Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Mayhem in the Morra – the amazing Nd5 sacrifce motif

Mayhem in the Morra – the amazing Nd5 sacrifce motif

Do you like games, which are as early as move 8 out of any chess theory (e.g. not covered by ChessBase Mega Database 2012)? Sacrificing a knight at move 9 for seemingly nothing? All engines claiming you are crazy just to change their mind completely after a few moves? Read on and enjoy this Morra tale!

I’m not only the author of CPT, but an active chess player too. Actually, in first place I wrote the software for myself (in 2004) to improve my opening play. I played the following game (my first Morra ever) at board 3 in a match of the German NRW Verbandsliga. This is not a league, where you dare to play nonsense. My opponents rating was 2000 DWZ (approx. 2100 ELO). Although CPT played an important role to learn the opening, it is not the topic this time.

The game gives much space for delving into amazing analysis. While analysing the game at my chess club we could hardly stop. It perfectly shows the richness of the Morra gambit. A man called Marc Esserman made me a Morra convert.

If somebody would have told me in December 2012 I’m going to play the Morra Gambit in a game with standard time control soon (or even post a game of myself here), I would have laughed about him. Now, exactly this happened in February 2013. It all started when I heard about a new chess book called „Mayhem in the Morra“. I already read quite a few chess opening books. Usually, gambit books are fun to read, but they don’t offer an in depth and objective analysis. Some reviews gave me the impression that the book by Esserman is different. I bought the book and couldn’t stop reading it. Even if you never play this opening this is an outstanding work of labor and love you should check. Fantastic analysis and entertaining in a unique way (Chris Wards books are quite fun to read, but this one goes beyond that level).

Unfortunately, there is no ebook available (my only complain). So I had to enter the complete opening into CPT manually. Well, it also helped me to understand the opening and there is much more than forced lines to learn as you will find out by reading the book.

Let’s start with the game:

1. e4 c5 2. d4 cxd4 3. c3 dxc3 4. Nxc3 a6 5. Nf3 e6 6. Bc4 Qc7

morra qc7

My first Morra and already a tricky move order, which I haven't seen before in quite a few online games (keep in mind I have been playing it for just a month though). It is also not covered in the already mentioned Morra bible by Esserman.

7. Bb3

Qe2 is the most intuitive and a typical Morra move for white. However, the queen is already on the c-file and a rook on the d-file is less effective now.  Esserman also teaches in his book not to follow the standard Morra moves in all cases. More importantly: I knew that after Nc6, 8.0-0 Nf6 I can play Nd5 (coverd by Esserman, which I remembered). So, I opted for this continuation.

7… Nc6
8. O-O Bb4

morra before nd5

OK, we almost got to the position I had in mind. Unfortunately, this is another novelty for me. I knew that I could play Nd5 if Black would have played Nf6. ChessBase Megadatabase 2012 does not cover this position anymore and we are at move 8. White should not allow an exchange of his knight - at least not this way...

9. Nd5!

morra whysoserious

Well, many chess players will know the sacrifice motif of playing Nd5 with a rook already on c1. While reading Esserman’s book I learned a new way to sacrifice the knight and that is without any rook on c1 and no „I get my knight in two moves back“ forced line. So, in the position I decided to execute one of the most amazing sacrifice motifs in the Morra by playing Nd5 although I certainly was not able to completely analyze all variations. I decided to play it nonetheless while on my mind the soundtrack of some movie were playing (and some famous cinema quotes like “why are you so serious?”). You think I became completely mad? Read Esserman’s book and you will know. On a side note it is amazing how he managed to encouraged me to play such a move partly by his writing style.
Anyway, a very rich position arises. Turn on your engine and watch how the evaluation switches. My game contined with...


I believe my opponent thought I'm kidding. He spent only a few minutes on this move, but I guess as he saw that Re1 is not possible, he felt quite comfortable.

10. exd5 Ne5

mora qd4

How to continue? Any ideas with Re1 fail due to the bishop on b4. Furthermore it is not possible to push him away from the a5-e1 diagonal.

11. Qd4!

mora after qd4

That was the point of the knight sacrifice. At first it looks strange to let black exchange a piece on f3 and in turn even getting a double pawn, but Black can't take the knight:

11... Nxf3+ 12. gxf3

morra nxf3

it is difficult to find a good follow-up as the bishop on b4 and the pawn on g7 are hanging and Bf8 is certainly not an option: 12... Bf8 13. Re1++- Ne7 (13... Kd8 14. Bf4 d6 15. Rac1 Qa5 16. Bd2) 14. d6 +/-
And 12... Qd6 13. Bf4 Bc5 14. Rfe1+ Kd8 15. Qxg7 +/- doesn’t look good either.

After the game one of my team mates explained to me that he told my other colleague he really likes my position here. That was before he made him aware that I'm a whole piece down. Well, who is counting pieces in the opening?

I believe it was here that my opponent realized that Nd5 was no nonsense. He spent quite some time on his next move and decided to give back the piece.

11... Bd6

morra after bd6

Here I considered Re1, but I thought it is too slow after f6. And thus I played:

12. Nxe5

It looks logical. Winning back the piece and having an active position, but there was a much better move:

2. Bf4!

morra 12 bf4

Another amazing move, which your chess engine won't suggest, but one of my teammates insisted on in the after-game analysis. This is a real killer move. Black still can't take the knight although even the Bishop will hang (I wish I would have realized that during the game, but it takes some moves even for a strong chess engine to appreciate this move).

Now, the c-file looks really scary for Black.

If Nxf3+ 12... f6 13. Rac1 Nxf3+

[or 13... Qd8 14. Nxe5 Bxe5 15. Bxe5 fxe5 16. Qxe5+ Kf8 17. d6 Qf6 18. Qd5

morra black paralyzed

Black is paralyzed and the rook is going to f3 via c3. Still, Black is almost a clear piece up. So much about material!]

14. gxf3 Be5

(or 14... Qb8 will lose 15. Rfe1+ Ne7

 morra rxc8 motiv

16. Rxc8+!  taking the Bishop with the Rook is permanent threat now Qxc8 17. Bxd6)

15. Rfe1 Qd6 (15... Ne7 16. Rxc7 Bxd4 17. d6) 16. Kf1 Ne7 17. Bxe5 fxe5 18. Rxe5 Rf8 (18... O-O 19. Rxe7) 19. Rce1 Rf7 20. Qh4 Kd8 21. Qxh7 Kc7 22. Qh4 Nf5 23. Rc1+ Kb8 24. Rxc8+ Kxc8 25. Re8+ Kc7 26. Qc4+ Kb6 27. Rxa8 +/-) 13. gxf3 Bxf4 14. Qxg7 d6 (14... Be5 15. Rfe1 d6 16. f4 $16) 15. Rfe1+ Be5 16. f4 Ne7 17. Rxe5 Rf8 18. Re3 +/-)

Getting back to the game continuation where I played:

12. Nex5 Bxe5
13. Re1 d6
14. f4 f6

morra 14 pawn takes b immediately

What should white play?

My idea was to play Bd2 and forcing black to move the knight to e7 instead of Nf6 and only then taking the bishop with the idea to follow-up with Rc1 and having an active position.

Taking immediately with fxe5 is the right way though and it was even suggested from the sicilian mind. Getting this plan over the board is again counter-intuitive, but really great if you see the following astonishing move.

15... fxe5
16. Bf4!

morra bf4

If you saw that one, congratulations! That's the point behind taking immediately. White wants to take the pawn on e5 with his Bishop and dominating the board after the sacrifice. Who would have thought a chess engine plays like this? Maybe it learned from Nd5 and started to like what it has seen :)

Game could continue with 16… Nh6
[16... Nf6 17. Bxe5 O-O 18. Bxf6 Rxf6 19. Re8+ Rf8 20. Rxf8+ Kxf8 21. Qe4 +/-]
[(16... Ne7 17. Bxe5 O-O 18. Bxd6 Nf5 (18... Qxd6 19. Rxe7 Qxe7 20. d6+) 19. Bxc7 Nxd4 20. Ba4 b5 21. Bd1 Bd7 22. Bb6]

17. Bxe5 O-O (17... dxe5 taking the pawn loses 18. Rxe5+ Kd7 19. d6) 18. Qb4 Nf5 (18... Nf7 19. Rac1 Qd8 20. Bc3 Qg5 21. h4 Qg3 22. Re7 Bf5 23. Rf1)

Anyway, I played 15. Bd2 and the game continued…

15… Ne7 16. fxe5 fxe5 17. Qf2 Bf5 18. Rac1 Qd7 19. Qb6 Rc8 20. Bb4

morra bb4

The game continued and lasted for 5,5 hours. I made a mistake while transforming into the end game and should have lost. Fortunately, it turned out that the struggle before exhausted my opponent and I was able to win at the end when he lost his concentration for a second. That’s another point: the Morra can put a lot of pressure on your opponent as he has to navigate through a jungle of pitfalls.

I hope you enjoyed the game analysis. I’m not a titled player and mainly analyzed the game with some other team mates and of course with current chess engines. Therefore some strong players might find improvements for black.

There is an unwritten law that I don’t promote any opening book or other commercial content of other vendors on my website. I followed this law for the last 9 years, but today I had to make an exception. The book is really that good. I’m sure chess history will value the outstanding contribution to the chess community, which Marc Esserman achieved by his book. Many chess authorities are praising it already. Check out the Mayhem in the Morra webpage of the book.

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Comments (3)

  • Ted Summers
    11 September 2013 at 18:22 |
    Ted Summers

    Just too some time to go over this game. That is indeed a nice Sac. I will have to pick up this book you mention and go over it.

    Thank You.

  • Stefan Renzewitz
    11 September 2013 at 23:18 |
    Stefan Renzewitz

    Glad to hear you liked the game!

  • Berthold Metz
    14 January 2014 at 00:06 |
    Berthold Metz

    Very nice analysis!

    I agree that the book from Esserman is really worthy for the "swashbuckling" people that love to experience adventures along the chessboard. There are some smaller mistakes inside (e.g. the starting diagram of "Scheveningen I"), but that should be no problem for the ones feeling comfortable with "the Morra's insatiable lust" :)

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