Sicilian Defence, Smith–Morra Gambit

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Smith–Morra Gambit
a8 black rook
b8 black knight
c8 black bishop
d8 black queen
e8 black king
f8 black bishop
g8 black knight
h8 black rook
a7 black pawn
b7 black pawn
d7 black pawn
e7 black pawn
f7 black pawn
g7 black pawn
h7 black pawn
d4 black pawn
e4 white pawn
c3 white pawn
a2 white pawn
b2 white pawn
f2 white pawn
g2 white pawn
h2 white pawn
a1 white rook
b1 white knight
c1 white bishop
d1 white queen
e1 white king
f1 white bishop
g1 white knight
h1 white rook
Moves1.e4 c5 2.d4 cxd4 3.c3
ECOB20 or B21[a]
Named afterKen Smith
Pierre Morra
ParentSicilian Defence
Synonym(s)Morra Gambit

In chess, the Smith–Morra Gambit (or simply Morra Gambit) is an opening gambit against the Sicilian Defence distinguished by the moves:

1. e4 c5
2. d4 cxd4
3. c3

White sacrifices a pawn to develop quickly and create attacking chances. In exchange for the gambit pawn, White has a piece developed after 4.Nxc3 and a pawn in the center, while Black has an extra pawn and a central pawn majority. The plan for White is straightforward and consists of placing the bishop on c4 to attack the f7-square, and controlling both the c- and d-files with rooks, taking advantage of the fact that Black can hardly find a suitable place to post the queen.

The Smith–Morra is uncommon in grandmaster games, but is popular at club level.[4] Despite this, the Smith Morra does not have a definitive refutation.


The Smith–Morra is named after Pierre Morra (1900–1969) from France,[5] and Ken Smith (1930–1999) of the Dallas Chess Club.[6] Hence in Europe the name Morra Gambit is preferred; names like Tartakower Gambit and Matulovic Gambit have disappeared.

Morra published a booklet and several articles about the Smith–Morra around 1950. Smith wrote a total of nine books and forty-nine articles about the gambit. When Smith participated in an international tournament against several top grandmasters in San Antonio in 1972, he essayed the opening three times, against Donald Byrne, Larry Evans, and Henrique Mecking, but lost all three games.

Many players consider the opening amateurish. Marc Esserman is one of its leading advocates today.

Continuations overview[edit]

Black has a wide choice of reasonable defences after 1.e4 c5 2.d4 cxd4 3.c3. White sometimes plays 2.Nf3 and 3.c3, which depending on Black's response may rule out certain lines.

Morra Gambit Accepted: 3...dxc3 [edit]


  • Classical Main line: 4...Nc6 5.Nf3 d6 6.Bc4 e6 7.0-0 Nf6 8.Qe2 Be7 9.Rd1 e5 10.h3 or 10.Be3
  • Scheveningen setup: 4...Nc6 5.Nf3 d6 6.Bc4 e6 7.0-0 Nf6 (or Be7) 8.Qe2 a6 9.Rd1 Qc7 (probably inferior Qa5) 10.Bf4 (10.Bg5) Be7
  • Siberian Variation: 4...Nc6 5.Nf3 e6 6.Bc4 Nf6 and 7...Qc7, with the idea being after 7.0-0 Qc7 8.Qe2 Ng4!, 9.h3?? loses to the famous "Siberian Trap" 9...Nd4!, winning the queen. If instead White plays 9.Rd1, preventing 9...Nd4, Black can continue with 9...Bc5 with a clearly better game.
  • Nge7 variations: 4...Nc6 (or 4...e6) 5.Nf3 e6 6.Bc4 a6 (Nge7) 7.0-0 Nge7 (d6 8.Qe2 Nge7 9.Bg5 h6) 8.Bg5 f6 9.Be3
  • 6...a6 Defence: 4...Nc6 5.Nf3 d6 6.Bc4 a6 eventually 7...Bg4
  • Fianchetto: 4...g6 (4...Nc6 5.Nf3 g6 allows 6.h4!?) 5.Nf3 Bg7 6.Bc4 Nc6
  • Chicago Defence: 4...e6 5.Bc4 a6 6.Nf3 b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.0-0 and Black plays ...Ra7 at some stage
  • Early queenside fianchetto: 4...e6 5.Bc4 a6 6.Nf3 b5 7.Bb3 Bb7


This line is similar to the Danish Gambit: 4...cxb2 5.Bxb2

Morra Gambit Declined[edit]

  • Advance Variation: 3...d3
  • First transposition to the Alapin: 3...Nf6 4.e5 Nd5
  • Second transposition to the Alapin: 3...d5 4.exd5 Qxd5 (Nf6) 5.cxd4

The latter has a bad reputation, as square c3 is free for the knight. Still 5...Nf6 (5...e5; 5...Nc6 6.Nf3 e5) 6.Nf3 e6 7.Nc3 Qd6 is likely to transpose to a main line of the Alapin: 2.c3 d5 3.exd5 Qxd5 4.d4 e6 5.Nf3 Nf6 6.Bd3 Nc6 7.0-0 cxd4 8.cxd4 Be7 9.Nc3 Qd6.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The latest (2002) edition of the Encyclopaedia of Chess Openings, volume B, classifies all lines beginning 1.e4 c5 2.d4, including the Smith–Morra Gambit, under B20.[1] However, Chess Informant gives B21 as the code for 1.e4 c5 2.d4 cxd4 3.c3 in its guide to the ECO opening codes provided on its website[2] and has classified games featuring the Smith–Morra Gambit under B21 in its more recent publications.[3]


  1. ^ Krnic, Zdenko; Matanovic, Aleksandar (2002). Encyclopaedia of Chess Openings, volume B (4th ed.). Belgrade: Chess Informant. ISBN 978-8672970500.
  2. ^ "Encyclopaedia of Chess Openings Classification Code Index" (PDF). Chess Informant. Retrieved 1 July 2015.
  3. ^ Matanovic, Aleksandar, ed. (2013). Chess Informant 118. Belgrade: Chess Informant. p. 195. ISBN 978-8672970685.
  4. ^
  5. ^ Chess Notes by Edward Winter, entry 3953 ("Morra")
  6. ^ Kenneth Ray Smith (1930–1999) Obituary at the US Chess Federation

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]