Watson on Trent: The Smith-Morra Gambit

12/5/2012 – "Drawing upon his own experience and analysis, Lawrence Trent put together a complete DVD on the Smith-Morra Gambit, 1 e4 c5 2 d4 cxd4 3 c3. Trent's presentation is systematic and clearly outlined – and the Morra is a great opening with which to teach younger players basics like the value of development, while developing their tactical skills." Review.

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Lawrence Trent: The Smith-Morra Gambit

Review by John Watson

Drawing upon his own experience and analysis, Lawrence Trent put together a complete DVD on the Smith-Morra Gambit, 1 e4 c5 2 d4 cxd4 3 c3.

Trent's presentation is systematic and clearly outlined, and he doesn't ignore challenging lines. His is a good example of how a video DVD can provide a solid starting point even if it isn't as analytically complete as a full-length book on the subject. I think this is particularly useful in the case of an opening like the Morra, because it's a great opening with which to teach younger players basics like the value of development, while developing their tactical skills. That doesn't require hundreds of pages of dense analysis.

The Morra can also be a good weapon up through the master ranks if you know its intricacies, and I can even see it as a decent practical try versus a grandmaster. Nevertheless, one has to wonder why the strongest grandmasters never employ it. Is it because the Morra isn't fully sound? That question isn't resolved, in my opinion, but it points to a basic problem. You'll find that proponents of the Morra often brag about White reaching equality. There's an excellent recent book 'Mayhem in the Morra!' by Marc Esserman about 3 c3, for example, with wonderful improvements in various lines, but at certain points we are supposed to be happy that Black will have to accede to equality and, as he once says, 'swallow his pride' in so doing. In fact, many writers about the Morra put a lot of effort into proving that White can work his way to an equal game against various promising Black setups. But that's an odd criterion for success: Yes, it's nice that the Morra can't be refuted, but how thrilling is it to know that White isn't in trouble after only his third move of a chess game? This reminds me of some advocates of irregular first moves for White who seem to think that equality is a stunning achievement. The real question is whether White can arrange his repertoire so that, whatever the precise theoretical verdict, there is a great deal of play in the position.

Anyway, let's follow some of Trent's presentation and see what we can learn from it. Apart from the fact that a DVD necessarily contains much less analysis than a book, it's worth noting that Trent's work precedes Esserman's by two years, which is a lifetime in the development of theory and thus puts him at a disadvantage.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "2012.08.10"] [Round "?"] [White "Morra Gambit - Taylor Defence"] [Black "?"] [Result "*"] [ECO "B21"] [Annotator "Watson,John"] [PlyCount "34"] [SourceDate "2012.08.10"] 1. e4 c5 2. d4 cxd4 3. c3 dxc3 4. Nxc3 Nc6 5. Nf3 d6 6. Bc4 a6 7. O-O Nf6 { This is the 'Taylor Variation', often described as one of Black's best lines.} 8. b4 ({Esserman likes} 8. Bf4 {in his 'Mayhem in the Morra!', but that's another story. Hopefully I'll get around to reviewing his book, because there's a lot to say about that move.}) 8... Bg4 ({Trent gives} 8... e6 {(This looks like a real problem for White, and after writing this review, I noticed that Ftacnik and Esserman, in his new book, agree)} 9. b5 (9. a3 {. In Mastering the Chess Openings 4, I give this as a recommendation, simply establishing a territorial edge, with the idea Bf4 in some lines and Bb2 or Ra2-d2 in others. Black probably stands somewhat better, but the game remains more complicated and White can play his style of game. Trent mentions 9 a3 and even hints that it might be best, but spends his entire time on 9 b5.}) 9... axb5 10. Bxb5 (10. Nxb5 Be7 {or even 10...Nxe4 looks good for Black}) {, but now} 10... Be7 $15 {looks enough for some advantage, e.g.,} 11. e5 dxe5 ({or} 11... Ng4 12. exd6 Qxd6 13. Qe2 O-O $15) 12. Qxd8+ (12. Nxe5 Bd7) 12... Bxd8 13. Nxe5 Bd7 14. Nxd7 Kxd7 15. Rd1+ Kc8 16. Bb2 Bc7 17. Rac1 Rd8 $15) 9. b5 Bxf3 10. gxf3 (10. Qxf3 Ne5) 10... axb5 11. Bxb5 {This is the main game on the DVD, but} (11. Nxb5 $1 {is very likely better, and it's Trent's recommendation. He examines 11...Ne5 12 Qb3! at some length, leading to a some winning positions for White and another with a complex position. I think Black can improve in that line, and the move} Qd7 {is also quite playable.}) 11... g6 ( 11... e6 {is also good}) 12. Nd5 Bg7 13. Bb2 Nh5 14. Bxg7 Nxg7 15. Rc1 O-O 16. Bxc6 bxc6 17. Rxc6 {Hardarson-De Firmian, Copenhagen 1999; and Trent gives} e6 {with the idea ...Nh5-f4. Apart from his kingside issues, notice that White's pawn on a2 is weak. 8 b4 is a fair practical choice; but from a theoretical point of view, White is better off with 8 Bf4.} *

Trent deals with very accurately with an early ...d6/...Nc6/...Nf6, a line that is often misanalysed:

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Morra: Early ...Nc6 + ...Nf6"] [Black "?"] [Result "*"] [Annotator "Watson,John"] [PlyCount "19"] [EventDate "2010.07.05"] [SourceDate "2012.08.10"] 1. e4 c5 2. d4 cxd4 3. c3 dxc3 4. Nxc3 d6 5. Bc4 Nc6 6. Nf3 Nf6 {Sometimes given '?', but it's more like '?!' at worst.} 7. e5 $1 {[#]} dxe5 (7... Ng4 {may be best:} 8. exd6 ({Langrock has a long line with} 8. e6 fxe6 {, ultimately equal.}) 8... exd6 (8... Qxd6 9. O-O (9. Qxd6 exd6 10. Nb5 Rb8 11. O-O Be6 $11) 9... e6 $2 (9... Qxd1 10. Rxd1 Bf5 11. Nb5 Rc8 12. h3 Nge5 13. Nxe5 Nxe5 14. Bd5 $14) 10. Nb5 $1 (10. h3 Nf6 11. Qe2 a6 12. Rd1 Qc7 13. Bg5 Be7 14. Rac1 O-O 15. Ne4 Nd5 $11) 10... Qb8 11. h3 a6 (11... Nf6 12. g3 $1 $16) 12. hxg4 axb5 13. Bxb5 Be7 14. Qe2 O-O 15. Rd1 $14 ) 9. O-O Be7 10. h3 Nge5 11. Nxe5 dxe5 12. Qh5 O-O 13. Rd1 Qa5 14. Be3 $14) 8. Qxd8+ Nxd8 $6 ({Objectively, the best may be} 8... Kxd8 9. Ng5 Na5 $1 10. Bxf7 $1 (10. Nxf7+ Ke8 11. Nxh8 Nxc4) (10. Bb5 Be6 11. Nxe6+ fxe6 12. Be3 Nc6 13. Bc4 Kc7 $14) 10... e6 11. O-O h6 $1 12. Nf3 $1 (12. Nxe6+ Ke7 13. Nc7 Kxf7 14. Nxa8 Bd6) 12... Bd6 $14) 9. Nb5 $1 (9. Nxe5 a6 {is unclear.}) 9... Rb8 {and White has two good solutions:} 10. -- ({(a) Trent gives the direct} 10. Nc7+ Kd7 11. Nb5 Nc6 (11... Ke8 12. Nxe5 e6 13. O-O) 12. Bf4 $1 {with the idea} exf4 13. O-O-O+ Nd5 (13... Ke8 14. Nc7#) 14. Rxd5+ Ke6 15. Nc7+ Kf6 16. Ne8+ Kg6 ( 16... Ke6 17. Ng5#) 17. Rg5+ Kh6 18. Bxf7 g6 19. g4 Bxg4 20. Rxg4) ({(b)} 10. Nxe5 e6 11. Bf4 $1 $16 {-Esserman's assessment, and now} Bb4+ 12. Kf1 Nh5 13. Be3 O-O 14. Be2 a6 (14... Nf6 15. Nd3 $1 Be7 16. Bf4 $16 {'and Black's rook falls', though} Ra8 17. Nc7 Rb8 18. Nxe6 Bxe6 19. Bxb8 Nc6 20. Bf4 Nd4 {is surprisingly just a bit awkward for White, who must nevertheless be able to consolidate with his full exchange}) 15. a3 Ba5 ({Esserman gives only} 15... Be7 16. Na7 {, which leads to a large advantage}) 16. b4 (16. Bc5 axb5 17. Bxh5 f6 18. Bxf8 Kxf8 19. Nd3 e5 {with two bishops and considerable, if not necessarily full, compensation for the exchange}) 16... axb5 17. bxa5 Nf6 18. Bc5 Nc6 19. Bxf8 Kxf8 {. Here Black will get a pawn for the exchange and prospects of two. Probably} 20. f4 Nxa5 21. Bxb5 Nd5 $14 {is best}) *

I'd recommend the Morra especially to young and developing players, for whom this DVD should more than suffice as a resource. If you're going to succeed with it against more advanced opposition, a complete book is needed (Essermann's, or Hans Langrock's 2nd edition of Winning with the Morra).


Sampler: IM Lawrence Trent on the Smith Morra Gambit

Lawrence Trent: born in 1986, is an international master, who has represented England in numerous international youth championships (including a 7th place in the U18 WCh in 2003).

The Londoner, who has a degree in Romance languages, already has a lot of experience as a trainer. Trent has so far recorded two DVDs for ChessBase (the Two Knights Attack and the Morra Gambit).

Trent also demonstrated his ability as a commentator on live chess at the London Chess Classic, where he commented on the games of Carlsen, Kramnik and Co. both for the public in the hall and on Playchess.

You can find more of Lawrence Trent's training DVDs and
60 Minutes downloads here in the ChessBase Shop.


John Watson is an International Master from the United States. He has written over 25 books, including


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