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An Amateur Analysis: The Morphy Opera House Game

  • #1

    As an exercise I have taken up the task of analyzing some of the great games of history. First up is the famous Paul Morphy vs. Duke of Brunswick/Count Isouard, Paris Opera House 1858. My analysis is a little wordy, so please forgive that if you like moves better than descriptions.

     Of great assistance in this has been Edward Scimia’s analysis of this game here http://chess.about.com/od/famousgames/ss/EMEOperaHouse.htm, The comments of the members at ChessGames.com here http://www.chessgames.com/perl/chessgame?gid=1233404, and, of course, Rybka 3. (ADDED) I have now found another analytical source for this game at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opera_game.

     So here we go.

     1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 d6 Sound and solid but passive, this is the Philidor Defense. 3. d4

     

    Bg4?! Black defends the e5 pawn by pinning the attacking f3 knight, but after this move white can force black to concede the two bishops for no compensation, and it creates a weakness on b7 (which will become important shortly as we shall see). Better was either relieving the central tension with 3…exd4 or counterattacking the e4 pawn with 3…Nf6. 4. dxe5! Bxf3 of course not 4…dxe5  as then 5. Qxd8 Kxd8 6. Nxe5 wins the e5 pawn. Relatively best here may have been to to gambit the pawn with 4…Nd7. 5. Qxf3 with gain of time 5...dxe5.

     

    6. Bc4 attacking the f7 weakness a second time with threat of Qxf7 mate 6…Nf6? This blocks the f-file and the mate threat but leaves f7 weak by failing to actually add a defender to it. A better alternative is 6...Qe7. Rybka favors actively defending the position with 6…Qf6 7. Qb3 Nd7!? 8. Qxb7 Rb8 9. Qd5 (not 9. Qxa7? Bc5 and if 9. Qxc7? then 9…Bd6 10. Qxa7 Bc5 with similar results)  and black has activity for the pawn though white is still better.  7. Qb3! White forks black’s f7 and b7 weaknesses and renews the threat of mate - now threatening Bxf7+ then Qe6 mate. 7…Qe7 Though probably not best, a fairly clever defensive move. Now, if white grabs the b7 pawn with 8. Qxb7, black will play a fork of his own with 8…Qb4+ forcing a queen trade and, though down a pawn, free his game and relieve the pressure on his position.  Rybka again wants to defend actively, this time with 7…Bc5!? with play similar to the previously mentioned 6...Qf6 – who would have ever thought the day would come when computers would be teaching us how not to defend passively and materialistically!

     

    8. Nc3!? This move accomplishes several things. First, it closes the e1-a5 diagonal making Qxb7 a stronger threat. It also prepares to aggressively castle queenside bringing the rook in, and to possibly bring the knight into the attack with Nd5 or Nb5. Rybka likes the straightforward 8. Bxf7+ but after 8...Qxf7 9. Qxb7 Bc5 10. Qc8+ (10. Qxa8 c6 is dangerous for white) 10...Ke7 11. Qxh8 Bxf2+ and black is getting a lot of counterplay. Morphy's move retains the initiative and keeps him in the driver's seat. 8…c6 Probably the allies’ best move of the game, this move defends the b7 pawn and takes away squares from the c3 knight. Superficially at least, it looks as though black has avoided material loss and is now holding 9. Bg5! With this pin black becomes virtually paralyzed. It is now very  difficult to find a good plan for black to improve his position (Really, you should try it). As an example, after the reasonable looking 9…h6 (black's plan is to break the pin and follow up by developing the bishop to g7 and then castling) then 10. Bxf6! gxf6 11. O-O-O Bg7 12. Bxf7+! Kf8 (not 12…Qxf7 13. Rd8+) 13. Bh4 Na6 14. Rd6 and black is in deep trouble. White threatens to double rooks and play the decisive Rd8. 9…b5? In this very tough position black again slips. Count and Duke were probably counting on Morphy’s Bishop having to retreat off the a2-g8 diagonal. Instead they get a shock. Here Rybka likes 9…Na6 instead. I like 9…b6 which Rybka says is not as good, but I think I’d be willing to gamble a little here as after 9…Na6 10. Bxa6 bxa6 black’s position is like Swiss cheese. 

     

    10. Nxb5! Continuing the attack by blasting open blacks queenside. 10…cxb5? Accepting the sacrifice only helps white. The Wikipedia entry mentions 10...Qb4+ as an alternative noting this move "...would have forced Morphy to exchange queens, although White would retain a clearly won game". Indeed, after an exchange of material, white will end up two pawns up in a simplified position - e.g. 10...Qb4+ 11. Qxb4 Bxb4+ 12. c3 cxb5 13. Bxb5+ Nd7 14. cxb4 Rb8 (14. Nxe4 Bc6) 15. Bxd7+ Kxd7 16. Bxf6 gxf6 17. a3. 11. Bxb5+ Nd7 What else? Kd8 is better but isn’t exactly inspiring. 12. O-O-O Rd8 Black could have held out longer with 12...Qc5, but the writing is on the wall as 13. Bxf6 gxf6 14. Bxd7+ Ke7  white regains the piece while remaining two pawns ahead and with black's king still badly exposed.

     

    13. Rxd7 In characteristic style Morphy eliminates one of the defenders in order to bring his last piece into the action. 13…Rxd7 14. Rd1 Funtionally, white is up material as black's king's rook is completely not participating and his bishop is barely doing so. Qe6 Black breaks the pin on the f6 knight in order to defend the rook with it. Now white could win easily with just 15. Bxf6 and 16. Bxd7+, but Morphy finds a lovely finish. 15. Bxd7+! Nxd7 16. Qb8+! Nxb7 17. Rd8#

     Morphy’s play was exemplary of course, but we also shouldn’t forget that his brilliancy was only made possible by the weak defensive play of the allies.

     Any comments are welcome. Also please let me know if I made any notational errors so I can correct them, and I will also polish this up a bit and make improvements over the next few days as well.

     

  • #2

    as long as i know modern theory thinks of Bc4 as a mistake because after Qe7 they say white'sadvantage is small...although they have found that the moveQb3 before Bc4 is very good as it forces black to move his queens pawns and white gets a bigger advantage

  • #3
    chesspro8 wrote:

    as long as i know modern theory thinks of Bc4 as a mistake because after Qe7 they say white'sadvantage is small...although they have found that the moveQb3 before Bc4 is very good as it forces black to move his queens pawns and white gets a bigger advantage


    I'll take your word for it. 6. Qb3 might be better than 6. Bc4.

  • #4

    nice analysis. I'm sure looking at masters games this way will improve your game. its a nice idea & i'll probably give it a try too.

  • #5
    HappyBuddaH wrote:

    nice analysis. I'm sure looking at masters games this way will improve your game. its a nice idea & i'll probably give it a try too.


    Thanks alot!

    I know this game so well now I can play it in my head.

    Next game I post I'll try and use the chess.com diagram tools better. I'd like to put all the variations that I included in the text into the diagrams, but I don't think I'll go back through and edit this post that extensively.

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