The Fun and Games of Paul Morphy

There aren’t too many well known 19th Century chess players, but despite that, every chess player has heard of Paul Morphy (above left). Morphy was a tactics aficionado and continuously demonstrated his skill set each and every game. By studying Morphy, one can learn the importance of taking advantage of an opponents weaknesses, rather than opting for passive play.

Here is a game Morphy played in 1858 against Duke Carl in Paris. The 17 move game has been dubbed “Night of the Opera” by chess

Morphy v. Duke Carl (Paris, 1858)

1.e4 e5

2.Nf3 Not a exactly brilliant move here, but you should note that from this move on, every move but 9. Bg5 is a forcing move.

d6 3.d4 Bg4 4.dxe5 Bxf3 5.Qxf3 dxe5

6.Bc4 Duke Carl won’t fall for this one, but that’s not the point. Morphy is optimizing his pieces and forcing Black to respond rather passively.

Nf6 7.Qb3 Qe7

8.Nc3 Even this move forces black to respond. The b7 pawn is weak, and Nc3 stops both the potential check on b4 and the threat on the e4 pawn.

c6 9.Bg5

9…b5?? Opening the king up. Of course in the 19th century, there were no computers, so it was harder to develop a concrete understanding of positional play. Black needs to develop his pieces, that is his only chance.

10.Nxb5 cxb5 11.Bxb5+ Nbd7

12.O-O-O The most simple approach. Keeps the king safe while pressuring the d7 square with the rook. White is clearly better here.

Rd8 13.Rxd7 Rxd7 14.Rd1 Qe6 15.Bxd7+

15…Nxd7 If you like solving tactics, see if you can find the checkmate in 2 here.

16.Qb8+! A classic deflection idea.

Nxb8 17.Rd8# 1–0

A well played game by Morphy, but what can we learn from this game? White won not just because of active play, but because he was able to optimize his pieces. While development seems like a basic idea, in tournament play it is often overlooked in the late opening and middle game. Before you follow your impulse to attack, activate your pieces! On the other side of the board, Black did the exact opposite. With 9… b5??, Duke Carl has neglected development, and Morphy’s active play beat him into submission. Note that even in the final position, Black has failed to develop both the bishop on f8 and the rook on h8.

If you’ve studied Morphy, you know he loves playing piece odds. In this game against Charles Le Carpentier, Morphy played without his a1 rook, and found checkmate on move 13!

Morphy v. Le Carpentier (New Orleans, 1849)

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Bc4 Bb4+ 5.c3 dxc3 6.O-O

6…cxb2 So far Black looks pretty good right? Up a rook, strong development, what could go wrong here?


7…Bf8 All the sudden, Black finds himself making this ugly move. While 7… Nf6 is the best move, he was probably scared of a e–pawn push, followed by the threat of Qb3.

8.e5! Morphy pushes the pawn anyways. Taking away f6 from the knight and cramping the position.

d6 9.Re1 dxe5 10.Nxe5

10…Qxd1?? This move is the losing move. Checkmate in 3 if you want to find it.

11.Bxf7+ Why keep the queen? This is Morphy we are talking about!


12.Ng6++! Morphy makes a brilliant move here, as he sets up the mating net. This is the only move that works if White wants to win. Poor Le Carpentier doesn’t even know what’s coming.

Kxf7 13.Nxh8# 1–0

Another well played game by Morphy. While Morphy isn’t exactly the most positional player, he understood that development was just as important as material. This is why he was extremely successful with piece odds. In the final position of the second game, if you include the h8 rook that was captured for checkmate, Le Carpentier failed to develop five pieces. The value of those five pieces is far greater than that of the rook, so Morphy didn’t even need it.

Feel like I missed something? Feel free to comment below!


One thought on “The Fun and Games of Paul Morphy

  1. Pingback: The Magical Tactical Mikhail Tal | chess^summit

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