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Mayhem in the Morra Book Club 
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Post Mayhem in the Morra Book Club
Sarciness suggested a study group based on Esserman's groundbreaking work on the Morra Gambit. I am enthusiastic about this idea (and the opening and book) so I thought I'd get it started. This may end up just being me and Sarciness but I hope others (calling Andrewrun and Fox!) join in.

I've learned the Morra through a succession of books by Smith, Flesch, Taylor, Finegold, Burgess and Langrock. All of those books had their merits (OK, the Smith books were pretty weak) but none have excited me more than the Esserman book. There are a few reasons for this:

1. Esserman's book is the first to have the lines checked with a computer- super important in such a tactical opening. Fortunately, Esserman is a strong enough player to know when not to trust the computer evals outright (the computer tends to underestimate White's compensation in many lines- only revising them upwards when following his analysis). The resulting balance between the computer's ability to sort through tactical complications and Esserman's well-honed intuition and sense of the initiative is a satisfying one indeed.

2. Esserman is a courageous player and is willing to follow sacrifice with further sacrifice. This aspect, is probably the real reason for the book's success. Previous authors have tended to "play it safe" in many lines and subsequently missed the many improvements found by Esserman. Above all, he shows that the opening must be played with great energy- essentially playing for mate and rarely backing down into an endgame where traditionally, Morra players come to ruin. In particular, his investigation of the thematic Nd5 sacrifice is particularly valuable. Whereas, previous works showed a few lines where this sacrifice works, Esserman shows that it is a viable device in many more situations than previously suspected. In particular, pages 18 and 19 are almost worth the price of the book. The expansion of the Nd5 sacrifice was something I first noticed in Andrewrun's games who, probably not coincidentally, is a pal of Esserman's, I believe.

3.He directly addresses two books, (Taylor and Finegold's) that claimed to refute the Morra. In particular, the included win against Finegold was particularly sweet given Finegold's arrogant and dismissive tone in his Finegold Defense book. Esserman shows that these lines are far from refutations. Furthermore, despite his obvious enthusiasm for the Morra, he makes an admirable attempt to improve on their efforts to find a refutation himself, which gives the book a sense of objectivity missing from many evangelistic opening books.

4. The book is vastly entertaining. Through the device of chapter specific thematic analogies (some of which are stretched absurdly to comic effect) the book is actually fun to read- something I really can't say about any other opening book I've read.

The combination of first rate analysis, entertaining writing and above all, convincing new lines that overturn much of the old theory makes this book a real gem. I've played the Morra for over 30 years and for much of that time I would hear strong players generally dismiss the Morra as being too weak for anything above club level. It appears (possibly due to Esserman's efforts) that the critical evaluations are more respectful these days. I hope they don't become too respectful as the accepted lines (for me, at least) are more fun than the declined variations. The last time I played it OTB against a strong expert, he looked depressed when I wheeled out 2.d4 and after a moment's rueful contemplation, answered 2...Nf6. I'm not sure that would have happened 5 or 10 years ago. I lost the game, but I haven't yet studied Esserman's declined chapters yet- maybe next time, I'll be ready. Lately I've heard other strong players (notably Curtains) say that White probably gets full compensation for the pawn- a laughable idea not so long ago.

I'm looking forward to other's impressions of the book. In the meantime, in lieu of my skipping- around, haphazard method of reading the book, I'll reread it from start to finish in conjunction with Sarciness and report back here for discussion. I'll also compile a database of the opening based on the book (in Chess Opening Wizard format -a free reader is available) and make it available to interested parties. This will slow me down a bit as far as how fast I can read, but will hopefully prove to be a worthwhile investment of time.

Looking forward to the ensuing discussion even if just ends up being Sarciness and me. :-)

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Wed Apr 15, 2015 1:40 pm
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Post Re: Mayhem in the Morra Book Club
Ni hao from China! I read the intro and the first part of ch.1 already. Really looking forward to getting into this book.

I'd like to start with your short sharp win you posted in the other thread. First thing is: is 7.e5 theory? If I were black I'd think I've done nothing wrong and white is pushing his pawn for a second time to try to cramp me. I don't deserve this! Saying that, it's hard to find a refutation.

After taking and you sacing on f7, is black really busted? I think I'd have played 10...Kg7 and 11...Nf6. Black looks okay there (maybe). If g4 then d6 loks okay...

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Thu Apr 16, 2015 10:52 am
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Post Re: Mayhem in the Morra Book Club
Hi Sarc,

Yes, 7.e5!? is theory- the other respectable move here is 7. 0-0. Both moves have been heavily analysed. I've always played 7.e5 with good results as Black has a million ways to go wrong here. For instance 7...Qc7? 8.Qd5! e6 9.Qc5! followed by Nb5 and a big advantage or 7...d6? 8.Qb3 e6 (8..Na5 9.Bxf7 Kf8 9.Qd5 is practically winning) and either 9. exd6 Qxd6 10.Nb5! or 9.Bg5 f6 10.Bxe6! are great for White Obviously, my opponent's Kf6 is sheer suicide. After the superior ...Kg7 11. Qxe5+ Nf6 12.0-0 d6 13. Qe3 (see Esserman's novelty noted below), Black is weak on the dark squares though honestly speaking, critical opinion seems divided on this position with Flesch claiming a White advantage and Martin claiming that Black holds after 13...Rf8. The computer gives White a half pawn worth of compensation for what that's worth. The alternative to 9. Bxf7 is 9.Qd5 which I have also played and theory seems to believe White gets adequate compensation. Esserman prefers 9.Bxf7 and analyses it in detail on page 150. He also introduces a novelty, 13.Qe2 (rather than 13. Qe3 above) which I have not played yet, but he believes it leads to an advantage. This line is certainly worth discussing because in my experience, it's very common in practice.

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Thu Apr 16, 2015 2:46 pm
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Post Re: Mayhem in the Morra Book Club
Wow, you seem to know your Morra pretty well! Do you want to start at the beginning of the book or fo you suggest starting elsewhere ?

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Fri Apr 17, 2015 10:45 am
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Post Re: Mayhem in the Morra Book Club
Well, I suppose it makes sense to start at the beginning but I'm open to another approach if you prefer. You'll have the advantage in speed as I only have the print copy. I'll begin rereading it today and report back when I've finished the intro. As I recall, the intro is very good as he has a lot to say about the generalities of playing the opening (i.e."Chase the Queen!"), generalities that have somehow evaded previous authors who tend to write a paragraph or two on the opening and then jump right into the tactical thicket.

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Fri Apr 17, 2015 3:46 pm
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Post Re: Mayhem in the Morra Book Club
Let's go from the beginning and be prepared to get sidetracked by happy tangents! I feel like it'd benefit me to read the intro again.

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Fri Apr 17, 2015 11:38 pm
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Post Re: Mayhem in the Morra Book Club
Rereading the intro now. One thing that did occur to me was that although the section on the Nd5 sac is excellent and actually breaks new ground in Morra theory, it would have been nice if Esserman had included analysis to accompany the diagrams on page 18. I know he does so later in the book when dealing with the respective variations in which the Nd5 sac occurs but it would have been nice (though probably redundant from the publisher's perspective) to also have it here. To that end, I''ve decided to do a video based on the 8 diagrams on that page. This is not a new idea- I thought of doing this it when I first read the book but since we're talking about it now, it seems like a good point for me to get the lead out and finally get around to it. It should be up in a couple of days.

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Mon Apr 20, 2015 12:23 pm
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Post Re: Mayhem in the Morra Book Club
Fantastic, looking forward to it!

I've been looking at these a bit too- at first sight many look most unsound but then whenever I look closer they seem much more reasonable.

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Wed Apr 22, 2015 1:23 am
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Post Re: Mayhem in the Morra Book Club
Well if I stop to make videos about page 18, I'll never get anywhere! I will continue to do the videos but I will move further through the introduction now. You did say we would be sidetracked by happy tangents- it didn't take long! :-)

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Sat Apr 25, 2015 12:41 pm
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Post Re: Mayhem in the Morra Book Club
Yes, there are a lot of sacrifices on d5 and they come up later in the book and are analysed in more detail I guess? It's clear from your comments/videos you are an expert on this opening- how can you be (only) a class B player?!

Anyway, happy tangent! I'll finish re-reading the intro today and we can share some thoughts.

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Sun Apr 26, 2015 12:37 am
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Post Re: Mayhem in the Morra Book Club
Well, opening knowledge doesn't necessarily translate into being a strong player! :-) That said, I may be stronger than Class B by now as I haven't played much OTB chess in the last 20 years since I achieved B status- I would like to think I've improved but who knows?

Back to the intro...

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Mon Apr 27, 2015 5:27 pm
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Post Re: Mayhem in the Morra Book Club
Thoughs on d5 Ring of Fire sacs. Sound?

1. Yes- it's that or be crushed, white is well ahead in development.

2. Initially no, however,d6 covered by Bb3 so d6 looks crushing. Be7 meets with Bb6 and the queen gets slaughtered.so...hell yes!

3. Initially no. Be3 seems to block e-file. However tempo not lost removing it, especially with Bb6 in the offing so... Probably good.

4. As black I want to take with the knight but it also brings his pawn into d5 gaining time on my knight. My bishop on b4 really lacks flight squares. Annoying! Serious problems for black. Probably sound. Maybe best is 0-0 a3 and white has more than comp.

5. After takes and Nce7 I don't think white has enough for the piece. Prove it!

6. Does it threaten anything? Nc6 =

7. Looks fully sound dur to Nf7 threats. . Maybe Nf6 is best. White should be better.

8.Looks ok, but black can just develop e.g. Be7 or Nf6. Taking and Qd8 looks less good but may be playable.

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Wed Apr 29, 2015 10:28 am
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Post Re: Mayhem in the Morra Book Club
Sarciness wrote:
Thoughs on d5 Ring of Fire sacs. Sound?

1. Yes- it's that or be crushed, white is well ahead in development.

2. Initially no, however,d6 covered by Bb3 so d6 looks crushing. Be7 meets with Bb6 and the queen gets slaughtered.so...hell yes!

3. Initially no. Be3 seems to block e-file. However tempo not lost removing it, especially with Bb6 in the offing so... Probably good.

4. As black I want to take with the knight but it also brings his pawn into d5 gaining time on my knight. My bishop on b4 really lacks flight squares. Annoying! Serious problems for black. Probably sound. Maybe best is 0-0 a3 and white has more than comp.

5. After takes and Nce7 I don't think white has enough for the piece. Prove it!

6. Does it threaten anything? Nc6 =

7. Looks fully sound dur to Nf7 threats. . Maybe Nf6 is best. White should be better.

8.Looks ok, but black can just develop e.g. Be7 or Nf6. Taking and Qd8 looks less good but may be playable.


Well here we are, stalled at the "Ring of Fire"! :-) I appreciate your devil's advocate stance- I think that's the right way to study an opening as we've all been burned by overly rosy scenarios and suspect lines offered by evangelistic opening book authors. I didn't have time to look at all of these yet but I think the recent videos I did for 1. and 2. show the soundness of the sac there. You seem to concede that White is getting compensation in 3 and 4 though I will check those both closer later. Number 5 seemed to bring out the skeptic in you and even ME concedes that after 11. Re1 in the game below (page 201) "White remains a full piece down with seemingly few threats" but goes on to say "Black simply cannot consolidate". Below is the main line of his analysis. I actually checked all of his analysis in this section and although Houdini and Rybka initially believe that Black is a little better after the sacrifice, the more they follow his analysis, the more winning the whole thing seems to be- hard to believe as that is! I will do a video of this line soon. In the meantime,

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Wed Apr 29, 2015 1:34 pm
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Post Re: Mayhem in the Morra Book Club
Very interesting game. I tried to find good ways for black to develop the kingside but so far failed! By time the bishop is on g6 I think black must be lost- his KS will never develop at that point so the improvement (if any) must come earlier.

Yes, I always approach things with a skeptical mindset but I am willing to be proved wrong. This could be one of those (many) cases.

Moving onto chapter 1 now. Going to try to speed up a bit. Definitely want to finish this week- want to finish whole book before tournament in August.

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Sun May 03, 2015 8:13 pm
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Post Re: Mayhem in the Morra Book Club
I'm afraid you are moving faster than me. When I first got the book, I was basically speed skimming- now, I'm going through it quite methodically. I think upon rereading the intro, I can vouch for how excellent it is- I wish more opening books did this vis-a-vis identifying tactical motifs and typical sacs in some detail. It's funny because it's usually the more positional openings that call for more discussion but ME has managed to find a lot of useful words to say about such a tactical opening. Before we leave the intro, I want to point out two things:

1) Be sure you study the "Be Alert- 9. Nb5" section on page 23- although I'm sure he goes into greater detail later, it is essential that you study this sequence because it comes up a lot- particularly in rapid play. Many quick routs are the reward for knowing this trap!

2) Somehow I didn't notice it before but in the "Morra Methodology" section at the end of the intro, he makes the astonishing revelation that he did not use any prior Morra books in writing this one(!) This means, he rewrote the theory from the ground up- something no author has done before in the Morra. I think this is one of the most important strengths of the book. We can assume then, that even if your opponent has studied the Morra, unless he has actually studied this particular book, he may be in for some very unpleasant surprises. As a long time Morra player, I'm still shocked to see his multiple deviations from traditional Morra orthodoxy- mostly, previous authors have duly relied on the work of older authors and threw in a few improvements here and there or changed an evaluation but no one has looked at it with completely fresh eyes before Esserman.

Can you tell I'm a fan? :-) Your skepticism will be a welcome balance to my giddy fanboy approach.

P.S. The Siberian Trap chapter is well placed at the beginning of the book- this is another line, I see quite a lot. He claims to have refuted it which is really good news because I remember the horrible days when it first appeared in the late 80's and many people, myself included, feared that it was the refutation to the entire gambit. It took some time before people found something to play against it which is why it's still a popular choice for Black.

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