Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Smith-Morra Gambit: A Positional Pawn Sacrifice

The Sicilian is the most common way to meet 1 e4. The problem for White is that there are so many variations of the open Sicilian that it is not possible to learn them all. Consequently, I played the Closed Sicilian for awhile, but this is rather dull and unenterprising, and I have given it up for the Smith-Morra Gambit, in which White sacrifices a Pawn in the center for open lines.

This game was played on ICC against wtneveitt on 10/30/99, at two minutes plus a ten-second increment.

1 e4 c5 2 d4 cd 3 c3 dc 4 Nxc3

Many Black players will decline the Pawn, and there are many accepted ways to do so. Here, Black elects to accept the gambit Pawn.

4...e6 5 Nf3 Bb4 6 Bc4 Qc7 7 Qe2?

This is the usual move for White in the Smith-Morra, but here it is a blunder. White needs to protect his Knight on c3, and either Qb3 or Qd3 will do that.


7...b5 was played in Alcobas-Valverde (Mesa, 1993), and this wins a piece because of Black's pressure on the c-file.

8 bc d6?

It was not too late for ...b5, but now White will retain a slight advantage.

9 0-0 Ne7 10 Bb2 0-0 11 Rad1

Usually in the Smith-Morra White plays his Queen's Rook to the c-file, and his King's Rook to the d-file. However, I have a pet line I like to play against the ...b5 system, and that is to keep my King Rook on f1 to support a Pawn push with my f-Pawn, similar to the Queen's Gambit game annotated earlier.

11...a6 12 Bb3 Nbc6 13 Nd4

The computer favors 13 Ba3, pressuring the weak d-Pawn, but my move is in line with my planned push of the f-Pawn. It should be noted that White need not be preoccupied with regaining his gambited Pawn. When playing a gambit, many players make the mistake of playing as if they'd lost a Pawn rather than sacrificed it. Here, White knows he is a Pawn down, but he realizes the need to be patient and keep probing the Black position until something good happens.

13...Na5 14 f4 b5 15 Kh1 Nec6 16 f5 Nxd4 17 cd ef 18 ef Nxb3 19 ab f6

My Pawn push to f6 would be very strong, if not outright winning, so Black plays there himself to prevent me from doing so.

20 Rd3 Bb7 21 Rh3

The point of White's play becomes clear. I will get good pressure on his King-side. Being a Pawn down is irrelevant if I can mate him!


Black prevents my Queen from going to h5, but I still get her to the h-file, it just will take two moves instead of one.

22 Qg4 Rae8 23 Qh4 h6 24 Rg3 Kh7 25 h3

Creates luft for my King in the event of a back rank check.


The computer likes 25...Re2, with Black retaining almost a two-point advantage. However, his move is good also.

26 Rf4 Rfe8 27 Ba3

I finally play the move which the computer has been favoring since move 10 or so.

27...Qd5 28 Qg4 Re1ch 29 Kh2 R8e7

It is hard to give this move a question mark, but the computer likes ...R1e7, and says that after his move his advantage has almost disappeared.

30 Qg6ch Kh8 31 Rh4 Qf7?

Seems reasonable on the surface, but the computer pinpoints this as the losing move. The computer's suggestion is 31...Rf7, but even then I have a one-point advantage

32 Rxh6ch Kg8 33 Qg4

The computer gives 33 Qh7ch Kf8 34 Qh8ch Qg8 35 Rxf6ch Rf7 36 Bxd6ch Re7 37 Bxe7ch Kxe7 38 Qxg8 Kxf6 39 Rg6ch Ke7 40 Re6ch Kd7 41 Qxf7ch +-, but this was a little much to work out within the time constraints of a blitz game!


33...R1e4 gives Black rough equality.

34 Qh4 +- Kf8 35 Rh8ch Ke7 36 Rxg7!! Qxg7 37 Qxe1ch Kf7 38 Qe6 mate 1-0

A most elegant finish!

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