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Chess Notes

By Harold Dondis and Patrick Wolff
September 10, 2011

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Marc Esserman, one of the outstanding players appearing now and then at the Boylston Chess Club, turned in this sensational game at the US Open, against Loek van Wely, of the Netherlands, a frequent champion who maintains a high 2700 rating. The game is a Smith-Morra Gambit, with Esserman playing White and at its finish it set the Internet all abuzz. Alex Lenderman won the US Open in a playoff vs. Alejandro Ramirez, Esserman finished with a score of 7 points, a half point behind the leaders. Van Wely scored 6.5 points.

Esserman showed amazing hubris in taking on a player of van Wely’s stature with a gambit, but the Smith-Morra accepts a theoretically inferior position for marvelous over the board opportunities. In this game, van Wely kept his king in the center, while developing his queen’s bishop. White’s 13th move cut Black’s position in two, and van Wely had the problem of extricating his king’s bishop. After 15 Qf6, a solution was hardly possible as Esserman’s powerful pieces rained havoc on Black’s monarch.

a) In my opinion, 5. . .d6 6.Bc4 a6 (6Nf6? 7.e5!) 7.O-O Nf6 is one of the best setups for Black.

b) This is a typical move in this setup for White, the aim of which is to force Black to weaken himself with . . .f7-f6 in order to complete his development.

c) Now White has the idea of Na4 (e.g. 10. . .Be7 11.Na4 O-O [11b5?? 12.Bb6] 12.Nb6 with a bind), so Black is provoked into playing b7-b5, making White’s next move possible.

d) Full speed ahead! This is truly in the spirit of the Morra Gambit!

e) Black needs to block the e-file; not 12. . .Na5? 13.Re1! Also, note that 12Be7 13.dxc6 bxc6 14.Qc2 gives White a ferocious attack: that f7-f6 weakness hurts!

f) If 14. . .Nxe5 then 15.Re1 is pretty awful for Black.

g) This is a spectacular move! Now if 17. . .Qxg5 18.Qe1+! Be7 (18Kd8 19.Qa5+ is checkmate next move with either 20.Qc7 or 20.Bf7; on any other 18th move White plays 19.Bf7+ Kd8 20.Qa5+ Kc8 21.Qc7#) 19.Bf7+ Kf8 (19Kd8 20.Qa5+ Kc8 21.Qc7#) 20.Bxg6+ Kg8 (20Bf6 21.Qe7+ Kg8 22.Qf7#) 21.Bf7+ Kf8 22.dxe7+ Qxe7 23.Bh5+ etc. If 17Bxd6 18.Bf7+ Kf8 19.Bxg6+ Kg8 20.Bf7+ Kf8 21.Bb3+ Ke8 22.Re1 etc.

h) The dust has settled now, and White simply has a winning attack.

i) Black has no good defense, e.g. 26. . .Qxf4 27.Qxd7#; 26Ra7

Annotations by grandmaster Patrick Wolff, a two-time US champion.

Esserman/van Wely US Open, 2011 Smith-Morra Gambit

Esserman Van WelyEsserman Van Wely
White BlackWhite Black
1.e4 c514.Nxe5 fxe5 (f)
2.d4 cxd415.f4! Qf6
3.c3 dxc316.fxe5 Qxe5
4.Nxc3 Nc617.Bg5!! (g) Be7
5.Nf3 e6 (a)18.Bf7+ Kd8
6.Bc4 a619.dxe7+ Nxe7
7.O-O Nge720.Qd2 (h) Kc8
8.Bg5 (b) f621.Rac1+ Nc6
9.Be3 Ng622.Rfd1 Qf5
10.Bb3!? (c) b523.Bf4! Qxf7
11.Nd5!? (d) exd524.Qd6 Kd8
12.exd5 Nce5 (e)25.Rxc6 Bxc6
13.d6 Bb726.Qxc6 (i) 1-0