17 December 2014

Morphy's Fingerprints

...from this fingerprint, the associated game can be identified.
Rashid Ziyatdinov, GM-RAM
Since mid-summer, a handful of my students have been slowly working through eighteen games played by Paul Morphy. I printed the scores for all of his games from the First American Chess Congress 1857. These game scores become part of the work my students and I go through during our time each week. I encourage them to go through the games as homework, too. They have other chess homework to which they usually give priority--problem sets from my "Checklist of Checkmates", for example, and the problem sets I call "Checkmates and Tactics".*

As we go through the games, we look for critical positions, the key decisive errors, and improvements for both sides. My own understanding of these games is informed by annotations of some of them in Valeri Beim, Paul Morphy: A Modern Perspective (2005), which has been in my chess teaching bag most of the past several months. In a few instances, my students and I also have looked at Philip W. Sergeant, Morphy's Games of Chess (1957).

Two of my students have been through all eighteen of Morphy's games from the American Chess Congress and are now working through a small selection of Anderssen's games, those selected by Rashid Ziyatdinov for inclusion in GM-RAM: Essential Grandmaster Chess Knowledge (2000). Ziyatdinov's 120 middlegame positions all occur in the 59 games that he includes in the book. Ziyatdinov advocates mastery of 300 positions, but includes only 256 in his book. He states that each individual will have his or her own additions to the list.

I am now assembling diagrams from these eighteen Morphy games. These diagrams, like the middlegame positions in GM-RAM, are fingerprints that should provoke recollection of the entire game from which each is extracted. My students have not yet set out to memorize Morphy's games, but each of these positions should be reasonably familiar. We discussed each one in some detail. In some cases, the position is where Morphy's tactical skills led him to a decisive blow. In other cases, they represent the moment where his opponent began to self-destruct. In one case, Morphy missed the best plan.

In each case, the idea of the diagram is to understand how both sides should play the position. Is the position one of equality or does one side have a clear advantage? The first set of four positions are from Morphy's three games against James Thompson, his first round opponent at the American Chess Congress.

Perhaps these are not the most important positions from these three games. Perhaps there are better fingerprints.

White to move

White to move

White to move

Black to move

I will select positions from the remaining fifteen games at a later date.

*An award certificate structured curriculum gives structure to many of my lessons with students receiving individual instruction and school clubs. Students work through "Checklist of Checkmates" as part of the Bishop, Rook, and Queen Awards. There are seven sets of problems for a total of 139. The "Checkmates and Tactics" worksheets begin with six checkmates in one move for the Pawn Award and culminate in sixty problems, only a few ending in checkmate, for the Queen Award. There are 150 problems in five sets.

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