Morphy's Sacrifices Explained

  • GM DanielNaroditsky
  • | Jul 4, 2014

Whether you like it or not, Paul Morphy is almost invariably remembered for his brilliant victory over the Duke of Brunswick and Count Isouard in 1858 (refresh your memory here). And for good reason!

However, while Morphy indeed conducted a brilliant attack and finished it off with a dazzling queen sacrifice in the above referenced affair, the game is still not a worthy representation of Morphy's true attacking skill and his profound positional knowledge.

Paul Morphy | Image: Wikipedia

In this article -- a keen reader will notice that it bears the same title as my article on Tal -- I would like to illuminate this relatively unknown side of the American genius. Through the lens of Morphy's sacrifices, we will try to understand how he consistently steamrolled droves of prominent European maestros. 

We will begin with a game that beautifully illustrates Morphy's (I am tempted to call him Paul, but we aren't on a first-name basis just yet) command of modern attacking principles. Take into account that his opponent was one of the strongest chess players of the mid-nineteenth century. 

Not bad, eh? One could argue that today's A player would find ...Rae8 and ...Qxf3 without much trouble, but nary a nineteenth-century master was able to consistently attack like a modern grandmaster. In my opinion, it is Morphy's intuition that makes him legendary.

Make no mistake -- his calculational ability was fantastic as well, but Tal-like intuition is a key ingredient in every grandmaster's arsenal, and during Morphy's time (heck, even today!) it was a little-known and somewhat ethereal concept. As the following miniature demonstrates, Morphy not only understood the importance of intuition, but knew exactly when to channel it. 

Anderssen was not a particularly skilled defender, but Morphy's attack -- although not free from errors -- is dazzling in its clarity and straightforwardness. 

Adolf Anderssen | Image: Wikipedia

However, Morphy did not simply throw pieces at his opponents, relying on their poor defensive ability to justify his haphazard advances. His sacrifices, while not always objectively correct, were tremendously difficult to refute.

Does this remind you of somebody? Somebody from Riga named Mikhail? While their playing strength can hardly be compared (after all, chess during Morphy's time and chess during Tal's time were very different games indeed), they both possessed the rare capacity to balance infallible intuition with deep calculation. In the next (relatively well known) game, this capacity is put on full display from the seventh move. 

In writing this article, I certainly do not intend to rediscover America. Volumes on Morphy abound, and most of his victories have been exhaustively analyzed. Nevertheless, the image of Morphy as a reckless attacker who won games due to the ineptitude of his opponents is relatively common. Hopefully, I have been able to prove otherwise!  



  • 2 years ago


    Paul Morphy was one of the world's all-time greatest chessplayers.

  • 2 years ago


    Best article writer ever!!!! thanks again!!

  • 2 years ago


    Yes- Intuition - i think,the best atacking intuition ever (next - other Paul- KeresWink ).Two Paules - one from USA, other from Estonia. Paul 2 style , the best style in chess.

  • 2 years ago


    In the Morphy-Anderssen game, the position after White's 9th move, with his knights on d5 and b5 and his bishop attacked, reminded me of a game I played in the Finals of the Puerto Rico National Championship, 1977.
    This game finished in 10 minutes or so. Whenwe signed the scoresheets, I looked around, and most of the other games were on move 2 or 3!
  • 2 years ago


    a beautiful mind.

  • 2 years ago


    "It is Morphy's intuition that makes him legendary" was also Steinitz' opnion.

  • 2 years ago


    Morphy had it rough though, when he tried to go to Europe and play Staunton. Imagine spending half a year just trying to have a chess match. Then.. nothing

  • 2 years ago


    Brilliant game

  • 2 years ago


    Ooh I love morphy! For months I've been trained to emulate his style haha. Thus my improving rating and an aggressive style.

  • 2 years ago


    GM Daniel

    Just dilate on your articles on Tal and turn it into a nice book on him. I am sure it would be a great read.

  • 2 years ago


    paul morhy...the greatest chess player in his generation....if he was alive today anyone will step aside and let morphy rule the 64 squares...

  • 2 years ago



    The Chess Players

    A good read
  • 2 years ago


    Game 2, why not 14] ..., QxD5 ?

  • 2 years ago

    FM Cats4Sale

    This is great, Daniel!

  • 2 years ago


    A popularly held theory about Paul Morphy is that if he returned to the chess world today and played our best contemporary players, he would come out the loser. Nothing is further from the truth. In a set match, Morphy would beat anybody alive today ...  -  Bobby Fischer

  • 2 years ago


    I believe that the stories about women's shoes are apocryphal.

  • 2 years ago


    nowadays games are more a sort of "macro-chess" , computer chess era (with carlsen as his best ambassador) is more tactital , more "chirurgical" play and more precise  chess ,but it's less conceptual chess , less "strategical" play in my view . 

  • 2 years ago


    Very interesting article , conceptual chess in action ! 

  • 2 years ago


    Wow, you've picked nice games man.. It's fun to read this, even though im beginner ( makes alot of sense) . Sincere thanks ! Wink

  • 2 years ago


    Morphy and Fischer make the pieces come alive.  Chess played this way, (with imagination, creativity, and fearlessness) fascinates and mesmerizes people in all walks of life. 

    With due respect to Carlsen, who outsits opponents in 70 move games, players like Baadur Jobava and Vassily Ivanchuk will always bring a twinkle to my eye.

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