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Mikhail Tal vs Martins Neibults
"Morra! Morra! Morra!" (game of the day Nov-10-2013)
URS (1991)
Sicilian Defense: Smith-Morra Gambit. Accepted Scheveningen Formation (B21)  ·  1-0



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Given 37 times; par: 36 [what's this?]

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Kibitzer's Corner
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Nov-18-07  sweeviltree: What a fool to play this way against Tal!!

These poor guy's egg cracks open when his manly sausage of courage dries up. Look, it dries up when he retreats the knight. Then his mistake of 15...e5 was the sound of his egg of victory cracking open. Look, 15...e5 renders him totally passive and he can do nothing but wait for the end. What good are his other moves here? Maybe 15...Nc5 this may lose a piece, yet he can survive and still fight on.

So why do I think he was a fool? Look, if you play sicilian against Tal, then it means you will have to counter. So this guy was a not smart to accept the second pawn. He was also not developing well. Look, his queen was not safe on c7, so why move there just to move her again? He thinks "Let me give Tal two moves, and try to defend against his kingside attack." Not such a good strategy. He hands Tal the initiative with the first tempo, and his head with the second.

I agree that he was not a fool to play the sicilian against Tal, I say that he was a fool for not countering when he had the chance. And look, if you think a check is an adequate counter, then think again. What a foolish check he plays, 18...Bc5+. That takes the cake of stupidity and shoves it up his nose hair.

Dec-16-08  blacksburg: ummmm...ok.....manly sausage of courage? rly?
Mar-06-09  BKITU: My next "Rock Band" name is going to be "Manly Sausage of Courage."
Jul-22-09  newzild: I once needed courage to eat a sausage in Manly, but that's another story.
Jul-15-10  transpo: After 6.Bc4, correct is 6...a6 because of tactics on f7. The White N cannot go to b5 because of the pawn on
on a6. Also Black should never move ...Nf6, as in this game, prior to ...a6 because of e5 by White. Once again the Black pawn on a6 prevents the standard tactical shots by White.
Jul-15-10  The Famous Chess Cat: <HoopDreams:wow..i cant belive tal didnt play 11. Bxe5! dxe5 12. Bb5+! .... omigod omigod... but i guess his opp was a noob anyway...>

Doesn't that move just lose material for minimal dynamic compensation? I mean, Black can quickly castle kingside. And, axb5,Qxb5+, and Bd7 to block the check, Tal must move his Queen out of danger or sacrifice more material. Am I missing something?

Nov-08-11  LucrativePath: "The Famous Chess Cat: <HoopDreams:'wow..i cant belive tal didnt play 11. Bxe5! dxe5 12. Bb5+! .... omigod omigod... but i guess his opp was a noob anyway...>'

Doesn't that move just lose material for minimal dynamic compensation? I mean, Black can quickly castle kingside. And, axb5,Qxb5+, and Bd7 to block the check, Tal must move his Queen out of danger or sacrifice more material. Am I missing something?"

One possible idea of 12) Bb5+
11) Bxe5 dxe5
12) Bb5+ axb5
13) Nxb5 Qb8?
14) Rc1 ...

Now White can attack with Nc7+ forking the King and Rook also preventing Black from castling Kingside. Black has no defense at this position.

12) Bb5+ is just another loaded weapon White can unleash upon Black.

However, the correct response from Black would be ...

11) Bxe5 dxe5
12) Bb5+ Nd7

White cannot advance his Knight to b5 due to his Bishop. Nd7 allows Black time to castle King side.

Jul-09-13  thegadfly: How about 10...Be7?
Nov-10-13  ThumbTack: After 11.Bxe5 dxe5 12.B-b5+ axb5 13. Nxb5, a better Black response is 13..Q-b6. Now 14.Rc1 is met by B-c5 and the position holds. For example, after 14. b4, we have 14..Bxf2+.
Nov-10-13  Gottschalk: 24. Nc6 looks better.
Nov-10-13  catlover: What's amazing about this game is that black makes reasonable-looking moves, but by move 12 or 13 seems to end up trussed up like a Christmas turkey.

On a different tack: I know this is a Smith-Morra Gambit, but somehow the pun doesn't make a lot of sense: "Morra! Morra! Morra!" ?!

Premium Chessgames Member
  thegoodanarchist: The pun is a play on the title of a movie that featured the naval air forces of the Imperial Japanese Navy bombing US military installations and fleet units in Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941.

The movie is titled, "Tora Tora Tora". If I recall correctly, the translation is "Tiger Tiger Tiger" and was the code phrase issued by the attack commander to proceed, I think. Not 100% positive on that detail.

Anyway, great pun because Neibult got bombed too, figuratively speaking

Nov-10-13  morfishine: <thegoodanarchist> My wife is Japanese and has helped some. The kanji 突撃雷撃 roughly translates to 'lightning attack' while the literal translation of 'Tora' is torpedo attack, or attack torpedo

The repeat of the word 'tora' 3 times as signaled from Japanese Air Leader Fuchida back to the carriers, was a code in itself meaning complete surprise has been achieved (so the accurate translation of tora is moot)

And yes, Tal achieved complete surprise torpedoing Black's defense :)


Premium Chessgames Member
  scormus: Cool pun!

<Lightning attack> or it might translate <Blitzkrieg> Well, I can appreciate how 20 Qc5 must have come as a bit of a shock.

Premium Chessgames Member
  thegoodanarchist: <morfishine> Thanks for the info!
Nov-10-13  waustad: I remember a monograph about this opening, perhaps by Ken Smith from many years ago. I doubt that I've played it in the last 35 years.
Premium Chessgames Member
  perfidious: <waustad>: Indeed it was Smith who wrote on this line; had a clubmate in those bad old days who swore by the Morra, and Patrick Wolff played it until he got to 2200 level.
Premium Chessgames Member
  kevin86: Facing a Smothered mate threat or a veiled threat against the queen is the perfect time to resign.
Nov-19-13  Mudphudder: Love this game! Can't believe Tal played this gambit. Has he ever played it back in his heydays?
Feb-27-16  saintdufus: <ThumbTack: After 11.Bxe5 dxe5 12.B-b5+ axb5 13. Nxb5, a better Black response is 13..Q-b6. Now 14.Rc1 is met by B-c5 and the position holds. For example, after 14. b4, we have 14..Bxf2+.> Don't forget to give attribution for this line: it is found on p. 85 of IM Marc Esserman's book *Mayhem in the Morra!* (2012), which contains some very interesting and instructive analysis on this game.
Nov-09-16  bobbyperez: Mayhem in the Morra-11.Bb5+!!N 11.axb5 12.Nxe5! dxe5 13.Nxb5! Now white has a very strong attack on black's king.

If only the bishop is on e7 and the K-Knight is not developed,it would have been good to play Bxe5! and then Bb5!! .

Nov-23-16  Isilimela: Engines indicate black is ok up to move 15 when 15 ... e5 ? is the start of all his problems. Tal says thanks very much for knight outpost on f5 and control of a2-g8 diagonal!
Feb-14-18  RussellWestbROOK: 11. Bxe5 dxe5 12. Rac1! Qb8 (12... Bb4 13. Nb5 axb5 14 Bxb5+ +-) (12... Bb4 13. Nb5 Qb8 14. Bxe6 now we have threats of Rxc8+ ending the game on the spot, and 14... Bxe6 15. Nc7+! Kd7 16. Nxa8 Qxa8 even though black has two pieces for the rook, white is better (I don't care what your engine says).)
Premium Chessgames Member
  kingscrusher: Iconic game by Tal using the Smith-Morra gambit :)

I video annotated this a while back here:

Premium Chessgames Member
  FSR: "Games of the World Champions Using the Smith-Morra Gambit" would be a VERY short book, e.g. this one game by Tal; zero games by Carlsen, Anand, Kasparov, Kramnik, Spassky, Alekhine, and Topalov; and one delayed SMG by Fischer (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 a6 3.d4 cxd4 4.c3 in Fischer vs Korchnoi, 1960). Chessgames also gives one straight SMG of very dubious provenance by Fischer - I'm not counting it). Also no games by Steinitz, Lasker, Euwe, Botvinnik, Smyslov, Petrosian, and Karpov, as expected.

Morphy (a de facto champion) played 2.d4 cxd4 3.Nf3 (the Morphy Gambit) hoping for 3...e5, when he played 4.Bc4 and 5.c3. Similarly, Capablanca once played 2.d4 cxd4 3.Nf3 e5 4.c3. Capablanca vs E Delmonte, 1901. Both of them, and Alekhine, went into standard Sicilian lines if Black didn't play 3...e5.

If you're counting, that's exactly ONE game where any of the 16 undisputed world champions, plus Morphy and Topalov, played 1.e4 c5 2.d4 cxd4 3.c3. This game. It's reasonable to add Fischer-Korchnoi, which transposed to a standard SMG, to the proposed book. Being generous, you could throw in the two Morphy games and one Capablanca game with 2.d4 cxd4 3.Nf3 e5, where White played c3 on move 4 or 5.

It's true that the SMG wasn't really a thing until Matulovic took it up in the '50s, with considerable success. Pierre Morra wrote several articles and a booklet about the gambit c. 1950, but he was a player of much less note than even Ken Smith. Chessgames gives only one game of his, as Black in a Scotch. A Rhead vs P Morra, 1924. But even Matulovic's successes didn't persuade the champions to take up the gambit, even in simuls. And it's a fair bet that none of them pored over Ken Smith's pamphlets. Note that even Matulovic only played the gambit from 1953 to 1958, and played 2.Nf3 22 times as often as the gambit during his career. Repertoire Explorer: Milan Matulovic (white).

Even Nezhmetdinov never played the SMG. I suspect the rationale of all these legendary players was: "I know how to attack the Sicilian; why should I sac a pawn on move 2?"

The SMG is undoubtedly sounder than the King's Gambit. At very high depths Stockfish 15.1 gives the SMG as -0.09, while Stockfish 15 assesses the King's Gambit as -0.55. Marc Esserman ridiculed Short for condemning the SMG while playing the King's Gambit. (Short has since told me on Facebook that the King's Gambit is better for Black.) But the King's Gambit had a storied history over hundreds of years, though it's largely moribund today. The SMG's oeuvre, despite Esserman's efforts, has never been remotely comparable. Esserman raised the gambit's profile from laughable (he quite reasonably blames Smith's disastrous outing with it at San Antonio (1972)) to bordering on respectable. Anand declined the gambit - and drew - when he faced Esserman in 2016. M Esserman vs Anand, 2016. But it's still kind of the Rodney Dangerfield of openings: it "don't get no respect."

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