Storming the Castle


"Morphy's career marks a grand epoch in the history of our pastime, and a careful study of his games will always be essential for the purpose of acquiring a complete knowledge of the direct attack against the King, which forms a most important element in mastering our science."  - William Steinitz


"To this day Morphy is an unsurpassed master of the open games. Just how great was his significance is evident from the fact that after Morphy nothing substantially new has been created in this field."  - Mikhail Botvinnik


Paulsen - Morphy 

Louis Paulsen, 1857

"...he sits there with his face so lamb-pious as if he wanted to convey the impression that he could not do any harm to a child; but when he executes a move with an expression so really harmless and pretending tiredness, one can always presume that he is just preparing the greatest meanness." - the ever affable Adolf Anderssen describing Paul Morphy


On November 8, 1857 delicate Paul Morphy and rugged Louis Paulsen sat down to play their 6th tournament game together in the final round of the 1st American Chess Congress held in New York City. Morphy had already won 2, drew 2 and lost 1 against Paulsen. The first to win 5 games would win the tournament.  Paulsen's painfully slow play in the previous games had exasperated Morphy who, as a result, was determined never to lose to Paulsen again. This game would last a total of 4 hours with Paulsen utilizing the great majority of that time in that pre-clock era.  In this game Morphy demonstrated his prowess and technique in storming the enemies castled position - based on a much deeper understanding of the position than his rivals. The Art of Defense possessed by his opponents had not yet reach a level equal to the Art of Attack possessed by Morphy.  


On the board below, Paulsen, playing as White, had just moved his Queen to a6, offering to exchange Queens, and Morphy spent only 12 minutes in calculating his next move - QxB, sacking his Queen with no obvious forced mate.

  • The book of the First American Chess Congress details two games between Morphy and Paulsen by listing all the moves on which either player spend over 5 minutes. To illustrate the difference in Morphy's and Paulsen's speed of play:  Game 3, which lasted 15 hours, shows Paulsen with 30 moves and Morphy with 3 moves over 5 minutes. Of Paulsen's moves, one was 75 min.; two were over 40 min.; three were over 30 min.; seven were over 20 min.; and twelve were over 10 min. Of Morphy's 3 moves, one was 6 min.; one was 9 min.; one was 10 mins.    
  •  Additionally, Anderssen later described Morphy's speed of play: "His figuring is, in general, not of remarkable or even tiring duration: he always takes as much time as such a tireless and experienced thinker requires depending on the position..."




The move 17...QxB is winning in every variation and was undoubtedly considered by Morphy even before bringing his Queen to d3. Steinitz believed the move was intuitive and that calculating to mate was humanly impossible.

In 1886 W. J. A. Fuller (an associate and close acquaintance of Morphy during his chess years) wrote:

  • Steinitz confirmed me in my opinion that Morphy played some of his best moves by intuition, as it was impossible that human brain could have thoroughly analyzed the result. Take, by way of illustration, the 30th move in his 4th game of the match with Harrwitz, where the simple advance of a Pawn was followed up with such ingenuity and
    accuracy : or the game in his match with Paulson—I have not the book before me—where he gave up his Queen for a Bishop. Just before this game Morphy went down to the restaurant with me and took a glass of sherry and a biscuit. His patience was worn out by the great length of time Paulson took for each move. His usually equable temper was so disturbed, that he clenched his fist and said "Paulsen shall never win a game of me while he lives "—and he never did. When he made the move referred to, we all thought that 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."  ["I fear the Greeks, even when bearing gifts"]   Meanwhile the rest of us had set up the position, and our joint analysis failed to discover Morphy's subsequent moves.

Although Morphy didn't find the fastest way to dispatch Paulsen after move 17...QxB, his variation was eminently logical in its own fashion and equally effective.



              . . . . . The game in its entirety with Willard Fiske's original notes