Chess Notes
By Harold Dondis and Patrick Wolff
October 17, 2009

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The US Chess League gave its game-of the-week award to Mark Esserman for his fine victory over Tom Bartell of the Philadelphia Inventors in the Leagues’ fourth round. We have already published Esserman’s fine win in the second round. This one is a Morra Gambit against the Sicilian defense, a true gambit in which White surrenders a pawn in the center for development and attack.

In this game Esserman forces a Black Knight back and breaks through in the center. Bartell as Black gives up his Queen but has a Rook, Knight and two pawns for the Lady, certainly a net gain in material. However, his under-development is his undoing.

a) Of course the Morra Gambit is not really “sound’’ per se, but it makes for a good game and is generally underestimated. I have fond memories of it as I played it as a teenager.

b) This setup avoids any immediate disaster, but it can easily lead to a passive position for Black.

c) I would prefer 13. . .Rc8. Black should avoid creating weaknesses while he is still behind in development.

d) I do not see a refutation of 15. . .Rc8, so I believe Black should have preferred this move.

e) And here 16. . .Na7 looks better, so that in the event White tries 17.Nxe5 dxe5 18.d6 Bxd6 19.Bc5, black can defend d6 with 19Nc8. Of course White still has tons of pressure after 16Na7, but the game would go on. Now White smashes through.

f) Or 18. . .Nbd7 19.dxe7 Qxe7, when White’s two bishops and initiative far outweigh the pawn.

g) 19. . .Ne8 20.Bxd6 Nxd6 21.Qxe5 is horrible for Black, and White may have even stronger.

h) Black is too far behind in development to be so greedy. After 20. . .Rxd8 21.Rxc5 (21.bxc5? Nc6) 21Nbd7 Black can keep fighting, although certainly White stands much, much better.

i) Or 25. . .Na6 26.Rd1 etc.

j) After 27. . .Nbd7 (27g6 28.Rxf8+ Kg7 29.Rg8#; 27h6 28.g6) 28.Rxa8 axb4 29.axb4 g6 30.Be6 Kg7 31.Bxd7 Nxd7 32.Ra7 White wins the knight.

Annotations by grandmaster Patrick Wolff, a two-time US champion who offers chess exercises and more at

Esserman Bartell 2009 US Chess League (Boston vs. Philadelphia) Sicilian Morra Gambit

Esserman BartellEsserman Bartell
White BlackWhite Black
1. e4 c515. Nd5! Bxd5? (d)
2. d4 cxd416. exd5 Nb8? (e)
3. c3!? (a) dxc317. Nxe5! dxe5
4. Nxc3 Nc618. d6 Bxd6 (f)
5. Nf3 d619. Bc5 Bxc5 (g)
6. Bc4 e620. Rxd8 Bxf2+? (h)
7. O-O Be721. Qxf2 Rxd8
8. Qe2 Nf622. g4! a5
9. Rd1 e5 (b)23. g5 Nfd7
10. Be3 O-O24. Qxf7+ Kh8
11. Rac1 Bd725. Qe7 Rf8 (i)
12. a3 a626. Qxf8+! Nxf8
13. b4 b5?! (c)27. Rc8 (j) 1-0
14. Bb3 Be6