I've been playing the Smith-Morra Gambit (e4 c5 d4 cxd4 c3) against the Sicilian defense for about 2 years. I have a tournament coming up in 3 days and I am beginning to doubt if the Smith-Morra would suffice. I like attacks and do not enjoy slow maneuvering play (which is why I do not play queen's pawn). Is there any reason I should change my response to the Sicilian? It seems like 3 days is not enough time to learn the thousands of variations in the Sicilian. And even I understand good play by black means that I am down a pawn for good.

FYI, I have an FIDE rating of 1398 and it seems to me that my opponents will be rated average of 1600.

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    It is always better to play an opening that you are familiar with against a stronger player. At least you know the pitfalls and possibilities. The other one might.
    – Marco
    Jul 19, 2017 at 8:31

6 Answers 6


The gambit is perfect for amateurs, the gambit is tricky and could be deadly if Black underestimate White's attacking potential.

I've personally used it to beat players around FIDE 2000, so it's fine for you to try.


I've been playing the Smith Morra Gambit for about 5 years and am rated around 2000 FIDE currently. I regularly play the Morra(it is my only response against the Sicilian), and my performance with it is usually 100 or more points above my rating. Thus, the Morra definitely can be played against stronger opposition. However, if you are serious about continuing the Morra throughout your chess career, you must buy Mayhem in the Morra by Marc Esserman. Any serious morra player has this book.

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    I must second the book suggestion - If I hadn't been just about to get off the bus when I answered I would have sung its praises!
    – Ian Bush
    Jul 18, 2017 at 7:26
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    I just purchased it on Amazon :) Now I just need to continue studying some d4 lines... Jul 18, 2017 at 11:04

I'm rated around 1850 FIDE (approx as converted from the UK system). I play the Morra and it does me just fine - I've drawn against 2000+ players with it and do well against similar rated opponents. So if you enjoy it, play it - professionals excepted that's why we play chess!

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    "if you enjoy it, play it" -- 1. P-QN4. And the masters frown for some reason.
    – Joshua
    Jul 17, 2017 at 15:50
  • I do enjoy it, but one weakness of the Morra seems to be that anyone could choose to decline it and transpose to Alapin, which isn't my taste either. Jul 17, 2017 at 23:30
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    Esserman has some suggestions there as well, though I can't deny seeing 3 Nf6 is always a bit of a disappointment
    – Ian Bush
    Jul 18, 2017 at 7:51

Yes. The Smith-Morra will suffice if you're playing 1600s. If you lose, then your problem is likely not because of the opening.

The Smith-Morra gambit is for bottom feeders. You can still be 2000 FIDE and play it. But that's probably the rating threshold where you should switch to a more mainline opening.

I've actually seen an 1800 rated player beat a grandmaster online on ICC with the Smith-Morra Gambit!

Therefore, it depends on what you use chess for; the smith-morra gambit is absolutely working at a 1600 level, it's not like a grandmaster can lose to 2000s by playing the Smith-Morra gambit, although he'd (or she'd) probably have to switch for when playing 2200s.

If you want to be titled, you have to play the main lines (because then you'll never have to switch again, but also there's no risk because it has basically been proven to be sound). I absolutely love Quality Chess's motto: "Tired of getting bad positions? Try the main lines!"

P.s. A good line for black against the smith morra gambit would be the Siberian trap line. Even if white doesn't fall for the Nd4 trap, black can still get a safe position (and the computer evaluates it as 0s).

Edit: I just realized that this was too late to post, because you wanted to know if you could use it in your upcoming tournament.

  • Sure, the Smith-Morra is working quite well for me right now. I actually had a really interesting transposition from the Morra to the French Advanced Variation today. Jul 24, 2017 at 9:44
  • Somewhat stronger players do include the Morra as part of their repertoire. From GM Larry Christiansen's foreword to "Mayhem in the Morra": "In 2011, when preparing for the US Championship, I decided to employ the Morra Gambit as a surprise weapon if given the chance. Marc supplied me with a vast amount of analysis and novelties for that tournament and I became convinced that the gambit was not only dangerous, but perfectly sound." And another example game: chessgames.com/perl/chessgame?gid=1630005
    – Ian Bush
    Jul 24, 2017 at 10:42
  • AggresiveBee15 Nice :). @Ian Bush Well, are you saying that it is sound for 2500+ level? I strongly disagree... Just because a Grandmaster makes a DVD on an opening, it doesn't make the opening theoretically healthier or weaker, unless he/she finds a convincing novelty. A magic fairy isn't going to come and save your position if it's already bad. DVDs are for amateur people that want to learn how to play their opening, but they don't want to be a world champion. Jul 25, 2017 at 3:30
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    Not a debating place so I'll say no more than I'm not qualified to make judgements on Grandmasters openings and their soundness, but looking at game databases the Morra seems to have had a bit of a resurgence at at least the IM level recently, so to me it looks better than the 2000-2200 you mention.
    – Ian Bush
    Jul 25, 2017 at 7:14

My experience has been that even stronger players don't like playing against the Smith-Morra because it takes them out of their "book". When the clock is ticking and they have to solve opening problems over the board that they might not be all that familiar with, that's a great equalizer. It takes them out of their comfort zone. If someone's playing the Sicilian, it's a good bet that they know the standard lines. I like using the Grob against mid-range players for the same reason. In a tournament where I had beaten and drawn Experts in the first 2 rounds, I played a Sicilian against a category 1 player in the 3rd round who used a Smith-Morra and won after I got lost in the complications, ruining what had been a good tournament for me. If you're playing against category 1 or better players, that might be a different story, but at the level you indicate, I see no problem with using it, particularly since you have a good working knowledge of it as you indicate.



I think it's safe to say that the Smith-Morra is playable at the 1600 level.

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