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Paulsen,L. – Morphy,P. , 1857: The most famous and beautiful

The most famous and beautiful

Paulsen,L. – Morphy,P.

First American Congress, New York, 1857

Paul Morphy’s opponent in this game is Louis Paulsen.

Born in 1833 in Germany, near Blomberg, he moved with his brother Ernest to America in 1854, where they established a business in Iowa. Due to his reputation as a strong chess player, he was invited to play in the First American Congress in New York in 1857. He won the second prize after being beaten by Morphy in the final match 5 to 1 with 2 draws.

Paulsen was one of the most influential players in the second half of the 19th century. He demonstrated that a correct defense can refute any brilliant attack, a concept that was grasped by Steinitz and developed more deeply by Nimzowitsch. His contributions to the opening theory are many and a lot of the variations are carrying his name: in the Sicilian Defense (the Paulsen variation), in the French defense (The Paulsen Attack), in the Scotch game (the Paulsen attack) and in the Vienna Game (the Paulsen variation). He was the originator of the Pirc defense as well as the Boleslavsky variation of the Sicilian defense. The list has no end. May I add the Dragon Variation? (Yes Sir).

As Morphy, Paulsen was famous for his blindfold simultaneous performances on 4 boards, then 6, to reach the 14 boards, which was at that time surpassed only by Zukertort who made it on 16 ones. Knowing that Blackburne and Mackenzie were among his blind victims is an indication of his chess strength, not to mention his victorious matches against strong players such as the famous Adolf Anderssen.

The following game is one of the most famous and beautiful of Morphy’s career.

1.e4 e5

2.Nf3 Nc6

3.Nc3 Nf6

The 4-knights Opening that can lead to quite play or to explosive one depending on the chosen variations.

4.Bb5 Bc5

It was too early to play 4…Nd4 (!) as Rubinstein was born on 1882!

The move played by Morphy was later championed by the American Frank Marshall, and later the variation (4…Bc5) was named as the Marshall variation.


It was possible to play 5.Nxe5, profiting from the some-what exposed position of the Black Italian bishop. The line may continue: 5…Nxe5 (but not 5…Bxf2+?! 6.Kxf2 Nxe5 7.d4) 6.d4 Bd6 (after 6…Bb4 7.dxe5 Nxe4 8.Qd4! White has the advantage) 7.f4 (7.dxe5 Bxe5 is equal) 7…Nc6 (inferior is 7…Ng6 due to 8.e5) 8.e5 Bb4 9.d5 (if 9.exf6then  Qxf6 the game is level) 9…Ne4 10.Qd3 Nxc3 11.bxc3 Be7 with a safe position for Black.


Morphy sacrifices as pawn for rapid development. The main alternative is 5…Qe7.

6.Nxe5 Re8

Morphy is looking for recovering the sacrificed pawn.

The main line may continue like this: 6…Nxe5 7.d4 Bd6 8.f4 Nc6 (or 8…Neg4) 9.e5 Be7 10.d5 Nb4 (10…Bc5+ 11.Kh1 Nd4 12.exf6 Qxf6 13.Ne4 Qe7 14.Bd3 Bb6 15.f5 with an attack, Paulsen-Anderssen, Leipzig 1877 – Did you notice who was the White player in this fragment?) 11.exf6 Bxf6 12.a3 Bxc3 13.bxc3 Nxd5 14.Qxd5 c6 15.Qd3 cxb5 16.f5 with a small advantage for White.


Simplifying, and at the same time doubling the opponent’s pawns, doesn’t look bad, but White will lose further tempi and Black will achieve what he wants, which is to activate his pieces.

7.Nf3 offers some advantage, for example: 7…Nxe4 8.Nxe4 Rxe4 9.d3 Re8 10.d4 , White is better developed.


8.Bc4 b5

Before regaining the pawn, Black forces the bishop to decide which diagonal it wants to remain on.

If 8…Nxe4 immediately, White profits from the f7-weakness 9.Bxf7+! Kxf7 10.Nxe4, since 10…Rxe4 loses to 11.Qf3+.

But Black does have a good alternative here: 8…Ng4! eyeing both h2 and f2 and threatening 9…Qh4. If 9.Be2? then Qh4 10.Bxg4 Bxg4 11.Qe1 Bf3! with a decisive attack. 9.h3? is no better, because of 9…Nxf2! and if 10.Rxf2 Bxf2+ 11.Kxf2 , Black wins with 11…Qd4+.

This means that Black reply to 10.Bxf7+ with 10…Kh8! (not 10…Kxf7? due to 11.Qh5+ and Qxc5; nor with 10…Kf8? 11.Bxe8 and the knight is pinned) 11.Rxf2 Bxf2+ 12.Kxf2 Rf8 , when Black gains a material advantage.


If the bishop retreats to b3, he would remain out of play.



In case of 10.Bf3? then Black will strike with 10…Nxf2! 11.Rxf2 Qd4 is decisive, since after 12.Qf1, Black has: 12…Qxf2+! 13.Qxf2 Re1# is mate, while 12.Ne4 loses to 12…Rxe4!. The 4-knight Opening is not calm after all!



Also good was 11.c3, intending d2–d4 and keeping Bf3, followed by g2–g3, as a defensive resource. After 11…Qh4 possible is: 12.g3 Qe7! 13.Bf3 Bh3 14.d4 Bxf1 15.Bxe4 Qxe4 16.Qxf1 Bd6 with a comfortable game.



A surprising error from Paulsen, creating a hole on d3, which Morphy profits immediately.

12.d3 was a normal move. Also possible was 12 d4, sacrificing a pawn for a certain compensation after 12…Qxd4 13.Be3 Qxd1 14.Raxd1.


Morphy prevents Paulsen’s 12.d4, a germ of prophylactic thinking. Just look at the sad bishop on c1.


13.Re1 was better, planning to exchange a pair of rooks before Black’s build-up of major pieces in the center becomes too much to bear. If permitted, White would follow up with Qf1. After 13…Rxe1+ 14.Qxe1 Black plays 14…Bf5! (14…Bd7 15.Qf1) 15.Bxc6 (15.Qe2 Rd8!) 15…Rd8 16.Qe5 Qc2! 17.Bf3 Bd6 18.Qxb5 Bd3 19.Qc6 Kf8! with advantage for Black.



Again 14.Re1 deserved consideration.




A very natural move, but not the strongest one. Although it prepares 16… Rae8, this time Morphy fails to think prophylactically.

The correct move was 15…Bb7! Although the bishop is directed to a sideline of the fight, he controls the a6–square. White does not have time to play 16.Ra2 , intending Qc2, because of 16…Rae8 17.Qd1 (the threat was 17.– Qxf1+! 18.Kxf1 Re1#) 17…Ba6! 18.Rxa6 Qxa6 19.d4 Qc4 20.Bd2 a5 , solving the problem of the inactive bishop on b6, with a clear advantage to Black.


A mistake. Paulsen thinks about his own plan, not taking into consideration his opponent’s.

It was time to play 16.Qa6! , profiting from his opponent’s imprecise previous move, forcing Morphy’s queen to move from the d3-hole, after which White would be able to play d4, freeing his position, and blocking his opponent’s b6-bishop.

After 16…Qxa6 17.Rxa6 Rae8 , White can play 18.Bg4! (not yet due to the surprising response 18…c5! 19.bxc5 Bb5) 18…Bc8 19.Ra1 Rf6 20.Bxc8 Rxc8 21.d4 with an nice advantage.;

After 16…Qf5, white gains the advantage after: 17.d4 Rae8 18.Be3 c5 19.bxc5 Bxc5 20.Qb7! (or 20.Qa2!; not 20.Qa5? 20…Rg6 21.Kh1 Qxf3 22.gxf3 Bc6 and wins; or 20.Qe2 Bb6 21.Bg4 Rxe3 22.Bxf5 Rxe2 23.Bxd7) 20…Bb6 21.c4


Again threatening 17…Qxf1+.


Finally Paulsen found the correct idea but he was late by one tempo.

After 17.Qd1, Black activates his d7–bishop with 17…c5! 18.bxc5 Bxc5 19.Ba3 (19.Bg4 f5 only postpones …Bb5) 19…Bxa3 20.Rxa3 Bb5 and wins.

Now Morphy plays another move that entered the chess history, a move that obliged every author of tactics book to put it in his top list of exercises.


With this sacrifice, (another queen move – please check my previous articles on Morphy’s games) Morphy profits from the isolation of the a2–rook and the c1–bishop from the defense, as well as the absence of the white queen from the critical area.

18.gxf3 Rg6+

The rook is now on its full power,

19.Kh1 Bh3

as well as the white-squared bishop. The threat is now: 20… Bg2+ 21.Kg1 Bxf3#


In case of: 20.Rg1, Black wins with 20…Rxg1+ 21.Kxg1 Re1+

If 20.Qd3 (preparing the counter-sacrifice Qxg6), then Black wins with 20…f5! 21.Rd1 (if 21.Qc4+ then 21…Kf8! wins; (not 21…Kh8? on account of 22.Qf7!)) 21…Bg2+ 22.Kg1 Bxf3+ 23.Kf1 Bxd1 with a winning attack. A simple continuation may look like this: 24.Qc4+ Kh8 25.d4 in view of 25…Bf3 , threatening 26…Bg2+ again. You feel that the white pieces, in order to try to defend their king, move slowly, running out of gasoil, not to mention their lack of coordination.


21.Kg1 Bxf3+



The ‘quiet” 22…Rg2! wins more quicker: ; 23.Qd3 (attacking the bishop to prevent 23…Rxh2, followed by mate on h1) 23…Rxf2+ 24.Kg1 Rg2+ 25.Kh1 Rg1 mat.



Another quicker mat can appear after 23…Be4+ 24.Kf1 and now the switchback 24…Bf5! 25.Qe2 Bh3+ 26.Ke1 Rg1.

24.Kh1 Bxf2

25.Qf1 Bxf1

26.Rxf1 Re2!

With an exposed king and two pawns down, the end is near.

27.Ra1 Rh6

28.d4 Be3

To prevent mat in one or two moves, or prolonging his agony with 29 Rf2, Paulsen knocked over his king.