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
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.
An alternate move order that can cause White some trouble is 6... Nf6 7. Qe2!? (seeking to improve on 7.
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.
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:
Langrock' s recommendation, as well as Ciaffone's in a chapter titled "You Want to Play White"!
Langrock gives the more accurate 10. Nxe5!
Try defending Black's position against your computer and you will quickly learn a lot about the power of White's initiative!
11. Nxe5 Nc6! (11... Nbd7? 12. Nxf7! or 11...
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.
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).
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
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.
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)
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)
17. Bxc5 Qxc5 18. Qf3
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.
Also good may be 14. Be3!? -- but the Knight move is very strong.
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!?
Also strong is 19. Nxg7+!?
26. Qf5+! forces mate, but Esserman seems in no hurry to finish things.
White has mate on the move but perhaps decides to punish Finegold for not resigning earlier.
Black checkmated. Probably White should sacrifice the Queen before delivering mate for the best effect.
Game in PGN
Copyright © 2010 by Michael Goeller