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Thursday, January 17, 2013

A Danish/Morra/Elephant system?

As you may have guessed from my previous chess posts, I am a chess beginner and a gambiteer. I like to play the strange moves and see my opponents squirm in positions that they were not expecting and were not prepared for. That is why the proposition in this post is gambit galore and also to be taken with a grain of salt.

My idea is that there could be common themes for the three Gambits in the title, since they start almost the same way. You have the Smith-Morra Gambit, where White answers Black's Sicilian Defence with d4 and then c3 in the accepted version:1. e4 c5 2. d4 cxd4 3. c3 dxc3 4. Nxc3 * then you have the Danish Gambit, where White's move order is the same in response to King's pawn defence: 1. e4 e5 2. d4 exd4 3. c3 dxc3 4. Nxc3 * and then there is the similar response from Black to the King's pawn opening, called the Elephant gambit: 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 d5 3. exd5 *

You might notice that in the Elephant, I did not offer up a second pawn on c6. This is because the main line is pawn to e4 and also White has the opportunity to take e5 with the knight, which is the computer recommendation as well. The problem is that after Black's response Qe2 to the main line or the Bd6 computer recommendation after Nxe5, the Elephant doesn't appear at all like the Danish/Morra and, instead, threads into its own territory, somewhere closer to the Latvian gambit, but not by much. However, in this post I will be stretching the imagination and will be trying to squish the big Elephant into the Morra mold and see where it takes me.

I have just finished watching a two hour video presentation of the Morra accepted line, by IM Andrew Martin, and there are also a lot of tutorials for the Danish, from beginner to very advanced levels. Not so for the Elephant, which seems to be even less favoured than the Latvian, to which GM Roman Dzindzichashvili answered with a refutation and some very rude words to its efficacity. All that I could find about it are lines that have no connection with the Danish/Morra style and that is because of that pesky White knight on f3.

If my thesis holds ground, then I will be talking here about a chess system that has some similar ideas and theory for at least three major openings: The Sicilian Defence and King's pawn for both White and Black! Also, threading on less travelled ground, there is a good chance online and club players will be unnerved by it.

So let's get into it. I will start with the Smith-Morra main line. This means the most played version in database games, by players who know theory and open that way because it was proven to be the best way. There is little chance you will see the same moves in club level games.

1. e4 c5 2. d4 cxd4 3. c3 dxc3 4. Nxc3 Nc6 5. Nf3 d6 6. Bc4 e6 7. O-O Nf6 8. Qe2 Be7 9. Rd1 e5 10. h3 O-O 11. Be3 a6 12. Rac1 *

This is the position in which White wants to get. I tweaked a little the game so that at move 11. Black moved to the second most used line in the database, the a6 system, rather than Be6 and exchange light bishops. What I want to evidence here is the position of the White pieces: both rooks are connected and on open or semi-open files, cramping Black's development, the bishops are out and about, aiming at the Black king, the knights are developed and the queen is on a very crucial square, controlling yet another file and the essential e2-c4 diagonal.Black has not finished development, has pinned pawns and weaknesses like b6 where a knight may find outpost. There is a lot of potential for attack and, even before reaching this position, a lot of possible traps in which Black could fall. Even the main line has only about 100 games in the database at this point, so it is not very common, even if it is a pretty solid opening.

Let's move to the Danish and compare.

1. e4 e5 2. d4 exd4 3. c3 dxc3 4. Nxc3 Nc6 5. Bc4 Nf6 6. Nf3 d6 7. Qb3 (7. O-O Be7 8. Qe2 O-O 9. h3 a6 10. Rd1 b5 11. Bb3) 7... Qd7 8. Ng5 Ne5 9. Bb5 c6 10. f4 cxb5 11. fxe5 *

Seems to be a different beast altogether. I've added a variation that plays like the Morra, the single game in the database like that (Sipek-Urbanec 1995). The b5 push is also found in the Morra. So, what are the differences here? The most important to me seems the absence of the Black pawn on e6. That means White can attack much quicker and Black must defend more aggressively, too. The e4 pawn is unopposed and, in some games, that proves decisive for White. The pawn on c7 is still there, so the Black queen will have to maneuver on light squares instead of dark.

A possible conclusion would be that, even if they seem similar, the Danish and Morra gambits are quite different. But are they?

A White queen on e2 would support the e4 pawn in its push forward and make room for a rook on d1, just like in the Morra. The dark bishop can pin or eventually trade with the knight on f6 or even move to e3 or f4, supporting the e4 pawn as it moves to e5 and making room for a rook on c1. A computer analysis on a Danish game played in the Morra fashion shows equality when Black still has an extra pawn.

Now, some of the readers may scoff and conclude that I am trying to fit the proverbial triangle shape into the round hole using brute force, that attempting to take one opening and play it like another is an imperfect chimera, destined to be an abomination. However, I must remind you that I am not a master player, nor a professional one. I have no time to learn tons of theory just to win a game. My purpose for this research (which may still fail to achieve anything) is to find a gambit based system that uses the same principles for any opponent response. In time, each variation can be improved and branched off from the main system, but at the start all I need is for it to work.

Let's get back, then. How about playing a Morra game in the Danish way? Well, the Danish gambit is even rarer than the Smith-Morra and the games in my database are primarily focused on the exposed f7 square. It could work, I guess, but it would seem even more unnatural and, lacking proper theory, a beginner like me could easily mess it up. I will, therefore, use the Morra as the template to which all others must conform.

Besides, if you think fitting the Danish to the Morra was difficult, the Elephant comes next!

In the database there are only two games that start like a Morra Elephant and they both are won by White, which is not good for us. Only when it gets to the standard position of knight protecting the single center pawn, the transposed games suddenly reach 73! It seems this position can be more easily achieved by playing the Scandinavian defence! In the next board I will present the main line for the Elephant, then the Morra Elephant and at the same time the way to reach the same position from the Scandinavian. The rest will continue from the Elephant line, but, actually, it will be based more on Scandinavian games.

1. e4 e5 (1... d5 {The Scandinavian Defence} 2. exd5 c6 3. dxc6 Nxc6 4. Nf3 e5 {And we reach the position would would have liked from the Morra Elephant.}) 2. Nf3 d5 3. exd5 e4 (3... c6 {And here is a Morrafication of the Elephant} 4. dxc6 Nxc6 5. Bb5 Bd6 6. O-O Nge7 7. d4 e4 8. Ne5 Bxe5 9. dxe5 O-O 10. Qxd8 Rxd8 11. Nc3 Nxe5) 4. Qe2 {This is how the Elephant is mainly played.} Nf6 5. Nc3 Be7 6. Nxe4 O-O 7. d3 Nxd5 8. Qd1 Nc6 9. Be2 Bf5 10. O-O Qd7 *

Ooh! This seems completely different. White still has that extra tempo and he uses it to pin the Black knight on c6, which leaves e5 undefended. Black's bishop on f8 did not have time to get out, so moving the queen on e7 like in the Morra would block it and the entire king side. The move Bd6 is the only one that can defend the pawn and this gives White at least the opportunity to swap the bishop with the knight and mess up the Black pawn structure on the queen side. If White does not take, as in the example above, then the only possible move to protect the knight is to use the other knight on e7, thus forever altering the structure of the game.

It seems no amount of force will twist the Elephant into a Morra gambit a tempo behind. A Morra with a lost tempo doesn't even appear to work! Besides, in order to get here, White had to ignore the opportunity in the beginning to take on e5 with the knight, as suggested by the computer; a much safer route to the same dysfunctional position can be achieved from the Scandinavian defence.

The Elephant hides some interesting traps that have nothing to do with the Morra or the Danish and has more in common with the Latvian gambit that with the two systems above. The Latvian, if you remember, offers up two pawns in order to gain the tempo White is awarded in the start of a chess game. The Elephant can be played in the same way, only to lose two center pawns, so not so good. The similarities with the Morra/Danish are deceiving. A tempo behind, Black cannot use the same ideas, having to defend instead of attack.

Conclusion: It is a very difficult thing to find a defence for Black that works the same way as an opening for White, because of the extra tempo. Even so, the Elephant only begins like the Morra, it has nothing else in common. The Morra gambit itself is only similar to the Danish and, while I think they can be molded in the same shape, it would be a tortuous adventure that I am not sure will get me where I want.

I hope you have gained a little understanding of the differences between the three gambits and how simple differences like the position of a pawn or an extra tempo can change a game of chess.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice to see your further investigation and exploration of these openings! Especially my favourite, which you are very well aware of =D hehey.

G_I_Joe27