Opera game

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The Opera Game was a famous chess game played in 1858 between the American chess master Paul Morphy and two strong amateurs, the German noble Karl, Duke of Brunswick and the French aristocrat Count Isouard, who consulted, playing together as partners against Morphy.

The Duke frequently invited Morphy to the Italian Opera House in Paris, where he had a private box that was so close to the stage, according to Frederick Edge, Morphy's associate, that "you might kiss the prima donna without any trouble."

The Duke was a chess enthusiast as well as an opera lover, and kept a chess set in his private box. Morphy was extremely fond of music and opera, and eager to see Norma, which played on his first visit. Unfortunately, his host had seen Norma countless times, and Morphy found himself forced to play chess, and even seated such that his back was to the stage.

As the game progressed, the two allies conferred loudly enough with each other, debating their moves against the American genius, that it attracted the attention of the opera performers. Madame Penco, who had the role of the Druidic priestess in Norma, kept looking into the Duke's box, to see what all the fuss was about, even as she was performing the opera. Then the performers who were the Druids, marched about, "chanting fire and bloodshed against the Roman host, who, they appeared to think, were in the Duke's box," Edge recounted.

It is doubtful if the distracted opera singers had a good enough view of what was going on, to see that what was being created on the chessboard was a game so brilliant, yet so clean and simple in appearance, that it has been remembered long after their opera performance has been forgotten. Comically, Morphy created this brilliant game while spending his time trying to overcome his blocked view of the opera, while the performers tried to catch glimpses of what was going on in the Duke's box!

The game is often used by chess teachers to demonstrate the importance of rapidly developing one's pieces, as well as other lessons. It is given here in algebraic notation.

Morphy — Duke of Brunswick / Count Isouard

Paris, France, 1858.

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 d6
This is Philidor's Defense.
3. d4 Bg4?
3...exd4 is usual. 3...f5 is a more aggressive alternative.
4. dxe5 Bxf3
If ... dxe5, then 5. Qxd8 Kxd8 6. Ne5 and white wins a pawn.
5. Qxf3 dxe5
6. Bc4 Nf6
7. Qb3 Qe7
8. Nc3
White prefers fast development to material. Modern players might prefer to win a pawn with 8. Qxb7 Qb4+ (the only way to avoid loss of the rook) 9. Qxb4, or to win two with 8. Bxf7+ Kd8 (8. ... Qxf7 9. Qxb7 and now Black cannot avoid loss of the rook) 9. Qxb7, but the romantic style of play was popular in Morphy's era.
8. ... c6
9. Bg5 b5?
10. Nxb5!
Morphy chooses not to retreat the bishop, which would allow black to gain time for development.
10. ... cxb5
11. Bxb5+ Nbd7
12. O-O-O
The combination of the bishop's pin on the knight and the open file for the rook will lead to black's defeat.
12. ... Rd8
Missing image
After 12....Rd8
13. Rxd7 Rxd7
14. Rd1 Qe6
Compare the activity of the white pieces with the idleness of the black pieces.
15. Bxd7+ Nxd7
If ... Qxd7, then 16. Qb8+ Ke7 17. Qxe5+ Kd8 18. Bxf6+ gxf6 19. Qxf6+ Kc8 20. Rxd7 Kxd7 21. Qxh8 and white is clearly winning.
16. Qb8+! Nxb8
17. Rd8#

See also


  • The Exploits & Triumphs in Europe of Paul Morphy the Chess Champion by Frederick Milne Edge, with a new introduction by David Lawson. Dover 1973; 203 pages. ISBN 0-48622882-7 (out of print)

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