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White has compensation in the Morra!

After a very close run it was decided that White has compensation in the Morra Gambit. I personally do not feel inclined to accept it after reading Esserman’s book…

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  1. garryk
    August 24th, 2012 at 11:08 | #1

    Come on, the assessment of the variation is the same from tens of years. White has less than full compensation from a theoretical point of view but good practical compensation against human opposition. Play it in postal chess and you’ll understand why the gambit is not fully sound.

  2. MorphyP
    August 24th, 2012 at 12:02 | #2

    Times have changed…

    @garryk

  3. Jacob Aagaard
    August 24th, 2012 at 14:02 | #3

    I disagree. I think there is enough compensation.

  4. Michel Barbaut
    August 24th, 2012 at 23:28 | #4

    From Chesspublishing.com :

    – Gary (Lane) : “The Smith-Morra Gambit is doing well proving it is an opening that is easy to learn but difficult to beat.” Nov ’99 Update

    – Jonathan (Rowson): “Black should treat the Morra with respect, even when he seems to have emerged from the opening in relative safety” Update November 2005

    – Andrew (Martin) thinks :
    “The Morra Gambit is a perfectly serviceable opening below 2300 level” Update November 2006
    “At present the Morra Gambit looks dubious to me. Why give up a pawn like this when one can play so many other good lines?” Update July 2007

    – Jim (Plaskett) : “John Nunn once said to me (that) the main problem for Black in the Morra Gambit is simply what use he makes of his crumby extra pawn” GM Surfers

    – Nigel (Davies) : “Against the Sicilian I don’t recommend the popular Smith-Morra Gambit (1 e4 c5 2 d4 cxd4 3 c3) due mainly to the fact that White is giving away a centre pawn without having pressure on the a2-f7 diagonal” Repertoire suggestions

    Chess authors have theirs opinions too :

    – Timothy (Taylor) : “It is imporatnt to take this gambit seriously” How to defeat the Smith-Morra Gambit, 1993

    – Dorian (Rogozenko) : “I have failed to find a very clear way of accepting the pawn sacrifice and then completely neutralizing white’s initiative” Anti-Sicilians, A Guide for black, 2003

    – John (Watson) : “ … we have many years of experience and analysis to show that Black at the very least should have no problems equalising and almost certainly should gain an advantage with accurate paly” Anti-Sicilians, Mastering the chess Openings, vol. 1, 2006

    – Richard (Palliser) : “Only two (gambits) are plausible, although objectively I suspect that neither suffices for equality” Fighting the anti-Sicilians, 2007

    And I remember that 15 years old asking Anatoly (Vaisser) after a simul where he crushed the gambit on one board (please add the russian accent) :
    M.B : ” Why do you think about the Morra gambit ? ”
    A.V : “ … Black takes the pawn and … at least has the draw”
    M.B : “ Which variation do you play ?”
    A.V : “ I don’t take the pawn … I play 3…Nf6!”
    🙂
    My opinion is like the one the late Ken Smith gives “ the gambit accepted is dynamically equal” Theory of the Smith-Morra Gambit in games 1846 thru 1967, 1974

    Sakae Ohtake is a 2452 correspondence chess player who plays also the gambit, Vladimir Afromeev (>2600 OTB), and so on. The gambit isn’t their main weapon but I doubt that such players venture a dubious opening.
    In my SMG database (>28000 games) the result are (w-d-l in % / nb of games) :
    – 39-19-42 / 2250, if the two players are > 2300
    – 40-18-42 / 1190, if the two players are > 2400
    – 40-19-41 / 666, if the two players are > 2500
    Ok there are some internet games but the result is not too bad for a so-called “dubious” gambit !

    Happy to see that Jacob left the dark side ! 😉

  5. August 25th, 2012 at 02:44 | #5

    In my opinion black does not have easy play when white KNOWS what to play. Other case, if white plays “for fun just from his head”, then black plays without a risk and… it should be winning (especially for players who knows how to handle it safety with black).

    If this gambit is so bad, then the results are quite amazing 😀 ;). Practical play with great preparation should give a small advantage for white (at least to 2200-2300 level).

    I do not believe in Santa Clause (even if he exists), but I believe this gambit is quite underestimated! Many people are convinced it is “rubbish”, but I do not belive they would like to prove it against Marc in on the board play (classic 2hrs per player game).

  6. Michael Agermose Jensen
    August 25th, 2012 at 10:36 | #6

    There is a game in the latest QC newsletter, where an amateur was playing White in one of the “refutation” lines of the Morra against WGM L’Ami. White won the opening battle and I know for a fact that he was playing completely unprepared against an opponent rated 260 points higher, while the opposition’s preparation team almost certainly included a GM, An engine and a database. Btw the novelty in the game was found at the board, which explains the horrible timetrouble blunder later in the game.

    There are no free lunches and Santa Claus exists iff you believe in him…

  7. LE BRUIT QUI COURT
    August 25th, 2012 at 11:40 | #7

    @ Jensen, Michael Agermose, DEN Elo 2113

    Well let’s see what’s statistics about to say!

    ChessBase Mega 2012, filter: position after accepting gambit pawn 1.e4 c5 2.d4 cxd4 3.c3 dxc3, both players Elo 2200+++:

    – N games: 686
    – White wins: 198 or 28,9%
    – White draws: 172 or 25%
    – White loses: 316 or 46,1%

    So about what are we talking now?

    Let’s compare Morra with King’s Gambit!

    ChessBase Mega 2012, filter: position after accepting gambit pawn 1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4, both players Elo 2200+++:

    – N games: 1886
    – White wins: 583 or 30,9%
    – White draws: 535 or 30%
    – White loses: 738 or 39,1%

    But I always knew that’s King’s Gambit the best gambit in true meaning of word (excluding QGD).

    Well Michael Agermose as you see you can play Morra, but you just can’t claim no advantage and by playing such chess nobody can’t reach the highest level in chess. Sorry 🙂

  8. MorphyP
    August 25th, 2012 at 12:13 | #8

    @LE BRUIT QUI COURT
    If you wish to use statistics to prove your point, please include all the data. A simple ELO Black search in both starting positions shows the Black player significantly outranking the White player in the Morra (often 200-400 elo points), whereas in the Kings Gambit, not so much…

    Such mismatches in player strength morph your statistics into silly puddy.

    And no, just because more strong players have ventured the Kings Gambit vs. the Morra Gambit throughout history does not make the Kings Gambit superior. But it does make the Kings Gambit more popular throughout history…

    MorphyP USA ELO unrated no games

  9. Jacob Aagaard
    August 25th, 2012 at 16:07 | #9

    There are lies, damn lies and then statistics. I am sure I can find lines where White scores 80%, but is worse. This is because playing the line as Black is very difficult and requires preparation.

    When it comes to the Morra, usually people are unprepared from both sides. What can we use statistics for in such a case? White has to play very aggressively to justify this gambit and have a certain level of preparation. You can maybe wing it with 1.g3, but not with the Morra!

  10. garryk
    August 25th, 2012 at 16:28 | #10

    It’s very simple. Sometimes White wins in the middlegame by an attack against black king. In this case the pawn is uninfluent. Sometimes Black survives the middlegame but the pawn is not enough to win. Sometimes Black reaches the endgame and wins thanks to his pawn. The difference between the Open Sicilian and the Morra is that in the Morra white exchanges a little more chance to break through with the attack with a much larger chance to lose the endgame. At underGM level this exchange could be reasonable, at 2500+ level it’s illogical.

  11. Michel Barbaut
    August 25th, 2012 at 18:40 | #11

    garryk :
    It’s very simple. Sometimes White wins in the middlegame by an attack against black king. In this case the pawn is uninfluent. Sometimes Black survives the middlegame but the pawn is not enough to win. Sometimes Black reaches the endgame and wins thanks to his pawn. The difference between the Open Sicilian and the Morra is that in the Morra white exchanges a little more chance to break through with the attack with a much larger chance to lose the endgame. At underGM level this exchange could be reasonable, at 2500+ level it’s illogical.

    HAve you seen all the IM and GM who lost to the Morra gambit ? Apparently no ! 😉

  12. Blue Knight
    August 26th, 2012 at 03:08 | #12

    The book has a deliberately provocative cover. Of course this is second degree (the Sicilian refuted? Yeah, sure…) – except the only one to take this seriously is apparently the author. Instead of presenting the Morra for what it is (an interesting surprise weapon but dubious in systematic use), he tries to convince us that he is reinventing the bagless vacuum cleaner. It’s up to you…

    In the Morra, the White compensation, if complete compensation there is, is for a draw but it is dangerous and difficult to maneuver in practical world, and this is why it pleases to some and wins some games, so Black must do his/her homework.

    Personally, and even if I have not a very high rating, I have never lost a game against it, rather I have almost always won… At my level of course.

  13. Jacob Aagaard
    August 26th, 2012 at 09:33 | #13

    @garryk
    I disagree with these rating assumptions.

  14. garryk
    August 26th, 2012 at 12:16 | #14

    @Michel Barbaut

    Of course I’ve seen…but I’ve also seen the many more players who lost the endgame because of the pawn deficit…and I’ve also seen the many more players who don’t play the Morra because they know it doesn’t make sense against competent opposition…and please, don’t recall me this or that GM defeat against the Morra…Karpov has lost against 1…a6 but that doesn’t make that move a good one.

  15. MorphyP
    August 26th, 2012 at 15:46 | #15

    @Blue Knight

    Bagless vacuum cleaners were not around in my day.

    I’ve always almost won as White when offering c-pawn odds…at my level of course…

  16. Michel Barbaut
    August 26th, 2012 at 19:52 | #16

    garryk :
    @Michel Barbaut
    Of course I’ve seen…but I’ve also seen the many more players who lost the endgame because of the pawn deficit…and I’ve also seen the many more players who don’t play the Morra because they know it doesn’t make sense against competent opposition…and please, don’t recall me this or that GM defeat against the Morra…Karpov has lost against 1…a6 but that doesn’t make that move a good one.

    Karpov has lost one game against 1…a6 but A LOT of IM & GM so I think I can recall this or that , isn’t it ?
    If you lost the endgame because of the pawn deficit , please don’t blame the gambit because it can happen even if you don’t play a gambit opening !!
    And please, please don’t speak about players who only play the gambit vs weaker opposition … so sad.
    Do you read the introduction in Marc book’s ? It’s very interesting to see why this gambit has been so rejected for so long.
    In those days of super computer playing gambit remind me of the romantic chess period … where gambit were all the rage.
    May be in some years, we will have another one … may this one starts with the Morra gambit !!
    After all, if it’s not a so good opening why Sicilian players should be afraid of ?
    😉

  17. Michel Barbaut
    August 26th, 2012 at 19:53 | #17

    @Michel Barbaut
    Oups “… A LOT of IM & GM has lost against this gambit “

  18. Michael
    August 26th, 2012 at 22:43 | #18

    So does this mean that we will decline the Morra in the upcoming GM6a?
    I like 3. Nf6 better than accepting the gambit anyway.

  19. Michael
    August 26th, 2012 at 23:02 | #19

    Hi Jacob, couple Questions for you.

    Not asking for detaled lines just wondering for GM6b if you have found improvements or a way to avoid the following line

    1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Be3 e6 7. f3 b5 8. Qd2 Nbd7 9. g4 h6 10. O-O-O b4 11. Na4 Ne5 12. Qxb4 Bd7 13. Bf4

    from the game

    Fier, Alexandre Santos (2586) vs. Berbatov, Kiprian (2454)

    1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Be3 e6 7. f3 b5 8. Qd2 Nbd7 9. g4 h6 10. O-O-O b4 11. Na4 Ne5 12. Qxb4 Bd7 13. Bf4 g5

    Opening up the king side

    And also I don’t remeber if you already told us so appologies if you have, when do you ship out Playing 1.d4 the Indian defenses for those who have pre-ordered it, first week of September?

  20. Patrick
    August 27th, 2012 at 04:53 | #20

    I still firmly believe the Morra is overrated and unsound because many players below the GM level don’t put the proper preparation into it, and spend all their time on whatever Open Sicilian they play along with a glance at the more common Anti-Sicilians, like the Closed, Alapin, Grand Prix, and Rossolimo.

    I still find the Chicago Defense specifically without …Be7 to be a problem for White. After 1.e4 c5 2.d4 cxd4 3.c3 dxc3 4.Nxc3 e6 5.Nf3 d6 6.Bc4 a6 7.O-O b5 8.Bb3 Nc6 9.Qe2 Ra7 10.Be3 Rd7, White has a 23.5% score over 17 games in SI 50.10.14 in the New In Chess database, a database that only includes quality games, not junk, so it’s a little smaller than others, but when Black scores 11 wins to only 2 losses and 4 draws from this position, it’s telling that provided Black knows what he’s doing, he’s probably significantly better. As long as Black doesn’t try to develop the Kingside Bishop too early, he’ll be better. After White’s best, 11.Rc1, Black should respond with 11…Na5 or 11…Bb7. In that same database, if you tack on the moves 11.Rc1 Bb7, Black has 7 wins to only 1 loss and 1 draw. 11…Na5 was also a win for Black in the only game in that database. I’ve destroyed people using the 11…Na5 line, but I’m also going thru the 11…Bb7 lines. Black must be willing to suffer a vicious attack, but with correct defense, it’s White that’s fighting for the draw!

    Is the Morra totally busted? That’s going a tad far. There is no officially known refutation. I compare the Morra for White to the Latvian Gambit for Black. It’s shaky. It’s likely unsound. But no formal bust has been found.

  21. Jacob Aagaard
    August 27th, 2012 at 07:20 | #21

    @Michael
    We have no refutation. Or even improvement so far :-(.

  22. Jacob Aagaard
    August 27th, 2012 at 07:21 | #22

    @Michael
    Have not studied that line deeply yet.

    One week from today.

  23. Jacob Aagaard
    August 27th, 2012 at 07:23 | #23

    @Patrick
    After reading the chapter in the Morra book I am deeply worried about the soundness of this system for Black. Packing, I do not have the book to hand, but I recall the issue as being 11.Nd4 with f4-f5.

  24. garryk
    August 27th, 2012 at 10:38 | #24

    Jacob said “I am sure I can find lines where White scores 80%, but is worse. This is because playing the line as Black is very difficult and requires preparation.”.

    Well, this looks a different way to say what I said about “rating assumptions”. A line difficult to handle means that players below a certain rating should avoid using it…it’s not enough to have a winning position, you should know how to win it! Below certain ratings, a losing position with tons of practical possibilities is better than a winning position with a very slim path to victory. Of course this is reversed at high level.

    When White plays the Morra he’s saying to black – I bet you are not able to stop my attack and win the ending.

    Sometimes he’s right but I feel it’s a losing proposition in the long run.

    Esserman’s book is obviously very good but I think he has simplified the search for a correct defense by showing the faults of the wrong ones.

  25. Patrick
    August 27th, 2012 at 14:44 | #25

    I almost have to say I agree with garryk.

    As for Jacob’s statement, I’ll have to see if the book seller has that book in stock and see what Esserman thinks about it, and can’t speak against the book until I see it (and specifically, what he says about Black not trading on d4), but on the resources I’ve used in the past (i.e. Previous books and databases), against 11.Nd4, I think Black should respond with again 11…Na5, forcing the Bishop to either become very passive or otherwise eliminated. The trade of Knights on d4 in my humble opinion seems dubious for Black (never said there aren’t lines where White stands better – but I surely would never trust the Morra in Correspondence Chess). The Bishop on b3, again in my opinion, is more critical than the Knight on d4.

    A prime example is Zelic – Gunis, Pula Open 2009, which by the way, Black is over 250 rating points below White in that game, 0-1 (37). An engine might find errors by White, but looking at the game without an engine for about 20 to 30 minutes, Black’s play seems impressive. 🙂

  26. S_Lock
    August 27th, 2012 at 15:31 | #26

    Patrick: Against the Chicago Esserman suggests 11. Rfd1 instead of Rc1 or Nd4….he also analyzes 11. Nxb5 out to a draw…

  27. Michael
    August 27th, 2012 at 21:31 | #27
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