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This month we look at a few games in the Morra Gambit. Subscriber Michel Barbaut writes in asking my opinion of the gambit and also points out that it has been a while since it has been covered on our site. I have always thought the Morra gave White enough for dynamic euality, that is, I think White should get enough for the pawn but no more than that. Of course this type of position entails some risks for both sides. Black is behind in development, and White is, well, down a pawn. Because I am no Morra Gambit expert I called upon my friend IM Marc Esserman, who is a big expert in the Morra (like another strong American friend of mine, GM-elect Alex Lenderman). Marc treats the Morra like a serious theoretical opening, and he has several original ideas. He has shared a few games with me and I present them here with my notes based on his analysis. Marc is doubly dangerous nowadays, as he has become a sharp 1.d4 player (as has Alex) as well.
My advice for Black is to research your defences well, or (and I consider this to be more practical) transpose into your favourite 2.c3 Sicilian line. After 1.e4 c5 2.d4 cxd4 3.c3 Nf6 really forces White into a 2.c3 Nf6 Sicilian, with Black having the added bonus of avoiding lines where White delays d2-d4. Instead 3...d5 4.exd5 Qxd5 is also playable, although here Black has exchanged pawns on d4 rather early. 3...g6!? Is also possible, transposing to the fashionable 1.e4 c5 2.c3 g6.

Please note that there is a new playable ebook, Various 2nd Moves, and that we have decided to move the 2 g3, 2 Ne2 and 2 d3 sections across from the Closed Sicilian, so this now deals with only 2 Nc3.

Download PGN of March '10 Anti-Sicilian games

Big Clamp [B20]

Sasikiran had been on the wrong end of some Closed Sicilian positions and he takes a go at it with White in Sasikiran - Motylev, although after 1.e4 c5 2.d3 Nc6 3.g3 g6 4.Bg2 Bg7 5.f4 6.Nf3 Nge7 7.0-0 0-0 the move 8.a4 looks wrong to me:

, and we see a model game from Black.

Morra Gambit [B21]

As promised, we look at some nice games from IM Marc Esserman. In Esserman - Bartell we see an IM get thrashed after a couple of bad decisions in the Classical Defence 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:

Esserman does not bother with 10.h3, instead preferring to develop with 10.Be3.

A popular line is the 'Siberian Variation' 1.e4 c5 2.d4 cxd4 3.c3 dxc3 4.Nxc3 Nc6 5.Nf3 e6 6.Bc4 Qc7 7.0-0 Nf6:

Black hopes for 8.Qe2 Ng4 9.h3?? (9.Rd1 Bc5 is also bad) 9...Nd4 when White can resign. This trap is now old but it has caught some strong players. In Esserman - Chandran we see that 8.Nb5! interferes with Black's plans.

I do not know the name of the defence 1.e4 c5 2.d4 cxd4 3.c3 dxc3 4.Nxc3 e6 5.Nf3 a6 6.Bc4 b5 7.Bb3 Bb7, but the player of the black pieces is quite strong and tends to be well prepared. It would be easy to underestimate 8.0-0 b4 9.Nd5!?:

A shocking sacrifice. See Esserman - Sarkar.

2.c3 Sicilian [B22]

Recently the sideline 1.e4 c5 2.c3 Nf6 3.e5 Nd5 4.Nf3 d6 5.d4 cxd4 6.cxd4 Nc6 7.Bc4 dxe5!? was advocated for Black in Dangerous Weapons: Anti-Sicilians:

In Potapov - Laznicka White avoids the critical 8.Bxd5 and plays 8.dxe5, heading for an endgame. Black is probably ok here, but after couple of missteps White lands some crushing tactical blows and scores a big upset..

The line 1.e4 c5 2.c3 d5 3.exd5 Qxd5 4.d4 Nf6 5.Nf3 Bg4 6.Nbd2 Nc6 7.Bc4 Bxf3 8.Qb3 looks vey sharp, but after 10...Nxc4 11.Qxc4 cxd4 12.Nxd4 the position settles down. Tiviakov - Idani shows a new wrinkle for White.

Moscow Variation [B51]

We have not looked at the line 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.Bb5+ Nd7 4.d4 Ngf6 5.e5!? before. This line is considered ok for Black after 5...Qa5+ 6.Nc3 Ne4 when both 7.a4 and 7.Bd2 have not troubled Black. In Chernov - Fressinet White plays 7.Rb1!?:

This looks interesting and I would not be surprised to see it again, despite the result of this game.

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.Bb5+ Nd7 4.d4 cxd4 5.Qxd4 a6 6.Bxd7+ Bxd7 7.Bg5 Rc8 8.Nc3 h6 9.Bh4 e5 10.Qd3 g5 11.Bg3 Nf6 12.Nd2 is a line we have looked at before. In Naiditsch - Sanikidze Black plays 12...b5 immediately (we have seen 12...Qa5 and 12...Be6). This may be playable but it looks risky.

Zaitsev Variation [B53]

Another line that we have not given attention to is the logical 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Qxd4 a6!?:

This often leads to Maroczy positions and in Bromann - Hillarp Persson we see a nice example of Black's possibilities in this structure.

Until next month, David

Please post you queries on the Anti-Sicilians Forum, or subscribers can write to me at if you have any questions or queries.