Paul Morphy's Queen Sacrifices

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Paul Morphy, the pinnacle of the Romantic Age of Chess, was an artist who, in the true spirit of Romanticism, considered the combination the apex of Chess.  Like all very good players, he was able to effect combinations much more often against weaker players, but the weaker players were generally played at odds that supposedly equalized the game.  The Queen sacrifice is rightfully considered the most coveted and the least expected.  Some people think Morphy had executed slews of Queen sacs while others think he had only a few.  He did, in fact, only have two in serious games: one in his tournament game against Louis Paulsen and one in his Knight-odds match against James Thompson. The other 11 that I could find were against decent oppenents played even and weaker players at odds, or in blindfold simuls.  In each instance, the Queen sac was the correct move that exposed the weaknesses of his opponents' positions.

Here are the 13 Queen sacrifices:

The first serious game involving a Queen sac was against Paulsen during the 1st American Chess Congress. According to W.J.A. Fuller (in the Steinitz-Zukertort match 'Programme'), "When he made the move referred to, we all thought he had made a mistake; especially as he had taken so little time for the move.  Paulsen, with his usual caution, deliberated long - over an hour - before he took the Queen. He doubtless thought of Virgil's line 'Timeo Danaos, et dona ferentes.'  Meanwhile the rest of us had set up the position, and our joint analysis failed to discover Morphy's subsequent moves."  While on page 51 of "Modern Chess Instructor,"  Steinitz called the combination against Paulsen, "One of the most charming poetical Chess compositions that has ever been devised in practical play."  and  "White cannot be blamed for not seeing the most wonderful combination that the opponent had prepared..."


The second serious game involving a Queen sac occurred in Morphy's Knight-odds match with James Thompson.  Upon Morphy winning that match (+5-3=1), Löwenthal wrote to Fiske:  I am decidedly of the opinion that his (Morphy's) winning the match at the large odds of a Knight to a player like Mr. Thompson, is the most marvelous feat which ever a master of his rank has performed. Neither La Bourdonnais, M'Donnell nor Philidor could ever have accomplished a similar task. :


Morphy's most famous Queen sac occurred in a game played against two amateurs during an Opera:


In the inaugural issue of the BCM, Alphonse Delannoy gave a detailed description of a game he won off of Morphy (originally published in "Brentano's Chess Monthly"), though no one witnessed the game, the score didn't exist and he supplied a diagram of a position, from which he claimed a win off Morphy, that was actually a forced mate for the opponent.

Here is an actually game between Morphy and Delannoy - involving a Queen sacrifice:

In 1859 Morphy gave a blindfold exhibition at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia, contrary to his determination to cease public blindfold play, for the benefit of the Mount Vernon Fund, established by The Mount Vernon Ladies Association in 1853 to purchase, restore and preserve Mount Vernon. He played 4 opponents: Wm. G. Thomas, Esq., B. C. Tilghman, Esq., Samuel Smyth, Esq., and Samuel Lewis, M. D.  The exhibition lasted about 3.5 hrs. ending with the conclusion of the game with Samuel Smyth which fittingly involving a Queen sac on move 33:

Oddly enough, Morphy produced two Queen sacs in the spring of the previous year in New Orleans in another blindfold simul - this time against 7 players. His amateur opponents aren't known:


Morphy's first recorded Queen sacrifice was in 1849 (at age 12) against his maternal uncle Charles Le Carpentier at Rook-odds. (This isn't a true Queen sac since Morphy could have taken his opponent's Queen in return, except that Morphy didn't bother recapturing, opting to win with a most amazing smother mate instead) :

Another game from 1849, this time against an unknown amateur, shows Morphy sacking his Queen again.  His opponent resigned :

In 1850, Morphy played an amazing quasi-Queen sacrifice against his Uncle Ernest, the Chess King of New Orleans and a noted analyst in his day :

In 1856, Morphy played a Queen sac for a smothered mate against an amateur in this Rook-odds game :

John Schulten was a frequent and well-known visitor at the Café de la Régence where he played La Bourdonnais, St. Amant, de Rivière, Kieseritzky, v.d. Lasa and many others. In his 15 games with Morphy, Schulten scored 1 win. Below, however, is a loss... Morphy loses the Queen; Schulten, the game :

The man with the improbable name of Thomas Jefferson Bryan had been involved with Staunton in his match with St. Amant in 1843 and witnessed Morphy beating Harrwitz in the Café de la Régence in 1858. He, himself, played Morphy 70 games at Knight-odds and a series of 10 games at the odds of Pawn & 3 moves.  The score of only one of those 80 games, from the Knight-odds series, has survived... and a Queen sac (Philidor's Legacy) at that.