Paul Morphy’s Genius – Chess Opening Fundamentals
Many players spend a long time memorising line after line of opening theory. Confident that they can play an opening as strong as the top grandmasters, they sit at the board with confidence. Then, on move 2, the opponent plays something they weren’t expecting! Now the player has to think for themselves, and crashes to a quick defeat!
So, how should we play in the opening? Well, there are a number of fundamental rules that every chess player should always keep in mind during the opening phases of the game:
1. Develop your pieces quickly!
2. Get your King safe early in the game.
3. Don’t start an attack until you complete your development. Attacking with only a couple of pieces often fails and lets the opponent counter-attack.
4. Fight for control of the center of the board.
In this exclusive free preview of Grandmaster Axel Delorme’s Master Method course, we can see how breaking these rules can be punished by examining a game played in 1858 by the American Paul Morphy.
Considered one of the greatest players of his time, Morphy was visiting Paris and trying to enjoy an opera performance. Two members of the French aristocracy, Brunswick and Isoard, wanted a game of chess against the legendary player. Wanting to watch the opera, Morphy set out to defeat them quickly – something his opponents obliged to by breaking these basic opening principles.
GM Delorme talks you through every move of this famous Morphy game, explaining why these basic chess principles are important, why you shouldn’t break them, and how to punish your opponent when they do. Next, GM Delorme examines a second Morphy game that should really cement these opening principles in your mind. Once you have these down, you’ll be confident to play against whatever your opponent throws at you, and crush those who fail to respect the rules themselves.
Paul Morphy’s Opera House Game
The game started off with 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 d6. Black defends the e5 pawn and opens up lines for the bishop on f8, but …d6 already sacrifices development. …Nc6 would have been a wiser choice. 3. d4, taking control of the central squares and at the same time, opening up space for the bishops to be developed.
The game continued 3…Bg4 4. dxe5 Bxf3 5. Qxf3 dxe5 6.Bc4 Nf6 7. Qb3 Qe7 8. Nc3 c6 9. Bg5 and we reach a position where Morphy has been developing his pieces, but Black is unable to do the same, as you can see in the diagram on the left.
Black cannot develop the knight to d7 as it would leave the b7 pawn hanging. To add to Black’s woes, the bishop on f8 is blocked in, unable to be easily developed. 9…b5 10. Nxb5 cxb5 11. Bxb5+ and White is willing to give up a knight, valued at 3 pawns, in exchange for only 2 pawns. Usually we wouldn’t want to make such a trade, but Morphy wants to punish Black for breaking one of the opening principled – get your king into safety! Black’s king sits exposed in the center of the board and is ripe for attack.
11…Nbd7 12. 0-0-0 and Morphy has brought another piece into play. 12…Rd8 13. Rxd7 Rxd7 14. Rd1 and we reach the diagram on the right. Look how White has brought all pieces into the game, while Black’s pieces are tied up or still sitting on their starting squares. Also, White’s king is in a safe position, having castled queenside.
Desperate, Black offers a queen exchange with 14…Qe6 but Morphy had other ideas in mind.
15. Bxd7+ Nxd7 16. Qb8+ Nxb8 and White has sacrificed the powerful queen, a sacrifice that wins the game, further taking advantage of the fact Black’s king has not been moved into safety. 17. Rd8# and Morphy could get back to enjoying the opera!
Clearly, breaking these opening principles often leads to a quick defeat. Remember to develop your pieces quickly, and get that king safe!
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