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



In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

see Langrock's "The modern Morra gambit".

In reply to by John Doe (not verified)

The main line up to 11...Kxd8 is right out of Langrock's 2006 book (p. 143 if anyone wants to check). So 7...h6 can hardly be called a novelty.

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Since the move 5...d6 is given as best by Stockfish 200419 at the ChessBaseDataBase (https://database.chessbase.com/) the so-called "refutation" would appear to be meaningless. The line given, 1. e4 c5 2. d4 cxd4 3. c3 dxc3 4. Nxc3 Nc6 5. Nf3 e6 6. Bc4 Nge7? is not best. The best move according to Stockfish is 6...a6. It is all to easy to "refute" any opening if one uses second rate moves. https://xpertchesslessons.wordpress.com/

In reply to by Armchair Warrior (not verified)

He's giving a repertoire for BLACK. As a result, if you wish to show his suggestions are mistakes - you annotate 6...Nge7 with a '?' - you need to show how white should respond to those suggestions.

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

On a quick look, I do not see anything wrong with white playing 7. Bf4, hitting the d6 square immediately. Then if 7...Ng6, 8. Bd6. One possible line could be 8...Bxd6, 9. Qxd6 Qe7, 10. Nb5. It seems to me that black has some serious problems here. If instead of 9...Qe7, black plays 9...a6, which is a good prophylactic move, white can continue with 10. 0-0-0, intending Rhe1, e5, when the control of d6, lead in development, and space advantage has got to be worth at least a pawn. Anyway, this is very quick analysis without using a board or computer to check it out, so I could be overlooking some good options for black.

In reply to by David McCann (not verified)

Thanks for your suggestions. At least it doesn't seems that the line proposed by Logozar blows white's play to smithereens».

In reply to by David McCann (not verified)

9...Qe7 10.Nb5 Rb8!is simply much better for black (confirmed with Stockfish).

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

It seems like after 7... h6, White will win his pawn back by force, (8. Nb5 d5 9. exd5 hxg5 10. dxc6 Nxc6 11. Qxd8 Kxd8 12. O-O-O+ Ke7 13. Nxg5) and Black will only have a small advantage thanks to the 2 bishops.

In reply to by Lucius M. (not verified)

Yes, well the detail in this situation being that black is better without any compensation for white, after 13... g6, 14. h4 Bg7=+, meaning that black is the one pressing the whole game, and obviously white does not want to have to defend the whole game, and if he/she has to because of an opening choice, then obviously there is something to check on the opening.

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

6.Be2 is good enough for a draw and if 6.Bc4 Nge7! then 6.Be3 (instead of Bg5) also isn't bad

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

White is better. Or at least in a human prespective, I believe there are people who would pick white.

In reply to by Oscar Wang (not verified)

In which specific lines?

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Slow news day? Logozar is considered half baked in Austin chess circles. Not sure what the merit of this article is besides free publicity to someone who is not even a National Master?

In reply to by Robin Dalton (not verified)

I had never heard of the author but found the story interesting. Any decent player, aided by a computer, can nowadays come up with strong opening lines. Witness Nakamura's 2200-rated second. If the lines shown in this article are half-baked (being the output of a supposedly half-baked person), please give us some evidence.

In reply to by Robin Dalton (not verified)

Ha, he moved..he lives in Tennessee now. And I expect him to be master soon. -Z

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

The position after 13...g6, namely r1b2b1r/pp2kp2/2n1p1p1/1N4N1/2B5/8/PP3PPP/2KR3R w - - 0 14, is certainly not winning for Black. White plays 14.Nd6 and draws readily.

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

"8.Bh4 g5 9.Bg3 a6 as at least =+ for Black" This is advantageous for white after 10. Nb5 [Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "2019.07.16"] [Round "?"] [White "Smith-Morra Logozar's refutation"] [Black "CCM Om Prakash's analysis"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [Annotator "CCM Om Prakash"] [ECO "B21"] [EventDate "2019.07.16"] { [Smith Morra Analysis] } 1.e4 c5 2.d4 cxd4 3.c3 dxc3 4.Nxc3 Nc6 5.Nf3 e6 6.Bc4 Nge7 7.Bg5 h6 { ! } 8.Nb5 ( 8.Bh4 { ? } 8...g5 ( 8...a6 9.Bb3 d6 10.h3 g5 11.Bg3 Ng6 12.h4 gxh4 13.Nxh4 Rg8 14.Nxg6 Rxg6 15.Ne2 Qa5+ 16.Kf1 Ne5 17.a4 Bd7 18.f3 Rc8 19.Rh5 Rg5 { ⩱⇄ } ) 9.Bg3 Ng6 { ? Here White can gain advantage with counterplay with } 10.Nb5 { ! } 10...Bb4+ { !? } ( 10...e5 { ? } 11.Qd5 Bb4+ 12.Kf1 O-O 13.a3 Be7 14.Nd6 Qa5 15.Qd3 b5 16.Bb3 b4 17.Kg1 bxa3 18.h4 Qc5 19.Nf5 { ⩲/= Here if } 19...axb2 20.Rd1 Nf4 21.Nxh6+ Kh8 22.hxg5 Nxd3 23.Nf5+ Kg8 24.Nh6+ { With perpetual check. } ) 11.Kf1 g4 ( 11...d6 12.h4 ( 12.a3 Bc5 13.h4 ) 12...e5 13.a3 Bc5 14.hxg5 ( 14.b4 { = } 14...a6 15.bxc5 ( 15.Qb3 O-O 16.hxg5 hxg5 17.bxc5 axb5 18.Bxb5 dxc5 19.Bxc6 bxc6 20.Nxe5 Qd4 21.Rd1 Rxa3 22.Qb1 Qb4 23.Nxg6 fxg6 24.Bd6 Qc4+ 25.Kg1 Rxf2 26.Rh2 Raa2 ) 15...axb5 16.Bxb5 g4 17.h5 Nf4 18.Nd4 ( 18.Nd2 dxc5 ) 18...O-O 19.Bxf4 ( 19.Bxc6 dxc5 20.Nf5 Bxf5 21.exf5 bxc6 22.Rh4 Kh8 23.Qxd8 Rfxd8 24.Bxf4 exf4 25.Rxg4 Rd4 26.f3 ( 26.Ke2 ) ) 19...Nxd4 ) 14...a6 15.Nc3 hxg5 16.Rxh8+ Nxh8 17.b4 Ba7 18.Qd2 f6 19.Rd1 Nf7 20.Ng1 { ⩲/= } ) 12.a3 Bc5 13.b4 Bb6 14.Nd6+ Kf8 15.b5 gxf3 16.bxc6 fxg2+ 17.Kxg2 dxc6 18.h4 Rg8 19.Kf1 Qf6 20.e5 Nxe5 21.Ne4 Qf3 22.Qxf3 Nxf3 23.Bd6+ Kg7 24.Rh3 Nd4 25.Rg3+ ( 25.Be5+ Kf8 26.Bd6+ Kg7 27.Rg3+ ) 25...Kh8 26.Rd3 Rd8 27.Rad1 c5 28.Rg3 { ± } 28...Rg8 29.Be5+ f6 30.Bxf6+ Kh7 31.Rh3 Rf8 32.Be5 { ⇄ } ) ( 8.Be3 Ng6 { ⩱ } ) 8...d5 9.exd5 hxg5 10.dxc6 ( 10.dxe6 Bxe6 11.Nd6+ Qxd6 12.Qxd6 Rd8 ( 12...Bxc4 13.O-O-O f6 14.Kb1 Bd5 15.Rhe1 Rd8 16.Qc7 g4 17.Rxd5 Rxd5 18.Qc8+ Rd8 19.Qxg4 a6 20.a3 Rd7 21.h4 Kd8 22.Rc1 Rd6 23.Qc4 Kc8 24.g4 ) 13.Qc5 Nf5 14.Bxe6 Bxc5 15.Bxf5 O-O 16.O-O Rfe8 17.Rfe1 Rxe1+ 18.Rxe1 g6 19.Bh3 Nb4 20.Nxg5 Nd3 21.Rd1 Bxf2+ 22.Kf1 Bb6 23.b3 Nb4 24.Rxd8+ Bxd8 25.Nf3 Nxa2 26.Bc8 b6 27.Ke1 Bf6 28.Kd2 Nb4 29.Bb7 Kf8 30.Ne1 Ke7 31.Nc2 Na2 32.Kd3 Nc3 33.Bc6 Kd6 34.Be8 Ke6 35.Ne3 g5 36.g4 Be5 37.Nc4 Bg7 38.Bc6 b5 ) 10...Nxc6 11.Qxd8+ Kxd8 12.Rd1+ { !? I prefer this move over o-o-o as it keeps king close to center. Didn't find much of difference at the end. Depends on players style what he chooses. } ( 12.O-O-O+ Ke7 13.Nxg5 g6 14.Nd6 f6 15.Nf3 e5 16.Kb1 Bg4 17.Nxb7 Nd4 18.Nxd4 Bxd1 19.Nc6+ Kd7 20.Nxe5+ fxe5 21.Rxd1+ Ke7 22.Bd5 Rxh2 23.Na5 Re8 24.Nc6+ Kf6 25.Nxa7 Rh4 26.f3 Rb8 27.Nc6 Rb5 28.Bb3 Rh2 29.Rd5 Rb7 30.Nxe5 Rxg2 31.Nd7+ Kg7 { = } ) 12...Bd7 13.Nxg5 Bb4+ 14.Nc3 Ne5 15.Be2 Ke8 16.f4 Ng6 17.Nxf7 Rf8 18.Ne5 Nxe5 19.fxe5 Rc8 20.Bf3 Bc6 21.Rd3 Rf5 22.O-O Rxe5 23.g3 b5 24.a3 Be7 25.Bxc6+ Rxc6 26.Kg2 $10 { Hence The word "Bust" doesnot fit here IMHO as every opening is equal unles the opponent blunders. Smith Morra Gambit is playable against an unprepared opponent preferably. } 1/2-1/2

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

[…] at the end of July, we published Elijah Logozar’s provocative polemic, “A Bust to the Smith-Morra Gambit.” We also invited readers to submit their responses, or […]

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)


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