An introduction to the Closed Morphy Defence

| 1 | Opening Theory

The morphy defence was obviously first championed by the famous American, Paul Morphy, who was the first to support that the move 3...a6 after 3.Bb5 is the best move as gives Black a lot of flexibility. As we have already seen that the exchange variation is not easily converted to a win for white, so after 4.Ba4 Black has the option of removing the 'half-pin' with one move b5. After 4.Ba4 black has many options, he can choose to transpose his defence to:

Alapin's Defence - Bb4

Classical or Cordel Defence - Bc5

Bird's Defence - Nd4

Fianchetto Defence - g6

Schliemann Defence - f5

Cozio Defence - Nge7

or play 4...d6 leading to the Modern Steinitz Defence, or 4...b5 leading to the Taimanov variation.

The most commonly played move is also considered the strongest one, 4...Nf6. It develops a piece and attacks the e-pawn. White now faces the threat Nxe4, he can choose to defend it with Nc3, d3, Qe2 (English Attack), but Nc3, blocks the c-pawn, which white wants to push forward to c3 to allow the c2 square later for the bishop and as we shall see is needed to support the d4, as the famous trap, Noah's Ark, prevents it; d3 loses a tempo, as white's intentions are to push it to d4 and Qe2 is not considered a bad move but is not white's best move. White's best move and most common is the strange looking 5.0-0. In fact, it does not defend the e-pawn. But after 5...Nxe4 (open variation of the Morphy Defence) 6.d4, black finds his e-pawn attacked twice. If he captures exd4 or tries to defend it he loses precious time in development, and in most games loses quickly due to white's superior mobilization. So white in fact does not lose a pawn. The other option black has after 5.0-0 is 5...Be7 which shows black's intention to play for a closed positional game. The next diagram shows the main line of the closed variation of the morphy defence annotated by me.

The final position shows us that white will dominate the king side as his two bishops are very strong in these diagonals, so he will try to expand there, possibly by moving his b-knight to d2, f1, g3. Black on the other hand seeing that play in the king side will be difficult, he decides to expand on the queenside, and improve his center, trying to prevent or minimize the impact the d4 move will have in his center the variations that follow or at some point diverge from the main line, as you shall see are moves aiming to improve the position of each side. No signifcant threats are made. It follows that people who prefer open tactical games should play 5...Nxe4 the open variation, instead of 5...Be7. It is a matter of taste.


After move 8, the position is still closed, and both sides have a lot of plans they can follow. Firstly, we see that white will enjoy playing on the kingside as his bishops are optimally placed and in addition black's presence on the kingside is minimal. Black, seeing that play on the kingside is difficult to accomplish and not wanting to commit to passive play, can choose to mobilize on the queenside and/or counterattack in the center. To turn to more specific move sequences, white will want to play d4 having played c3 (avoiding Noah's Ark trap), and transfer his b-knight to d2, f1 and finally g3. Black on the other hand could move his knight at c6 to unblock his c-pawn and challenge white's center with c5, or concetrate on pilling on the e-pawn which after d4 will be weak.

White can choose the Yates variation that is 9.d4 without playing h3, but this leads to the powerful 9...Bg4 (Bogoljubow Variation). This is why white almost always plays this prophylactic move (h3) before pushing the pawn forward. After 9.h3 white prepares to challenge the center with 10.d4. Now it is up to black to decide upon a way to defend. The main variations that follow after 9.h3 are the following:

9...Na5 (Chigorin Defence)

9...Bb7 (Flohr-Zaitsev Variation)

9...h6 (Smyslov Variation)

9...Be6 (Kholmov Variation)

9...Nb8 (Breyer Defence)

9...Nbd7 (Karpov Variation) 

 The variations will be discussed separately in detail in further articles.

Now the main alteratives to the main line are:

Worrall Attack 6.Qe2 instead of Re1

Averbakh Variation 6.Re1 d6 instead of 6...b5 defending the e-pawn 

Marschall Attack 8.c3 d5 sacrificing a pawn to gain the initiative, it has not been proven that black's attack is sound but most players fear it as white, and there are many ways to not allow black the option of using it such as 8.a4 or h3 instead of c3. I will analyse the worrall attack and marschall attack in depth in future articles. 

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The closed Morphy Defence-Chigorin Variation

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The Closed Morphy Defence-Bogoljubow Variation