The Opera Game was an 1858 chess game played at an opera house in Paris between the American chess master Paul Morphy and two strong amateurs: the German noble Karl II, Duke of Brunswick and the French aristocrat Comte Isouard de Vauvenargues. It is among the most famous of chess games. Duke Karl and Count Isouard consulted together, playing as partners against Morphy. The game is often used by chess instructors to teach the importance of rapid of one's pieces, the value of sacrifices in mating combinations, and other chess concepts.
|This article uses algebraic notation to describe chess moves.|
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 d6
- This is Philidor's Defence, named after François-André Danican Philidor, the leading chess master of the second half of the 18th century and a pioneer of modern chess strategy. He was also a noted opera composer. It is a solid opening, but slightly passive, and it ignores the important d4-square. Most modern players prefer 2...Nc6, and 2...Nf6. The Petrov Defence is also popular at master level.
3. d4 Bg4?!
- Though 3...Bg4 is considered an inferior move today, this was accepted theory at the time. Today 3...exd4 or 3...Nf6 are usual. Philidor's original idea, 3...f5, is a risky alternative.
4. dxe5 Bxf3
- If 4...dxe5, then 5.Qxd8+ Kxd8 6.Nxe5 and White wins a pawn and Black has lost the ability to castle. Black, however, did have the option of 4...Nd7 5.exd6 Bxd6, when he's down a pawn but has some compensation in the form of better development.
- Steinitz's recommendation 5.gxf3 dxe5 6.Qxd8+ Kxd8 7.f4 is also good, but Morphy prefers to keep the queens on. After Black recaptures the pawn on e5, White has a significant lead in development.
5...dxe5 6. Bc4 Nf6?
- This seemingly sound developing move runs into a surprising . After White's next move, both f7 and b7 will be under attack. Better would have been to directly protect the f7-pawn with the queen, making White's next move less potent.
7. Qb3 Qe7 (see diagram)
- Black's only good move. White was threatening mate in two moves, for example 7...Nc6 8.Bxf7+ Ke7 (or Kd7) 9.Qe6#. 7...Qd7 loses the rook to 8.Qxb7 followed by 9.Qxa8 (since 8...Qc6? would lose the queen to 9.Bb5). Notice that 7...Qe7 saves the rook with this combination: 8.Qxb7 Qb4+ forcing a queen exchange.
- Although this move prevents immediate disaster, Black is forced to block the f8-bishop, impeding development and castling.
- Morphy could have won a pawn by 8.Qxb7 Qb4+ 9.Qxb4 Bxb4+. White can also win with, for example, 8.Bxf7+ Qxf7 9.Qxb7 Bb4+ 10. c3 0-0 11. Qxb4 or 11. cxb4, among other alternatives, gaining two pawns and developing the queenside. In keeping with his style, Morphy prefers rapid development and initiative over material.
- The best move, allowing Black to defend his pawn without further weakening the , which have been weakened by Black trading off his light-square bishop.
9. Bg5 b5?
- Black attempts to drive away the bishop and gain some , but this move allows Morphy a strong sacrifice to keep the initiative. This move loses but it is difficult to find anything better; for example 9...Na6 10.Bxf6 gxf6 11.Bxa6 bxa6 12.Qa4 Qb7 and Black's position is very weak.
- Morphy chooses not to retreat the bishop, which would allow Black to gain time for development.
- Black could have played 10...Qb4+ forcing the exchange of queens (11.Qxb4 Bxb4+ 12.c3!).
- Not 11.Bd5? Qb4+, unpinning the knight and allowing the rook to evade capture.
11... Nbd7 12. 0-0-0 Rd8 (see diagram)
- The combination of the pins on the knights and the open file for White's rook will lead to Black's defeat.
13. Rxd7 Rxd7
- Removing another defender.
- Compare the activity of the white pieces with the idleness of the black pieces. At this point, Black's d7-rook cannot be saved, since it is pinned to the king by the bishop and attacked by the rook, and though the knight defends it, the knight is pinned to the queen.
- Qe6 is a futile attempt to unpin the knight (allowing it to defend the rook) and offer a queen trade, to take some pressure out of the white attack. Even if Morphy did not play his next crushing move, he could have always traded his bishop for the knight, followed by winning the rook.
15. Bxd7+ Nxd7
- If 15...Qxd7, then 16.Qb8+ Ke7 17.Qxe5+ Kd8 18.Bxf6+ gxf6 19.Qxf6+ Kc8 20.Rxd7 Kxd7 21.Qxh8 and White is clearly winning. Moving the king leads to mate: 15...Ke7 16.Qb4+ Qd6 (16...Kd8 17.Qb8+ Ke7 18.Qe8#) 17.Qxd6+ Kd8 18.Qb8+ Ke7 19.Qe8# or 15...Kd8 16.Qb8+ Ke7 17.Qe8#.
- Morphy finishes with a queen sacrifice.