 (Black’s queen wanders and makes a strange impression, but nothing for white can be seen here except:) 18. Bg5 Bf6 19. Bh6 with a repetition draw!   In retrospect, there is another interesting move I did not see here – it is 14. e5!? Nc6 15. Qc5! establishing a bind!  If 15…Rd8 16. Rb5! keeps pressure!   Black’s …a7-a5 has a drawback of increasing white’s pressure on the b-file and this line needs further investigation.

Position after 14. Bc4

14…Qxe4 Black might as well do this.  14…Qd7 15. Bf4 Nc6 16. Bb5 Qd8 17. d5 Nd4 18. Bc7! is a funny queen trap variation showing the dangers of not taking on e4. Now the game is very sharp.

15. Bxf7+ Rxf7! The best defense. 16. Qxc8+ Rf8 17. Qc4+ Nothing is offered by 17. Qxb7 Qxb7 18. Rxb7 a4 with an equal game after the thematic 19. Rxe7 a3.

17…e6 18. Ng5!? Possible is 18. Ne5 but black holds after 18…Qd5 or 18…Ra6.


Position after 18…Qd5

19. Qd3?! Not very impressive.   Just because an opening starts out attacking doesn’t mean white is committed to always attack! The right team-choice at this point is safety with 19. Rfc1! and white will regain the pawn with an equal game.   An example is 19. Rfc1! Ra6  (19…Bxd4?? 20. Nxe6 Qxc4 21. Rxc4 Bxf2+ 22. Kf1! (but not 22. Kh1?? Re8! 23. Rxb7 Ra7! and black is doing more than simply escaping) and white wins) 20. Qxd5 exd5 21. Rxb7 Bxd4 22. Be3! Bxe3 23. fxe3 Rc6 24. Ra1 and white is too active for black to try anything.  Not very good, on the other hand, is the immediate 19. Qxd5?! exd5 20. Rxb7 Nc6 21. Rc1 Nxd4 22. Rcc7. At first glance this looks scary but after the simple 22…Be5 23. Rxh7 a4! black is asserting himself.

19… Rf5

Insane in Space?  No thanks, I’ll do it at the chessboard.

20. Rfc1?? This is the last straw.  White had the simple 20. Qe2 hitting e6 with an OK game. In black’s time trouble, white becomes totally irrational.

20…Nd7 To show the ineptitude of white’s play, 20…Nc6 was also very strong: 21. Rc5 Qxd4!.

21. Rc7 Bxd4 The rest is a massacre.

22. Qh3 Bxf2+ 23. Kh1 h5 24. Qc3 Bd4 25. Qc4 Raf8 26. h4 Qxc4 27. Rxc4 Rf1+ 0-1

And when IM Altounian emerged out of his secret alcove to announce that he, too, lost, I knew the Scorpions unpleasant losing streak was likely to continue (although good game by the resurgent Warren Harper on board 4).

Bizarre post from Hikaru Nakamura.

Nakamura flames on his blog, “Another note which I’d like to comment on is that I recently noticed GM Wolff annotated the game Esserman-Lian and said the Smith-Morra is a bad opening. I do not believe someone like Wolff who has been retired from chess for so many years and would rather make money at a hedge fund than play chess has any right to comment on the current state of chess theory. I would also straight up say that in a 10 game match in the Smith-Morra, Wolff would lose to Esserman if he played black.”

Why the hating on Wolff?  Wolff helped Anand in the World Championship cycle.  It wasn’t in the 1800’s. That work, I would hazard to guess, involved some openings. The Smith-Morra isn’t very good, as Hikaru knows, (soon Chess.FM audiences will know too), so why this bluster?  And why would he posit that Esserman can beat Wolff in a match?  I would hazard to guess that Wolff can improve on Esserman’s (not very highly rated) opponents quite sub-standard defenses. A very bizarre hate-burst on Naka’s part.   Is it because he hates Wolff’s hedge fund?  Or some other behind the scenes reason?  Is it the bad memory of the unnecessary Bhat defeat spraying poop mist on his soul and causing an unprovoked torrent of bluster?  He should apologize (not that this ever happens).

This is one of the strangest chess blogs I’ve seen in a long time, leaping from unsubstantiated to hostile and winding up in ludicrous (the laughable “match prediction”).     It’s hardly worth the time for Wolff or Esserman to comment, it’s so silly and spiteful.

The Fabulous 00s: The Chess.FM Juggernaut and… how to Improve your Openings!

July 3, 2008

Chess on the Radio?!

A couple of years ago, “Tony Rook” (you might guess this fellow was using a moniker) introduced a webcast which included various chess programming, naming it Chess.FM.  His enterprise was acquired and made part of ICC, the Internet Chess Club.

These days, there are many Chess.FM shows including live coverage of top events such as MTel, Dortmund, and so on.  There are also entertaining opening shows such luminaries as GM Har-Zvi, GM Alterman, and IM Lenderman.  In particular, Alex Lenderman devoted some time to resuscitating the Smith-Morra Gambit, 1. e4 c5 2. d4 cxd4 3. c3.
I felt it was time to speak for the other side because I’m allergic to pitching a center pawn so early.  So I am bringing some new Chess.FM shows to the table, showing the black side versus various Sicilian deviations from standard Open Sicilians – the Smith-Morra, 2. c3 Alapin, and so on.

Most of the games I present are in the library ‘aries’ on ICC so readers can play them over later.
I mention some training techniques to learn openings better in the show but it’s best to repeat them here.

Improving Your Chess!

Did I get your attention? Good. Now, pay attention!

Opening Training Techniques: How to use the Computer Effectively for Thrills and Rating Points

Computer Basics

  • Get a decent laptop or desktop PC with at least 1 GM RAM
  • It’s best if you can manage dual monitors; the extra space will come in handy.  This is not essential but very helpful.
  • Get ChessBase or Chess Assistant (recent version). There is also the open source SCID database engine.
  • Get a strong UCI engine such as Fritz 10 or Rybka. This will help analyze the games in your database so you can supply proper comments.

Starting Up

Now we’re ready to go.  Start a new database with the name of the opening you want to learn, for example 1. e4 c5 2. d4 cxd4 3. c3 dxc3 — “SmithMorra”.   Start the UCI analysis engine within the database program.

In parallel, do several things.

First of all, open up an ICC session.  Start a match with yourself and play over the defining moves.  Type “ECO” to learn its ECO Code.  For example, Smith-Morra is “B21”. In the main console, armed with the eco code, type “search eco=XXX” where XXX is the code of the opening.   “search ECO=B21” would give you hundreds of Smith-Morra games contested among titled players; do “more” to scroll through them.

So you have lots of games to scroll through and assimilate.  Your job is to cherry-pick your favorites after you play them over and also notice who is playing:  if both players are very strong, the game has additional automatic credibility.  You can view the PGN of your favorites and save to disk and import into your database.  For example, in ChessBase, CTRL-O opens a PGN that you saved and then you can “Save As” into the database you created previously.

Use Your Web Browser As Well!

The web is an invaluable source of chess information.  Use it copiously!

Along with your database and ICC activities, also open your web browser (a modern browser that supports tabs, such as the newest IE, or Firefox, or Opera, or Safari; any one that supports tabs).   Open the following tabs:

  • (ChessBases’s online repository of games).  Again, you can save PGN of your favorites and import into your new database.
  • TWIC — This Week in Chess.  Same story.  TWIC publishes PGN updates week by week and you can cherry-pick the ECO code you are studying.
  • (if you have a premium membership) and go right to the Opening Explorer.  Play over the defining moves and look at the statistics.  This will show you the best moves for both sides.  You can prepare both black- and white- openings with this tool.  I highly recommend Premium membership due to the fact that Opening Explorer is a fantastic learning experience that you will use again and again.

Once you have gathered some PGN material from the web sites, cross-check it against the games database in your database program.  You can play over some opening moves in the database, then (in ChessBase) right-click and do “Find in MegaBase”.  It will show all matches.  Save struggles between high rated players, as a starter, into your database.

What to do with your new-found Material

OK, now you have a bunch of interesting PGN games in your new database.  Use your engine, such as Fritz10 or Rybka, to identify turning points in these games and add annotations to the games.  In ChessBase, CTRL-A adds text to selected spots.  Award ? and ! notations to moves that change computer evaluations significantly.  These exercises are not idle – by identifying key and popular lines, then running the engine and finding tipping points, you are (by osmosis) seeing key plans and counter-plans for both sides.

MG Note 7/5/08:  A comment from a reader below suggests to run engine vs engine from a key position – a good idea.

An excellent approach to developing a 360 degree view of the variation.  You will definitely improve using this approach.  And once you have a decent amount of time invested, try it out in ICC blitz or longer time controls or even OTB tournaments.  Naturally, record your better endeavors in the database and use the engine on them; annotate liberally.  This is the path to improvement!

Of course, periodically review TWIC and to see if new material has popped up on your chosen systems.

Give Me Feedback!

A useful byproduct of this training regimen is an army of informed readers to help me advance theory using the Roman phalanx approach.

If you are interested in any of the Sicilian segments I presented on Chess.FM, follow these technical steps and communicate to me (via my blog entries that accompany the segments) with your findings and own games!

Postscript:  Chess Art

Feast on this portrait of Danish GM PH Nielsen, by Danish artist Carina Jorgensen.  Click several times to enlarge fully. I was the one who suggested the mythical opponent be Norwegian GM Simen Agdestein.  Some other collaborators helped suggest demo board positions.  Note the bishops in the demo boards have Greek comedy/tragedy theater style smiling and crying faces.  Note also the macabre exsanguinating captured black pawn next to the Nielsen board.

Post-Postscript:  Bizarre PhD Graduation Garb

Go Violets!  This bizarre swearing-in ceremony looks fake, i.e. a staged photo.  This was taken in a hoity toity loft on Wooster Street in SoHo, NYC, May 1999.

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