The Muzio Gambit

Pawn sacrifices in openings are relatively common. Piece sacrifices are rare. Multiple piece sacrifices are so rare; they must be valuable, like a Liberty gold coin.


Bobby FischerCapture6 stated that the real chess genius was Paul Morphy, who was the first historical figure of Grandmaster strength.  If Fischer can win the fantasy knockout tournament between all the World Champions (, then Fischer’s assessment of Morphy’s strength is evidential.

MorphyCapture7 was so strong that he retired from chess in his early twenties.  He offered to play anyone a match at Pawn + Move handicapCapture12 yet, no one picked up the glove that he threw down.

We have all learned chess from our predecessors, yet Morphy was an exception. When he was a pre-adolescentCapture13, he somehow, intuitively, instinctively, taught himself how to play good chess.  His overall lifetime record was an amazing 84.8%.

Morphy played for rapid accurate development, and he put his pieces on their best squares.  It was joked that Fischer could throw pieces at a board, and they would land upright centered on their best squares.

Morphy said that one should not attack until all the pieces are in play.  He was so ahead of his time that Botvinnik Capture8.PNGstated that there was little the Soviets could learn from how to play open positions, since Morphy showed everyone how.

Paul Morphy played more Muzio Gambits (or variations of) than all the World Champions combined.

I reviewed dozens of opening principles and devised the following succinct opening proverb for my students: “Connect your rooks, along the back-rank, as quickly as possible, by castling into safety” ©. This game has no players, yet, it ends with how all chess games should end, with checkmate.

1. e4 e5 2. f4 exf4 3. Nf3 g5 4. Bc4 g4 5. O-O!


The Muzio Gambit proper, and a truly gutsy move.  Two hundred years ago, in 1816 London, Jacob Henry Sarratt ( and William Lewis Capture9played a 10-game match between themselves where Sarratt played White and Lewis played Black.  Nearly all the games opened with the Muzio Gambit, and they really played some wild chess in those days!  Game #6 (can be found in some chess databases), ended in a draw, and was particularly entertaining.  Sarratt introduced the idea that a stalemate was a draw, and Lewis’ famous pupil was Alexander McDonnell, who played LaBourdonnais in that great 1834 series of matches.

gxf3 6. Qxf3 Qf6

The Muzio Gambit is a tactical piece sacrifice.  It is imperative that White keep Queens on the board to generate threats as compensation for being down enormous material.  White’s attack will evaporate if Queens are traded.  The Benko Gambit (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 b5) is a positional pawn sacrifice.  In the Benko, Black can actually trade Queens and maintain his positional pressure.

7. e5 Qxe5


8. Bxf7+!

This is called the double Muzio.  Chess databases contain fewer games played with this second piece sacrifice, yet it scores better than the more frequently played 8.d3.  An excellent historical example (between two World Champion candidates) isCapture10 Adolf Anderssen – Johannes Zukertort, Breslau 1865, which continued 8.d3 Bh6 9.Nc3 Ne7 10.Bd2 Nbc6 11.Rae1 Qf5 12.Nd5 Kd8 13.Bc3 Re8 14.Nf6 Rf8 15.g4 Qg6 16.h4 d6 17.g5 Bg7 18.Qxf4 h6 19.Qh2 a6 20.d4 hxg5 21.d5 gxh4+ 22.Kh1 Nb8 23.Qxd6+ Bd7 24.Qe7+ 1-0

Kxf7 9. d4 Qxd4+ 10. Be3 Qf6


11. Nc3!

This must be called the triple Muzio.  I like this move, and is the reason why I am writing this article.  For hundreds of years, the main line has been 11.Bxf4, which is proven good, yet 11.Bxf4 always seemed to me to be out of sync with the thread of the previous moves.  I do not recall where or when I first saw 11.Nc3, but it makes sense.

Capture11Alexey Shirov – J. Lapinski, Daugavpils 1990 continued 11.Bxf4 Ke8 12.Nc3 Nc6 13.Nd5 Qg6 14.Rae1 Be7 15.Bd6!! Kd8 16.Qxf8+! Bxf8 17.Bxc7# Some consider this the most brilliant Muzio ever played.

11.Nc3 develops White’s last minor piece and connects his rooks.  Black needs five moves to connect his rooks, and White has already sacrificed two pieces. Does the position really warrant that White pause to defend the threatened e3-Bishop?

fxe3 12. Qh5+ Kg7 13. Rxf6 Nxf6 14. Qg5+ Kf7 15. Rf1


White moves his inactive Rook to the only open file on the board, and pins Black’s Knight. Black’s undeveloped Queenside pieces can only look on helplessly while White caps his resplendent play with another tactical sacrifice.

Be7 16. Nd5 Rg8 17. Rxf6+! Bxf6 18. Qxf6+ Ke8 19. Qe7#