A Bust to the Smith-Morra Gambit

(...with apologies to one Robert J. Fischer.) Elijah Logozar is a an 18-year-old US Chess expert from Round Rock, Texas. And he claims to have busted the Smith-Morra Gambit. Logozar offers his refutation in a course for Chessable.com titled “Mop up the Morra,” one of seven such courses he has published on that platform.

Here, in a polemic written specifically for US Chess, he sketches the outlines of his proposed bust. If you do some research, you'll find that Logozar has employed some controversial self-promotional techniques. Nevertheless, we do think that his bold claims and analysis deserve testing. So US Chess is running a contest: can you bust the bust? Send your counter-efforts to US Chess Digital Editor John Hartmann <john.hartmann@uschess.org> on or before August 15th. We will publish the best responses to Logozar’s claims, and give Logozar a chance to respond as well. Two prizes - one from US Chess Sales, and one from Chessable - will be awarded those submitting the best analysis. Whirl up those engines and make a pot of coffee. It’s time to get to work, people. -- John Hartmann
A Bust to the Smith-Morra Gambit by Elijah Logozar I used to think that the Smith-Morra gambit was a dangerous attacking weapon. Armed with IM Marc Esserman’s book, I was initially persuaded that this gambit was sound or close to it. I managed to utilize the Morra with success both over the board and online. However, I discovered an early novelty which puts the soundness of the Smith-Morra gambit to the test. 1.e4 c5 2.d4 cxd4 3.c3 dxc3 4.Nxc3 Nc6 5.Nf3 e6 6.Bc4 Nge7!? 7.Bg5 h6!N
Esserman claims that White’s main ideas to utilize his dynamic advantage of a lead in development is to target the Black queen and the e5-break. If Black moves the queen from d8, it can become a target, and the main safe route ...Qc7-b8 is time consuming and passive. On d8, the Black queen is able to be targeted because of the x-ray from White’s d1-rook combined with the e5-break to open the d-file. But what if e5 didn’t come with tempo? Black is not required to play ...Nf6. He can play ...Ne7-g6 instead. If Black chooses this approach, the Black queen can’t be targeted by the e5-break because e5 doesn’t come with tempo. (If Black didn’t play ...d6 yet he can ignore the e5-pawn, and if ...f6 was played then Black can play ...d5). If Black consolidates with ...Ne7-g6 without White obtaining compensation, then White will have no targets because Black has no exploitable weaknesses and White has no way to create them without serious concessions. If White has no targets or sound way of creating targets, then he can’t utilize his dynamic advantage. If White can’t utilize his dynamic advantage, Black will have time to catch up on development and consolidate his extra pawn. Esserman calls the ...Nge7 lines “the professional’s approach” as a result of this dangerous consolidation plan and threatens various concrete methods of trying to prevent Black from consolidating his setup. Theory suggests the 6. …a6 7.0-0 Nge7 move order, but I don’t like this move order because after 8.Bg5 Black is forced to make a concession. After 8. ...f6 9.Be3, Black will have weakened the long diagonal. White can exploit this to obtain compensation with Nd4 followed by f4-f5 (among other ideas). After 8. ...h6 9.Be3 Black has to deal with the threat of Na4-b6 due to Black playing ...a6. For instance 9...Ng6 10.Bb3 b5 (to prevent Na4) and due to Black’s lack of kingside development White has Nd5! with a powerful initiative. I was convinced by Esserman that this sacrifice was sound and dangerous. However, this sacrifice would be unsound if Black had time to develop his kingside with ...Be7 and ...0-0 before White plays Nd5. Black would have had time to do this if he didn’t have to waste time on the queenside with ...a6 and ...b5. Why does theory recommend 6. ...a6? Because Nb5 is a dangerous idea in many lines, especially after ...Nge7 and Bg5, where the d6-knight is pinned. But does Black really have to fear Nb5 after Bg5? After 6. ...Nge7 7.Bg5 (forced according to Esserman) 7...h6 8.Nb5! supposedly gives White the advantage (according to Stockfish at a low depth) and Esserman, but the complications after 8. ...d5 actually favor Black. Esserman himself admits that White must go into this line or will be worse, evaluating 8.Bh4 g5 9.Bg3 a6 as at least =+ for Black and 8.Be3 Ng6 as -/+. Here is a summary of why Black has the advantage after 7...h6 8.Nb5.

[Event "?"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2019.07.30"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Smith-Morra"]
[Black "Logozar's refutation"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "B21"]
[Annotator "Logozar, Elijah"]
[PlyCount "26"]
[EventDate "2019.07.16"]

{The analysis in my Chessable course "Mop up the Morra!" goes a lot deeper
than the summary, but this should be enough to show the main idea behind the
refutation.} 1. e4 c5 2. d4 cxd4 3. c3 $6 dxc3 4. Nxc3 Nc6 5. Nf3 e6 6. Bc4 ({
Black is also better after Stockfish's alternative} 6. Bf4 {which is also
analyzed in my course. Critical is} a6 7. e5 f5) 6... Nge7 7. Bg5 ({Despite
dismissal by Esserman and theory,} 7. O-O {is a critical line.} Ng6 (7... a6 $6
8. Bg5 {sidesteps the critical 7.Bg5 h6! line, transposing back into theory.})
8. Nb5 {Black must either go for the complications after 8...d6 or allow White
to win the bishop pair with Nd6+. I prefer the complications because Black
giving up the bishop pair would allow White to fight for compensation.} d6 9.
Bg5 Qd7 $15 {I deeply analyze these complications in my Chessable course (up
to move 22 in one of the lines) and have concluded that Black is better if he
plays correctly.}) 7... h6 $1 $146 {I discovered the value of this novelty
when studying Esserman's book because he stopped after 8.Nb5 d5 and I didn't
like how he stopped in a complex position without giving analysis so I decided
to analyze with the engine.} (7... f6 8. Be3 {is the mainline. The weakening
of the a2-g8 diagonal allows White to obtain compensation for the sacrificed
pawn. This weakness can be exploited by either the standard Nd4 with f4-f5 or
in some cases the Nd5 sacrifice.}) 8. Nb5 {Esserman's suggestion and the only
possible punishment of 7...h6. Theory likely hasn't noticed 7...h6 yet because
Stockfish initially thinks that the complications after 8.Nb5 favor White.
After guidance, it changes it's mind and decides that Black has the advantage.
This was tested in 45 endgame games (Stockfish vs. itself) and Black won or
drew every game.} (8. Bh4 g5 9. Bg3 a6 {White doesn’t have sufficient
compensation for the sacrificed pawn due to his lack of pawn levers or targets.
Black can easily develop (…Bg7, ...Ng6, …b5 with …Bb7, …Rc8, …Nce5)
and in many lines Black will fight for the initiative with a kingside pawn
storm. Esserman admits that Black is better here.}) (8. Be3 Ng6 $17 {White is
unable to interfere with Black's setup and due to the delayal of ...a6, Black
doesn't have to worry about Na4-b6. This buys him time to quickly castle
kingside and can later play ...a6 and ...b5 without worrying about the Nd5
sacrifice. Esserman admits that Black is better here.}) 8... d5 9. exd5 {
The following complications favor Black.} hxg5 10. dxc6 (10. dxe6 $5 {leads to
interesting complications that favor Black.} Bxe6 11. Nd6+ Qxd6 12. Qxd6 Rd8
13. Qc5 Nf5 14. Bxe6 (14. Qb5 Bb4+ 15. Kf1 Nd6 16. Qxg5 Bxc4+ 17. Kg1 O-O $19 {
Black has a decisive initiative.}) 14... Bxc5 15. Bxf5 $15 {Black has a better
endgame due to his superior piece activity.}) 10... Nxc6 11. Qxd8+ Kxd8 12.
O-O-O+ (12. Rd1+ $5 {is an alternative which I cover in high detail in my
Chessable course.} Bd7 {is preferable over ...Ke7 because there isn't concrete
tactics down the c-file if the White king isn't on c1. The concrete
differences are deeply covered in the Chessable course "Mop up the Morra!".
The drawback of 12.Rd1+ over 12.0-0-0+ is thatI White isn't as well developed
(Rhe1 won't be played until White castles). My main line runs:} 13. O-O Be7 14.
Nd6 Bxd6 15. Rxd6 Ke7 16. Rfd1 Be8 17. Nxg5 Rh4 18. b3 e5 $15 {where Black has
the advantage due to his superior king activity and d4-outpost. There might be
an improvement for Black on the way (Stockfish seems to think there are
several ways for Black to get an advantage after 12...Bd7), but this is what I
concluded was best.}) (12. Nxg5 $6 Bb4+ $17 {followed by ...Ke7 allows Black
to keep his static advantages and obtain the initiative.}) 12... Ke7 13. Nxg5
g6 $15 {Black intends ...Bg7 with ...a6 and ...b5 with ...Nd4. Black has a
static advantage due to his king activity, bishop pair, and d4-outpost. I
challenge readers to try to prove that White can equalize from this position
or to find earlier improvements for White after 4.Nxc3.} 0-1