Before we talk about Paul Morphy, let me preface with a story from my chess experience.
As an experienced chess coach, I’m often asked by ambitious players how they can get a quick boost in their chess strength.
Most often these guys are lost and telling me nonsense like “I need to study my openings (if you must study openings, use this method) and learn all the theory, otherwise I’ll fall for traps all the time”.
For rapid (I mean RAPID) improvement in your chess results, all you have to do is find a way to sort through all of the chess data we have at our disposal these days in order to get to the critical materials that will help you to reach your goals.
Sure. Playing bullet on chess.com, watching random chess videos on YouTube and reading “Chess Opening Traps and Zaps” (a book which was once summed up succinctly by a GM as “utter crap” 😆 ) can be fun, but it is not taking you toward your chess goals (to be a strong chessplayer as soon as possible). Not quickly enough anyway.
In my experience, studying Paul Morphy (once you’ve mastered basic tactics) is the fastest route possible to go from an ambitious novice to a decent tournament level player.
So let’s get started.
Paul Morphy was an American chess player who lived in the mid 1800s and became famous for the ease with which he dispatched every serious challenger in the world at the time.
Some, like Anderssen played and lost the match before gentlemanly remarking that he was no match for Morphy.
Others, like Staunton avoided a match like the plague and kept making excuses.
“Aww I woke up late and ran out to try to make it to the boat to America. Then! I slipped in the snow and twisted my ankle and missed the boat. Maybe I’ll play Morphy another time… 🙄 ” –
Coward Howard Staunton
Although Morphy is more commonly known today for his brilliant queen sacrifices and combinations, he wasn’t actually a very aggressive player by 1800s standard.
He won most of his games in less than 30 moves simply because he was a better positional player than his opponents and most of these guys defeated themselves with terrible positional play.
There were several players on the same level as Morphy tactically, but like Capablanca later also enjoyed, Morphy was gifted with a natural feel for how to correctly play any type of position.
Let’s see a nice example of Morphy’s play.
This game seems very “modern” for a game which was played way back in 1857.
In this game from 1857, we see a Sicilian Defence (!) and see Morphy punish a guy who misplays the opening with positional mistakes like 7…Ba5?! (7…Be7 and then 8…d6 is a better way to handle white’s aggression) and 9…Ne5?! (9…d5! is better) and black ends up and positionally busted in a few moves.
Only then…do we see the trademark Morphy tactical spectacle.
The above 4-stage process is how an enormous majority of Morphy’s games went.
Below I’ll be showing you what I think are the most Instructive Games of Paul Morphy, but first…
Studying the games in this manner although a little more time consuming, will be well worth it in the end.
Don’t make bullshit excuses, be lazy and/or skim through the games. Do the work and gain the ELO, my friend.
This game is most notable for the simplicity of Morphy’s play.
It is only 19 moves, but pay special attention to the strength of his light-squared bishop and his use of the f5 square for his knight.
These are tiny elements in Morphy’s play which Fischer (who once remarked that Morphy was the greatest ever) must have paid special attention to as well, since he used them to devastating effect more than 100 years later after studying Morphy’s games.
In the final position Morphy threatens 20.Qxg6+ with mate on g7. It cannot be stopped.
This game will make an impression on you.
The most instructive part of this game is how Morphy gives his opponent no time to do anything!
After poor opening play (do not bring your queen out too early without GOOD reason!) by black he gets caught in a whirlwind of problems and from move 7 onwards every move is more or less forced!
Morphy uses a powerful strategy (which you should attempt to emulate) of developing his pieces with a gain of time (piece comes out and hits the enemy queen, forcing her to move again instead of doing something productive) and pushes his opponent around until the final checkmate.
This game which was played against Morphy’s uncle (who seems to also be a quite decent player for the time) featured a treasure trove of themes for the learning player.
Control of the centre, rapid development, domination of open lines and the final pinning tactic are all themes in this game showing how Morphy had mastered quite early how to play open positions more or less perfectly.
This time Morphy is taking on his father (!), whom he watched as a child to learn how to play the game (and was soon already a master by 12!).
Again we see Morphy develop his pieces quickly, castle and get a decisive advantage right out of the opening.
Moves like 13.d5! are a big lesson to materialistic beginners as it again shows subtle understanding of the needs of the position.
When the enemy king is uncastled and his pieces undeveloped, open lines in the centre at all cost!
Forget about pawns, throw them away and get that centre open!
Once the centre is open Morphy’s attack s swift and the final see-saw checkmate is worth of remembering (I did this exact checkmate against a Chinese player quite recently actually! 😆 ).
Here we see Morphy playing the black side of an Advanced French and again punishing mistakes which have since become the building blocks of modern chess theory.
For example, thanks to games like this from the 1850s, we now know that in the Advanced French, white cannot afford the luxury of 5.f4 because blacks counterplay against his d4 pawn will be too swift.
Morphy drives this point home in just a few moves.
I have put together a PDF for you with all of the games from this post, plus several more and suggest download it now, print it off and study the games as mentioned somewhere above.
Lastly, have a look at a couple of videos I did on Morphy Games back in 2014, they are quite instructive as well.
I hope you’re still with me… If you are, there is NOTHING that will stop you from becoming a strong chessplayer because as a top chess trainer once said (when I asked him how he distinguishes talent in kids):
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