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Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The Morphy Era

     Having looked at chess in the pre-Morphy period last post, I thought it might be interesting to look at the subsequent eras up to at least the Fischer Era. Chess history can be roughly broken down into the Morphy Era, the Age of Steinitz, the Post-Steinitz Era, the Hypermoderns and the age of Russian Hegemony, so we'll take a look at each of those eras to see what they brought to the game.
     Generally when people think of Morphy they think of a great tactician, but it was he who introduced the method of play which proved to be a death-knell of sacrificial play in which brilliancy was the be-all and end-all. 
     Before Morphy, sacrifices were made without rhyme or reason, usually with very little regard for their soundness. As mentioned in the previous post, in many cases masters could play that way because there wasn't much in the way of organized chess and they played for amusement and so winning was not always so important as playing a spectacular game. 
     A study of Morphy's games show a radical departure from that style of play. The combinations he conceived were carefully executed. It is interesting that while Morphy is admired for his brilliant combinations, his games are equally notable for the correctness of his strategy. Think about how quickly he made converts out of the great players who came shortly after him. Those players retained their individuality, but were so impressed by his games that they began to reflect Morphy's the influence. 
     Another great player who was famous for the brilliancy and accuracy of his combinations was Adolph Anderssen who had made his mark about ten years before Morphy's appearance. Some even go so far as to rate Anderssen ahead of Morphy. So, perhaps we should call it the Anderssen-Morphy Era. 
     Writing of Morphy, Emanuel Lasker said “he discovered that the brilliant move of the master is essentially conditional not on a sudden and inexplicable realization, but on the placing of the pieces on the board. He introduced the rule: brilliant moves and deep winning maneuvers are possible only in those positions where the opponent can be opposed with an abundance of active energy... From the very first moves Morphy aimed to disclose the internal energy located in his pieces. It was suddenly revealed that they possess far greater dynamism than the opponent's forces.” 
     Capablanca wrote, “Reviewing the history of chess...we discover that the greatest stylist was Morphy. He did not look for complicated combinations, but he also did not avoid them, which really is the correct way of playing... His main strength lay not in his combinative gift, but in his positional play and general style.  Morphy gained most of his wins by playing directly and simply, and it is this simple and logical method that constitutes the true brilliance of his play, if it is considered from the viewpoint of the great masters.” 
     Botvinnik wrote, “To this day Morphy is an unsurpassed master of the open games. Just how great was his significance is evident from the fact that after Morphy nothing substantially new has been created in this field.” 
     Bobby Fischer said of Morphy: “A popularly held theory about Paul Morphy is that if he returned to the chess world today and played our best contemporary players, he would come out the loser. Nothing is further from the truth. In a set match, Morphy would beat anybody alive today... Morphy was perhaps the most accurate chess player who ever lived. He had complete sight of the board and never blundered, in spite of the fact that he played quite rapidly, rarely taking more than five minutes to decide a move. Perhaps his only weakness was in closed games...But even then, he was usually victorious because of his resourcefulness.” 
     Vassily Smylsov concurred, saying that Morphy's “positional understanding the pure intuition would have made Morphy a highly dangerous opponent even for any player of our times.” 
     Garry Kasparov called Morphy the forefather of modern chess and said, “Morphy had a well-developed feel for position, and therefore he can be confidently regarded as the first swallow - the prototype of the strong 20th century grandmaster.” 
     Morphy's games are well-known (or should be if you believe all the above esteemed players. So, today we'll take a look at a game by another player of that era. In the following game, Rev. G.A. Macdonnell defeats Samuel Boden in a game that left English chess fans so enthused over the brilliant outcome.
     George Alcock MacDonnell (August 16, 1830 in Dublin – June 3, 1899 in London) was an Anglican clergyman and a chess writer. For an excellent article on his career visit the St. George-in-the-East Church's website.  
     Samuel S. Boden (1826–1882) was an English professional player for whom the mating pattern "Boden's Mate" was named. I have gotten to play Boden's mate only twice; see HERE and HERE.   
     There is also a line in the Philidor Defense named after him, based on one of his games against Paul Morphy. Morphy was of the opinion that Boden was the strongest English master, even though Barnes had a better record against him than Boden. Boden authored A Popular Introduction to the Study and Practice of Chess, published anonymously in 1851. 
     Little information seems available on Boden who was born in a town of about 25,000 where fishing and cotton weaving were the main industries. As an adult he worked for the railroad and dabbled in painting and art criticism. He became active in chess around 1850 shortly before publishing his book. 
     During the First International Chess Tournament of London 1851, there was another smaller, less tournament taking place, the Provincial Tournament, which Boden finished first. He finished second place in Manchester 1857 behind Lowenthal, but other than that, he never played much tournament chess. In match play he defeated both Marmaduke Wyvill, a leading English master and Liberal Party politician, and Rev. John Owen, an English vicar and strong amateur master. Boden faced Morphy seven times in casual play, scoring +1 -5 =1, but Morphy considered Boden his strongest English opponent. Boden was chess editor of the Field from 1858-1873. 


  1. Nice series. Also a nod to Boden here. http://www.ianchessgambits.com/boden-kieseritzky-gambit.html. Also K has a lot of king gambit theory named after him in the ...g5 lines

  2. Anderssen played for many years after the Morphy games at a high level. Did his style change based on them ? That would be interesting to look at.