smith-morra gambit

 

Smashing the Finegold Defense

By Michael Goeller

The Finegold Defense to the Smith-Morra is one of the more challenging for both White and Black, as illustrated by the following blitz game between blitz-GMs Marc Esserman and Ben Finegold himself. We also examine a second game of now-GM Finegold's in the notes where he also struggled in his own line.

Marc Esserman (2788 ICC - KingofJungle) - Ben Finegold (2864 ICC - finegold) [B21]

ICC 3 0/Internet Chess Club 2006


1. e4 c5 2. d4 cxd4 3. c3 dxc3 4. Nxc3

 










The Smith-Morra Gambit Accepted. White is down a pawn but has speedy development, open lines and initiative as compensation. White now used to develop in tabiya fashion, playing Nf3, Bc4, O-O, Qe2, Rfd1, and Rac1 without thinking. But recent analysis has shown that White must adapt his system to the specific defensive set-up chosen by Black to get the best play.

 

4... d6 5. Nf3 e6 6. Bc4 Be7

An alternate move order that can cause White some trouble is 6... Nf6 7. Qe2!? (seeking to improve on 7. O-O a6 8. Qe2 b5 9. Bb3 Nbd7 when Black one of the better positions described below, though White can also try 10. Nd4!?) 7... a6 8. e5! dxe5 9. Nxe5 Nc6!? (9... Nbd7?? 10. Nxf7) 10. Bf4 Be7 11. O-O. This may be Black's best way of causing White trouble here.

 

7. O-O Nf6 8. Qe2 a6










The diagram above shows the characteristic position of the Finegold Defense, described by Bob Ciaffone and Ben Finegold in their book The Smith Morra Gambit, Finegold Defense. Black's plan is to play in Najdorf fashion, deploying the Queen's Knight to d7 (where it usefully blocks pressure along the d-file and covers the important dark squares in the center and on b6); castling kingside; expanding on the queenside by b7-b5, which creates some safe squares for the Queen on b6 and b7 and potential tactical threats with a timely b4 push; and possibly deploying the light squared Bishop to b7. As John Watson suggests in his review of Ciaffone and Finegold's book, this line is "positionally extremely logical" but does require accuracy on Black's part and allows White some interesting counter-shots in the center. Even Finegold himself has encoutered trouble playing HIS defense accurately, both in this game and in one cited in the notes, as we shall see.

 

9. Rd1!?

White has two main plans: striking at the dark squares in the center with e5 or playing for piece pressure on the light squares, especially against the square e6 where White might attack with Nd4 and f4-f5 or even (after Black plays Nbd7, which 9. Rd1 is designed to induce) sacrifice a piece with Nd4 and Bxe6!? (as shown in this game). White's typical Rd1 deployment here keeps both options open.

 

The main alternative, but very rarely played in master practice, is to strike in the center immediately:

 

9. e5!

Langrock' s recommendation, as well as Ciaffone's in a chapter titled "You Want to Play White"!

 

9... dxe5 10. Rd1?!

Langrock gives the more accurate 10. Nxe5! O-O (10... b5? 11. Qf3!) (10... Qa5 11. Bd2!?) 11. Rd1 Nbd7 12. Bf4! Qe8 13. Bd3!? see diagram below -- and this is the critical position of the line. Unfortunately, I have not been able to find any games to illustrate play from this position -- though I would very much welcome games from readers.

 

finegold defense

 

Try defending Black's position against your computer and you will quickly learn a lot about the power of White's initiative!

 

10... Qa5!
Better than 10... Nbd7 11. Nxe5 O-O 12. Bf4 Qe8 13. Bd3 which returns us to the diagram above.

 

11. Nxe5 Nc6! (11... Nbd7? 12. Nxf7! or 11... O-O 12. Bd2!? are good for White) 12. Nxc6 (12. Bf4 Nxe5 13. Bxe5 O-O 14. Rac1) 12... bxc6 13. Ne4 (13. Bf4 Nd5 14. Be5 O-O 15. a3 f6 16. b4 Qb6 17. Bd4 Qb7 18. Qh5) 13... O-O (13... Qe5 14. Nxf6+ Bxf6 15. Be3) 14. Bd2 Qe5 15. Nxf6+ Bxf6 16. Qf3 Qc7 (16... Qxb2 17. Rab1 Qc2 18. Bd3 Qxa2 19. Bb4 Rd8 20. Rd2) 17. Bd3?! (17. Bb4! Re8 18. Bd6 Qb6) 17... Bxb2 18. Rab1 Be5 19. Rb4 f5 (19... Bxh2+! 20. Kh1 Be5 21. Bxh7+? Kxh7 22. Rh4+ Kg8 23. Qh5 f5 24. Bg5 g6 25. Qxg6+ Qg7) 20. Rh4 Rb8 21. g4 g6 22. gxf5 gxf5 23. Bc4 Kh8 24. Kf1 c5 25. Re1 Rb2 26. Rxe5 Rxd2 27. Bxe6 Qxe5










28. Rxh7+ Kxh7 1/2-1/2 White forced a draw with Qh5+ and Qg5+ etc. in Khudiakov, A-Volokitin,A (2295)/UKR-chT 1998. A nice finish to a not-so-nice game. But the difficulties presented by the Smith-Morra and its absence from GM repertoires make it hard to find theoretically perfect games.

 

9... b5!

9... Nbd7?! 10. e5! dxe5 11. Nxe5 O-O

Not 11... Qa5? 12. Nxf7! Kxf7 13. Qxe6+ Ke8 14. Re1 (14. Qf7+! Kd8 15. Qxg7 Rf8 16. Be3) 14... Qc5 15. Na4 Ne5 16. Nxc5 Bxe6 17. Bxe6 Bxc5 18. Rxe5 Be7 19. Bg5 h6 20. Bf4 Bd6 21. Rf5 Ke7 22. Re1 Bxf4 23. Rxf4 1-0 Aparicio Garcia,E-Molina Vinas,M/ Asturias-ch U18 Absoluto 1999 (39).

 

12. Bf4!

Not so good is 12. Nxf7?! Rxf7 13. Bxe6 1-0 Lenderman, A (2329) -Mirabile,T (2247)/Foxwoods op 7th (28) 13... Qe8! 14. Re1 Bd8 15. Bg5 Nf8

 

12... Qe8 and Langrock suggests 13. Bd3 as mentioned above (see the discussion of 9.e5!)

 

10. Bb3 Nbd7

10... b4 11. Na4! Qa5 12. e5! dxe5 13. Nxe5

 

11. Nd4

 










White attacks the light squares, immediately threatening Nc6 followed by Nxe7 (forcing the King to stay in the center and weakening d6) and the dangerous sacrifice 12.Bxe6!?

 

With Black having had time to play b5, White does not gain as much from 11. e5 dxe5 12. Nxe5 Qb6! (the Queen finds safe squares now) 13. Be3 Qb7! 14. Bd4 Nxe5 15. Bxe5 Bd7! 16. Bxf6 Bxf6 17. Bd5 (17. Ne4 Be7 18. Nd6+ Bxd6 19. Rxd6 O-O 20. Rad1 Bc6) 17... Bc6 18. Bxc6+ Qxc6 19. Nd5 Bd8 20. Rac1 Qb7. Hence the importance of move order discussed above.

 

11... Bb7?!

A surprising move since it is criticized in Finegold's book! Either he forgot the right method or he was trying to confuse his opponent. Black "stops the threat of Nc6 but...weakens the pawn e6, enticing White into the piece sacrifice" that follows.

 

a) 11... Qb6! was used in another game of Finegold's, which we now follow.

This is "the only viable move for Black" according to Finegold and Ciaffone and Fritz 12's top choice after several hours thought.

 

12. Bxe6

White seems committed to this sacrifice, since after 12. Be3!? Qb7 Black's pressure on the e4 pawn -- easily reinforced with b4 or Nc5 -- severely limits White's options.

 

12... fxe6 13. Nxe6 g6! (Langrock / Watson)

Not 13... Kf7? as given by Ciaffone and Finegold (which is the extent of their analysis of this critical line) since this loses to 14. Nd5! (Langrock / Watson) 14... Nxd5 (14... Qb7 15. Ng5+ Ke8) 15. Qh5+ Kg8 16. Qxd5 Bb7 17. Qb3 d5 18. exd5 Nc5 (18... Bd6 19. Be3 Qa5 20. Bd4) 19. Qe3 (19. Nxc5 Bxc5 20. d6+ Kf8 21. Qg3 Rd8 22. Bg5 Rxd6 23. Be7+= Watson) 19... Re8 20. b4 Na4 21. Qg3 Bf6 22. Be3 Watson)

 

14. Be3!?

a) 14. Bg5 is suggested by Langrock, but he is correctly "skeptical" of White's chances here, e.g.: 14... Qb7 15. Nd5 Nxd5 16. exd5 Ne5.

 

b) 14. Nd5!? Nxd5 15. exd5 Ne5 16. Be3 Qb8 (16... Qb7?! 17. f4 Bxe6 18. fxe5) 17. f4 Bxe6 18. dxe6 (18. fxe5 Bf5 19. e6 h5 20. Bd4 Rf8) 18... Nc4 (18... Nc6 19. Rac1 Qb7 20. Qc2 Rc8 21. f5 O-O 22. fxg6 Ne5 23. gxh7+ Kh8) 19. Bd4 O-O 20. b3 Na3)

 

14... Nc5?!

Black should be better after the familiar 14... Qb7! 15. Nd5 Nxd5 16. exd5 Nf6! or 16...Ne5.

 

15. e5! dxe5

Not 15... Bxe6? 16. exf6 Bxf6 17. Nd5 Qd8 18. Bxc5 Kf7 19. Nxf6 Qxf6 20. Bd4

 

16. Nxc5 Bxc5?!

A better try is 16... Bg4! 17. Nd7 (17. Nd5!?) 17... Bxe2 18. Nxb6 Bxd1 19. Nxa8 Bg4 20. Nc7+ Kf7 21. Nxa6 though White still has good winning chances.

 

17. Bxc5 Qxc5 18. Qf3 O-O (18... Bb7 19. Qxf6) 19. Qxa8 Bd7 20. Ne4?! (20. Qxa6) 20... Nxe4 21. Qxe4 Qxf2+ 22. Kh1 Qf6 23. Qe2 Bf5 24. Rf1 h5 25. Qf2 Kg7 26. Rac1 Rf7 27. Qf3 Qg5 28. Qg3?! (28. Qd5) 28... Qxg3 29. hxg3 Rd7 30. Rfd1 Bd3! 31. Kg1 e4

From here on out, the imbalances make it relatively easy for the now-GM to outplay his opponent, though the position is about equal.

 

32. Kf2 Rd5 33. Ke3 Rg5 34. Kf4? Rg4+ 35. Ke3 Rxg3+ 36. Kf2 Rg5 37. Re1 Rf5+ 38. Ke3 Kh6 39. Rcd1 h4 40. Rd2 Rg5 41. Rf2 Kh5 42. Kf4 Rg3 43. Rxe4 Rg4+ 0-1 Ray, P-Finegold,B (2543)/ Cherry Hill 2007. White clearly should have won. It's amusing that Finegold went wrong twice in games using his own defense. This just goes to show that the Smith-Morra presents real difficulty for even the most prepared.

 

b) 11... O-O?! is obviously wrong: 12. Nc6 Qe8 13. Bf4 e5 14. Nxe7+ Qxe7 15. Bg5

 

12. Bxe6! fxe6 13. Nxe6 Qb6 14. Nd5!

Also good may be 14. Be3!? -- but the Knight move is very strong.

 

14... Bxd5

Or 14... Nxd5 15. Nxg7+ Kd8! (15... Kf7 16. Qh5+ Kg8 17. Nf5 Ne5 18. Rd3!!) 16. exd5 b4 17. Ne6+ Kc8 18. Bf4! Kb8 19. Rac1

 

15. exd5 Ne5

a) 15... Kf7!? 16. Ng5+ Ke8 17. Bf4

b) 15... g6 16. Re1 Ne5 17. Be3 Qb7 18. f4 Nc4 19. Bd4

 

16. Be3 Qb7 17. f4 Nc4 18. Bd4! Nxd5?

a) 18... Nb6! 19. Nxg7+ (19. Rac1 Nbxd5 20. Bxf6 Nxf6 21. Nc7+ Kf8 22. Nxa8 Qxa8 23. Qe6 Qa7+ 24. Kh1 g6 25. Rxd6 Ne4 26. Rb6 Nf2+ 27. Kg1 Nd3 28. Rc8+ Kg7 29. f5 Rxc8 30. f6+ Kh6 31. Qh3+=) (19. Re1!? Nbxd5 20. Qf3 Kf7 21. Rad1 Rhe8 22. Bxf6 Bxf6 23. Qh5+ Kg8 24. Qxd5 Qxd5 25. Rxd5 Bxb2 26. Rxd6=) 19... Kf7 20. Nf5!? (20. Ne6 Nbxd5 21. Rd3!?) 20... Nbxd5 21. Qf3 Rab8 22. g4!?

 

b) 18... Kf7!? 19. Rac1 Rhc8 (otherwise b3 and Rc7) 20. Ng5+ Kf8 21. Qe6 Bd8 22. b3 Nb6 23. Qxd6+ Qe7 24. Ne6+ Ke8 25. Qxe7+ Kxe7 26. Nxd8 Rxc1 27. Rxc1 Rxd8 28. Bxb6 Rxd5 29. Rc7+

 

19. Bxg7

Also strong is 19. Nxg7+!?

 

19... Rg8?

19... Kf7 20. Bxh8 Rxh8 21. Rd3 (21. f5) 21... Rg8 22. Qe4

 

20. Rxd5! Kd7?!

Black is also lost after 20... Qxd5?? 21. Nc7+ or 20... Rxg7 21. Nxg7+ Kf7 22. Nf5.

 

21. Nc5+ Kc6 22. Nxb7 Rxg7 23. Qe4! Kc7 24. b3 Nb6 25. Rc1+ Kd7 26. Nc5+

26. Qf5+! forces mate, but Esserman seems in no hurry to finish things.

 

26... Ke8 27. Rxd6 Rc8 28. Rc6 Rb8 29. Ne6 Kf7 30. Nxg7 Bf6 31. Rc7+ Kg8 32. Nh5 Nd7 33. Rxd7 Be7 34. Qxe7 h6

White has mate on the move but perhaps decides to punish Finegold for not resigning earlier.

 

35. Rcc7 b4 36. Nf6+ Kh8 37. h4!? a5 38. Qh7#

Black checkmated. Probably White should sacrifice the Queen before delivering mate for the best effect.

 

1-0

[Michael Goeller]

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Game in PGN

References

Copyright © 2010 by Michael Goeller